Tag Archives: Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest

Moscow and Petersburg Rally in Defense of Maxim and Alexei

A few images and videos from yesterday’s rallies in Moscow and Petersburg in defense of Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. The campaign to secure their release is still on: go here and here to find out what you can do to help.

This video from the Moscow demonstration features the event’s moderator, activist and journalist Vlad Tupikin, well-known civil rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, sociologist and activist Carine Clément, and sociologist and activist Boris Kagarlitsky. Clément talks about how both Maxim and Alexei are the kind of people whose work on behalf of various causes contributes to the building of “civil society” that the current Russian regime claims to be interested in building. Kagarlitsky argues that if the young men are not released, it will be a disgrace for all of Russia. They are being punished because their comrades had the “impudence” to tell the truth to the authorities, who are incapable of performing their jobs and taking responsibility for their actions.

This video, also from the Moscow rally, features Tupikin, who argues that the spontaneous demo outside the Khimki town hall on July 28 was a decisive factor in the subsequent backdown by the high Russian authorities (in the form of a temporary halt to the clear-cutting of the Khimki Forest pending a review of the route through it for a planned Moscow-Petersburg toll road.) After a fragment featuring Carine Clément, Alexei’s mother, Irina Gaskarova, talks about how there is no evidence that her son committed any crime, that the country’s pretrial detention facilities are overcrowded with people who are imprisoned for months on end, and that an investigator confessed to her that he and his colleagues know very well that her son and Maxim are innocent, but that the case is being curated from the very top of the Russian political hierarchy and there is nothing they can do. Irina Gaskarova is followed by Viktor Solopov, who also talks about how the police are fabricating the case against Maxim and Alexei. He also recounts how, when Maxim was summoned by the police for a “discussion” on July 29, he warned his son not to go to them because they cannot be trusted. This draws a round of applause from the crowd. He also talks about the police have been torturing and otherwise intimidating the young men’s comrades to obtain “testimony” against them. (We will have more details about this aspect of the case in a later post.) Mr. Solopov is followed by Seva Ostapov, another young Muscovite who was recently victimized by the Moscow police (and tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.) He reiterates Solopov’s arguments about the untrustworthiness of the police: according to Ostapov, the words “police” and “lawlessness” have become synonyms in today’s Russia, while the words “court” and “justice” no longer have any connection between them. The video ends with Vlad Tupikin reading aloud a letter sent to the demonstrators by Vladimir Skopintsev, an antifascist activist now in forced exile in another country. At around 11 p.m. on September 2, persons unknown fired shots into the window of his family’s apartment in the Moscow suburb of Troitsk, barely missing the head of Skopintsev’s younger brother, Andrei. Instead of investigating the incident, police summoned to the scene of the crime took Andrei and his father to the local police station, where officers threatened to charge Andrei with extremism and began beating him up. The police released Andrei and his father only in the morning, confiscating Andrei’s passport in the process. (You can find more details of this strange but all too typical story here.) In his letter, Vladimir Skopintsev writes that his own experiences and Russia’s recent history have taught him that sooner or later anyone who comes into conflict with the “party line” will face repression. He closes by expressing the hope that one day he will be able to return to Russia and be reunited with the people at the rally.

_______

The image at the top of this post was taken by Moscow blogger and activist anatrrra. See their complete photo reportage of the Moscow rally here.

A bit earlier in the day, activists and concerned citizens gathered under a cold rain in Petersburg’s Chernyshevsky Garden to voice their support for Maxim and Alexei and demand their release. The photo below was taken by the ever-reliable Sergey Chernov. See his complete photo reportage of the Petersburg rally here.

1 Comment

Filed under activism, film and video, political repression, protests, Russian society

Yevgenia Chirikova on Why We Should Support the Khimki Hostages

Yevgenia Chirikova, leader of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest, on why we should demand the release of the Khimki hostages, Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. To find out what you can do to support them and secure their release, go to khimkibattle.org.

I think that the way the authorities are treating Gaskarov and Solopov is needlessly harsh and cruel. It’s barbarism: it’s wrong to put people in a pretrial detention facility for two months for a few slogans [painted on a wall]. I think that this sort of “show of strength” is simply proof of the fact that the authorities are powerless to solve this problem. There would have been no attack on the Khimki town hall if the authorities had resolved the problem of the Khimki Forest in a timely and civilized manner. It’s not such a huge problem to build the highway so that it bypasses the forest.

I think that all these court hearings that are taking place now should not be held in closed chamber but should be open, that the system should be transparent to the public. And I think that the [demonstration on September 19 in Moscow in support of Gaskarov and Solopov] is important, that you come out for it. Any one of us can be grabbed like this and thrown into jail without a proper trial and investigation, and this is what we’re seeing now in the case of Gaskarov and Solopov.

We ourselves, the defenders of the Khimki Forest, have encountered the same approach: we have been detained without any legal grounds and thrown into the “monkey cage” at the 2nd police precinct in Khimki. And there was no way that we could prove that we were in the right. Honestly speaking, I just feel sorry for these people who are now in a pretrial detention facility. And I think that the demonstration on the 19th is important for every person who has clashed head on with the lawlessness of the authorities. We must demand that this case is reviewed normally and publicly.

_______________

Thanks to antifa.ru for providing a transcript of the Russian text of this video.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

International Solidarity with the Khimki Hostages: Where and When

Here is some information about international solidarity actions in support of the Khimki hostages, Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. Be there or be square!

London

Picket the Russian Embassy, 13 Kensington Palace Gardens, from 5:45 p.m., Monday, September 20. Gather at High St Kensington tube at 5:30 p.m. Banners and placards welcome. Called by Green Left, Socialist Resistance, and Chto Delat. Contact: Andrew Kennedy, tel: 0790 644 6137. See the call on the Socialist Resistance web site.

Paris

7:00 p.m., Monday, September 20, action at the Russian Embassy, 40-50 Boulevard Lannes, Paris, 16th Arrondissement.

Yesterday, Friday, September 17, Radio Libertaire in Paris broadcast a program dedicated to the Khimki hostages featuring a participant in the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages. You can listen to it (in French; along with some inspiring music) here.

Hamburg

7:30 p.m., Monday, September 20, in front of the Russian Consulate, Am Feenteich 20, Hamburg. Gather at S-Bahn Sternschanze at 6:30 p.m. The action is organized by the Hamburg Autonomous and Antifascist Group:

http://antifahamburg.blogsport.de/2010/09/13/mo-20-09-antifa-soli-fuer-russland/

NYC

Monday, September 20, at the Russian Mission at the United Nations. E-mail beactive.nyc@gmail.com for details.

Berlin

5:00 p.m., Monday, Russian Embassy, Unter den Linden. Details (in German) here.

_________

Actions are also planned for September 20 in Budapest, Mexico City, Saloniki, and Athens. We will update this post as and when we get more details about these solidarity actions.

Solidarity actions in support of Maxim and Alexei have already taken place in NYC, Seattle, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Bochum, Dusseldorf, and elsewhere.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals, protests

Boris Kagarlitsky on Why We Should Support the Khimki Hostages

Russian sociologist and leftist activist Boris Kagarlitsky on why we should demand the release of the Khimki hostages, Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. He is shown signing a postcard addressed to President Medvedev demanding the release of Maxim and Alexei. The video also contains an appeal to attend a rally at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow, September 19, at the monument to Griboyedov near the Chistye Prudy metro station in Moscow.

To find out what you can do to support them and secure their release, go to khimkibattle.org.

Today, many people — both in power and within the social movements — have the tendency to say that there are good, loyal people in the movement to defend the Khimki Forest who use nonviolent methods, and then there are the extremists, the irresponsible people who attacked the Khimki town hall, who carried out this violent action and so on. People who argue this way fail to notice two things. First, violence was used by those who were attempting to stop the protest campaign. We all know about the violent attack against the environmentalist camp in the Khimki Forest. And this attack took place with cover from the local authorities — or, at very least, the local authorities did nothing to prevent it. We haven’t heard that the attack against the camp has been investigated. We haven’t heard that the Khimki police have punished the guilty parties. We haven’t heard that the local or federal authorities were angered or outraged by this ugly incident.

And after this it is quite clear that this kind of inaction on the part of the authorities, this passive encouragement of violence by those ultra-rightwing gangs provoked violent actions from the other side. But keep in mind that the violence of the ultra-rightwingers was directed against people. As far as the damage done to the Khimki town hall is concerned, not a single person was injured.

We have no grounds to believe that the two people who are now being held in the pretrial detention facility are responsible for what happened. The only thing we do know for sure is that they were in Khimki at that moment and participated in the action.

It was precisely Alexei and Maxim who advocated moderate, nonviolent actions. And they advocated these views publicly. Note that many [antifascists] cover their faces and conceal their surnames. But Alexei and Maxim didn’t conceal their surnames: they acted publicly, openly. By the way, they reported voluntarily to the police when they were summoned. That is, they behaved like loyal, law-abiding citizens.

In other words, even if we believe that someone should be punished for those four broken windows [in the Khimki town hall] — and someone probably should pay [to have them replaced]: this is the whole extent of the problem — then it is not at all obvious that this should be Maxim and Alexei.

_______

Watch other videos in this series of appeals for solidarity with the Khimki hostages here.

1 Comment

Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

The Khimki Hostages Need Your Solidarity!

http://khimkibattle.org

In July and August 2010, as forest fires blazed all across Russia, the French construction company Vinci and its Russian partners were engaged in destroying a forest near the Moscow suburb of Khimki. The town administration backed their actions using a combination of lawlessness and direct violence: forest defenders were attacked both by local police and extreme right-wing thugs. The coordinated actions of grassroots activists have put a temporary halt to construction of a planned Moscow-Petersburg toll highway through the Khimki Forest. However, two active defenders of the forest, antifascists Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, remain in police custody on fabricated charges. In essence, they have been taken hostage by local authorities and police officials. If they are tried and convicted they could face seven years in prison. Meanwhile, police and other law enforcement agencies continue their hunt against other activists, especially those with connections to the antifascist movement.

The next pre-trial detention hearing for the two young men is scheduled for late September. Join our International Days of ActionSeptember 17–20, 2010 – to demand their release. Our main slogans are Freedom for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov! and End the Persecution of Forest Defenders and Antifascists! For more details, go to our web site.

The Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages calls on people from around the world to fax messages of protest to the Khimki municipal court and Russian law enforcement agencies on September 20, 2010. You can find the details here.

What You Can Do Right Now

1. Repost our appeal and your own opinion about the case on your web site or blog. Forward these texts to friends, comrades, and anyone else you think might want to participate in this solidarity campaign.

2. Write e-mails to international organizations, Russian government officials and the development companies involved in the toll highway project: they all either are in a position to help secure release of the Khimki hostages or bear indirect responsibility for their continued imprisonment. Please take twenty minutes right now to send your letters and petitions to the organizations listed here, as well as to inform your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Your help might prove decisive in saving the Khimki Forest and its defenders.

3. If you are prepared to help the persecuted activists in other ways or would like to share advice on how to deal with European and Russian official organizations and companies, please write to us at:

info@khimkibattle.orgcollaboration@19jan.ru,19jan.solidar@gmail.comecmoru@rambler.ru

How Things Are Done in Khimki

Since the launch of the project to build a toll highway through the Khimki Forest, the Khimki town administration has become infamous for its gangster-like methods of “working” with local residents. Over the past three years, forest defenders have suffered numerous arrests and other forms of harassment by local police, as well as physical attacks carried out by “anonymous” hired thugs, including neo-Nazis. These actions by the Khimki administration and its partners are explained by the significant commercial interest they have in seeing that the highway construction project is completed. The planned highway would be the first such toll road in Russia, connecting the country’s two largest cities, Moscow and Petersburg. Along with the highway itself, the project includes plans for the construction of service and maintenance infrastructure, hotels, and residential buildings. The project thus promises enormous profits if realized, and that is why its backers are so keen to ignore both the law and the value of individual human lives. The lives and freedom of two forest defenders and antifascists, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, are today threatened. They were arrested and falsely charged in revenge for a spontaneous demonstration that took place outside the Khimki town hall on July 28, 2010. Practically speaking, Alexei and Maxim have been taken hostage. At the same time, the Russian police and other law enforcement agencies have unleashed an unprecedented campaign of persecution directed against all antifascists. In violation of all legal norms, these activists have been forcibly detained and taken in for questioning by police, who have used physical and other methods of coercion to obtain the testimony they want to hear. The police have also conducted illegal searches of antifascists’ apartments. Under such circumstances there can be no doubt that the Khimki administration and the police intend to take new hostages who will join Gaskarov and Solopov behind bars.

The entire story of the Moscow-Petersburg toll road project has been punctuated by threats and dozens of physical attacks against activists, by the arsons of their homes and cars. Mikhail Beketov, editor of a Khimki opposition newspaper, was severely beaten and left for dead. He miraculously survived but he is now confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. The editor of another local newspaper, Anatoly Yurov, has been beaten three times, suffering various injuries, including a brain concussion. The last time he was attacked, he suffered nine knife wounds. Newspaper layout editor Sergei Protazanov was cruelly beaten by persons unknown and died from his injuries the following day. After receiving numerous threats, local civil rights activist Albert Pchelintsev was kidnapped; his kidnappers shot him in the mouth with a pneumatic pistol and threw him out on the street. Albert survived this attacked, but his vocal chords were severely damaged. Pensioner and forest defender Alexander Parfyonov was attacked outside his home; his assailants wounded his arm. Two attempts have been made on the life of activist Vitaly Kapyttsev: an unknown assailant attempted to stab him to death outside Kapyttsev’s home at night, and later a bomb was thrown through his window. Activist Yevgenia Chirikova has been a constant target of crude harassment on the part of the police and attacks by unknown assailants: a person unknown tried to run her over with a car, and her husband has been physically attacked. There has been no official reaction to most of these attacks and in many cases the police have not even opened investigations. Local journalists and activists know of many other instances in which the Khimki administration has broken the law, as well as of its connections with the criminal world and neo-Nazis.

When developers began destroying the Khimki Forest in July 2010, environmentalists, antifascists, and political activists joined local residents in defending it. Although they did not have an official permit to clear-cut the forest, the loggers were guarded by regular police, private security guards, and neo-Nazis. On several occasions, groups of “persons unknown” wearing shirts and other clothing with neo-Nazi logos attacked forest defenders while police stood by. After these incidents, OMON riot police arrested the activists, not the hired thugs. The logging of the forest continued despite numerous petitions, pickets, and demonstrations. That is why antifascists and anarchists carried out a spontaneous demonstration in late June outside the Khimki town hall. During the demonstration, a few windows were broken, and demonstrators spray-painted the slogan “Save the Russian forest!” in two places on the wall. This action was widely reported and discussed in the press. None of the demonstrators was arrested during or immediately after the action in Khimki. But the following day two well-known social activists, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, spokesmen for the antifascist movement, were detained by police. Their arrests involved numerous violations of procedure and law: their arrest protocols were drawn up to report that they had been arrested “at the scene of the crime” and absurd “eyewitness” testimony was fabricated against them. Since then, the police have been forcing activists detained for questioning to testify against Gaskarov and Solopov. In the meantime, in the face of growing protests against the destruction of the Khimki Forest, the Russian authorities have conceded that the planned route for the toll highway needs to be reviewed. And yet Gaskarov and Solopov remain hostages of the highway, of the Khimki administration and police officials. They remain in prison as the police and prosecutors fabricate a case against them. If they are brought to trial and convicted as charged, they could face up to seven years in prison.

Find more information in the Prehistory of the Case of the Khimki Hostages

The Situation Is Critical

The safety and liberty of members of the antifascist movement are threatened. They very much need your solidarity. In late September, the Khimki court will again decide whether to keep Alexei and Maxim in prison or release them. We ask you to participate in our campaign to force the Russian authorities to release them and end its witch-hunt against forest defenders and antifascists.

On September 17–20, 2010, protest actions will take place outside of official Russian establishments all over the world. Rallies and other expressions of solidarity will also take place, as well as a media blitz to publicize the situation. September 20 is the proposed day for sending protest faxes to the Khimki court, the Khimki administration, and the Moscow Region prosecutor’s office. You can find details on planned actions, fax numbers, and other updated information on our web site: http://khimkibattle.org/.

3 Comments

Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

How You Can Help Max Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov

In our previous post, we relayed the international call made by the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages to put pressure on the Russian authorities to release Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov, who were arrested on July 29 for their alleged involvement in a demonstration outside the Khimki town administration building. Although there is no evidence that they were involved in this “unsanctioned” demonstration, they have been in police custody since then.

One way you can help them is to send letters to Russian law enforcement officials. At the following addresses, you will find sample letters addressed to the Russian prosecutor general, the prosecutor of the Moscow Region, and the Interior Minister.

In English, to the Prosecutor General (Yuri Chayka):
https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1D8rG0PA3ce6fg9pZvL3HeCprZiPqB4wjiic_wiEdH3c

In English, to the Prosecutor of the Moscow Region (Alexander Mokhov):
https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1riJ-pqUlA25lphG50Jn_XCHDb5sFup1_ceiAm1q396g

In English, to the Interior Minister (Rashid Nurgaliyev):
https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1mp6DgdyA7lA7F8dHnjxdnbtTFQPpwTi9-Gn-iVh1ol0

In Russian, to the Prosecutor General:
https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1YiIb5iK_ndEW4SR3vID-m9IVquK0mcdwg3tDRLF53Hw

In Russian, to the Prosecutor of the Moscow Region:
https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1SADCQh7Ddjs0m2pmzOB-Fc9tPO9lPd6rXGDLYwGKWFw

In Russian, to the Interior Minister:
https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1hYck-6aQBUrEhw1z0Ea_DxKuOCIaTO8r9buDN3Iv3Lk

The contents of the sample letters are identical. You should feel free to edit the letters before sending them and adding your own thoughts and arguments. This is particularly advisable in the case of the Interior Ministry, whose site claims that they do not give official replies to copies of electronic appeals sent previously.

You can send the letters via the Web:

Russian Prosecutor General’s Office:
http://genproc.gov.ru/ipriem/address/
You should press the left button under the text of the rules (Согласен)  and the window for sending a letter will open.

Office of the Prosecutor for the Moscow Region:
http://www.mosoblproc.ru/internet-priemnaja/obrashchenija/send/

The fax numbers are:

Prosecutor General’s Office: +7-495-9875656

(This is the phone number for the information service that works with people’s complaints.)

Prosecutor for the Moscow Region: +7-495-6236869
(This is the fax number of the public reception service, which also lists another number: +7-495-6216466. You can also try the phone for the service that works with public complaints: +7-495-6211646.)

Letters also can be sent by post to the following addresses:

Russian Federation Prosecutor General
ul. Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 15a
GSP-3 125993
Moscow, Russia

Office of the Prosecutor for the Moscow Region
Malyi Kiselnyi pereulok, 5
GSP-6 107996
Moscow, Russia

Russian Federation Ministry of the Interior
ul. Zhitnaya, 16
119049
Moscow, Russia

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, racism, nationalism, fascism

Call for International Days of Action in Support of Gaskarov and Solopov

A Call for International Days of Action in Support of Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov

September 17—20, 2010

On July 28, 2010, more than two hundred young antifascists and anarchists carried out a spontaneous demonstration outside the town administration building in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow. They demonstrated in defense of the Khimki Forest, which was at that time in the process of beings cutting down for the needs of big business. The demonstration, during which several windows were broken, received a great deal of public attention. The authorities responded with a wave of repressions. The day after the demonstration, two well-known social activists, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, were arrested. They are now threatened with up to seven years in prison for disorderly conduct, although there is no evidence of their complicity in illegal activities. Meanwhile, the police continue to hunt down and harass other activists, especially those involved in the antifascist movement.

The campaign to save the Khimki Forest has been going on for the past three years. The authorities had decided to build a segment of a planned Moscow—Saint Petersburg toll highway, the first of its kind in Russia, through the forest. This would lead to the deterioration of environmental conditions in the region, and local residents and Muscovites would be deprived of yet another recreation zone. Despite the availability of alternative routes that would not require clear-cutting the forest and vigorous protests by environmentalists and ordinary citizens against the planned route, the authorities f0r a long time ignored the voice of society and on several occasions took measures to suppress their critics.

Khimki authorities and the highway project contractor have used violence and other tactics against Khimki Forest defenders. They refused to give permission for protest demonstrations, recruited nationalist thugs to break up a peaceful protest camp organized by environmentalists and local residents, and illegally arrested and beat up journalists covering the story. Nearly two years ago, Mikhail Beketov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda and a critic of the local administration, was severely beaten by persons unknown; the attack left Beketov permanently disabled. Sergei Protozanov, the layout designer of another local opposition paper, was murdered in similar circumstances six months later.

After the July 28 demonstration, the Russian police and secret services unleashed an unprecedented dragnet against antifascists. People who had even just once come to the attention of the Center for Extremism Prevention and FSB for their involvement with the antifascist movement have been forcibly taken in for questioning. In several cases they  have been subjected to harsh physical coercion in order to compel them to give the testimony required by investigators. In addition, illegal searches have been carried out in their apartments. All these actions on the part of law enforcement authorities are violations of Russian and international law.

Frightened by the numerous and growing protests against the clear-cutting of the Khimki Forest, the authorities have finally made concessions by agreeing to review the advisability of the planned route for the toll highway. But this does not mean victory. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov are still in police custody for no reason at all. They are hostages of the authorities.

In late September, the next hearing in their case will take place. The judge will decide whether to keep them in police custody pending completion of the investigation and trial. Everyone who cares about the fate of these two young men must do everything in their power to see that they are set free. The Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages calls on people around the world to organize days of action on September 17, 18, 19, and 20 to pressure the Russian authorities to release Alexei and Maxim.

We ask you to hold protests outside of Russian Federation embassies, consulates, trade missions, and cultural centers, as well as at public events and concerts connected to Russia. We also ask you to send faxes, e-mails, and protest letters to the court, the prosecutor’s office, and the country’s political leadership. In the very near future we will inform you of addresses where you can send these protests as well as more details about the ongoing repressions in Russia. Look for this information on our website http://khimkibattle.org in English, German, Russian, and French.

Join our campaign!

Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages

+7 (915) 053-5912 • info@khimkibattle.org •  http://khimkibattle.org

5 Comments

Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

A Letter from Moscow

The letter below was sent to us the other day by Petr Bystrov, an artist based in Moscow. We have reproduced it here because it provides vivid, firsthand testimony about the continuing disaster in Moscow and other parts of Russia, and how many people there and elsewhere perceive the bizarre response of high officials to the calamity, which has combined silence, grandstanding, disinformation, and a disavowal of the disastrous neoliberal policies that have aggravated the crisis (including Putin’s 2007 gutting of the country’s forestry management system).

We would beg to differ with Petr’s conclusion, however. First, because even in the face of the present calamity, not all Russians are as “stupid” or “submissive” as he argues. On the contrary, there is evidence of real grassroots solidarity. Second, one of the goals of this blog has always been to make instances of solidarity and resistance more visible to the outside world. The current Russian regime often resorts to intimidation of various kinds when faced with more or less massive popular self-organization (as Peter correctly points out has been the case with the defense of the Khimki Forest). Even when this is not the case (although, sadly, it almost always is), acts of resistance and solidarity are often underreported in the media or ignored altogether, thus reinforcing the sense of powerlessness that afflicts many people here, not just Petr. This is not to mention the mind-boggling level of official corruption and malfeasance that batter ordinary Russians everywhere, as described even in the positive report we have linked to above:

Many people have used their blogs to relate their own anecdotes about delivering aid and fighting fires. In one Gogolesque anonymous post currently making the rounds on LiveJournal, residents from the Chuvash capital of Cheboksary drove overnight to the neighboring republic of Marii-El to deliver boxes of food and nonprescription medical supplies they had purchased with money donated by concerned neighbors.

At one point, the blogger relates, they were stopped by local police who accused them of illegal activity and then helped themselves to some of the supplies in their trunk. Later, they encountered a group of Emergency Situations Ministry employees playing cards and drinking vodka as two fire trucks stood idly by, water leaking from their tanks, unused.

“We’re just in shock, this isn’t the ESM, it’s a FUNERAL BRIGADE,” the blogger comments. (Eventually, the group found a village elder who served them hot tea and gratefully received what remained of their supplies.)

We also cannot help noting that societies seemingly less troubled by a violent historical legacy and a reactionary present also evince symptoms of “passivity” and “stupidity.” Was the official response to Hurricane Katrina any less of a mockery than what we’re seeing in Russia today? Are Americans rioting in the streets to end their country’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan? Have Europeans united in solidarity against attempts to slash and burn the social-democratic model?

The only correct answer to these (rhetorical) questions is: more publicity, more merciless analysis, more solidarity, more grassroots self-organization, globally and locally. Otherwise, we are all doomed to go up in smoke.

__________

To: Petersburgers, friends, correspondents, and the international community

Hello, everyone!

This letter is not a cry for help, but an attempt to inform you about what has really been going on in Moscow in recent days. It is written from the viewpoint of the father of two small children, from an apartment one hundred meters away from the Leningrad Highway section of the Moscow Ring Road, in Novye Khimki.

The already-critical situation (which neither before nor after the events described in this letter has been declared an emergency) that has unfolded in Russia, the Moscow Region, and the city of Moscow since mid-July (forest and peat bog fires, record-breaking heat, the absence of wind or rain) began to rapidly deteriorate on the night of Thursday, August 5, when smog engulfed the city in such a way that by morning (Friday, August 6) visibility was reduced to fifty meters even according to official sources.

On television, there is no information about the nature of the cataclysm from competent sources (doctors, scientists, politicians). On the radio, where there is more freedom, what we mostly hear is criticism of the totally corrupt and devastated systems of fire prevention and forestry management, as well as doubts about a swift resolution of this crisis (or, as the president put it, this bloody mess.)

My suspicions and sense of increasing danger were aggravated by the fact that when the smog was still relatively light, reports about it came hot and heavy. But ever since the situation has become genuinely critical (for example, since the death rate has skyrocketed), coverage on the topic of the fires has become feeble and routine, as if we were dealing with an already-established state of affairs that did not call for emergency measures.

I assume that this was the Kremlin’s way of preventing panic, for there were ample reasons to panic.

The media took the line of defending the reputation of the government and the president, presenting them as wholly engrossed in the bitter struggle with the elements.

In terms of saving their reputations, our political spinmeisters/cosmetologists came up with a quite reliable tack: our leaders are defending and helping people, and they’ll come out looking like heroes. But how long this will go on is not in their power to decide – it’s a natural disaster, after all. Putin said right from the beginning that all the fires would subside once the snows came. And we will еternally honor the memory of those who perish during this time. So now we have to wait no more than three months for a miracle.

Сommenting on Mayor Luzhkov’s absence from Moscow and, in general, his utter silence on the matter, the press office of the Moscow city administration issued a comical statement at the weekend: the smog is coming from the area around Moscow, where there are fires blazing, but in Moscow there are no fires. Therefore, there is nothing for the mayor of Moscow to do here.

Then Medvedev said something to same effect (on Monday, August 9): enough complaining about the government – they’re not the ones starting the fires.

And now for serious matters.

There have been indirect reports (mostly on the radio, but censorship exists there as well) about the transfer of all available resources to prevent the flames from reaching nuclear facilities (in Sarov, Voronzeh, and Chelyabinsk). This information was presented in an apophatic, neutralizing mode: firefighters are battling, they’ve contained the blaze, the danger that existed only an hour ago has now passed. That is, when the danger arose, there was silence. Later we were informed that everything was okay: the problem had been taken care of.

What thus emerged was a classical aporia: at any specific moment in time there is no danger (only smog, fire, and a lack of visibility), but every time you look back, you find out that there had just been a threat, but it had been overcome. I assume that a smart political handler with a philosophy degree came up with this uncomplicated aporia.

Forgive me, dear friends, for descending into sarcasm from time to time: these days have done a terrific job of exhausting me body and soul.

What follows is a brief chronology of the weekend’s events. At around 11:30 p.m. on Thursay, a storm suddenly whipped up. For twenty minutes, lightning flashed and a violent (albeit dry) wind blew. Then there was a sprinkling of rain for literally five minutes, after which thick, bluish smoke suddenly set in. It continued to thicken in such a way that by Friday morning (as had happened during the week and even earlier) it hadn’t cleared a whit.

On Friday, there were very few people on the streets because a categorical ban against opening windows had been issued over the TV.

I was forced to go to the supermarket, which was also filled with gray smoke.

Russia’s chief sanitary inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, issued a decree (!) that everyone who could should leave Moscow. And yet an official emergency has not still not been declared.

Over the course of a day, the color and density of the smog changes, something visible to the naked eye. The odor of the smoke also changes, ranging from a pungent, charcoal smell to a strong aroma that reminds you of the fact that there are chemical weapons warehouses in the Moscow Region and other parts of the country.

Neither on Friday or at the weekend was there any information forthcoming about the nature of the gas, the color, the smell, the prospects of its lifting, the threat it posed to various age groups or ways of defending oneself against it – nothing.

“Specialists” just keep repeating that the concentration of toxic particles in the air is three to seven times over the norm, which is absurd because these and even more alarming figures had been been made public by “official correspondents” weeks ago, when the sky was completely clear.

On Saturday evening, sixteen (!) children were playing on our playground, which was barely visible from our window. This was a desperate gesture, on the order of drinking sea water to slake one’s thirst. At around this same time it became clear that the situation would not be resolved anytime soon. The smog сould persist for three days or a week or two weeks. The temperature could continue to be abnormally high. The fires could subside and then flare up again. Russia lacks the necessary infrastructure for localizing, extinguishing and managing the flames.

As for us, on Monday we spent the fourth day in a row behind closed windows covered with damp sheets. The temperature and humidity were high; the wind speed, zero meters per second – total calm.

The sun was not visible, and the temperature outside was +34 degrees Centigrade. We broke down and took the kids on a “walk” to the food shop in our own building: they have an air conditioner.

During the second half of the day, the weather cleared for literally two hours, but then there was a sudden gust of wind and masses of gray smoke completely engulfed the sky. We closed the windows again.

Literally everyone who could has left the city, tens of thousands of people. On Monday, there were no traffic jams anywhere in Moscow!

The incidents of people reporting to hospital with heatstroke have been massive, and the death rate is still three times above the norm: the morgues are unable to cope with the influx of corpses. All information of this sort is openly reported on the radio.

On Wednesday we found out that a decree had been “sent down” to the districts to evacuate thousands of children. I spoke personally to a district representative about the condition of my children, who are covered with a rash and breathing more heavily than usual. (Ordinarily, they are healthy kids, and they have no allergies.). In a manner befitting a true Russian politician, he said that there would definitely be evacuations, but he didn’t know exactly who would be evacuated, where they would be sent, and when the evacuations would take place. He asked me to call the following day.

We called the following day. This time we were told that old people would be transported. (I should point out that lifeless old people have already been transported in great quantities during the past days.) It was again unclear when this would happen, but old people have been given higher priority than children – Medvedev’s policy of modernization in action.

Dear friends, I’m not spinning you a tale here, but describing the real situation. Medvedev visited a hospital, where he was told that massive numbers of old people had sought medical care. He responded to this by saying, Good: that means that the lifespan in Russia is increasing.

I would like to devote a separate paragraph to the debilitating patience of the Russian people, who stupidly putter around their cells until the danger has passed and then spill out onto the streets, beer in hand, to enjoy life. Any social initiative – for example, a demonstration or picket – is doomed to nonexistence. That’s how it is. Moreover, the events unfolding around the defense of the Khimki Forest, visible from my window, testify to the fact that initiative is a physically punishable offense.

I have my own theory about this, which I won’t discuss here to save paper. But the submissiveness, stupidity, and omnivorousness of our people appears extremely ominous against the constrasting background of social and economic woes, and natural disasters.

Petr Bystrov
August 7–12, Moscow

Photos courtesy of Petr Bystrov

Leave a comment

Filed under open letters, manifestos, appeals, Russian society

Sign a Petition in Defense of the Khimki Forest

This petition was drafted by Ekooborona (Eco-Defense), the grassroots organization founded by Yevgenia Chirikova, leader of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest.

http://ecmo.ru/signs/alternative/#english

Here is the full text of the petition in English:

To President of Russia Mr. Medvedev

Dear Mr. President,

We, undersigned, ask you to review the new Moscow – St. Petersburg toll motorway placement (section 15 – 58 km) in order to minimize environmental damage to the Khimki Forest Park’s eco-system. In the preliminary Act of the Choice of Land Plot there were two options alternative to the currently chosen motorway option through the center of Khimki Forest Park. Both alternatives did not left the Forest Park completely intact, but they inflicted substantially lower damage to its eco-system than the currently chosen option. Nevertheless, the alternative options were discarded without any serious technical and economical analysis, under doubtful pretexts, without any analysis of public opinion.

Moreover, according to independent experts (including the director of Russian Scientific Institute for Transportation Mr. Mikhail Blinkin), there is an option for the road placement which almost don’t require any clearing of forests. The conclusion is based on the known plans of extension of the new Moscow – St. Petersburg motorway to the territory of Moscow (segment 0 – 15 km) within the framework of the so-called “Severnaya Rokada” project. In this project, the use of the area adjoining to Oktyabrskaya railroad is planned for the motorway construction. Such an approach allows one to build the road along a virtually direct line, within a very densely populated area, without clearing of forest parks and green zones, but also without displacement of population.

No one among the perpetrators of the project in its current state has given any plausible answer to the following question: Why the motorway is diverted to almost 10 kilometers from the direct line making a “loop” within Khimki Forest Park on the section 15 – 58 km instead of following the same way along the existing railroad as it is planned for the segment 0 – 15 km?

The option of routing the motorway along the existing railroad is mentioned in official study results by the project’s concessioner (NWCC LLC – a daughter structure of Vinci group). It is admitted that there is still no technical and economical analysis for this option. It is extremely strange, since this option seems to be an optimal one taking into account its technical and environmental features. Indeed, the motorway would be almost direct, about 10 km shorter than according to the officially adopted option via Khimki Forest Park. The road would approach densely populated zones of Khimki only within a section about 1 km in length (just after passing the Moscow – Volga Channel, on its right bank). It is better than the currently chosen option. Indeed, today it is planned, for the motorway construction, to clear a unique forest strip separating residential buildings of “Levoberezhny” district from a giant open dumping ground. The dumping ground makes environmental condition in this district extremely poor even without auxiliary negative effect of both the clearing of the forest strip, and construction of the motorway.

In case of building the new motorway along Oktyabrskaya railroad, it will subsequently cross the following objects after passing the Moscow – Volga channel:

• A small industrial zone on the right bank of the channel,

• The territories of a marketplace and of a shopping square,

• An existing automobile bridge over Oktyabrskaya railroad.

Then the motorway will be confined to a long industrial zone around the railroad, almost to the very end of Khimki Town. No one of the above mentioned objects has a value compatible with the value of Khimki Forest Park. Moreover, the use of an overhead option for the construction of the road allows one to use further the shopping areas as well as industrial zones below it.

The only green zone that can be cleared for such a project is on the left bank of the Moscow-Volga channel. Its total length is about a few hundred meters – which is far better than according to the existing variant where the motorway crosses forest lands on a segment about 10 km in length.

Since the motorway’s option near Oktyabrskaya railroad is about 10 km shorter than the currently chosen option via Khimki Forest Park – its realization may become cheaper. There may appear a possibility to use remaining funds to make a tunnel where the road will be passing near residential buildings (less than 1 km in length, approximately – from the marketplace to the existing bridge over Oktyabrskaya railroad). Such an option would be an ideal one from both technical and environmental points of view.

Moreover, another suitable option is completely not considered – i.e., construction of the new motorway along the existing Leningradskoe Shosse. Within Moscow (including bridge over Moscow – Volga channel) the width of the existing highway was recently enlarged up to 7 – 8 rows in each direction within the frameworks of the project “Bol’shaya Leningradka”. In Khimki, this road ends up in a “shopping street” of 3 or 4 rows in each direction. The enlargement of the existing street (or building of a parallel motorway) is impeded by adjoining shopping malls and their parking lots. It seems than in the present state of things the partial use of the shopping malls’ lands for the motorway construction would not lead to negative social consequences compatible with ones in case of building the motorway through the forest park territory. Moreover, the use of overhead option for the motorway construction would allow one to use the lands below it, for example, as parking lots.

According to the study of Transparency International – R, the choice of the existing option of the motorway placement within Khimki Forest Park can be linked to a conflict of interest in the upper levels of Russian Ministry for Transportation. It is known that the present Minister of Transportation, Mr. Levitin is, the same time, one of the chief executives of Sheremetyevo Airport, as well as of the largest commercial carrier based there – Aeroflot Company. No doubt, from the point of view of the airport the current option that allows the motorway to approach Sheremetyevo airport is an advantageous one. But this option is below any criticism from the point of view of handling the transport flow between Moscow and St.Petersburg. For example, according to the mentioned study of the project concessioner, the choice of the current option (i.e., following a “loop” within forest lands) leads to drop of the planned transport flow speed by at least 30 km/h. International expertise shows that the motorways must be as direct as possible, and exits to airports and other similar objects must be arranged as separate local roads, with no damage to overall technical ratings of motorways.

Moreover, there are well-known plans for commercial development of forest lands on both sides of the motorway by Moscow District Governor office. These plans are described in Decree 358/16 by Governor Gromov (now cancelled), as well as in the Plan for Mosow District Territory Planning (July 11, 2007) (still actual). Commercial development of adjoining forest lands is, according to experts in transportation, proven fatal for the very idea of the motorway (as it has already happened, for example, with Moscow Ring Road).

We ask you to cancel the decision about the motorway placement on the lands of Khimki Forest Park, as well as immediate stop of any works performing in connection with this option. We demand you to authorize detailed examination of all the available alternative options for the motorway placement, first of all – of the option of the motorway’s placement along Oktyabrskaya railroad. The examination should be carried out by an independent expert commission, ideally – with the participation of Russian and international experts. After this, an open public discussion must be carried out on the final choice of the motorway placement.

Please sign the petition here.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, Russian society

Don’t Stop the Logging, Don’t Put Out the Fires – Stifle the Press

The Moscow Times
Khimki Battle Stirs Press Freedom Fears
10 August 2010
By Alexander Bratersky

An ongoing tussle over the Khimki forest is raising fears that media freedoms are in jeopardy, with the police pressuring journalists into collaborating or revealing their sources of information, media freedom activists said Monday.

In the most recent incident, investigators on Monday removed Alexander Litoi, a reporter for the liberal Novaya Gazeta daily, from a train in the Moscow region to question him about a July 28 attack on the Khimki City Hall building.

The City Hall building was pelted with stones and smoke grenades by 90 to 300 attackers who protested what they called unlawful destruction of the Khimki forest, slated for a partial demolition to make way for an $8 billion highway despite protests from environmentalists.

Litoi said the police wanted him to disclose information about members of an anti-fascist movement that took responsibility for the City Hall attack, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. He said he was not present during the attack.

Last week, police officers visited the offices of several newspapers, including Kommersant, asking staff for information about the attack.

The requests amount to an attempt to disclose journalists’ sources, which can only be revealed on court orders — something that investigators did not obtain, said Andrei Rikhter, a media professor at Moscow State University’s school of journalism.

Police investigators have also visited the headquarters of the Svobodnya Pressa online daily, asking for photos of the City Hall attackers.

Several reporters from Komsomolskaya Pravda and Moskovsky Komsomolets have been summoned for questioning, and police officers have also visited the home of the Gazeta.ru reporter Grigory Tumanov.

“These are attempts to discredit reporters,” Rikhter said, adding that the law does not offer the media sufficient protection from police abuse.

“The media law doesn’t ban [police] from conducting searches in offices of media outlets and summoning reporters for questioning,” he said.

Moscow and Moscow region police spokespeople provided no comment on the media freedom allegations Monday. A Khimki police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Moscow Times that police were only acting on request of civil authorities in the case. He did not elaborate.

The relatively independent print media has become a source of irritation for the authorities after television, the No. 1 source of news for most of the population, was placed under firm state control in the early 2000s, said Boris Timoshenko, a researcher at the Glasnost Defense Foundation.

He said the Khimki attack has served as a source of embarrassment for the police because the police had failed to react fast enough to make any arrests.

“They are looking for scapegoats,” he said.

Two suspects have been charged in connection with the attack and face up to seven years in prison. The two deny involvement and claim that they were targeted for being prominent figures in the anti-fascist movement.

Some media experts said the police have grown more bold in going after journalists after State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who chairs the ruling United Russia party, attacked two newspapers for critical articles following the March 29 suicide bombings in the Moscow metro that killed 40 people.

Gryzlov claimed that articles in Vedomosti and Moskovsky Komsomolets about Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, who claimed responsibility for the bombings, showed that the newspapers “might have been connected with terrorist activity.”

Both newspapers filed defamation suits against Gryzlov, but lost.


Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, political repression, Russian society