Tags / Poland
Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region.
In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion.
In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day.
Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party.
I visited the area to speak to the local people, who are mostly ignored in the public discourse, and explore some of the underlying issues in the region.
"Then and Now: Postcards from the Soviet Union" addresses the end of the Cold War and current resurgence of Russian geopolitical assertion in Ukraine and elsewhere. This series of historical photographs juxtaposes idealized, Soviet era postcards and visuals with real world photographs shot over the course of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing post-Soviet era. This juxtaposition is meant to demonstrate the links and the contrasts between national narratives propagated by the Soviet system and how those narratives have been affected by or manifested in contemporary reality.
Shot over the last 26 years in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Poland, these unique photos offer an intimate historical perspective of Soviet and Eastern European geopolitics as the region takes on new forms and conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Upper: Hello from the Exhibition”; mid-1950s postcard, Exhibition of National Economic Achievements, Soviet era Moscow.
Lower: Opened to private enterprise in 1992, the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements building complex rapidly transformed into a place of rampant uncontrolled commercialism amidst its former Soviet pomp. Moscow, Russia.
Image Correlation: These series of buildings have been utilized both during the communist era and during the more recent introduction of a Western commercial market after the end of the Soviet period. The symbology inherent in the sculptures have become representative hallmarks for the iconic Soviet period of Socialist realism, introduced by Stalin in 1934 then adapted by allied Communist parties worldwide.
Upper: Central Moscow, Kremlin foreground; 1960s impression
Lower: Moscow Red Square at night, 2005.
Image Correlation: More of a romantic notion regarding one of the major cities of the world, the iconic buildings of Red Square in Moscow implies a sense of duration through the centuries as political eras fluctuate more readily across recent decades.
Upper: Postcard: In memory of WWII.
Lower: Statue: In memory of WWII. Warsaw, Poland, 1992.
Image Correlation: These two photos resemble a counterpoint of recent history. A scarce Soviet postcard, released 10 years after WWII depicts a melancholic image of a distant, but ongoing battle, while a permanent abstract soldier statue in the Praga district of Warsaw, Poland offers a stern and dark reminder of history.
Upper: Soviet Great Patriotic War Congratulations to Victory; "From Moscow to Berlin,1945 To Victory Day!"
Lower: Tribute to executed escapees from former East Germany during Berlin Wall 15 year Anniversary; Berlin, Germany, 2004
Image Correlation: One side's victory is another's oppression.
Upper: Forward to Communism” with the communist party program in hand, Moscow, Casualty of capitalism.
Lower: A Soviet era pensioner struggles during the economic shock period of the 1990s with the abrupt introduction of Western consumerism overtaking communist central planning of the prior 70 years. The McDonalds sign reads " Taste of the Season"; Moscow, 1995.
Image Correlation: Two distinct economic systems prevailing in the same exact location, though years apart. This dichotomy amplified a social collision for certain segments of the population, particularly in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet system. As there was no guidebook provided for people accustomed to government subsidies, having to suddenly rely on individual economic incentive for many became overwhelming.
Upper: Soviet MiG-15, “The Jet that Shocked the West” 1950
Lower: Saakashvili Era Military Parade in Tbilisi, Georgia. During his 7 year rule (2004-2011), the pro-Western president showcased Georgia as the fastest growing post-Soviet democracy. Tbilisi, Georgia, 2007.
Image Correlation: The use of military might by both Eastern and Western oriented leaderships to project their ideological and political formidability. Despite existing in different eras, and under different ideological and political circumstances, the essential public relations strategy remains the same between the Soviet Union and capitalist independent Georgia.
Upper: Boys fantasizing about their future war stories, 1961.
Lower: A young boy’s military dreams; Tbilisi, Georgia, 2007.
For the young male, the fantasy for the glory days of war without yet having had the experience appears in several cultures worldwide. Here it is represented with Soviet era illustrations and through the eyes of a child at a Georgian military parade.
Upper: Glory to the Soviet Armed Forces; Moscow, 1968
Lower: All leaders become future history; the Putin era is not over; Tbilisi, Georgia, 2013.
Image Correlation: How Russian history from the early 21st century will be perceived in the distant future. Putin's administration is said to be heavily influenced by the Soviet past. The question then remains, what influence will Putin have on future Russian leaderships?
Late Soviet period, Gorbachev political pin reads-"Perestroika, Glasnost"; or "restructuring and "public openness", 1988.
Russian military elite attending banquet in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Gagra, Abkhazia, 2005.
Image Correlation: Symbols from the late Soviet period above, coincide with a seeming perpetuation of the Soviet era in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, on the northwest coast of Georgia years later. Abkhazia was the second territory annexed by Russia after the 2008 war and has cultivated close ties against the rancor of the Georgian authorities.
Upper: 50 years of the USSR Armed Forces, 1967
Lower: Former Russian base until 2001; Vasiani, Georgia, 2003.
Image Correlation: An extended generation of prevailing missile diplomacy between East and West is illustrated through a Soviet period magazine and 1960s postcard. While below, remnants from the Cold War remained until the withdrawal of Russian bases from Georgia started in 2005.
Upper: End of WWII 1945, Victory Day (Soviet Perspective).
Lower: Protesters gather in front of Stalin's birthplace. Georgian signage reads "Down with capitalism, give factories to working people, give jobs"; Gori, Georgia, 2011.
Image Correlation: A postcard and black & white photo celebrating Stalin provides a perspective regarding the Soviet WWII victory, while the image below shows present day demonstration by protesters in front of his boyhood home; now a museum.
Upper: Ukraine, October Glory (1917 Revolution) – 1963
Lower: Citizen registering to vote in Ukraine with passport document. May ,2014.
Image Correlation: The patriotism once encouraged by the Soviet system reemerges in the form patriotism for one's independent, former-Soviet state. The pictured elections followed months of protest and upheaval in Ukraine, which led to the ousting of a pro-Moscow leadership and the eventually election of a pro-Western administration opposed to Moscow.
Upper: Postcard-Glory Soviet Armed Forces, 1965, document-the Commemorative Medal-50 years Liberation of Ukraine; Crimea Map; 1955.
Soviet Era Tribute; Samegrelo, Georgia, 2000
Image Correlation: Elements of the current Ukraine conflict have historic attributes stemming from decades earlier, as the justification for each side’s present directives find their justification in different interpretations of a shared history. The now gone Soviet era mural (lower) found in a remote region of Georgia attests to the permeation that the former empire once attained. The historic precedent, which can remain invisible, runs deep in the collective psyche and becomes the fulcrum for determining which alliance a region moves towards; sustaining relations with Russia or moving towards the Western driven market.
Victoria is a young Ukrainian girl who moved to Poland in order to begin her studies. She speaks about the situation in Ukraine; her father is part of the Ukrainian military, injured during the fight with pro-Russian separatists.
(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.
A gas flare is a combustion device used in oil or gas production sites having wells and rigs. This operation consists in burning off the overproduced gas, which would be too much expensive to stock and transport. Gas flaring has serious environmental consequences and it is a significant source of carbon dioxide (as well as several other carcinogenic substances) emissions.
In July 2011 France was the first European country to pass a law (“Loi Jacob”) banning the technique of hydraulic fracturing for extracting natural gas and oil. The big popular demonstration of Villeneuve de Berg on February 2011 was an important turning point in the cancellation of the first exploration permits within the Cévennes National Park area and towards the national moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking operations produce loud noises and need a stable and strong illumination, even at night. When drilling sites lie a short distance away from houses and villages, the lives of the inhabitants suffer significant difficulties.
Deforestation caused by test extractions of shale gas in Milowo, northern Poland.
A PGNiG worker is verifying the progress of excavation in the fracking site of Lubocino, northern Poland.
A rig used for shale gas extractions by FX Energy, an American oil company.
André Agniel, former Mayor of Aujac from 2001 to 2014, poses next to the Rue Josh Fox plate. This street has been named after the young American director and activist Josh Fox, author of Gasland. In 2010 this documentary was the first and the most important testimony against fracking that led to the creation of several protest movements all over the world. Rue Josh Fox was inaugurated on the 29th of May 2014.
ENI headquarters. In 2010 the Italian oil company ENI (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi) obtained three licenses for shale gas exploitation in Poland. After less than four years, the company was among the first ones to give up all of its polish shale gas permits because of tough geology and an unclear regulatory environment.
A Chevron billboard inside the central railway station in Bruxelles. In June 2014, the Belgian capital has hosted the G8 summit about clean energy and climate change
The entrance to the Chevron shale gas extraction site in Pungesti, eastern Romania. On the 7th of December, during some violent protests against fracking, the fences of the platform were totally destroyed by the population. Since that day, the Romanian government led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, declared the area a special security zone. This decision entails a constant presence of the Gendarmerie on site and restricted access to the village.
A child holds a lamb in front of his house. Paltinis, a small village in the Vaslui region, is mainly populated by Gypsies, a community entirely devoted to agriculture and livestock farming. Chevron has planned to explore shale gas and start its second Romanian fracking site in the village.
Alexandru shares a small house with a group of anti-fracking protesters. The house is located near the drilling platform and since last January it has become the Resistance of Pungesti headquarters.
Some houses in eastern Romania still don't have running water. Aquifer and groundwater pollution would be major issues in the gipsy village of Paltinis, where a shale gas exploration project is due to start in the next months.
Inside a damaged house in Izvoarele, Galati county. In October 2013, the village of Izvoarele was the epicenter of an intense seismic activity. People believe that the cause of the earthquakes is to be found in the experiments of hydraulic fracturing that were supposed to be conducted in the nearby town of Schela. These assumptions have never been confirmed.
Anti-fracking graffiti in the center of Vaslui, the county seat of one of the poorest and most rural area of Romania.
The first shale gas exploration site of Romania is located in Silistea, a village within the Pungesti commune.
Oktoberfest is the world's most famous beer Festival and largest funfair, held annually in Munich, southern Germany. In 2013 the German Brewers Federation strongly opposed the draft regulations concerning the exploitation of unconventional gas and the use of fracking in the country because the legal changes planned by the federal government were “not sufficient to guarantee the security of drinking water supplies and to take into account the requirements of the German Beer Purity Law”, which only allows water, barley and hops in the production of beer. For now shale gas explorations are blocked in Germany, although the country is estimated to have between 700 and 2300 billion cubic meters of shale gas reserves, according to the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources.
An anti-fracking protester in front of the gate of the Balcombe drilling site, West Sussex. From the 25th of July 2013, part of the population of Balcombe and activists from all over Britain gathered against unconventional gas explorations. They initially occupied the land on which the rig was supposed to be erected and then the road that leads towards Brighton. The so-called Great Gas Gala lasted 68 days: it did not prevent Cuadrilla from drilling, but it was a first and important moment of self-awareness for the British anti-fracking movement.
A protester welcomes the cars crossing the community camp near Balcombe, West Sussex.
A group of protesters attempting to block a truck transporting water and chemicals to the drilling platform.
These fields on the border between Scotland and England are part of one of the many concessions granted by the British government for preliminary drilling tests. British shale gas exploration plants are supposed to be erected on areas that are now often used for farming and herding.
In the United Kingdom drillings and fracking licences have already impacted the real estate market, decreasing home and property value. Llantrithyd is a tiny Welsh village surrounded by nature. The area has been identified by Coastal Oil and Gas as a suitable site for unconventional gas explorations: the community is strongly opposing this proposal.
Despite Hungary's significant unconventional gas deposits, the Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn decided not to exploit these resources in the country. On the other hand, in 2014 Hungary signed a general agreement with Russia on cooperation in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Russian state company Rosatom will finance with 10 billion Euro the construction of two new reactors of the Paks nuclear power plant, the first and only operating in Hungary.