In Search of Poland's Black Gold

Collection with 25 media items created by Michael Biach

29 Dec 2014 12:43

(FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST)

For centuries coal mining has been the most important industry in Walbrzych, Poland. However, in the 1980s many of the coal mines became unprofitable. With Poland's transformation from a state-directed to a free-market economy in the 1990s, nearly all of the coal mines in Lower Silesia were shut down. Thousands of people became jobless.

The area still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country despite new industry settling in the area. It didn't take very long until the jobless miners in the area started to dig for coal on their own. The business is dangerous and illegal. Tunnels leading as deep as ten or fifteen meters below the ground are only protected by wood and sandbags. Inside, people dig for coal the same way they did centuries ago, by hand.

Police regularly arrest illegal coal miners and confiscate their equipment, so most people dig by night to avoid police control. Not only the well-educated former miners search for 'black gold,' but also young and unexperienced jobless men risk their freedom and their lives to make a couple of Euros a night by selling illegal coal to residents.

Every year several people die after tunnels collapse. Roman Janiszek is a former coal miner, now an illegal miner who has founded a committee that is trying to make the activities legal and also to keep track of the situation in the outskirts of Walbrzych. Roman also points to the fact that people not only lost their jobs and privileges but also their social position with the closing of the mines. Once prideful coal miners, people like Roman Janiszek now work illegally every night to make a living.

Poland Coal Mine Polish Europe Gold Miners Economy Unemployment Walbrzych Jobs Mines Industry

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In Search of Black Gold 25
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
27 Dec 2014

Young illegal coal miners start their late night shift in a ‘rat-hole’ mine outside of Walbrzych.

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In Search of Black Gold 26
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

An abandoned entry into a tunnel of a 'rat-hole' mine.

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In Search of Black Gold 01
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

Zbigniew Harasymowicz, an illegal coal miner, works on the outskirts of Walbrzych.

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In Search of Black Gold 24
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

A young illegal coal miner exits from a 'rat-hole' mine with a bag of coal.

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In Search of Black Gold 02
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Zbigniew Harasymowicz, an illegal coal miner takes a break during a day shift in the outskirts of Walbrzych.

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In Search of Black Gold 03
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

People dig for coal the same way they did centuries ago. Tunnels leading as deep as ten or fifteen meters below the ground are only protected by wood and sandbags.

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In Search of Black Gold 04
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Zbigniew Harasymowicz and Roman Janiszek, two illegal coal miners, are working during a day-shift in the outskirts of Walbrzych. In the back the leftovers of an abandoned coal mine from the 1990s are visible.

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In Search of Black Gold 06
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

The remnants of a former coal mine near Walbrzych.

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In Search of Black Gold 07
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Instead of money, social benefits often include sacks of coal so that welfare recipients don't buy illegal coal.

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In Search of Black Gold 08
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

Memories of the past hanging in Roman Janiszek's apartment. Roman Janiszek used to be employed as a coal miner. He now makes a living by mining illegally.

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In Search of Black Gold 23
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek, a former miner, now forced to dig illegally, dons his former official guild regalia. These days Roman is dresses with the uniform only once a year before the traditional celebration of Barborka, the miners' day.

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In Search of Black Gold 09
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

This is an entry into one of the many 'rat-hole' mines where illegal coal miners work late into the night. The business is dangerous and illegal.

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In Search of Black Gold 10
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek, an illegal coal miner, enters a 'rat-hole' mine outside of Walbrzych.

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Title photo for the collection
In Search of Black Gold 11
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek, a former miner, is holding coal he has extracted inside a 'rat-hole' mine several meters below the ground.

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In Search of Black Gold 12
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek, a former miner and now works illegally inside one of the so-called ‘rat holes’ on the outskirts of Walbrzych. The tunnels lead several meters below the ground.

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In Search of Black Gold 13
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek, a former miner and now works illegally inside one of the so-called ‘rat holes’ on the outskirts of Walbrzych. The tunnels lead several meters below the ground.

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In Search of Black Gold 14
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

An illegal coal miner is exiting a tunnel of a 'rat-hole' from several meters below the ground.

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In Search of Black Gold 15
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

After a night-shift in the illegal coal mines, Roman Jansizek leaves the outskirts of Walbrzych.

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In Search of Black Gold 16
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek stands in front of the entrance of a newly dug 'rat-hole' in the outskirts of Walbrzych.

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In Search of Black Gold 17
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Roman Jansizek walks next to what's left after illegal coal miners were digging up coal. He is searching for new place to dig.

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In Search of Black Gold 18
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Illegal coal mining also leads to environmental damage.

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In Search of Black Gold 19
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek holds a small pieces of coal next to the entrance of a tunnel leading several meters below the ground.

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In Search of Black Gold 20
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
26 Dec 2014

Roman Janiszek inside a 'rat-hole' coal mine.

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In Search of Black Gold 21
Walbrzych
By Michael Biach
25 Dec 2014

Young illegal coal miners start their late night shift in a ‘rat-hole’ mine outside of Walbrzych.