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#45 - JRL 2008-66 - JRL Home
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 2008
From: Sergei Roy <SergeiRoy@yandex.ru>
Subject: Re: JRL 2008-#65/ Paul Goble's 'A Death Sentence Hangs Over the Rivers of Russia'

Environmental Issues – and Wishful Thinking
By Sergei Roy
Editor, www. Guardian-psj.ru

A number of Russian ecological organizations have come up with fresh studies in the adverse impact of hydroelectric power stations on the ecosystems of Russia’s dammed rivers and surrounding areas (see www.plotina.net/smertelnyj-prigovor-uchyonyx-rekam-rossii/#more-148).

Except for some precise figures characterizing the slow, and sometimes not so slow deterioration of these ecosystems, there is little new here. This has been a favorite topic with Russia’s scientists, environmentalists, journalists, writers, literary magazines, and the general public for decades, with hundreds of conferences held and thousands of papers similar to the above published. It even engendered a whole literary trend, best exemplified by the writings of Viktor Astafyev (see The Czar Fish) and Valentin Rasputin (see his Farewell to Matyora).

What is novel and striking about Paul Goble’s piece in Window on Eurasia [http://windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2008/03/window-on-eurasia-death-sentence-hangs.html] ('A Death Sentence Hangs Over the Rivers of Russia.' Johnson's Russia List 2008-#65, 31 March 2008, #25) is the shamelessly misleading attempt to use this latest report to throw the blame for these adverse processes on “Moscow’s policies.” That’s what his opening sentence says: “Moscow's policies are killing the great rivers of Russia – the Volga, the Yenisei, the Amur, the Ob, and the Angara…”

Observe the grammar: the Present Tense is used throughout Goble’s presentation of the scientists’ latest findings. One is left with the impression that it’s the current Moscow authorities – “corporations and government agencies that currently benefit from this thoughtless destruction of the environment” – that have built those dams and now enjoy “the short-term profits” from the destruction.

However carefully you read Goble’s skit, you will not find it mentioned even once that the rivers in question – the Volga, the Yenisei, the Amur, the Ob, and the Angara – were dammed decades ago, mostly in the 1960s and sometimes earlier, and the current “corporations and government agencies” are in the same boat as everybody else, as far as the Soviet planners’ legacy is concerned. They just use the electricity and curse the destruction of the natural environment that the power plants have brought about. Not one dam or power plant has been built on these rivers in all the years since the downfall of the Soviets in 1991. (And what would be the use, with the Yeltsin “reformers” busily reducing the country’s industrial potential by half…)

Towards the end of his exposé Goble goes even further in his blatant effort to squeeze anti-Kremlin propaganda out of practically anything that comes to hand. Here is his political-environmental forecast for the future: “…this report will energize the environmental movement in Siberia and the Far East, providing activists there both with countrywide data and a sharp political focus. And that could lead to a more powerful environmentally-based regionalism Moscow may find even more troubling than the death of the country's regions.” In a word, long live an Orange (Green, Yellow, Polka-dot…) Revolution – anything that will bring down or at least harm Goble’s bête noire, the “Moscow officials.” To wit, the Kremlin.

Personally, I wish every success to the Green movement. It can do a lot of good, even politically. Putin has shown that he is sensitive to these issues, insisting not long ago on a pipeline to China, now under construction, being moved four hundred kilometers further away from Lake Baikal, for purely ecological reasons – at a cost of billions of dollars.

But as for the “environmentally-based regionalism” that evil Moscow “may find even more troubling than the death of the country's regions…” I guess Mr. Goble has talked himself into a bit of tangled verbiage that even he himself can hardly unravel. What sort of “environmentally-based regionalism” is he talking about when most regions’ hope of coping with their environmental problems can only come from Moscow? Of Russia’s 86 regions, only eight (8) are what is known as “donors” providing cash for the rest – with the Center directing the financial flows.

Furthermore. Without “Moscow’s” help, without the pressure of central authority, “environmentally-based regionalism” stands no chance at all against what may be termed “industrially-based regionalism.” Like the world over, locally based corporations want profits and local populations want jobs. The crude fact of life is that, rather than flock to the Greens’ flags, these locals tend to beat up the poor environmentalists, especially those with a “sharp political focus” so dear to Goble’s heart, when their activities interfere with the local population’s jobs.

Needless to say, there is nothing in the Russian scientists’ report about “political focuses,” “environmentally-based regionalism,” or any other anti-Moscow propaganda shibboleths. These are Mr. Goble’s generous contributions to the debate – just like his curious statement that “the ‘death sentence that hangs over the rivers of Russia’ could soon hang over the country as well.” You see? The fish will all die – and Russia will follow suit. Ah, wouldn’t that suit Mr. Goble just fine…

The Mississippi is dead, yet the U.S. is thriving. There is also the interesting case of the Rhine and Germany, not to mention other dead rivers and thriving countries. But Russia is different, of course. With only one fifth of the planet’s fresh water resources in just one (1) of its lakes, Lake Baikal, a death sentence will hang over this country – soon. Practically tomorrow. Why? Because Mr. Goble says so.

Now, why does the phrase “wishful thinking” come to mind so insistently?