Adani’s Potemkin village

Throughout the long struggle over Adani’s Carmichael mine, I’ve argued that the project, as well as being environmentally disastrous, is not financially viable. Adani’s objective has been to keep the project alive, both to avoid bringing the loss of money already spent on the project and to maximize the chance that an Australian government will either pay them to go away or stop the project in a way that leaves open the possibility of a claim under the insidious system of Investor State Dispute Settlement, which still applies between Australia and India, even though our trade agreement has lapsed.

On the other side, Labor governments would clearly like Adani to go away, but don’t want to be blamed for the loss of (largely imaginary) jobs, or to be sued under ISDS. Given that there is apparently no financial institution in the world willing to finance this appalling project, that has seemed like a good bet.

Adani’s announcement in November that the project would be financed by $2billion its own resources was a clever move to undercut this hope. But of course Adani doesn’t want to spend such a massive sum, any more than it spent the $400 million supposedly released for preconstruction works in 2017. So, having announced a start on construction “before Christmas”, the company did nothing. Its jobs portal, set up with great fanfare in 2017, has so far listed only four or five Adani jobs (though other employers use it quite a bit).

The self-funding announcement stirred the pot for a while, but something more was needed. So, Adani announced that it was moving heavy earthmoving equipment to the site, ready for an immediate start. It released a couple of pictures, which are below.

I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that these pictures show only one, or maybe two, vehicles that could be described as “heavy earthmoving equipment”. And while the camp (which was apparently constructed in 2016) has accommodation for 300 workers (rather less than the 10 000 we were promised), the collection of vehicles parked out the front suggests that actual occupancy is more like 20.

Just as with Prince Potemkin’s famous villages, moved from place to place along the Dnieper to give Catherine the Great an impression of bustling activity, there’s every chance that this arrangement is just for show,

Meanwhile, the Queensland Labor government has responded in kind. Whereas Adani suggested that its radically revised proposal was still covered by previous approvals, the government is sending them back to the drawing board on a range of issues.

As far as Labor is concerned, the big questions will arise when (I assume) they win federal government in May. An obvious requirement for good policy is the repudiation of all ISDS clauses in trade agreements, to preclude the possibility of an Adani lawsuit. Then we need a coherent policy on phasing out coal exports.

In the meantime, my guess is that we will see a fair bit more shadow boxing.

22 thoughts on “Adani’s Potemkin village

  1. That looks like equipment required to keep the road open. Maybe the headline should be “Adani commits to keeping road to nowhere open”.

    It works on so many levels.

  2. “An obvious requirement for good policy is the repudiation of all ISDS clauses in trade agreements.”

    Yes, very important. Corporations often pay no tax. Then they want to rob national treasuries as well.

    “We need a coherent policy on phasing out coal exports.”

    True, and then we need a coherent policy on phasing out coal mines, gas wells and oil wells. Plus a coherent policy on transport and renewable energy. My prediction is that a Labor government in its first term won’t even achieve the beginning of the first of these (phasing out coal exports). Of course, we still need a Labor government. It’s the least worst option of those options which could realistically occur. But the phase out of coal exports will be too hard for Labor. They get coal money in political donations.

    And here’s something about the corrupt start of the Qld gas industry;,8547#.Vo2lpzs-xDk.twitter

  3. This sounds like a company that plays on the politicians’ social agenda. This form of externality is disruptive to nations at many levels. at the macro level it can smear the credentials of a nation’s foreign investment image. At a micro level it can raise expectations for local employment just to dash hopes at the last moment. At the legal level it can lead to protracted litigation, so tying up valuable public labour resources. At a financial level it can crowd out more reputable development projects. The social costs are staggering.

  4. It’s a hopeless cause this late in the day, but Prince Grigori was an exceptionally capable satrap: founder of several cities and the naval base at Sevastopol, successful general against the Turks. Doubtless he gilded the lily for Catherine’s triumphal tour, as everybody does for royalty. The incident was turned into a very successful smear by his enemies in St. Petersburg.

    It’s true he was Catherine’s lover for a while, which helped his career. But she had plenty, and the handsome empty-headed studs were not given posts of high responsibility.

  5. @James It’s not just hopeless but misguided. If not for the villages, who would care about an 18th century Russian official, one of many lovers of a largely forgotten queen. A few film buffs might be interested, perhaps, to find out the eponym of Eisenstein’s battleship, but that would be it.

  6. I wonder. Would we call Elizabeth I a largely forgotten queen? She’s obviously not forgotten in Anglophone popular culture. We keep getting swamped by Elizabeth I movies and TV series. To the Russian popular imagination, Catherine the Great is at least as important a figure. In that sense, the dismissal of Catherine the Great as a largely forgotten queen is clearly just an Anglo-centric view. From the perspective of recent Russian popular culture we can note the recent Russian twin TV series of “Ekaterina” (young Catherine) and “Catherine The Great”.

    Of course, the popular imagination is not necessarily a good yardstick of historical significance as it is often formed by myth-making and fictionalizing around historical figures. In more serious histories, the importance of the Elizabethan age or the Catherinian age centers not on the ruling figures themselves but on the important historical developments in those ages. The monarchs are symbols and provide convenient adjectives for their eras which were indisputably important in the historical development of England and Russia respectively.

    Some historians take this sort of view;

    “THE OUTSTANDING FIGURE of Catherine’s reign, other than Catherine herself, was Gregory Potemkin. For seventeen years, from 1774 to 1791, he was the most powerful man in Russia. No one else during her life was closer to Catherine; he was her lover, her adviser, her military commander in chief, the governor and viceroy of half of her empire, the creator of her new cities, seaports, palaces, armies, and fleets. He was also, perhaps, her husband.” – Erenow Biographies.

    I don’t subscribe to the “great person” view of history so I am not particularly sympathetic to the above view. But if we dismiss Potemkin then we must also dismiss a whole roster of figures from Elizabethan histories.

  7. No, it’s never misguided to try to correct the historical record, though it may be impossible. I don’t suppose JQ would think it OK to make up stuff about Gallipoli to sell a movie. Then where do you put the bar? Making up yarns that James Cook and Lord Curzon kept harems of small boys? These were inportant men in the history of British imperialism, though less so than Potenkin’s in that of the Russian version. This is not to make them heroes. I suggest that it’s a matter of respect for the millions whose lives they affected, including millions alive today, to judge them as fairly as we can.

    It’s not trivial that the Potemkin village slur has had such a long life. Catherine was both very adventurous sexually and a very successful autocrat. It suited respectable Victorian patriarchs to twist the story so that she became a frivolous and easily manipulated slut, an acceptable stereotype.

    Like most successful rulers, she was pretty ruthless, and probably connived at the murder of her useless husband. But you have to take her seriously, and therefore her minister Potemkin.

  8. If I was Prince Potemkin I would be proud that my gilding the lily with regards to Catherine”s tour had been exaggerated into a metaphor that has rung down through the ages.

  9. John Goss,

    If you were Prince Potemkin you would be long dead and entirely decomposed and dissociated in organic terms. You couldn’t feel pride or anything else. 😉

  10. Ocean warming now discovered to be faster than modeled by IPCC et al.

    I predict there will be a string of news like this from now on. Everything is worse then we thought. We are in more danger than we thought. Matters will get critical sooner than we thought. In point of fact, matters are critical right now. Check out “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice”.

    That’s why we need to declare a climate emergency and end neoliberal fundamentalist capitalism by democratic government action. Eventually, we all have to do this or go extinct. Even then we might fail. We are close to being irretrievably late on the necessary actions now.

  11. That’s why we need to declare a climate emergency and end neoliberal fundamentalist capitalism by democratic government action.

    You can declare spirits from the vasty deep, but will they come when you do declare them?

  12. James. The Potemkin villages are a delightful myth and the literal truth or otherwise of the myth is not germane. Some stories need to be literally true for them to have a valid point, but that is not the case with the Potemkin villages.

  13. Gilding the lily or indeed outright fraud with the object of fooling the state for personal advantage is a major and recurrent theme in Russian literature. Gogol’s Dead Souls relates how a con man collects the documents of deceased serfs in order to convince the state bureaucracy he is a man of means and entitled to land grants in newly conquered territory. Gogol’s The Inspector General relates how venal and corrupt provincial officials try to convince a man they believe to be an incognito auditor from the capital that all is tickety boo. Ilf and Petrov’s 1920s classic Twelve Chairs has similar themes. Russians love a good story about official corruption and gullibility.

  14. adani commercial antics aside, the side subject of historical reference is apt. (to me anyway)

    John Goss and Icono?

    a constant ambition of big noting individuals who pop up out of the ever-rolling historical record is the desire for “everlasting glory” and their name to “echo down through the ages”.

    of course what they want to be associated with and what they are associated with are often two entirely different things.

    trumpery? anyone?

  15. John that ‘heavy machinery’ is no more than what some large pastoral stations have on hand. So it looks like they might be able to clear some scrub, cut some dams and maybe grade some firebreaks and access roads. Really poor PR exercise. Wonder if TOLL will get paid for their involvement?

  16. Positively my last comment in the Potemkin villages. Suppose the story were true. Creating a stage-set village, dismantling it, moving it across fifty miles of steppe and rebuilding it ahead of the imperial cortège looks far more difficult than just building real villages. So Prince Grigori could have been showing off his organisational maestria to his former mistress and current friend. He was certainly not concealing failure, since he had massive achievements to show. Catherine was not deceived but amused.

    This reading does not put Catherine and Potemkin in a good light; but what makes is objectionable is the casual twisting of the lives of poor peasants, making them props in a theatrical mutual entertainment of two members of the 0.01% élite of the time.

    The Russian nobility were capable of much better. See my tribute to another member, Maria Volkonskaya, one of the Decembrist wives who followed their husbands to Siberian prisons or exile.

  17. I do not know why I am getting involved in this but the Potemkin villages as such almost certainly never existed. What Potemkin did do was establish a set of greasy inns complete with sleazy prostitutes to cater to the Holy Roman Emperor (Franz?) who liked to think he was slumming as he travelled to visit the Empress Catherine. Jealous courtiers in St Petersburg probably distorted the stories to slander Potemkin. It makes a good story.

    Reportedly, Potemkin did move a complete “village” along on the tour including plants, etc., to set up a “nice” camp each night for the Empress. It was not almost certainly not a “fake” village intended to decieve the Czarina but just the camp. Given that at this time in Russia, relatively minor nobles often travelled with a two or three hundred attendants, the moving village seems not too outlandish.

    And from the referenced Wiki: “Aleksandr Panchenko, an established specialist on 19th-century Russia, u: “Based on the above said we must conclude that the myth of ‘Potemkin villages’ is exactly a myth, and not an established fact.” and Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Potemkin’s most comprehensive English-language biographer, the tale of elaborate, fake settlements with glowing fires designed to comfort the monarch and her entourage as they surveyed the barren territory at night, is largely fictional.”

    It has been a long time since I read Sebag-Montefiore but as I recall it, he thought they were pure myth. See the inns mentioned above for a possible source of the stories.

    @ John

    Prince Potemkin was just a bit more than just Catherine’s lover. The reason for Catherine’s tour to the South was to some of Potemkin’s conquests for Russia. Little places like the Crimea and IIRC the territories now in the break-a-way Ukrainian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk among others.

    He founded cities, establish the shipbuilding industry that built the Russian Black Sea Fleet and so on.

    He was Catherine’s key minister for most of his life. It might be better to think of him more as the equivalent, say, of Pitt the Elder than just the lover of the Russian Czarina. It being Czarist Russia his position as the Czarina’s lover was what gave him his power base but he was a man of great ability and energy.

    @ James Wimberley January 13, 2019 at 3:13 am

    Creating a stage-set village, dismantling it, moving it across fifty miles of steppe and rebuilding it ahead of the imperial cortége looks far more difficult than just building real villages.

    That is what he did. It was not a stage-set, it was “just” the Imperial camp. It even had its own portable garden. It would have moved by river not by land and I suspect 20–30 km is a more reasonable distance but yes he (well a trusted and highly capable henchman and crew) moved the village/camp pretty much daily.

    We would call it moving camp.

  18. […] few weeks ago, I commented sceptically on Adani’s announcement that it had moved heavy earthmoving equipment to its Carmichael site. […]

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