Lessons from Kushtau: need for consolidation and social control

Kushtau as a marker of modern environmental processes. Part 2.

Lessons from Kushtau: need for consolidation and social control
Photo: courtesy of Karina Gorbacheva

The reserves in the underground part of Shakhtau will be sufficient for several decades, but the alternative technologies of Bashkir Soda Company need to be implemented now, says Karina Gorbacheva, political expert and columnist for Realnoe Vremya. Besides, citizens are still waiting for a fair punishment of those who smashed the camp of Shikhan defenders in Bashkiria. In continuation to the previous column, the expert examines the challenges identified by the Kushtau case. In her opinion, the situation around the hill is not only a dispute over resources or a unique natural object, but also a struggle for an eco-friendly future.

Will nationalisation save you from environmental and other problems?

A court hearing is scheduled to decide the fate of Bashkir Soda Company JSC on October 14. Whether Bashkortostan (or Regional Fund JSC) or Rosimushchestvo will become a full-fledged owner of the plant — all this cannot directly affect the further environmental policy of the enterprise. The issue of providing the plant with limestone will be relevant for any owner. Moreover, the change of owners will not oblige them to invest more in the social sphere of the city of Sterlitamak, the region or the country. The only duty of the plant is to work in the legal field and comply with Russian legislation. The social responsibility of business is a voluntary choice to take measures that will benefit society at its own expense.

The announcement of Kushtau a natural monument aggravates the problem of obtaining limestone. Although, perhaps, this question is out of agenda at all. As expressed by scientists at a round table discussion in the Public Chamber, the reserves in the underground part of Shakhtau will be enough for several decades. However, this is not a panacea, and we urgently need to transfer the plant to an alternative non-limestone technology. Valery Mikhailovich Gorozhanin, Askat Akhiyarovich Mukhametov, Georgy Gaykovich Kagramanov and Igor Eduardovich Shkradyuk presented the development of soda production without using limestone.

As expressed by scientists at a round table discussion in the Public Chamber, the reserves in the underground part of Shakhtau will be enough for several decades

Alternative technologies need to be introduced now, opening the era of eco-friendly soda production, which will ensure the company's long-term operations. This will help not only solve the raw material problem of BSK but also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions. Systematic reduction of CO2 emissions is recognised as an obligation of the participants of the Paris Agreement, which Russia adopted on September 23 last year.

Shihan is saved, what's next?

In addition to the introduction of non-limestone technologies, the situation with Kushtau left the society with the following tasks. It is necessary to conduct public control and fight for reducing harmful emissions into the atmosphere and water from BSK. The citizens of Sterlitamak can learn from the experience in the case of atmospheric pollution from residents of Krasnoyarsk, Chelyabinsk and Sibay.

The society also maintains a request for justice — no one has yet responded to repeated attacks on citizens. First of all, the regional authorities themselves should be interested in satisfying this request — the absence of those punished among the attackers against the background of conveyor courts over the defenders of the hill creates a sense of selectivity of justice and the distrust of the system of power.

The society also maintains a request for the restoration of justice. Photo: vk.com/saveshihan

No less important is the need to use all legal means to remove administrative responsibility from those who were arrested for protecting Kushtau on August 15 and 16 or who were fined. This will not restore their time spent in special detention centres but will allow them to defend their rights and prove the violations that were committed during their detention. They may even be able to use article 2.7 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation on actions in conditions of extreme necessity in higher courts. After all, on September 2, Kushtau mount was declared a specially protected natural territory (the corresponding decree was signed by the head of Bashkortostan, Radiy Khabirov — editor's note). This means that on that terrible Saturday day, people on the hill, protecting the unique natural heritage, protected the interests of society and the state.

Kushtau as a challenge of the 21st century

The events surrounding the shihan of Kushtau found the challenges of the 21st century the society faces. First of all, it is the inability to accept the expansionist policy of industry, which is ready to destroy the beautiful and unique gifts of nature for profit. People who are faced with the adverse environmental consequences of the work of industrial giants are no longer ready to put up with what is happening, as they are on the verge of survival. No wonder among the pickets for Kushtau, one could see the phrase “Environment, or Oncology”.

One of the important challenges of the 21st century, noticeable in the protection of Kushtau, was the need to unite. The atomisation of society, which he wrote in the middle of last century, does shows the fruit: without unification no one hears a cry for help, but a joint effort can move mountains, and in the case of Kushtau mount — to save it. Moreover, it is fundamental to unite different representatives of society: the broad masses of the population and scientists, lawyers, social activists, and cultural representatives — only joint activities of different groups of the population can give a saving synergistic effect.

The mount is saved, but how would the situation unfold if the broad masses did not come to its defense? Photo: vk.com/saveshihan

A separate challenge for society is the need for public control over various processes, including environmental ones. In the light of current events, the Soviet paradigm of thinking, when all problems are solved by the state, and the person in this system is only a “cog”, shows its inefficiency and even harm. Only the active participation of the population, coupled with awareness and competence, will make it possible to achieve changes that will bring real benefits to society.

This saves questions that don't have answers yet. The mount is saved, but how would the situation unfold if the broad masses did not come to its defense? What would happen if the creation of the plant had no legal flaws and there were no grounds for its reprivatisation? The hill is saved, but what will happen to the ecology of one of the centres of the chemical industry next and what fate awaits the huge BSK sludge accumulators and Kama-2 underground reservoir? These questions have yet to be answered.

The salvation Kushtau is a landmark achievement of the Russian society. But the situation around it is not just a dispute over resources or a unique natural object. This is a debate about the future: will it be eco-friendly? In this future, will the state hear the voice of society and will society defend its interests?

By Karina Gorbacheva

The author's opinion may not coincide with the position of the editorial board of Realnoe Vremya.