25 March 2019, Monday, 17:45
A Challenge for Everyone

"Our Protest Can Already Be Called Political"


What is happening in Brest?

For more than nine months now, Brest citizens have been protesting against the construction of the iPower battery plant near the city. Last Sunday, December 9, a record number of people came to the central square of the city.

Later it became known that residents of the city were preparing a referendum on the closure of the battery plant.

An active participant in protests, Brest blogger and activist Aliaksandr Kabanau told Charter97.org about events in Brest:

- We, the initiative group against the construction of the battery plant near Brest, were looking for various ways to solve the problem at the legal level. A referendum is one of them. After advice of lawyers and human rights activists, we decided to practice it.

I can say that an initiative group has already been established to hold the referendum. It includes 30 residents of Brest district. Now we have an active paperwork, and next week all the documents, registered and notarized, will be handed over to the District Executive Committee.

According to the legislation, the referendum will be held on the territory of Brest district, the regional city was "cut off".

We'll have two months to collect signatures. We need to collect 10 percent of signatures from residents of Brest district to initiate a popular vote. Now we also work with activists and consult experts.

I can say at once that we understand perfectly well how "elections" are held in our country, how commissions work, but since we are initiators of the referendum, we will have our own proposals. First, there will be 2-3 representatives of civil society in each precinct commission. At polling stations, which are few in number, we will try to set up cameras so that we could monitor the process online.

I would like to note that if the referendum is held on our terms, we will hold it. If it is on terms of the authorities, it will not. Our position is as specific as possible - we will not play by their rules.

- Please tell us more about the situation with the plant. What is the attitude of Brest citizens?

- I can't speak for everybody, but the absolute majority of people, who have seen into the matter, read the documentation, is against the construction of the plant. Yes, we need jobs and taxpayers, but we should realize the danger of launching such a plant. People know perfectly well that neither the city nor the district has any use of this plant. After all, what the profit from this plant will be spent on. The authorities talk about jobs, but everybody understands what miserable wages they can offer.

This topic has been on the agenda not only in Brest, but also in the country for almost a year.

Of course, I am glad that people go out to feed pigeons, despite arrests. Moreover, when arrests of activists began, the authorities got the opposite effect - more people started joining the action.

The authorities share old news "everything is corrupted" to mire the protest, but it doesn't work. People are not blind. The situation has reached the point when Minister of Natural Resources Khudzik was forced to offer a meeting with activists.

The topic of the battery plant construction near Brest is extremely acute. I can assert it because I communicate not only with activists, but also with environmental experts, inspectors on environmental protection, different chiefs. I am told that they don't need this plant, it's just a problem. It shows that everybody in state bodies understands it as well.

Tamara Yalkouskaya, head of the Brest Oblast Committee for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, was present at the meeting with Minister Khudzik. When we voiced figures, she had an unhappy face. She is an expert and she felt uncomfortable.

There's another important political moment here. "Elections" are about to be held, and Brest is not satisfied. And I'll tell you, there are good reasons for it: hazardous industry, decree on "parasites", so I can't predict further events. Anything can happen.

No one is going to give up. Our initiative group consists of serious, educated people. The struggle against the plant is not a game for us, we understand that it's a disaster. People realize it and are ready to fight for their home.

- The number of protesters rose sharply last Sunday, what has served as a reason?

- I think that an active distribution of printed information and leaflets which we started a few days before December 9 is one of the factors. They contain data on the plant under construction. We tell and show people the documentation and communicate with them. We're still working, and we'll see what happens this weekend.

- What do people discuss during Sunday's events?

- Naturally, the topic of the plant is being actively raised. Our activists tell the latest news about construction, and in general, different topics are raised. I can say that 99% of people who join rallies have their eyes opened due to this situation. They didn't think before how the system worked, but now they say: "Thanks for opening our eyes. We have finally begun to realize where we live, how the law, officials, the court and the police work here". The struggle with the plant shows that the Belarusians have clearly realized what the present authorities mean.

- Recently it became known that Svetlahorsk is launching a bleached pulp mill. What is your piece of advice to its residents?

- I can say that we keep in touch with activists from Svetlahorsk. . In Brest the initiative group is made up of people who are specialists in various spheres. There are doctors, environmental scientists, engineers who deal with documentation, data. Siarhei Pyatrukhin and I, as bloggers, cover events about the plant. In general, the staff can raise the topic at a high level.

That's why we need specialists, a cohesive team, and then we can succeed. That's the most important thing. Then the problem will be solved.

- Officials are trying to clean up the plant, minimizing its danger, but its potential work also affects their health...

- Our officials are subject to constant danger. In addition to hazardous industry, their potential hazard is also posed by senior management, the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Every official who occupies more or less high position is under control.

He's appointed to make a "right decision". An official in our country is a person who is bind in decisions. He is appointed to carry out wishes of higher officials and nothing else.

They may consider the plant dangerous, but they never speak out against it. They may think that if the plant is put into operation, they have to evacuate immediately, but they cannot speak out against and oppose it. No official will do it, and if he decides to do so, chances are high that he will be dismissed from his post tomorrow.

You know, I'm not interested in their opinion at all. I don't envy them. In the very "parliament" people are made press "yes" button. Who might be interested in it?

We are glad that ecological problems unite Belarusians so much. Actually, environmental protests are also political, but people take them very close to heart. A lot of people don't believe TV screens, they spit on them.

Our protest can already be called political. The referendum is a politics and it is influence is increasing. We'll definitely keep working with people. There's no other way out but to fight.