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  • SAMARSKAYA LUKA ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION

    Samarskaya Luka, a large peninsula on the Volga River, was formed 60 million years ago when the glaciers receeded and the Volga meandered to the east. The Zhigulevsk Moutains are the only mountains in the European part of Russia, other than the Caucasus Mountains which border on the south. The entire area is approximately 320,000 square acres and was declared a National Park in 1985. It includes a city Zhigulevsk (46000 population), a quarrying industry, a radio factory, a timber industry, chicken factories, a few collective farms, summer cottages, and a Hydroelectric Station, and a Nature Reserve. There are 80 relaxation bases and miles of forest for hiking and scientific expeditions. Every year 2 million people visit the National Park.

    Because of its unique geological, natural, and human histories, Samarskaya Luka contains irreplacable resources which are being threatened by rapid development and disrespect for the environmental protection laws. The current situation is a reflection of desperate economic needs, lack of long-term planning, and the general state of chaos in the former Soviet Union. The organs which are mandated to monitor and conserve the park's resources are not functioning effectively and in some cases working against preservation of the park: water control station, the City Committee on Nature, the National Park, the Hunting Inspector, the Fishing Inspector, and the Forest Service. Regulations set by the National Park on land-usage are also not being followed.

    The area contains 6 different geological systems. There are endemic plants and a gene pool of ancient vegetation and plants, including several listed in the Red Book of endangered species.

    The majority population of Samarskaya Luka is Russian, but there are also large Chuvashi and Mardovi populations which have not assimilated. Within the territory there are several historic, legendary sites where Stepan Razin (national hero) was, Ivan the Terrible created the first Russian governmental representation, a tribe of ancient warrior women lived in the Scythian period, and the site of a 11th century city, Moromsky. Agricultural and forestry development began in the 1700s. The tribes of bandits who settled along the Volga were driven out in the 1800s.

    The movement to save Samraskaya Luka from the destructive effects of rapid economic development and industrialization was inititated 90 years ago by Russian and Western scientists and local residents. Under the initiative of environmentalists from Penza, in 1927 1.9% of the land was allocated for a Nature Reserve. Khruschev abolished the Reserve in 1951, restimulating the preservation movement. In 1967 the Reserve was reopened including 15% of Samarskaya Luka and in 1985, the National Park was created under the initative of environmentalists and scientists. It faced intense opposition from local residents and the local administration, resulting in several demonstrations organized by those oppoped to the creation of a National Park.

    The Mogutova Mountain has been heavily mined since 1942 and the southern side of the mountains has been stripped bare. One peak has completely been razed. There are daily explosions and 24-hour transport of materials. The Zhigulevsk Quarry Company is located at the foot of the Mogutova Mountain where the exploding and extracting are taking place at a rapid pace. Among the population of the city (2 miles away), there is a high rate of asthma and breathing disorders, attributed to the perpetual dust from the quarries. The walls of buildings in Zhigulevsk are cracked from the daily shudders. City residents report that they step outside during the explosions for fear the walls will collapse.

    The quarry was opened temporarily for the construction of the Zhigulevsk Hydroelectric Station and the city Zhigulevsk in 1942. In the mid 1970s, the quarry was declared depleted and closed. Three times in the last 20 years, the quarrying of Mogutova Mountain has been declared completed, by the Oblast Administration, and in all cases the prolonging of the quarrying has been negotiated and continued illegally. The Zhigulevsk Quarrying Company has a lease on the land for four more years. They are required by the Oblast Administration by 2010 to complete a restoration program of the Mountain with a percentage of their profits. According to the Park specialists and other environmentalists, the restoration program which consists of creating terraces, laying soil, and planting trees, is not consistent with the original vegetation and geological structure of the Mountain. Officials from the quarrying company attribute the lack of progress in phasing out the quarrying and restoring the Mountain to lack of money.

    The struggle to stop quarrying operations in the Mogutova Mountains is a desperate cry to stop illegal, rampant destruction of the Mountains and bring the larger issues of sustainable development, land-use, political reform, pollution, human health, conservation, and historical preservation to the public's attention. Members of the Volga environmental movement and the International Protest Camp hope, with their current efforts, to stop the quarrying on Mogutova Mountain and create the conditions for a problem-solving and decision-making process between the City, Oblast, and Federal Administrations, National Park management, Quarrying Company, workers, and residents.

    Mogutova Mountain is facing a critical moment in the deciding of her fate, and the overall preservation of Samarskaya Luka National Park. This past summer, a radical Russian environmental organization, The Rainbow Keepers, in coalition with other Russian and international organizations, carried out a five-week eco-defense tent camp, located in the exploding area of the mountain. The group arrived on July 5th, having been invited by local Park officials and Greens. After years of struggling with local officals, they had exhausted all other means to legally obstruct the mining and enforce Park regulations. The group, with their tents and moderate numbers, maintained a constant nonviolence prescence, obstructing the explosions. Several times they were harassed and forcefully removed by the Zhigulevsk militia and a group of vigilante workers, without any legal prerogative or warrants. It was clear from the reaction of the workers and media that the mining on Mogutova mining is a highly-charged, long-standing issue in Zhigulevsk, touching upon economic issues and political struggles.

    The group held strong, despite the violence, and gradually gained more and more support from the local population. Protestors arrived from cities throughout Russia, the former Soviet Union, Holland, and the U.S. Local media followed the events continuously. Oblast and national television and radio also ran stories on the action.

    While the action was taking place, the protestors daily (with the help of their hidden laptop and modem) went on line and sent out information to groups on electronic mail, nationally and internationally. Throught the course of the five weeks, over 50 telegrams, faxes, and letters were sent to the local administration in support of the action and demanding the enforcement of the law and Park regulations. Western groups such as Earthfirst!, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth-USA, Ecologia, Sacred Earth Network, Greenpeace, and Earth Action Resource Center wrote letters, sending copies to the Russian Ambassador in the U.S.

    On August 13th, the first victory in the struggle was achieved. The Samarskaya Oblast Administration announced the suspension of the work of the Zhigulevsk Quarry Company until an environmental review is completed. The Samarskaya Oblast Committee on Ecology was ordered to complete the assessment of the restoration project within one month. In the protocol it was written that the Zhigulevsk Quarry Company had violated five articles (36,37,63,64,84) of the Russian Law on the Protection of Nature and the Environment.

    The problem remains in the fact that the experts assigned to complete the environmental review are in support of the restoration program. The Scientific Laboratory of the National Park and the protestors have presented a list of 10 experts to be included in the review process. So far none of them have been invited. Since the declaration on August 13th, there have also been explosions on Mogutova Mountain (reported on August 31st).

    Greenpeace Russia in cooperation with Rainbow Keepers is planning a follow-up action, in conjunction with their bus tour of the Volga, on September 10th. Invariably, the local administration will once again be forced to think twice before going back to business as usual. The ultimate goal is to find an economically and environmentally viable solution to the problem. However, as long as the chaos continues and unaccountablity is the rule as opposed to the exception, radical Green groups along the Volga will continue to make their voices heard.

    POSCRIPT OF GREENPEACE

    SEPTEMBER 10 1993 - Activists from the Russian office of international environmental organization Greenpeace today blocked access to the stone mill at the Mogutovaya mountain in the Samarskaya Luka national park on the Volga, shutting down the work on a giant quarry which is illegally destroying the unique nature and landscape of the park.

    The Zhigulevsk quarry management for years mined the national park for gravel, in the process destroying half of the Mogutovaya mountain by explosions, and causing irreparable damage to the park.

    This action, performed in the framework of the Greenpeace bus tour of the Volga region, comes at the culmination of local protests against the illegal destruction, most notable for a 1.5 month long protest camp held last summer by the Rainbow Keepers movement.

    "We can no longer sit by with our hands folded and watch our heritage be destroyed for the sake of a quick profit by the few", stated Sergey FomichRv, campaigner on the action, and one of the organizers of the Rainbow Keepers' action last summer. "If the authorities continue dragging their feet, it is up to the people to make sure that the laws are enforced".

    The quarry work has been continuing under various pretexts despite a number of legal orders to stop the work issued by a number of court and administrative authorities.

    "The quarry management has been working with impunity for too long", added Fomichev. "This action marks another escalation of the challenge that local, regional, national and international public are presenting to the Empire of Stone."

    National parks and wild life preserves throughout Russia have been suffering from illegal development. Weak central environmental authorities, and greedy local bosses are making a mockery of the legislature which purports to defend protected territories. Greenpeace is leading a campaign for stronger enforcement of existing legislation, and an end to the economic development on territories of protected areas.