Ole Elfenkämper: Death Or Better Days


Born in Germany and based in Stockholm, photographer Ole Elfenkämper has produced a couple of documentary series in Albania recently: one covers environmental concerns, and the other, which I'm happy we could put together into a feature here, is about a strike by chrome miners that lasted three months and is the longest industrial action since the fall of communism.

Bulqiza is a town in eastern Albania and is one of the richest areas in chrome in the Balkans. On July 4th its chrome miners downed their tools to protest for better working conditions, a wage increase, and changes to the administration of the mine for the sake of its future.

The miners started their protest in Bulqiza but after 16 days of general strikes and protests they went to the capital, Tirana, where they camped in a park nearby and went each day for five days to protest in front of Prime Minister Sali Berisha's office. With no hearings by the government forthcoming they decided to return to Bulqiza, and a group of 15 miners went 1400 meters underground to begin a hunger strike.

On October 8th, after three months of strike and long negotiations, the miners went back to work having agreed a deal with the management which included a wage increase. Just twelve days later, 1600m underground a massive explosion took place and one miner died and two out of seven wounded were fighting for their lives.

After the incident, the Union for Inspection and Rescue of Mines closed the mine until the company fulfills the security requirements for the 'galleries.' With the mine closed and the owners having not paid the workers during the months of the strike, the lives of the miners have become more and more difficult. They are forced to risk their lives working in other, sometimes abandoned, mines. As a result of working in unsafe conditions another deadly accident took place on November 11th in the chrome mining area in Bulqiza, bringing the total to 15 deaths in the last three years. Prosecutors are still investigating.

View the full screen magazine photo feature.

© Ole Elfenkämper

Thanks to Ole for the photographs and text for this feature

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