Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A New Kind of Protest: Karelians Come to Station to Meet a Train that May Never Come

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Residents of Pitkyaranta, a village in Karelia that had been part of Finland before the Winter War, have found an unusual way to protest a problem many smaller towns in the Russian Federation now face: cutbacks in rail service that leave them increasingly isolated from the broader world.

            A week ago, a group of activists showed up as a flashmob at what had been rail station but that now is used as a bus terminal and public toile to “meet a train which hasn’t come already for more than a decade.” (It came briefly between 2010 and 2012 but not once since that time.) (

                Local and regional officials refused to meet with the demonstrators, who carried suitcases as if they were going on a train trip, but instead warned them that they might be charged with extremism “while waiting for a train that won’t be coming.” The protesters are upset that without a train, the only way out to Petrozavodsk is a bumpy five-hour bus trip.

            And without the train connection, many in the village are at risk even of death. Heart attack victims, for example, often face death in the bus as one did recently before they can reach a city hospital, something that would not be the case if the trains continued to run.  But the activists aren’t optimistic.

            This protest as the Region.Expert portal notes was “more a gesture of despair than the reflection of hopes for change.”  But those taking part tried to make the most of it. Before returning to their homes, they wrote “Navalny” on the snowdrifts around the station.  But in contrast to the usual practice, those were bulldozed away within two hours.

            In short, the authorities can work quickly and efficiently when they want to avoid the anger of those above them, but they show no such inclination when the anger is coming from below. Nonetheless, this kind of protest may spread given how many villages and towns in the Russian Federation are now cut off from urban areas on which they had relied. 

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