While still a student in middle school, Vladimir Chuprov was touched by something he saw on television. “In the early 1980s,” he said, “I saw a frightening Greenpeace TV commercial showing a huge cargo ship throwing barrels of toxic waste onto boats full of environmentalists, whose action was targeted against the burial of toxic waste in the world’s oceans.” Chuprov admired the courage of these “odd men” who were ready to be drowned for the sake of the environment. So, after he finished his military service, Chuprov wrote a letter to Greenpeace asking to join their ranks.
Chuprov began by working to protect the environment of his native Komi Republic. In 1994, his group prevented the harvest of precious forests in the zone adjacent to the Pechora-Ilyichsky Natural Reserve. Komi authorities had signed a contract with a French concern that would have allowed logging in the region. But, after Chuprov’s group raised the stakes of the debate—organizing demonstrations in the capital and publishing several “alarmist” articles in influential media, the issue was taken up in Moscow and local authorities had to stop the logging.
“Actually, I like the ‘radical alarmist’ style”, Chuprov said. “This makes us different from the majority of environmental organizations, which are swamped in bureaucracy.” In fact, Chuprov’s effort in this initiative led to the forest’s inclusion in UNESCO Natural Heritage list. Saving the forest also saved surrounding farmlands from the erosion that would have resulted from clear cutting.
Today, Chuprov is coordinator of the Ecology Department and head of the Program for the Protection of Forests at Greenpeace Russia. The latter is a particularly significant responsibility, because the fight against deforestation is where Greenpeace Russia is most active. Since Soviet times, Russia’s forests have been destroyed in the most barbarian fashion. At present, economic activity in several regions have totally altered the landscape of huge territories, eroding ravines, drying up streams, draining rivers.
Of late, the tenacious Chuprov has been waging a battle on another front: against the import, processing and burial in Russia of nuclear wastes from other countries. A law permitting the activity was passed, but Greenpeace, loyal to its radical alarmist style, surpassed its own record of audacity in Russia (where just over a decade ago even the most modest of unsanctioned demonstrations was a life-threatening affair). The group hung a huge banner reading “Duma odumaysya” (“Duma, think better of it”) over the facade of the Duma building for several hours. The banner was hung there by professional climbers who were Greenpeace volunteers overseen by Chuprov. The militia did not dare try to remove the climbers perched high on the Duma building, so the action was over only when the activists repelled to the ground of their own volition.
Another daring action in the same campaign truly illustrated how far freedom of speech has developed in Russia. Disguised as a wedding procession, Greenpeace activists approached Lenin mausoleum on the Red Square, as is often the tradition here for newlyweds. After arriving at the mausoleum, the “wedding” column rushed to the fence, climbed over it and unfolded a huge banner on the mausoleum saying “President: Stop the Imports of Nuclear Waste!” The “bride” had hidden the banner under a gorgeous wedding gown. Nearby guards at the Kremlin wall were taken aback by such brazen audacity (there are no longer guards at the doors of Lenin’s Tomb). Petrified, it took fully 10 minutes for them to come to their senses and evict the ecologists from the area.
While one can agree or disagree with the methods of Chuprov and Greenpeace in Russia, it is reassuring to know that Russia’s silent forests and wilderness have such vocal, tenacious activists on their side.
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