Saturday, November 14, 2015

Vitishko, in Advance of Release from Prison, Says Environmentalists Must Find New Ways to Campaign

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 14 – As a result of a Tambov court decision following comments by Vladimir Putin, Yegeny Vitishko, imprisoned for two years for his ecological activism in the North Caucasus, will be released on Wednesday. He says the situation in Russia is getting worse and that he and those who think like him need to find new ways to campaign to change things.

            Because he had to appear in court twice this last week, the embattled environmentalist was able to give an interview to Andrey Koshik, a journalist for “Kavkazskaya politika” ( Vitishko will undoubtedly have more to say after his release, but this is his first real interview since he was sent to prison.

            Vitishko, along with Suren Gazaryan, was found guilty for calling attention to the ways in which Russian officials were violating Russian environmental laws in the course of preparations for the Sochi Olympiad. Gazaryan received political asylum in Estonia, but Vitishko remained in Russia, was given a suspended sentence and then jailed in advance of the Olympiad

(For background on this high-profile case and Vitishko’s travails and activities while in prison, see “Russian Environmentalists ‘Who are Still Free’ Mobilize to Free Vitishko,” June 4, 2014 at

Responding to his interviewer’s observation that “you understand that you have been freed in what is already another Russia,” given that Vitishko was imprisoned before the Crimean Anschluss, the war in the Donbas, and the operation in Syria, the ecologist said that he would not be deterred from pursuing the same goals he always had.

“Just as before,” Vitishko continued, “we will make the country the kind of place we want to see. The worsening of the situation in the country hasn’t changed this direction.”  And that is the case, he said even though “Russia is falling into an ever deeper abyss from which it will be impossible to escape easily.”

The tactics that the environmental movement will use must change because “now it is impossible to use” things like meetings, pickets, and peaceful assemblies. “We must seek other mechanisms” and that is possible because over the last two years, many different organizations have established close ties and can work together more effectively than in the past.

Among those who have come together both in his defense and for the causes he believes in are Amnesty International, Freedom House, and Human Rights Watch,” Vitishko said.  Together, all of these groups are seeking a way out of or a softening of the crisis Russia finds itself in.

That exit is “inevitable,” he suggested, because “it is already clear to all” that “we have begun to live worse on all measures and not just on democratic ones.”

His time in prison had given him time to think, Vitishko said, although conditions in what is “in essence a GULAG” were hardly conducive to thought.  Instead, he lived under a regime governed not by law but by the whim of officials, not terribly different from how Russians now live in what has again become the larger zone.

Vitishko said that his case and the support he has received had helped to change judicial processes in Russia, a point his lawyer suggested was absolutely true.  And his words even before being released suggest that the environmentalist is going to renew the fight with even greater vigor, something Putin and the courts may not find to their liking.

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