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Kirishi: A green success story? //[Электронный ресурс] .- http://russialist.org/archives/6607-9.php

#9 - RAS 14


SOURCE. Olga Tsepilova, "V malom industrial'nom gorode Rossii" [In a Small Industrial City in Russia], Pro et Contra, Tom 7, No. 1, Winter 2002, pp. 68-83. (This excellent quarterly journal is produced under the aegis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.)

Kirishi is a small industrial city in Leningrad Province. A big ecological movement unfolded here between 1987 and 1991. Olga Tsepilova of the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg analyzes the origins, development, and results of this movement with the aid of public opinion surveys conducted in 1989, 1993, and 1997 and in-depth interviews with city administrators, enterprise managers, and green activists. (1)

The author starts with a brief history of Kirishi. The old town of that name was completely destroyed during the war. Rebuilding began in 1960 with the construction of an electricity station and a big oil refinery. In the early 1970s an experimental design bureau of military bioengineering was set up. Another large enterprise was built in 1974 -- a biochemical plant that processed by-products from the oil refinery into protein-vitamin concentrate (PVC) for use as an additive in cattle feed. Some small and medium-sized enterprises were also established. The city's population reached 20,000 in 1965 and 55,000 in 1989.

All four of Kirishi's large enterprises did harm to the local environment and public health, the PVC plant being regarded as the most dangerous. Data for 1996-98 confirm that of the 29 counties and other administrative sub-units into which Leningrad Province is divided the county in which Kirishi is located has by far the highest level of harmful emissions -- about 1,500 kg per person per year, as against a province-wide average of about 140.

Average incomes were also the highest in the province because the four large enterprises employed many scientists, engineers, and other highly educated individuals. By the beginning of the 1980s these people were very aware of ecological issues. Many of them were organized in various cultural societies (e.g. book-lovers' clubs), which even before Gorbachev often served quasi-political functions. Most important in this context was the All-Union Society for the Protection of Nature (VOOP). (2)

Preconditions were therefore in place for the emergence of a mass ecological movement. The main barriers to the public expression of protest were removed by perestroika. The trigger was provided by a major accident that took place at the PVC plant in January 1987, putting the purification installations out of action and leading to a jump in infant mortality and allergic illness.

"Disorders broke out in the city. Slogans demanding that production of PVC be halted appeared on walls. In April small groups of people tried to protest against the inaction of the authorities outside the building of the city party committee and city soviet executive committee. They were dispersed by the police. Rumors circulated that additional police and troops were being brought to the cityтАж Defying open threats, many citizens went on the [official] Mayday demonstration with placards demanding that the PVC plant be closed down. The column was headed by parents of children who had died in recent months, holding portraits rimmed in black. The situation was so tense that the authorities refrained from taking action against the demonstrators."

On May 17 the "Movement Against PVC" was officially registered under the aegis of VOOP. This small (about 50 active members) but very well-organized and competent group became the leading force of the mass protest movement. It started to raise funds, succeeded in generating a great deal of favorable publicity in the media, and formed a strike committee to prepare a city-wide strike. The strike did not take place, but the preparations for it helped galvanize the central authorities into action. On August 4, 1989, Gorbachev set up a government commission, on whose recommendations the USSR Supreme Soviet resolved in November 1989 to close down and re-profile by January 1, 1991 not only the factory in Kirishi but all eight of the country's PVC plants.

The Movement Against PVC expanded its agenda to include other issues of local concern, including matters having nothing to do with ecology. In March 1990, twelve members of the group won election to the city soviet. With the backing of a significant proportion of the other deputies, they were able to form their own fraction, which played an influential role in city affairs until 1994 (when the soviet was abolished in connection with constitutional changes following the crushing of the Supreme Soviet in October 1993).

Although Kirishi no longer has a formally distinct ecological movement, the protests of the late 1980s have left their mark on the city's politics. Ecological concerns have been institutionalized within the structure of the city government, which has several agencies charged with monitoring the condition of the natural environment:

* the Committee for Protection of the City Environment, subordinate to a corresponding agency in St. Petersburg (3)

* the Administration for Emergency Situations, subordinate to the federal Ministry for Emergency Situations

* the Center for Ecological Security, created in 1996 by the ecology department of the Kirishi county administration to provide information, conduct research, and design environmental measures

* Ecological Security Services at all of the city's large enterprises

There are also a number of small commercial ecological services that work on a contract basis.

The environmental situation in Kirishi has improved somewhat in recent years, but it is hard to determine to what extent this is due to ecologically aware policies and to what extent to exogenous changes in the economy. Thus despite the government decision to re-profile the PVC plant by 1991 the production of PVC did not end until 1993 -- and that was because the product was no longer in demand. The factory's main product now is the locally popular Tigoda vodka. However, the author's interviews do suggest that local government pressure has induced enterprise managers to take (or to appear to take?) a more responsible approach to ecological issues.

Have the citizens of Kirishi changed their priorities in the 1990s or do they still care strongly about the environment? And how satisfied are they with the ecological policies of their local government? Let me present the author's survey data so that you can assess what they mean for yourself.

Between 1993 and 1997, the proportion of respondents who gave priority to "protection of the environment" over "the solution of economic and social problems" declined from 27 to 21 percent, while the proportion who gave priority to the latter increased from 25 to 38 percent. However, the largest category of respondents in both years comprised those who refused to give either set of issues priority over the other (48 percent in 1993, 41 percent in 1997).

Respondents were also asked: "Are your local authorities trying to solve environmental problems? If they are, then with what degree of success?"

Only 14 percent of respondents in 1993 and 9 percent in 1997 believed that the local authorities were making no effort to solve environmental problems. But a quarter to a third of respondents -- 34 percent in 1993 and 26 percent in 1997 -- did think that the efforts of the local authorities were "without palpable results." Another largish group, 21 percent in 1993 and 33 percent in 1997, said that the local authorities had "managed to do something to solve environmental problems." And just 2 percent in 1993 and 4 percent in 1997 said that the local authorities had "managed to do a lot to solve environmental problems." (4)

So -- a green success story? By comparison with most other Russian cities, that appears to be the case. The mass environmental protests did make some difference, even in the long term. But the applause is not exactly deafening.


(1) Survey sample sizes were about 1,000. Interviews were conducted between 1989 and 2000. The author also collected economic, ecological, and medical data, analyzed electoral results, and followed the local press.

(2) VOOP is the Russian acronym for "Vsesoyuznoe obshchestvo okhrany prirody."

(3) Namely, the Committee for Use of Natural Resources, Protection of the Environment, and Ensuring of Ecological Security.

(4) 29 percent of respondents in 1993 and 28 percent in 1997 were unable to answer the question.

Kirishi: A green success story? //[Электронный ресурс] .- http://russialist.org/archives/6607-9.php

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