03 December 2018

Citizens Beyond Coal – Alicja Zdziechiewicz, Poland

Imielin is a 9,000-strong town in Upper Silesia, whose citizens and local authorities have united in a battle to oppose a new mine (Imielin North) being opened right under their homes.

Imielin is atypical for Upper Silesia: green landscapes, a panorama of the Western Tatras and recreational water reservoirs. People live in independent houses not the grey blocks of flats that otherwise characterise the region. People have been moving to Imielin in search of peace and nature, escaping from the bigger polluted urban centers like Katowice.

However, locals in Imielin still suffer from the impact of coal, namely the nearby mining by PGE (the largest company in Poland). This was manageable, until they heard in 2017 that a new mine would open, covering half of the surface of the town. The new mine would be shallow, and locals expect it will lead to sinking of land, damage to houses and new public buildings, as well as damages to the water system, local forests and railways.

Alicja Zdziechiewicz, a local literature teacher with 17 years work experience, is one of the most active locals in opposition to the mine. Together with her husband, she built the Green Imielin Association to fight against the mine. Their protest reached even Brussels, as Alicja this year spoke about the threat to her town at a meeting of the Coal Platform for Regions in Transition.

“The first serious test for me was to organise a protest in May 2018 in front of the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection,” says Zdziechiewicz. “We the inhabitants prepared the protest together, we shared our tasks and made banners. We gathered about one hundred people and went to Katowice. I took the megaphone in my hand and I had to make it work. We made a lot of noise and the protest got covered by the media.”

“I have a strong sense of the meaning of what I do. We are opposing a looting economy, we want to protect the environment and live in peace in our green city,” she says, adding that as the campaign advanced, she became more interested in the environment and climate change and that she learned about cooperating with others.

“It turned out that more people have problems like us and that we can and should support one other. The only thing that I am afraid of is that the decision about the new mine was already made in Warsaw a long time ago and that, despite our protests, the politicians do not really listen to us.”

Find more of this story on just-transition.info

Text and photos: Jakub Szafranski

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