Rally to Protect Lake Baikal Held in Irkutsk

Feature story - 15 February, 2010
February 13, 2010. Today the Siberian city of Irkutsk located some 70 km to the west from Lake Baikal was agitated by a thousands-strong rally “Save Baikal! Save Baikalsk”. Over 2000 people gathered in the center of Irkutsk to demand that Governmental Resolution No.1 of 13 January 2010 permitting the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill to dump toxic wastes into Lake Baikal, be called off.

February 13, 2010. Today the Siberian city of Irkutsk located some 70 km to the west from Lake Baikal was agitated by a thousands-strong rally “Save Baikal! Save Baikalsk”.

A lot of people came to the rally to speak up for Lake Baikal despite the almost complete lack of information that such an event had been organized in Irkutsk, as well as the frosty Siberian weather. Those who came over heard speeches of local environmentalists and members of parliament, people from Baikalsk and the neighboring Republic of Buryatia, scientists and politicians from various Russian cities including Moscow.

Those participants, who had not signed the petition to protect Lake Baikal to President Medvedev before, got a chance to do that at the rally where the organizers unrolled special information boards. Addresses from the tribune enjoyed very emotional feedback from the people who despite the cold weather stayed till the very end of the event.

Speaking about political, economic, environmental and social problems of Baikalsk, all expressed the common opinion that "the authorities should be responsible before people and the law!" Re-launch of the Baikalsk PPM, let alone again with discharges into Lake Baikal, indicates that those in power have forgotten about civil responsibility and focused only on momentary business interests of the mill's owners. This is the only evident reason why Premier Putin ever signed Resolution No.1 that not only permitted wastewater discharges into Lake Baikal, but also disposal and incineration of waste of all hazard classes on the shores of the cleanest lake on Earth.

That is why the main idea of the rally's resolution became the demand to President Medvedev to "show his political will and go down in history as a savior of Lake Baikal rather than an indifferent destroyer". Instead of wasting funds on "reanimation of the corpse of the BPPM", the rally participants demanded a social support of the people of Baikalsk, measures to create new and alternative jobs, provide small and medium-sized business with tax exemptions, as well as launch an anti-corruption evaluation of Putin's ill-fated resolution and call it off after all. "We call upon all Russian people and international community to join forces in protecting Lake Baikal and people of Baikalsk. Protecting our Baikal, we are aiming to not only make our lives better, but also help make a better future for our kids and revive the whole planet", the rally resolution declares.

Almost at the same time Irkutsk saw another meeting. It was one of proponents of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill. However, significantly fewer people attended that one.

"From the very first glance it was clear that this shameful event was staged way before. Groups of people in custom-made jackets, a whole fence of party flags and hand banners drawn in the same handwriting… Behind the Governor's back I saw a folk band and steaming bawls of tea. A major part of people were forced to come here and some of them asked not to make pictures of them because they would not want to face their friends after that, says Eugeny Usov, a spokesman for Greenpeace Russia who visited both meetings. "People who came to the "Protect Baikal!" rally came at their own will, driven by their own ideas. There were not many banners, but those I saw, only underlined the unofficial character of the rally".

"What happens to Baikalsk to a great extent depends on what happens to the lake because it's Lake Baikal that provides people with stability and opportunities to develop alternative and, for instance, tourism industry", adds Roman Vazhenkov, Lake Baikal Program Coordinator of Greenpeace Russia. "Contract rallies, I guess, help local authorities in reporting to their masters in Rusal, but we all have to understand that main idea: launching the Baikalsk PPM and permitting toxic discharges into the lake, puts an end to all plans of future development of Baikalsk. It's a dead-end both in terms of economics and social development. Unlike the timeservers in the authorities of all levels, we cannot afford such an irresponsible attitude towards this particular town of Baikalsk and to the whole planet in general".

For additional information, please, contact Greenpeace Russia at +7 (495) 988 7460

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