Now that the dust has cleared after the recent so-called elections in Russia, it seems as if the western media — so breathless and eager to report every move made by the “creative class” or the “emergent middle class” (or whoever all those hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets of Moscow, Petersburg and other Russian cities) as it confronted the powers that be with white ribbons and cries of “We don’t want a revolution!” — has either gone on a well-deserved holiday or has (more likely) gone back to its usual fruitless wanderings in the hallowed halls of Kremlinology, thus missing the stories of conflict and popular resistance that, frankly, also existed in abundance (if not in sheer numbers all in one place) before that exciting “middle class revolt” of December 2011 unfolded.
Here’s a suggestion for those intrepid lovers of evenings at Moscow’s famous Jean Jacques cafe: run, don’t walk, to the Tsagovsky Forest, in the town of Zhukovsky, forty kilometers southeast of Moscow. This is what things looked like there yesterday afternoon (April 21):
As Voice of America’s Russian Service reported yesterday,
On Saturday, April 21, the defenders of the Tsagovsky Forest — the so-called Civilian Monitoring Camp — invited the residents of Zhukovsky to a people’s gathering. They planned to discuss the clear-cutting of the forest, which activists say is illegal, as well as meet with members of the municipal and regional Dumas.
April 21 was exactly one month to the day since the start of the logging. It was then [a month ago] that workers, acting under the protection of private security guards and police, cut down 15 hectares of old-growth pine forest. The camp has been operating in the forest for two weeks now: activists there are trying to prove that the cutting was done illegally and prevent further deforestation.
“There were about three hundred people at the gathering, and around twenty journalists,” the coordinator of the camp’s info center, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Voice of America’s correspondent. The entire logging area is now surrounded by a fence with two rows of barbed wire.
“The police said that the work area must be surrounded by a fence. Workers put up a fence,” the coordinator continues, “but whose workers they are is unclear. They had no documents, not a single one, no work orders, no permits. In the afternoon we went to break the fence.”
The forest’s defenders say that, in the absence of documents, there is no information about how much forest should be cut down and whether the right lot has been fenced off. “We were told that twelve hectares of forest would be cut. But as of today more than fifteen hectares have been cut down,” Andrei Nikolaenya, coordinator of the forest camp, told Voice of America’s Russia Service.
After trying to tear down the fence, people took to the road in order to attract the attention of passing cars. A fight with regular police and OMON riot police broke out, as well as with employees of the private security company Vityaz, which gained notoriety during the clashes in the Khimki Forest.
“The private security guards kicked people and even beat them with batons,” says the information center coordinator. “The police say that they’re citizen volunteers who help them out. Around forty security guards are on duty in the forest day and night. They approach the camp and swear at us. We are afraid that one night they’ll attack the camp. “
In the end, seventeen people were arrested, including journalists and passing cyclists. “We believe that everything going on here is illegal,” says Nikolaenya.
Nikolaenya fears that the camp could be torn down. “The police have said that we’ve gone too far and that they’re going to remove the camp. But if they take down the camp, a guerrilla movement will start here.”
Nikolaenya is optimistic. “We have very positive plans: to continue to fight for our rights, to bring matters to a political solution.”
The struggle for Tsagovsky Forest is already four years old. Since 1982, the forest had a special status as an old-growth forest, and until 2010 Tsagovsky Forest was considered an official local natural monument. Four years ago, the forest was stripped of its protected status: officials declared the decree granting it special status invalid and reclassified the forest an area of [ordinary] “trees and shrubs.” It was at this same time that preparations to build a highway through the forest began.
Officially, the new highway is needed to resolve the traffic situation in the city. In addition, according to a decree issued by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the National Aviation Center will be built in Zhukovsky. The highway is needed to provide access to it, to the Flight Research Institute, and to the venue of the annual Moscow Air Show (MAKS).
Moscow Region authorities have approved the construction of a public road “to the town of Zhukovsky (Gromov Flight Research Institute) from the M-5 Urals Highway.” Zhukovsky will receive compensation of 170 million rubles “for the loss of natural heritage.”
The photo, above, was taken from an online album of yesterday’s dramatic events. More information (in Russian) about the organized resistance to the clear cutting of the Tsagovsky Forest can be found at the web site freezhuk.org.