June 25, 2012
STOP ODPADOM Protesters Paddle to Protect Their Environment
David Hunt has a degree in Archaeology, but couldn't find a job here in the UK. Now he lives and works in the city of Lódz in central Poland. There he teaches English as a foreign language! Here he writes a guest blog post for econnexus.org, all about a recent canoeing expedition he took part in along the river Pilica:
On the 23rd of June 2012, residents of the small yet picturesque town of Sulejów, Poland, took action in the form of peaceful protest by the STOP ODPADOM movement against plans to construct a privately owned landfill site* close to the town’s main river and a number of residential areas. The area of renowned natural beauty could potentially be subject to radioactive contamination, which needless to say poses hazards not only to the wildlife nearby but the thousands of people who make use of the water source (including residents of the nearby city of Lódz).
The protest itself saw hundreds of daring residents (including young children) canoe down the river Pilica waving banners, playing guitars, singing songs, lighting torches and in general expressing their dissatisfaction with the aforementioned plans. The protest was met by countless more residents who lined the banks of the river and its main bridge, all showing their support for the hardy souls who had spent the last 6 hours in canoes, chanting their lungs out and in general getting rather wet and hungry!
The evening of June 23rd was special for another reason however. In Poland, the transition between the 23rd and 24th of June is known as Noc Swietojanska/ Noc Kupaly. Long standing beliefs connected with water, fertility and purification have become the foundation for a number of rituals which have transformed over the years to include some of the following traditions which occur on this night:
- Girls will make wreaths of flowers which are placed on rivers (often with a central candle) and left to drift down. The purpose of this is supposedly to give insight into the girl in question’s marital future. It is believed that if the “right man” collects a wreath from the water, then his and the wreath’s creator’s futures are forever intertwined!
- Bonfires and lanterns are lit in connection with marriage rituals and other such activities. In general fire is important for atmosphere on this night, as in many other pagan celebrations around the world.
The result of these rituals turned what may have started as a simple protest into something truly magical. As dusk approached the river became blanketed with fog, meaning the procession of canoes was lit (and led) solely by drifting candles and torches being wielded by fellow protesters, as well as the chants and string music that filled the air. Numerous space-bound lanterns also gave us some indication of where the edge of the river was. It felt totally surreal and very primal! The experience I think brought everyone closer to understanding water’s significance in our lives, now and throughout time.
Although initially met with approval by the local Mayor, the results of the protest still hinge on the action of district government members who have to be honest, taken their sweet time in addressing the potential hazards that this landfill will pose. A petition which has so far been signed by over 50% of the town’s population has still not been enough to deter the powers that be from their intended course of action. We should know the results of our efforts by the end of the week.
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Finally, and by way of contrast, here's how they celebrate "St. John's Night" in the big city:
* Substances such as mercury, asbestos and arsenic will be present at the landfill, which happens to be situated in an elevated position that could cause a run-off effect through alluvial processes.
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