Monday, June 10, 2019

Moscow Plans to Send Its Trash to Russian North have United Entire Region, Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 8 – “The life of the Russian North, Irina Tumakova of Novaya gazeta says, “is divided into two periods: ‘before Shiyes’ and ‘after Shiyes,’” with the activists she spoke with insisting that Moscow’s plans to send its trash to the region has sparked “a real wave” of local patriotism and united “the entire North around Shiyes.”

            “Shiyes has not existed for more than 40 years,” Tumakova says. “Here on the border of Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Komi Republic are undeveloped places with the nearest village being 30 kilometers away … There is only forest, rivers and swamps.” And the swamps are the reason people are protesting (

                “For Muscovites, a swamp is simply a swamp,” demonstrators say. “For Northerners, this is what feeds us … and what is most important is the source of our water.”

            That was enough to start the protests and to bring people from across the region to Shiyes. But even more were mobilized when Moscow’s man in Arkhangelsk, Governor Igor Orlov, dismissed those protesting as disreputable people who could be ignored. After this, people said, they had no choice but to take part in the protests.

            Then the authorities used force and lied about stopping the project, and the protests grew yet again.  Vladimir Putin even had to say that a decision had to be reached that would not have negative consequences for the local people. But it soon became obvious to them that he had no plans to take any real steps – and those protesting trash began to raise more political issues.

            “Moscow doesn’t allow us to live,” one demonstrator says. “It takes all the best from us and then sends us trash. Give us our forests, give us our clean air, allow us to hunt and fish.” Don’t make our children sick –nine out of ten children born in the region have defects – and allow us to live: life expectancy is only 61, benefitting Moscow. It doesn’t have to pay pensions.  

And adding insult to injury, the protestors, almost all of whom sort their trash and recycle, have learned that people in Moscow don’t. They say they’d like to ask Muscovites: “Doesn’t Moscow want to be a civilized European city instead of oppressing and squeezing backwoods Russia?”

The only good thing about this situation, the protesters say, is that it has united them and the entire Russian North in a wave of local patriotism. Whether such identities are good for Moscow, however, very much remains to be seen. 

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