After Screening in Konin

Adam Dzienis at Internacional Radio
11 May 2019
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After Screening in Konin

Konin is a city whose history dates back to 1293. With its long history, today the city is the main centre of the Konin Lignite Basin in eastern Wielkopolska. Milka Stepien, a local social activist and politician, talked about the problems that the whole region is experiencing due to the end of coal reserves. A large part of Konin was founded during the communist era, in the 1960s and 1970s. It was then that large blocks of flats were built to accommodate crowds of miners and power plant workers, drawn from almost the whole country. During these 20 years, the population of the city has quadrupled. Knowledge of the Konin-Koło-Turek coal basin is part of the elementary geographical knowledge of the local homeland. Almost every Koninian has someone in his family who has worked or still works in a mine or power plant. Therefore, when it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about mines and power plants as the engines of regional development, it is also difficult to talk about the changes that have already taken place without strong emotions and bitterness of people remembering the period of the city’s glory.

 

 

From the late 1980s to 2005, employment in mines and power plants fell by 40%. In the region, there is a high unemployment rate, but at the same time many, especially young people, emigrate. In Konin alone, from 83,000 at its peak in 2000 to 75,000 in 2016, with the worst scenario presenting the vision that in 2050 there will be only 40,000 people living in Konin.

When in the West countries some media said of success with pit closures or such plans (e.g. Germany, Great Britain) in Poland is presented as a success, it is connected with the tragedy of many people who lose their jobs. Because they don’t know any other perspective. In the regions/coal basins, large companies (state-owned since the People’s Republic of Poland) have provided work and social security for whole families. People were accustomed to being responsible for their land plot, working from “from – to” and having employee holidays. The biggest plants in the Konin region are the “Pątnów-Adamów-Konin” Power Plant Complex (ZE PAK) – a group of four lignite-fired thermal power plants in the Konin region, supplying about 8.5 per cent of the national power of 2512 MW. After 1999, the process of privatization of the company took place. Many promises of new owners were not fulfilled. The new projects are questionable due to negative decisions of the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in relation to the planned open-pit mine in Ościsłów.

Agata Kuźmińska, Transformation Specialist at the Regional Development Agency S.A. in Konin, pointed out that for two years now there has been a visible interest of the inhabitants and rulers of Konin in implementing energy transformation projects, not only in the field of new renewable energy technologies but also in new jobs, transport and even culture in thinking about a new way of living without dependence on coal.
The declaration that the company (ZE PAK.S.A.) will set up solar and wind farms in brown coal mining areas is a great success of social movements.

After the film there was an interesting discussion with the audience. There were voices saying that the research indicates a high percentage of Poles’ mistrust of other people and doubted whether the idea of cooperatives would be accepted. The question was what to do to change it? Adam Dzienis pointed out that one cannot always talk about one’s faults. Poles are accustomed to constant criticism of themselves. Or maybe one needs more positive energy and simply acting “forward”. Although he admitted that this is a problem. An example of the first “Nasza Energia” cooperative from Zamość, which cooperates more easily with private business and local government than with local residents.

He also said that the problem is human. Terrifying statistics about how greenhouse gases affect the planet, do not convince people to change their behaviour, do not move things forward. What moves things forward? Money. And by using this argument we can reach out to ordinary people. During our documentary journey, where we went through the first six countries, people from the cooperatives told us that the only argument that convinced people was money. – said Adam. Among their 7 principles, cooperatives provide for co-ownership and return of a percentage of profit to their members. And it works for people that they join in building solar, wind or biogas installations. But they also started to meet to eat together, talk, and to build social bonds between neighbours, but also with strangers, they started to trust each other by doing something together.