Russian environmental movement, currently presenting hundreds of green and indigenous groups from Pacific coast through Baltic and Black sea, was actually born 30 years ago as the first direct contacts with global environmental activism, strong and ripen by the end of 1980-s. In Russia the process of self-identification of movement as civil society, started with 2 basically separate hearths – European and Far Eastern. Geographically, they were based upon rapidly growing contacts with European NGOs in European Russia, and with neighboring ones in USA at Pacific Russia. Although first national NGO, Socio-ecological Union, was established in Moscow by sponsorship of Washington based NGO around 1989, some equal and independent activities occurred at the Far East even earlier with support and advocacy of NGOs in California state, often more active on the global context.
Our NGO BROC was born then as informal grassroot group of support Greenpeace. Representatives of this famous NGO from UK and USA came to the only open port of Nakhodka to take part in Soviet Pacific political Civil Forum in 1989, together with human rights activists from Latin Americas and Asia-Pacific countries. Our meeting there with Greenpeace colleagues and their yacht “Vega”, arrested in Nakhodka, became start of the whole green movement for Russian Far East. By that just year, I was democratically elected to the regional legislature and led it’s environmental Commission, so that was my official duty to deal with Greenpeace colleagues and pump in all their great experience in global conservation efforts and problems.
That’s significant, that at the first sessions of our regional Parliament I’ve met municipal deputy from Bikin area, young teacher Pavel Sulyandziga. Since that beginning of our careers in new Russia, thanks to our foreign colleagues, we deeply understood the importance of cynergetic collaboration between global conservation concerns and local, community based and indigenous interests and their resilience. A bit later, when famous environmental activists John Seed and Patrick Anderson came to Vladivostok and Bikin area, they formulated the point very clear, which I remember forever. If you come to any area with your great global conservation ideas, just look around first, find local community leaders and ask them – what their cultural, subsistence and resilience priorities are, and what kind of support they need from you, if any. That approach, very obvious and simple by the first glance, as I can estimate now, 30 years later, is really hard to achieve in practice. And the whole history of Bikin battle for conservation and indigenous rights, which I thus decided to write and publish, demonstrates that perfectly.
The key point of this history is the number of different group interests, crossed in Bikin taiga – last big pristine temperate forest in Pacific Russia, home for Siberian tiger and indigenous udege community. They are interests of unique ecosystem itself, with a set of rare species of flora and fauna, udege community, dependent on local rich wildlife and fishing, timber business, numerous sport and trophy hunting and fishing community of the whole Far East, and interests of municipal, regional and national administrations, having their own plans of economic development on Bikin, often hardly contradicting to the interests of listed groups.
For us with Pavel Sulyandziga it was a first goal to use incredible interest of global environmental movement to this territory, after political opening of Vladivostok and Primorye for any foreigners in 1991. We immediately started working on any special legal regime for Bikin, granting protection from at least mass commercial logging and poaching there with simultaneous guarantee of resilience for udege community, deeply dependent on wildlife use and fishing. Legally middle part of watershed was protected from logging as pine nut protected zone since 1970-s, so the core trouble we felt regarding the least accessible, wild upper part, about 700 000 ha, remained highly attractive for timber companies and regional officials. We created working group to draft that special regime of resource use limitations, but succeeded to adopt it by our legislature in 1993 only, after famous and unforgettable battle between Korean logging giant Hyunday and Greenpeace action with sail ship “Rainbow Warrior”.
The point was that our first regional governor, foreign affairs politician, succeeded to attract Hyunday to enter upper Bikin with logging joint venture, created by local timber companies, run rapid privatization in 1990 under total governmental strategy. New JV was established in other municipality, neighbor to Bikin, at the sea coast just when our working group started to draft protection regime for the territory. So, hard conflict was unavoidable, and our small group of activists succeeded to attract Greenpeace high level action in 1992. That was possible, despite the absence of Internet and computers in Russia, thanks to great foreign support and opportunity to combine forest concerned and indigenous interests with our visit to the site of nuclear submarine disaster, occurred in 1985 (1 year before Chernobyl) not far from Vladivostok and kept deeply secret from public.
Since that Greenpeace action public and political attention to udege and Bikin’s destiny turn sustainable at all levels. Hyundai created it’s logging JV, but our efforts, combined with udege block-post at the watershed and protest near Primorye administration created enough problems to loggers. In 5 years JV failed to bankruptcy and gone. And our first model of balance environmental, indigenous and logging interests at the area became a positive model of distribution over the other Russian regions. That was possible in the short period of new democratic Russia, when all regions received real governance and resource use rights from Moscow. And we all were full of hopes to protect and balance environment and human rights of remote intact forests.
Anti-democratic Coup of 1993, when most democratic Soviets were dissolved, opening the door to power for new oligarchs, turned the process back to total centralization of all power and resource management. During some time we, together with indigenous and green leaders, tried to develop our movement, relying on available and highly helpful funding from our colleagues in USA. Thanks to that, strong and brave system of regional environmental NGOs and indigenous Associations over the whole RFE. Bikin
town Krasny Yar became a center of attraction for many scientists and activists from all over the world. They brought lot of new global initiatives, including idea to bring World Heritage status to Bikin valley, as it was already adopted for Baikal lake. We all began to travel globally to learn conservation and human rights experience. But, we were too and dangerously ignorant to the process in Russian power and economics, which rapidly run to gangsters’ style of oligarchy in governance and resource use.
We until 2000 succeeded to adopt good set of legislation, target to protect environment, human and indigenous rights, but did not pay enough attention, that those laws and rules remain on paper only and in our hearts. Wherever new resource business raised it’s head in our totally resource RFE economy, any environmental and humanitarian limitations meant nothing and were ignored. New Russian power, reasonably trying to take country off the economic chaos of 1990-s, started to reduce and cut that limitations in favor of businesses, creating thus unique soil for top level corruption and junction between power and business.
Our history tells that story in mane details, describing legal and civil efforts and fails around Bikin territory, local, regional and national conflicts between different groups of interests. They sometimes used to collaborate, sometimes contradict or act in parallel, leading to obviously zero result, unfortunately.