Max Sher, Magnitka, from PRIVATE 48 – Economic inequalities
Magnitogorsk or Magnitka, a Russian mill town of 420,000 people is one of the most polluted places on Earth. Founded in 1929 at the behest of Stalin, the Magnitogorsk steel mill was originally modelled on the US steel cities of Gary and Pittsburgh. In their haste to produce steel, the people and environment were often neglected. However, Magnitka has become the showpiece of Soviet industrialization and one of the largest steel mills in the world. It also played a significant role in supplying the Red Army with steel and armour during WWII.
Today, the mill’s owners control the city’s politics and economy by a combination of pseudo-patriotic propaganda and direct intimidation. Thousands of families work in the mill as it is extremely difficult to find other employment. Over the last few years efforts have been made to improve the mill’s environmental record. However, the city is still subject to the harmful effects of pollution and disease. Accidents are concealed while air pollutants such as heavy metals, sulphur dioxide and lead threaten nearby inhabitants. According to local statistics, only 1% of children here are healthy. Magnitka is symptomatic of Russia’s stagnant economy and overdependence on commodity prices: when they are high, everything goes relatively well. When they suddenly drop, the economy in mill towns like Magnitka begins to crumble, leaving thousands without work or prospects. Fear of reprisals and layoffs prevents most workers from standing up for their rights.