Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Rocks fall from the sky and dust coats houses, gardens and streams. Homes crack, sacred sites are destroyed and the wildlife is driven away.
This was the reality for the residents of Kazas, a village of predominantly indigenous Shor people living in the shadow of enormous open-cast coal mines deep in the Keremovo Oblast, Siberia. The Kemerovo Oblast is Russia’s biggest coal mining region for coal to export and the main region where indigenous Shor and Teleut people live. Kazas was destroyed in 2013.
For the Shor people ‘assimilation, loss of language and traditions became overwhelming’, say three NGOs working with indigenous communities. At least eight other similar villages have met the same fate. The Russian government has repressive laws which have targeted groups active in supporting the indigenous people’s battle with the extractives industry.
The UK imports more coal from Russia than any other country and is the second largest market for Russia’s coal, after China. Our electricity demand causes their suffering.
Infographic: Coal Action Network
Ditch Coal, a new report from the Coal Action Network, describes the situations in the three countries which combined supply 95 per cent of the coal imported to the UK. These countries are Russia, Colombia and the USA with 43 per cent, 33 per cent and 19 per cent of the coal imported to the UK respectively.
There are still 12 power stations burning coal, but the fuel is no longer the leading producer of energy in the UK. The government has announced that it intends to close the remaining coal power stations by 2025. But for communities on the front-lines the realities of coal mining this is too long and without legislation to enforce action, meaningless.
Back in Kazas, mining companies wanted the village and its inhabitants gone so that they could extract the rich coal seams underneath. Checkpoints controlled the village, restricting movement. The spirituality of the Shor people has been totally disregarded, with the sacred Karagay-nash mountain being desecrated and destroyed by mining.
Life in Kazas was made unbearable for the residents and when most agreed to move, the companies claimed that they did so voluntarily. The anger of those living there showed they felt that they had reached the end of the line and had no options.
For those who didn’t consent to leave, the situation became more threatening. The director of a subsidiary of Sibuglemet said, ‘If they don’t sell their houses and estates to Yuzhnaya, then the houses might burn down.’ Sibuglemet supplies coal to the UK.
Within a month of threats being made arson attacks began on the houses of the families who had refused to leave. The crimes have never been investigated.
Houses in Kazas being bulldozed after suspiciously-timed arson attacks. Photo: RAIPON
Land given to villagers as a substitute is by all accounts unviable, and in worse condition than the land that they were forced to leave had become. No land has been assigned for their traditional subsistence activities, hunting and fishing. Villagers have not received compensation that would enable them to rebuild their houses and most do not have any savings left that would allow them to rebuild themselves. These rural peoples have been dispersed to urban areas.
‘The companies talk about voluntary displacement, but it is forced displacement,’ says Nubia Maria Florian Ditta. ‘We are worried. We are fighting to get land titles for our collective land. This will help us protect our ecosystem as they push to expand the mine.’ Ditta is a member of Las Cruces Community Council, and their village is threatened by the expansion of a coal mine worked by an American company Drummond, which supplies the UK.
In addition to forced relocation, companies exporting coal from Colombia to the UK have been allegedly implicated in financing paramilitary mass murders, executions, and disappearances.
Hernando Figueroa Pallares has evidence of Drummond dumping 500 tonnes of coal at sea after problems with a barge transferring coal to an international ship. He planned to go to the authorities about the incident, but before he did an assassin came after him, thought to have been sent by the company.
As Hernando describes it, ‘He was in the entrance of my house with a gun in his hand… He came out in to the yard but he didn’t see me because it was dark. He had the gun ready. I thought if I leg it he is going to kill my wife, so I decide to see what God’s will is. Without my shirt on, I shout and run at him. The first bullet enters me in the lung.’ Hernando was lucky to survive, though he still lives in hiding. Many others have been killed in similar incidents.
Imported coal is not the only problem. Around 31 per cent of coal burned in the UK is still produced in the UK. In Britain the main coal mining issues include a planning system biased towards companies in preference to community needs, noise, dust and traffic, as well as sites being abandoned without restoration (in Scotland there are thought to be 20 unrestored sites).
Wherever there are coal proposals in the UK there are communities fighting applications. Since the announcement of an intended coal phase-out, County Durham residents had the shocking news that a mine application by Hargreaves has been successful after an appeal, at Field House. Another five applications for new open-cast coal mines are still pending.
Wherever coal is mined the conditions are unacceptable. We need the government to announce a complete and legally binding phase-out of coal, whether imported or UK-mined, as soon as possible.
But we can’t just wait for the government: the Coal Action Network also calls on those of us who consume electricity supplied from unsustainable fuels to stand in solidarity with those most affected and take our complaints directly to the companies involved, by taking action against mining, coal infrastructure, and power station operators. Now is the time to ditch coal.
To see the complete Ditch Coal report, or to get involved in the struggle against coal see www.coalaction.org.uk. Anne Harris is a campaigner with the Coal Action Network and co-author of the report.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright