APRIL 20, 2012 8:49PM

Battle for the Forest

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It had been almost 4 decades since I came to the small town of Zhukovskiy for the first time, a 40 minute train ride from the Kazansky Rail Station. I have been there many more times and I have never ceased to admire a beautiful pine forest full of old regal pine trees in the middle of the town, close to the ZAGI, a Soviet Era think tank for the civil aviation.

Zhukovskiy forest 

Well, as of the end of March it is no more. At least a huge chunk of it. Things like that happen in Russia a lot. As of today it is still unclear who wants to build a road, who decided to fell the forest, who now owns the formerly pubic land. The town does not currently have a mayor and it is believed that somebody is taking an advantage of the situation before the change of power. Protestors are being beaten by a private security group "Vityas" and police prefers not to interfere or help those security guys. The bad deed is done, the old magnificent pines are no longer standing, but the protestors and the concerned citizens still hope to preserve the fertile top soil and to replant. But for that the unlawful clearing and building needs to stop. It is quieter there on the weekends, when more people can come an protest and it gets tougher during the week, with security guys in full force and fewer protestors. 
Felled forest in Zhukovskiy   

I think there is a bigger story here, than just another old forest lost to the world. Authoritarian and corrupt regimes tend to disregard not only the will of the people, but the needs of nature. As the current regime feels shakier with an unrivaled level of protests about wide range of injustices all over the country, the corrupt and the greedy want to grab some more and fast, while they still can. Putin's regime likes nostalgia, they publicly express admiration for culture, literacy and social advantages of the old Soviet days. It is particularly hypocritical as the public property is being stolen like in Zhukovskiy in broad daylight. 

Protestors call it a war in Zhukovskiy. People are mobilizing and coming there from Moscow and other places. One of the posters about the upcoming Saturday protest says "Bugs are gorging on our forest. They have places to vacation with kids and have a barbeque - their villas in Spain and Maldives. Our kids won't have a place to play." 

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