July 01, 2010

Tragedy in Mezhdurechensk

twenty years ago, hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Russian coal miners became a political force that contributed to perestroika-era reforms. On May 8 and 9 of this year, Russia’s largest mine, Raspadskaya, was the site of a deadly blast that killed 67, causing many to wonder if anything has been accomplished over the last two decades.

All news of the disaster in Mezhdurechensk was drowned out by coverage of Victory Day celebrations in local and regional media. Then a national television report highlighted miners’ high salaries, alleging that workers knew the risks they faced. Mezhdurechensk erupted: 3000 protesters descended on the main square of this town in the Kemerovo region, protesting low pay and inadequate safety precautions.

Miners told journalists that they often have to “fix” methane detectors to keep them from going off. The methane concentrations are very high in Raspadskaya due to the type of coal being mined. And when detectors go off, the miners said, work cannot continue. The miners’ solution: taping over the sensors.

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