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.
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas