Brown slag heaps crossed by furrows, on which cranes and metal platforms move in the distance. It is to this huge potash mine – a substance used for fertilizers – that the young town of Soligorsk owes its existence. A little more than 100,000 inhabitants for 17,000 workers, divided between four extraction sites and a processing plant managed by the state-owned Belaruskali company. In town, everything is reminiscent of the factory, from the statues of miners on the roundabouts to the giant panels praising the beloved society of the Alexander Lukashenko regime. Behind the building bars, we can see this huge complex which produces 20% of the world potash market.
This strategic windfall for Belarus, in addition to the oil and financial sectors, could be targeted by future European sanctions, currently still under study. In 2020, according to statistics from the European Union, 1.2 billion euros of chemicals, especially created from potash, were imported from the former Soviet Republic.
After the international emotion aroused by the hijacking, on May 25, of a plane connecting Athens to Vilnius, while crossing Belarusian airspace, with the aim of arresting a 26-year-old journalist, Roman Protassevich, the European leaders have decided to send a strong signal. First with the closure of European airspace to the national company Belavia. Then, with measures to prevent European airlines from crossing Belarusian territory – which represents a certain shortfall for the country, in terms of air taxes.
These sanctions against Belaruskali, Vladimir (the names have been changed) and the six other former workers who surround him support them “With [leurs] hearts and [leurs] corps ». They are the last to resist. Men, between 20 and 50 years old, gathered in a rectangular room of the Soligorsk branch of the Independent Trade Union of Belarus (BITU), which represents 2,500 employees of the factory.
“Put an end to this fear”
How did they end up in a strike committee which still brings together 140 people, of whom twenty, under pressure, were forced to leave the country? The question elicits a moment of silence, before Andrei, blue jacket and still adolescent face, speaks. The need to join the movement was imposed on him from August 17, 2020, during demonstrations in the courtyard of the factory, following the fraudulent re-election of President Lukashenko eight days earlier.
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