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11 września 2020

In solidarity against Turów and Garzweiler lignite mines. International kayaking protest

On August 30, at the place borders of Poland, Czech Republic and Germany meet,  a public gathering against illegal activity of the Turów open pit mine was held. The participants gathered on the three sides of the border. The event was well attended. Among the participants were representatives of NGOs, activists, members of the local government, MEPs and MPs from all the three countries. The event was topped up with a kayak protest.

1. Peaceful protest disturbed by miners

Next to the opponents of the Turów lignite mine from all three countries the event was also attended by a large group of mine and plant workers and politicians supporting them. Given the fact that they disturbed the course of the event and with their aggressive behaviour prevented a peaceful continuation of the protest, the organizers decided to officially end the Polish public gathering and move to the Czech side.

The decision to end the gathering on the Polish side was announced by Tomasz Waśniewski, President of the Foundation „Development YES - Open Pit Mines NO”. The participants crossed the Czech border and continued the protest there. The following speakers took the floor: Anna Cavazzini, MEP, Kerstin Doerenbruch from Greenpeace Germany, Milan Starec, a resident of Uhelnej, Martin Puta, the Mayor for Liberec Region, Małgorzata Tracz, a Polish MP and Kuba Gogolewski from the Foundation “Development YES - Open Pit Mines NO” and continued as planned.

– PGE must have their head in the clouds if they think that the mine doesn't impact the surrounding water supplies. And its activity of coal extraction is driving the climate crisis. It can't ignore its responsibility –  said Milan Starec of Uhelna, a locality that is most severely touched by water shortage provoked by the Turów’s mining activity.

– It’s time for opencast coal mining in Turów to come to an end–  Anna Cavazzini said – The political framework is in place: the Paris Climate Agreement and the European Green Deal. The European Just Transition Fund was designed precisely for this purpose: to support the coal regions on their way to the future. It's time to move forward together.

The further part of the protest continued according to the plan. The participants formed a human chain over the countries’ borders. Next canoes and kayaks floated down Nysa Łużycka along the Turów open pit mine and power plant before they reached Hirschfelde.

The protestants gathered at the border meeting point expressed their solidarity with the residents of Germany, who are exposed to relocations due to the open pit mine planned by RWE. During the human chain, as a sign of solidarity, they held bands with an “Alle Dörfer bleiben!” on them (German for “All the villages stay”.)

– People have the right to fresh air, clean water and a safe climate. When these laws are not enforced, we need to defend them from company greed and exploitative politics – commented Kuba Gogolewski, project coordinator in Foundation „Development YES - Open Pit Mines NO”.

2. Media are vocal about the protest

Media in all three countries commented widely on the event. Some articles in https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Fgq8dq4LiPSE-EgDOafCOQwVm4LPzITPtkUyLEqCqLU/edit">the Polish press utterly ignored the developments on the Czech and German side. Instead, miners, Bogatyni residents and PGE workers' opinions and their statements have been focused on.

“There were scuffles, chanting of slogans, covering the banners. Hundreds of miners from the Turów open pit mine and their close ones came to the picket organized by the environmentalists where the borders of  Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany meet in Porajów. The demonstration was dissolved after several dozens of minutes” – we read in https://www.radiowroclaw.pl/articles/view/98385/Kopalnia-Turow-wychodzi-naprzeciw-Czechom-Zbuduja-ogromna-podziemna-sciane">radiowroclaw.pl.

https://wroclaw.wyborcza.pl/wroclaw/7,35771,26253612,gornicy-przeszkodzili-w-manifestacji-ekologow-nikt-nie-mowi.html">Gazeta Wyborcza, on the other hand, is citing the commentary of Małgorzata Tracz, an MP from Polish Civi Coalition and a co-president of the Green Party, who was present at the protest.

– I think that the grassroots work hasn’t been done. Members of the local government and employers have to talk to employees and show them that just energy transition means new jobs in other areas, for instance renewable energy technology.

Pro-government media in Poland reported that the miners, who were safeguarding their jobs, effectively blocked the protest. Following this account, one could have an impression that the event ended when the gathering on the Polish side had been officially concluded.

3. Czech and German look at the protest

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zAKHqJmhdkYavmHqHHkRW03bjCIyTZ3C67N9n2wsBZ4/edit">German media highlight the numerous turnout of the opponents of the open pit in the protest. Also, the causes of the protest have been highlighted, as well as dangers provoked by the mine’s activity:

„Hundreds of people from Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland protested on Sunday on a Tripoint, against the planned extension of the Turów lignite open pit mine. The protestants fear that the open pit mine’s extension near the border with Germany and the Czech Republic may pose a threat to drinking water reservoirs and lead to an increase in noise and pollution levels. On the Polish side, a counter demonstration took place, formed by hundreds of participants who support lignite mining from Turów pit” - we read in https://www.handelsblatt.com/dpa/wirtschaft-handel-und-finanzen-proteste-im-dreilaendereck-gegen-polnischen-braunkohletagebau/26142600.html?ticket=ST-1188525-9QdRV0ddQKLddkxMF6cs-ap1">Handelsblatt.

The loudest media response that the Tripoint event received was by https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dF-RuYGXEQUhnD5j_IpWECEAqrcZS9TAuB9anPXwb3s/edit">Czech media. For it is here that the Polish open pit raises most controversies. Inhabitants of the Czech Liberec region are most exposed to its destructive impact.

As a side note to the demonstration, the Czech press wrote about the negative impact of the open pit on the Czech territory and also about the plans of the Czech government referring to the plan to sue Poland to the European Court of Justice. Also, a statement from one of the organizers of the protest https://www.novinky.cz/zahranicni/clanek/proti-rozsireni-dolu-turow-u-cesko-polskych-hranic-protestovaly-stovky-lidi-40334798">was cited:

– We have gathered here to point to the planned opencast’s extension. Just as many locals, we don't give our consent to it. The mine has a very negative influence on the environment and people's life. Most of all, because it takes groundwater from the Czech territory – said Nikol Krejčová, coal campaign coordinator for Czech Greenpeace – Even though the Polish side is denying it, the results of the measurement confirm this. In Václavice and Uhelna, which are the closest to the mine, a lot of wells have already completely dried out.

4. Joint statement

Numerous NGOs have involved themselves in the issue of Turów, MEPs, MPs from Czechia, Germany and Poland, as well as from Saxony and Brandenburg and local authorities, which all together signed a common appeal to the European Commission, International Commission for the Protection of the Odra River against Pollution and government of the Republic of Poland.

“On the border of Poland, Czech and Germany, a lignite open pit mine Turów is draining the ground, leaving whole villages without access to drinking water. At present, the mine is working on the basis of a six year extension of the exploitation permit, obtained without any public consultation or any adequate environmental impact assessment. Thus, since May, 2020, the mine has been working illegally.

State-owned Polska Grupa Energetyczna is threatening with a mine expansion and a renewal of exploitation permit for its activity until 2044, which flagrantly violates EU law. If it becomes true, thousands of people may lose access to water in face of global health and climate crisis.

The Turów mine expansion goes against Water Framework Directive (WFD), since it would provoke a gross deterioration of the groundwater body, as well as against Environmental Liability Directive, Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (SEA)”.

The whole statement may be read here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ne3926S2VLZB46w-16IhrZPz752xVyLqjxGZA1MBAos/edit">Europe and Poland must contain negative effects of Turów activity and guarantee climate justice and just access to water

5. What after the protest?

In September Turów will be steering further controversies. Between 14 – 17.09.2020, a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg will take place, during which the MEPs most probably will tackle the issue of the permit for the Turów mine[1].

On the other hand, until the end of the month, the Czech government will initiate the procedure in the European Commission, prior to a direct possibility of suing Poland to the European Court of Justice regarding the violation of the EU law.

The next session of the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament is planned on September 22. We already know that at this meeting the Polish petition for the maintenance of the Turów complex will not be on agenda.

[1] As we have learned the Turów licence won't be part of official agenda. The topic most likely it will be taken unofficially between MP-s

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