Ore mountains - social and economic conditions

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Czechoslovak Army Mine below Jezeří Castle (left: petrochemical company in Záluží), 2008

Post WWII culture and society

Jezeří castle with Komořany lake in 1882

After the Second World War the vast majority of the original German population was expelled from the land where they had their roots. They were replaced by newcomers from other regions who preyed upon the land as the property of the ousted “enemy” as if it did not deserve protection; it was perceived instead as a conquered territory to eradicate. Contributing factors to this perception was the combination of communist ideology with tense postwar Czech nationalism and the general situation in postwar Europe (see more on the VCSE wiki).

The Czechoslovakian Communist Party and government strategies of the 1950s and 60s emphasised the development of heavy industry and energy, dependent almost exclusively on brown coal. The largest deposits of coal are located in the basins of the foothills of the Ore Mountains, at Sokolov, Chomutov, Most and Teplice. These areas were developed exclusively on the basis of coal mining at the expense of other economic activities, the natural environment, the existing built environment, social structures and public health. Everything had to make way for coal mining, as coal was considered the “life blood of industry”. Mining executives, mining projection auxiliary operations, and especially Communist party functionaries were rewarded for increasing the quantities of coal mined and the excavation and relocation of as much overburden as possible.[1]

Surface mining and the power plants fuelled by the extracted brown coal eliminated human settlements and monuments – together with 106 municipalities, including the 650 year old royal city of Most (see historical overview), hundreds of square kilometres of cultural landscape were destroyed, along with drainage and water management systems created over hundreds of years, the ecological stability of landscape, and its agricultural and forestry potential were all shattered. To eliminate these adverse effects, technically interesting but environmentally inefficient projects emerged, such as the Podkrušnohorský water supply conduit (in the Lower Ore Mountains) the rerouting, with the use of pipes, of the river Bilina through the Ervěnický corridor between Jirkov and Komořany. This serves as the entire water supply system of North Bohemia replacing the original local sources of drinking water in the area. Railways, roads and other technical infrastructure projects were similarly rerouted through the same corridor. Vast swathes of landscape traditionally cultivated for centuries disappeared. While land reclamation has been carried out with great success in many cases, it is beyond the scope of devastation in this region. Priority was given to agricultural recultivation, even though it required long-term, artificial irrigation and adding other deposits in the soil, less attention was paid to forest and water recultivation. The landscape was impoverished by its loss of diversity and essential ecological stability, but on top of this, there are devastated areas, overburden heaps, weed infested land, undrained holes in mine collapses, ash sludge, and mining dumps. Poisoned by polluted air, forests in the Ore mountains died (see [Case study: Environment in the Usti region]), and mining began to threaten the remaining healthy beech forests on the southern slopes of the Ore Mountains, key to maintaining the ecological stability of the region. The region was in ruins, and increased illness was evident not only in forests, but also in the physical and mental health of the residents. This was the debacle of the “planned economy“.[1]

Opposition to the communist regime

The combination of communist ideology with tense postwar Czech nationalism and the general situation in postwar Europe brought development that was not only politically, but also economically erroneous, and, it could be said, pathological, and led to the collapse of social and economical structures in the region.

There were enlightened people who tried to stop the negative open mining trend, and at least protect the rest of surviving regional natural and cultural treasures, even before November 1989. Martin Říha and regional geologist Miroslava Blažková at the Regional National Committee in Ústí nad Labem managed, despite opposition from Federal Ministry of Fuel and Energy (FMPE) and miners, to push the Czech Mining Office and the Czech Geological Office to write-off the coal reserves under the historical centre and urban conservation areas, including the Castle of Duchcov (where Casanova spent his final years as the castle librarian). Even before the "Velvet Revolution", non-governmental organisations such as Brontosaurus from Litvinov were established to protect Jezeří castle, the remaining arboretum under it and the remaining municipalities, including Horní Jiřetín and Černice – activists such as Peter Pakosta and Miroslav Brožík were engaged to save the slopes of the Ore Mountains. The worthy deeds of Jan Marek from Stavební geologie (Structural Geology), Prague, are also important to highlight as he was the one who pushed the authorities to carry out the appropriate monitoring of the Ore Mountains using a special shaft under Jezeří castle. Marie Lafarová insisted on evaluation of the safety and stability of the pillar slopes of the Ore Mountains in the upper section of Černice-Horní Jiřetín at 300 m above sea level. All these efforts combined expertise and commitment to support sustainable development in the region (see also…). Although reluctant, Regional National Committee officials in the Commission of the Environment in cooperation with the central authorities had to include higher environmental protection standards in the planning documents for the further development of the region. Also, compensation measures were put in place and some measures to address the causes of environmental degradation.[1]

Spontaneous public demonstrations took place in Teplice and other towns in late October and early November 1989 against environmental degradation and the inability by district, regional and state authorities to respond constructively and appropriately to the problem. Finally, there was the demonstration in Prague of 17th November and the ensuing avalanche of events. This impulse led to the establishment of a separate Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic headed by Bedřich Moldan and the Federal Committee for the Environment led by Joseph Vavroušek on 1 January 1990.[1]

Development of the region under democratic conditions

Over the 20+ years since 1989, many of the historic towns and heritage buildings have shown that the local people and governments are well aware of the change. The historic centres of many of the towns have come back to life, signs of dereliction have disappeared, and heritage buildings have shone forth with restored beauty in Klášterec nad Ohří, Kadaň, Vejprty, Chomutov, Jirkov, Horní Jiřetín, Hora Sv. Kateřiny, Litvínov, Osek, Duchcov, Teplice, Dubí, Krupka, Chabařovice, and Ústí nad Labem. Jezeří Castle, once on its last legs, is being restored slowly but steadily, and Červený Hrádek has been preserved, although they offer views dramatically different from those they once commanded. However, we have also inherited huge housing estates built in all the larger towns in the socialist era; due to shoddy workmanship, some short-life components and neglected maintenance, they will require massive investment in repairs, insulation on outside walls and roofs, refurbishment of windows, elevators and installations. Many of the municipalities have inherited, and some have created new, small-scale Chánovs – Romany ethnic ghettos, which also have to be dealt with alongside the growing numbers of unemployed, homeless and those living below the poverty line. [1]

Natural conditions

So little of the natural and cultural wealth present in the region before 1938 has survived that it is imperative to conserve all that remains. Uninterrupted portions of the North Bohemian Basin (NBB) that have not been affected by mining or its consequences are difficult to find today. The main, central part of the Basin with the thickest and best-quality seam had largely been exhausted by underground mining. Open-cast mining has returned to those areas and has been destroying the last remains of natural soils on a large scale with its open pits and spoil banks. The natural structures have long been reduced below a tolerable minimum.[1]

Uninterrupted portions of the North Bohemian Basin (NBB) that have not been affected by mining or its consequences are difficult to find today. The main, central part of the Basin with the thickest and best-quality seam had largely been exhausted by underground mining. Open-cast mining has returned to those areas and has been destroying the last remains of natural soils on a large scale with its open pits and spoil banks. The natural structures have long been reduced below a tolerable minimum.[1]

Environmental burden

In the North Bohemia Basin (NBB), we have inherited thousands of illicit or legal but historically poorly managed waste dumps, many of them with industrial and hazardous waste, contaminated areas, abandoned industrial buildings and areas – brownfields – that need revitalization or reclamation. True, huge areas have been reclaimed, including some very successful cases (Lake Barbora near Teplice, Most Hippodrome; the former opencast mines at Chabařovice and Most are being reclaimed, etc.), but many of the reclamations of external and internal spoil banks and fly ash repositories are still unstable and will require many more years of management before they become normal sites again. The undermined areas and old mines are another threat; parts of them are unknown, some are known but inadequately secured and taken care of. There are lots of things that will have to be “put in order” after both the historic exploitation (early industrialization in the region 150 years ago) and the recent “management” to make it a good place for safe, healthy and rewarding living.[1]

The mining industry and its social consequences

It seems extraordinary that during the First Republic, Czechoslovakia was among the most economically advanced countries in the world, whose demand for energy was satisfied by small surface and underground mines with bucket excavators without needing to turn the land upside down or destroy settlements. Furthermore, this allowed for the selective extraction of raw materials from the top layer of excavated rock while accessing the coal below it to supply the power plants. The largest and most advanced of these power plants is, by today's standards, the small and now non-existent Ervěnice power plant. Development in our country and our region after 1948 must have been not only politically, but also economically, erroneous and, it could be said, pathological.[1]

While local people have finally established a new attachment to the area and wish to improve it for themselves and their children, the political and economic changes after 1989 have produced some new problems and brought a new generation of “gold diggers” to the Basin involved in privatizations of the mines as they foresaw the potential profit from the continued reckless plundering and sales of the natural resources in the area. Although the “territorial ecological mining limits” beyond which neither the mining nor its adverse environmental impacts were permitted were defined by a government resolution in November 1991 (the Government Resolution no. 444/1991), the so-called ”large variation of extraction" is still enforced by the mining lobby. Accepting this strategy would mean devastation of a long belt of foothills from Klášterec nad Ohří to Ústi nad Labem and which even at the southwestern edge of the North Bohemia Coal Mine Basin would have affected the thus far intact landscape of the Pětipeské basin. This “large variation of extraction” would mean the excavation of the foothills of the Ore Mountains and flattening of settlements, including large cities like Chomutov, Jirkov, Litvinov, Lom u Mostu, Novosedlice and Chabařovice, turning the landscape upside down and completely disrupting settlement in an area larger than 80 km by 25 km to a depth of 400 m. Surviving maps and texts reveal the extent of these plans. Mining threatened numerous communities, and even entire cities, or parts thereof, such as Chabařovice, the southern edge of Krupka and Dubí, North Novosedlice, the edge of Teplice, Duchcov, Libkovice, estates on the western edge of Litvinov, Horní Jiřetín, Černice and Jezeří castle, the southern edge of Jirkov, Chomutov, Březno u Chomutova and some other smaller communities, including historical sites, many of them of significant historical and cultural value.[1]

At stake would be not only the settlements of the basin. Large scale extraction would reduce access to towns and villages already isolated in the Ore Mountains. Distances would be increased for conducting trade, commuting to work and accessing services such as schools and medical assistance, which fewer and fewer people were willing to tolerate.[1]

Legal status of mining company activities

Series of articles draw attention to the practices of mining companies, especially its privatization scandals.

Resources

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Říha,M., Stoklasa, J., Lafarová, M., Dejmal, I., Marek, J., Pakosta, P., Beránek, K. Environmental mining limits in North Bohemian Lignite Region. Společnost pro krajinu, Praha 2005. Translation: Petr Kurfürst. Updated for the ISPoS summer school in September, 2011

Regions of the Czech Republic

Ústí region

Social effects of the mining industry

NGOs (cz)

Extinct or endangered localities (cz)

Creative Commons Author: Jana Dlouhá, Andrew Barton. This article was published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. How to cite the article: Jana Dlouhá, Andrew Barton. (15. 07. 2019). Ore mountains - social and economic conditions. VCSEWiki. Retrieved 19:00 15. 07. 2019) from: <https://vcsewiki.czp.cuni.cz/w/index.php?title=Ore_mountains_-_social_and_economic_conditions&oldid=4867>.



This page was created with support of the OP VK CZ.1.07/2.4.00/17.0130 Project - Interdisciplinary Sustainable Development Network

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