This blog supports and follows the work of Baikal Environmental Wave, an NGO based in Irkutsk, Siberia. Baikal Wave have been working to save Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, since 1990. See our recent posts for updates on their work.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Mass demonstration in support of the closure of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill takes place in Irkutsk, 20th March

On 20th March in Irkutsk, a rally was held in defense of Lake Baikal, organised by members of the Baikal Movement together with representatives of Public Control and the union of motorists. The

rally was held on one of the main city squares under the banner "Saving Baikal, we will save Russia!", and it is estimated that more than 2000 people gathered for the event, all of whom are concerned about the fate of the Lake and the residents of Baikalsk. Speaking from the rostrum of the Worker's Sport's Stadium, representatives of different public organizations in Irkutsk,
residents of Baikalsk and visitors from other regions all expressed their opposition to the reopening of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill (BPPM), which exists as an unprofitable, dilapidated and bankrupted enterprise.

As was the case at the previous rally, held in Irkutsk on the 13th February, citizens demanded the abolition of the Russian Government's Decree No. 01, signed by Prime Minister Putin on the 13th January 2010, which allows for pulp mills on the shores of Baikal to discharge sewage directly into the Lake, which contains more than 80% of Russia's clean freshwater and more than 20% of the entire planet's supply. This decree also allows for the storage and incineration of waste on the shore of Baikal, which is an acute environmental threat to the Lake. Those who spoke at the rally demanded that the owners of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill — the Government and the oligarch Oleg Deripaska - eliminate the environmental and social effects of the plant's long years of past activity. Protesters also demanded the adoption and implementation of programs to create additional jobs in Baikalsk which are not linked to environmentally harmful industry.

At the beginning of the rally Maksim Vorontsov, a member of the Baikal Movement, expressed his gratitude to other Russian cities that had held solidarity rallies in support of Baikal. Also making an appearance at the rally was Boris Nemtsov, leader of the democratic movement "Solidarity", who said the following- 'Earlier this year, Putin signed a criminal decree which allows for dirty industrial enterprises to pollute Baikal, and allows for the storage of radioactive waste on the shores of the Lake. We must put a stop to this." Whilst Nemtsov was speaking at the event, several young men appeared in amongst the crowd of peaceful protesters, and endevoured to tear up posters bearing the name of Deripaska, and even threatened one woman with physical violence. Claiming to represent those Baikalsk residents in need of work, the men shouted "Putin gave us a job!" and declared the rally a provocation against the people of Baikalsk. They also unsuccessfully attempted to drown out the voice of Marina Richvanova, co-chair of the Irkutsk NGO "Baikal Environmental Wave", during her address to the crowd.

However, the provocation proved to be unsuccessful, with Irkutsk police eventually thwarting this attempt to disrupt the rally, and the hooligans were detained. Four of the detainees were brought to trial on charges of debauchery and hooliganism the following day, where it was revealed that the provocateurs had arrived from Moscow and St. Petersburg and are believed to be employees of the company Basic Element, which is owned by Oleg Deripaska. Unfortunately, the magistrate of the 119th district of the Kirov region of Irkutsk Anna Barskaya ordered a minimum fine of 500 rubles to be issued to three of the detainees, and dismissed the fourth without punishment, despite the fact that the actions of the hooligans were clearly visible on a videotapes made available to the court. In court, the detainees, who numbered brothers Sergei and Alexei Petrov (Moscow), Vladimir Shupov (Moscow) and Andrei Petrov (St. Petersburg), accused witnesses of slander and lies.

Despite this attempt to break up the rally and the fact that the administration of the Worker's stadium cut the electricity supply to the speakers' microphone, participants at the protest, including young children and pensioners, remained on the square for more than two hours. Residents of Baikalsk also spoke about the urgency of closing the plant and creating alternative jobs and enterprises for the residents of Baikalsk.

"I am a resident of Baikalsk. Even sealing the doors and windows of our houses doesn't save us from the terrible stench coming from the Mill.", said one of the participants at the event. In her speech, Marina Rihvanova explained that the problems connected with the paper mill affect every inhabitant of Irkutsk and the wider region. "380 million roubles has been spent from the regional budget on the construction of sewage treatment plants in the town of Baikalsk, which the paper mill wants to close. As well as this, 80 million roubles was spent by Irkutskenergo on the construction and conservation of a new heat source for Baikal, which will be included in the electricity rates for the local population."

Irkutsk resident Vladimir Naumov, Chairman of the Humanitarian Fund "Baikal. The Third Millennium", quoting Solzhenitsyn and Article 2 of the Constitution of Russia, called on citizens to take responsibility for Baikal themselves. "We must announce this to everyone- "Baikal is ours! ". Only we can take responsibility for it!".

Participants at the rally signed a petition to the government of Russia, demanding the repeal of Decree No.1. Participants also signed their names under an open letter addressed to I. Bokovoi, the Secretary General of UNESCO, demanding that the organization does everything possible to save Baikal, a unique natural landmark of world heritage status.

The resolution of the protesters expressed outrage at the disregard shown by public authorities at the resolution set forth at the last rally "Save Baikal, save Baikalsk", held on the 13th February 2010, which demanded that the Great Lake be saved from pollution of the BPPM, which serves only the immediate interests of oligarchic companies. At the conclusion of the rally, participants released sky blue coloured balloons into the air, symbolizing a pure Baikal.

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