13 July 2020, Monday, 13:52
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

‘Authorities Fear Discussion Of Social Problems Like Plague’

‘Authorities Fear Discussion Of Social Problems Like Plague’

They even fear a spark, as they know it could start a fire of popular protest.

On Sunday, on the site in front of the Central Department Store in the Savetskaya Street in Homel, local democratic activists planned to hold a protest rally against the ban of peaceful assemblies. An application for holding this rally was duly submitted to the city executive committee, but was expectedly rejected. Under the same old reasons. Failure to pay for the services of the police, ambulance and the Ministry of Emergencies to ensure the security of the proposed meeting of citizens. The very purpose of the event is already perceived with surprise. And it sounds like an oxymoron. Nevertheless, this is our Belarusian reality today. The authorities have tabooed the peaceful expression of citizens ’protest moods through meetings and rallies. Tabooed in all possible senses.

Meanwhile, there are really many problems in Homel. They need to be resolved, the public should be involved in the resolving process, through public discussion. But the authorities fear this like the plague. They even fear a spark, as they know it could start a fire of popular protest. First of all, environmental problems are very significant in the city. Industrial enterprises are located not very reasonably with regard to the wind chart. Most of the days of the year, the western transfer of air masses goes from the industrial zone to residential areas, and not the other way round. About half of the harmful substances emitted into the atmosphere are generated by the Homel Chemical Plant (nitric oxide, sulphurous anhydride) and the Central Heating and Power Plant-2, which operates also on furnace oil. These two industrial giants are located in the western part of the city. In the western outskirts, the main urban solid waste landfill is located, which is already almost completely filled. It is also a source of stench, which covers residential areas when there’s an unfavorable direction of the wind. There are a huge number of other industrial enterprises that emit thousands of tons of polluting harmful chemical compounds and substances. However, the problem is not that they exist, but how they work.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that Homel is a very compact city. That is, industrial and residential areas are very close. Suppose these are miscalculations of Soviet engineers and designers. But now all these problems can be, if not solved, then at least minimized. There is an urgent need to invest in the modernization and construction of new filtration and treatment facilities, industrial chemical deactivators and afterburners. But with the current attitude of the authorities towards the population, no one is properly dealing with these issues. The city and republican leadership understands that it is cheaper to poison people than to invest in improving the overall level of environmental safety of enterprises.

The transport issue is also relevant for the city. Homel is divided into 2 parts by the Sozh River. And they are connected by two railway and 2 automobile bridges. Voices have long been heard about the need to build a third automobile overpass that would unload the city center from traffic jams and exhaust gases. However, the possibility of this construction rests on the poverty of the local budget, or rather, in the inability of the local authorities to establish a proper transport network in the city.

Homel is the regional center that suffered the most from the Chernobyl accident. Radiation in large amounts is present in the food consumed by the citizens. After all, all the main agricultural products are grown in nearby areas, contaminated with radionuclides. The people’s feeling of danger has dulled in 30 years. It shouldn’t have. The only solution and to many problems is the introduction of new technologies and an open, transparent discussion of the situation. And not only this one. Homel should turn into a high-tech cluster of cutting-edge breakthrough technologies that will raise the economy and infrastructure of the region to a new decent level. Only this way the city can survive and revive.

But with the current government, all these plans are unrealistic. Because this is not popular government. Nobody elected this power. All the main bosses and officials are appointed from the Center, and the key priority in their work is following the instructions from above, rather than understanding and finding ways to solve the main city problems. The local power vertical has turned into a bunch of nodding puppets, unable to take the initiative on the ground and constantly looking at the “decrees” from above, while not forgetting to steal and destroy all entrepreneurial and political activity of citizens. It is obvious that only publicity, reform of the principle of tax formation of local budgets, and accountability of local authorities directly to their voters can give impetus to the development of the entire region, and the country as a whole.

Dzmitry Savich, press-center of the European Belarus