Today I finish working through this historical piece written by reporter Dmitry Lyskov, entitled: Miners Assisted In the Deconstruction Of the USSR And Almost Destroyed Russia As Well!
Where we left off, the striking miners were bitter when they discovered that all their hard work in dismantling the USSR had led only to the enrichment of capitalist “intellectuals” such as Anatoly Chubais. As is the usual case in revolutions (or counter-revolutions), the people who do the yeoman work are often not the actual beneficiaries of the process. The whole point of the operation was to build a capitalist class in Russia. Of which, coal-miners are not one.
Still, the miners soldiered on, determined to assert themselves. And rightfully so, since they were expected to lower themselves into the bowels of the earth every day and work for free — their wages had not been paid for over 7 months. And this is precisely the type of situation where workers would be fools to not go on strike.
On May 13, 1998, the miners of the city of Inta (in the Komi Republic), alongside teachers and medical workers, blocked the railroad artery leading from Moscow to Vorkuta, cutting off the entire Komi Republic from the center.
The Arctic-leaning Komi Republic, with a population of just under a million, is a federal subject within the Russian Federation, possessing an economic importance belying its sparse population, due to its location and natural resources. In the Middle Ages, this was an important trading hub, rich in furs and timber. Under Russian governance, the area became known also for mineral extraction. In 1936 it became an Autonomous Soviet Republic, but later promoted to Federal status. The town of Inta (with a population just under 100K) was founded in 1940 to support a Soviet geological expedition. The expedition struck black gold and started building coal mines. According to wiki, “Inta” is a Nenets (Nenets being the local aborigines who are sort of related to the Finns and Estonians, at least linguistically) word meaning “well-watered place”. Due to all the luscious rivers and lakes. The English word “parka” (as in a hooded jacket or coat) is a borrowing from the Nenets language.
Anyhow, it was in Inta that the so-called “Railroad War” began when the parka-clad (or not) coal miners shut Moscow off from that sweet sweet black Komi coal the Muscovites had become accustomed to.
The strike spread to the Kuzbass, and now things got serious when the miners blocked the Trans-Siberian Railroad (Magistral) itself. By May 20 (1998) other towns and cities all over Russia (including Rostov) had joined in the mass strike. This was possibly a proto-revolutionary situation, of the classical Leninist scenario, except that there was no Leninist vanguard party to guide the political demands of the strikers.
Nonetheless, the strikes soon took on a political bent. Only this time, instead of demanding more capitalism, the strikers demanded an end to the “Liberal” reforms and re-nationalization of the enterprises. In addition to the purely economic demands (wages, pensions, economic assistance), the strikers also started to issue demands for the resignation of the government and the President.
On May 22 a governmental commission arrived in the Kuzbass, endowed with authority to negotiate a settlement. They desperately promised the strikers whatever they wanted, just re-open the highways, that’s all we ask. Lyskov got hold of a “uniquely absurd” document from the archives, consisting of a signed agreement between the strikers and the head of the Commission, a government official named Oleg Sysuyev. The very first bullet point of the agreement reads: “Send B.N. Yeltsin into retirement. Deadline: June 1, 1998.”
The tactic of agreeing to all the strikers demands, worked. By the end of May most of the miners had departed from the railway lines and returned to work. But a delegation of miners took off for Moscow and set up a tent city in front of the Government building, demanding that the agreement be honored. The Government obviously having no intention to observe the agreement.
In June the tent city was dismantled. The miners lingered on for another couple of months, in a futile attempt to impress the government with their chanted slogans. But then the fatal crisis days arrived: August 1998, this was the real political crisis, and nobody cared about the coal miners any more. Now came the time for the man on the white horse.