Tag Archives: Tsagovsky Forest

Statement by the Zhukovsky People’s Council on Alexei Gaskarov’s Arrest

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On April 28 in Moscow, Alexei Gaskarov, a member of the Zhukovsky People’s Council, was arrested on the street. After being questioned as a witness at the Investigative Committee, his status was changed to that of a suspect and he was charged with violation of Article 212, Part 2 (involvement in riots) and Article 318, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (use of violence against the authorities) as part of the criminal case surrounding the events on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

During elections to the Zhukovsky People’s Council, over a thousand residents of Zhukovsky (Moscow Region) showed their confidence in Alexei Gaskarov. And that was quite natural, as Alexei has consistently spoken out for justice and defended the interests of its citizens over the years. He has been a defender of the Tsagovsky Forest, a grassroots observer of elections at all levels of government, and an opponent of infill construction in the town of Zhukovsky.

Gaskarov has been actively involved in the work of the Zhukovsky People’s Council, initiating new projects for developing the town. He was directly involved in shaping the concept for the “Zhukdor” movement for renovating the town’s residential courtyards and adjacent territories. Gaskarov is also one of the authors of a white paper on urban development in Zhukovsky that has been submitted to the town administration. Gaskarov has also been actively engaged in programs encouraging the personal development of young people in the town of Zhukovsky. In particular, he has organized a series of free seminars that featured screenings of documentaries on topical social issues.

We, the members of Zhukovsky People’s Council, earnestly declare that Alexei Gaskarov is a sober-minded, law-abiding person and an advocate of the peaceful reform of our country’s social and political system.

We believe there is no justification for remanding Gaskarov to police custody and are willing to vouch for the fact that, if released, he will not conceal himself from investigators or hinder the investigation.

We are outraged by the charges, and believe they discredit law enforcement agencies in the eyes of the public and have nothing to do with the observance of the law in a state governed by the rule of law.

People like Alexei Gaskarov are the best part of civil society, a society based on justice and decent lives for its citizens, a society that will surely be created in our country.

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Police Crack Down on Tsagovsky Forest Defenders (May 19, 2012)

On May 19, 2012, defenders of the Tsagovsky Forest in the Moscow Region town of Zhukovsky attempted to stroll through the city and re-establish an environmental protest camp. Police prevented them from entering the forest and detained approximately twenty people.

In the following video, a police official explains to activists that they cannot enter the forest because a “special fire prevention regime” has been declared there. The original protest camp was destroyed by police on May 14.

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Bellona: The Tsagovsky Beatings

www.bellona.org

The Tsagovsky beatings: How authorities in Russia instigate violence and trample the rule of law

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Source: Anton Korbutyak @akute

MOSCOW – Last Saturday, the Tsagovsky forest stand-off escalated to a veritable carnage as protesters, desperate to stop the unlawful clear-cutting – an uphill, if not futile, battle that is all too familiar to anyone who has heard of the Khimki campaign – took to knocking down the barbed wire fences put up by the logging company. Security guards responded with force, injuring dozens of activists. The fight that ensued, and everything that preceded the beatings, is an outrage for which the state is fully responsible.

Vladimir Slivyak, 25/04-2012 — Translated by Maria Kaminskaya

As the Prague-based Radio Svoboda reports (in Russian), residents of Zhukovsky, a town in Moscow Region where the forest is located, turned out in hundreds at the site on Saturday in a massive show of support for the activists, who have been resisting the clear-cutting for weeks. When they attempted to dismantle the fences, guards employed by a private security firm called Vityaz reacted with brutal force – and were in turn met with fierce opposition. A violent fight erupted, pieces of logs and even tear gas were used. Police arrived, only to observe the beatings from afar, then arrest activists who were already beaten – or anyone who happened to be in their way. Some 50 people were detained, including, according to Radio Ekho Moskvy (in Russian), pensioners and school children on bike rides, the Tsagovsky forest being a popular recreation spot.

Last Saturday, Radio Svoboda adds, marked a month since clear-cutting had started in the forest – a park that serves as a breathing space between Zhukovsky’s residential areas and industrial sector – and two weeks since environmentalists had set up a protest camp in an attempt to stop the logging for which they insist they have yet to see any permits.

It’s not that attacks on Tsagovsky activists have not taken place before in these past weeks – they have, and repeatedly. And they could only have resulted in what they eventually resulted in – further violence. The guards, who are not from Zhukovsky, took to roughing up anyone they didn’t like the looks of, and got away with it. But up to a point. When enough was enough, residents fought back. Quite logical, really, that sooner or later, people will want to defend their health and their lives, not just a forest they have grown to like to picnic out in or take a walk through on their way to work.

Those who have permitted this violence against citizens whose only fault was that they care – their own voters – made a huge mistake. I visited the Tsagovsky forest the previous weekend and saw what these private security guards are like. In no way would these burly guys in black coveralls touch anyone without a nod from above, if only because initiative of this sort could easily buy them a hefty prison sentence for inflicting severe bodily harm. It’s obvious that only one of two possible things could have happened here: Either the local administration turned a blind eye on the beatings that residents of the town whose well-being this administration is entrusted with regularly suffer at the hands of these guards – or they sanctioned these beatings directly. Which is, for all intents and purposes, one and the same. What were they thinking when they made this decision? Didn’t they realize that violence would only breed more violence?

The rulers of Zhukovsky must be some adventurous folk, itching as they apparently were to see if the locals dare take on a gang of out-of-town bullies throwing their fists around. Do they want to bet, while they’re at it, how many friends the Muscovites flocking to Zhukovsky to help out the forest defenders bring along next time?

What the administration is asking for, signaling their silent approval of the violence that’s been taking place, is a confrontation on a much larger scale. And should it happen, it will be fully on the conscience of those who have started the felling and the pummeling of those who object to the felling. These are the people who have unilaterally fenced out a patch of forest and declared it outside the rule of law – a no man’s land where the only law that applies is the boss’s go-ahead to beat up anyone who comes close enough.

And here is a word for those who think that the activists got what was coming to them because they were violating the law. Security guards do not have the right to do whatever they feel like, regardless of whether they think they are being provoked. Excessive force or not, fists or feet or batons, private security firms do not have the right to beat people up. It’s as simple as that. It’s not up to security guards to take the law in their own hands. Whether the protesters’ actions were against the law or not, the responsible thing to do was not to start an all-out brawl where people could get hurt or even killed, but to step aside and call the police to sort the matter out. This would be the civilized way of dealing with the situation. This would be the way of the law.

Of course, as witnesses say, when the police did arrive eventually, they were so without a clue as to what to do they were just standing around watching the guards stomping and clobbering people.

There’s another thing. Lawyers don’t usually work in security. In other words, private security employees can unlikely be expected to have enough competence to assess the legality of this or that action. So any action they themselves attempt at the scene that they might intend as prevention of a criminal act could in fact turn out to be a criminal act in itself. God have mercy on a country where it’s a security guard and not the judge and jury who decides what is and what is not a crime – and goes all vigilante on a group of townspeople gathered for a protest rally in the park.

The town’s administration, in its turn, must be relying on the old “might is right” principle here, and they could make no bigger mistake than that. Naïvely, they are probably thinking that should push come to shove, the locals would just even the score by giving the guards a few good shiners, and that’ll be that. No harm, no foul – not for the administration, anyway. But however irresponsible that is, it’s not even the main issue. Those who used violence against the activists – both now and before – must be held accountable. Their bosses must be held accountable, and the local administration as well.

Justice must be served here, before residents seek other recourse to defend both their lives and the habitat they are so desperate to preserve. When neither the political system nor the courts can guarantee the rule of law or something as essential as safety to their citizens – and hardly anyone places much faith in these institutions anymore – when the authorities look the other way while mob justice establishes reign over the territory they are in charge of protecting, the only way people see left is resistance by any means possible.

Environmental activists are not a violent kind, and rare is the case when an ecological campaign diverts from a peaceful route. And peaceful is how it was in the Tsagovsky forest, up to a point, until the authorities finally succeeded in stoking enough anger that open hostilities broke out. This will yet come back to haunt them. No society should be forced into a position to defend itself from the state, and only the feeble-minded would think of starting a war with their own people.

It might be that all is not lost yet in the Tsagovsky forest, and the situation could still be defused and resolved peacefully. But in order for that to happen, the conflict will have to be fully investigated, and all those responsible for using aggressive force against Tsagovsky protesters will have to be brought to justice – the guards, their employers, and the town officials who have sanctioned the beatings.

Alas, the authorities may only be interested in further violence, a perfect smokescreen to deflect attention from the illegal logging and civilized dialogue to criminal cases and vandalism charges. For us, when the police side with attackers and beaten-up protesters are bussed away to precincts, it is in our common interest to insist that punishments be doled out to those who truly deserve it.

UPDATE: According to information that became available on Saturday night, an inspection of the security firm’s paperwork had revealed the guards were stationed illegally in the forest. Their contract was only valid for 24 hours, and for a date that had expired a month ago: from March 22 to 23. The guards are still there. So who was violating the law in the Tsagovsky forest?

Vladimir Slivyak, frequent contributor to Bellona, is co-chairman of Ecodefense! and author of the recently published “From Hiroshima to Fukushima,” a compelling account of the nuclear industry’s most recent history, combining a detailed chronicle of the 2011 disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and an in-depth analysis of the industry’s problems in Russia.

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Editor’s Note. On Monday, state channel Rossiya 1 aired a surprisingly positive report on the battle to save the Tsagovsky Forest. We repost it here, without translation, by way of giving our readers more visual background.

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The Disenchantment of Tsagovsky Forest

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.

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