Sunday, December 6, 2015

Most Russians Won’t Defend Environment Unless State Gives the Order, Semenov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 6 – In Western countries, environmentalism is so popular that businessmen and politicians compete with each other to see who can be “the most green.” But in Russia, with rare exceptions, people focus on defending the environment only if the government orders them to, according to Vladimir Semenov, the head of Russia’s Ecology Chamber.,

            But unfortunately, as the continuing travails of Yevgeny Vitishko show, many in the Russian government and business community are actively hostile to environmental protection; and that means that environmental conditions are likely to deteriorate and that Muscovites may soon follow the residents of Bejing and have to wear face masks because of air contamination.

            In an interview with the Rex news agency, Semenov noted that unlike in many countries, ecological activists have made few inroads in the political system. There are none in the Russian parliament and almost none among the activists of leading political parties in large part because they are unknown (

            “We understand this,” Semenov says, “and our movement has set itself a more global task: to establish an all-Russian project, a project of an international level which will make ecology fashionable” by promoting ecology concerns via art and culture. That will be the foundation for more overtly political moves.

            “The elites of America now compete as to who is the most ecologically minded, Hollywood stars compete, the question of ecology in the West is part of the life style,” he notes. Getting to that point in Russia will be difficult because “ecology for many Russians is associated with Greenpeace” and its violation of Russian laws.

            “It is obvious,” he continues, that “the best, humane and thinking part of society” is for environmental protection and that a large number of those who back it are young people.  “But paradoxically,” environmental concerns are promoted most off by non-Orthodox religions and sects, including Krishnas, Buddhists, and representatives of New Age groups.

            Compared to them, the Russian Orthodox Church is “inactive and silent,” a position at odds with many of its more general spiritual principles, Semenov says.  And that is a major obstacle to change as well.  But the greatest problem is that most Russians will not act in this area unless the state tells them to.

            And all too often, the authorities send exactly the opposite message, that they do not want environmental activism to get in the way of economic or political goals.  That is highlighted by the Vitishko case who has been in prison for reporting on violations of environmental law in advance of the Sochi Olympics but was expected to be released on November 21 (

            But prosecutors intervened and he remains in prison. Vitishko has declared a hunger strike and his supporters fear his life is in danger. Three days ago, the court was supposed to hear his appeal for parole, but again prosecutors intervened and now the hearing will not take place until at least December 25.

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