To Get Information to Defend Forests: from Khimki to Siversky
Today, “the Khimki Forest” means just a forest name hardly for anyone in Russia. Cut-offs in the forest in the north of Moscow now mean not a local environmental problem but a complicated socio-cultural phenomenon. A global gap between positions of civil activists, on the one hand, and of state and business structures, on the other hand, practically eliminates any possibility of a constructive public dialog. The result of the Khimki Forest conflict will obviously impact plenty of natural objects over the whole Russia (the Tsagovsky forest in the Moscow Oblast and the Utrish juniper forest in the Krasnodar Territory are now the most spoken of). All conflict parties realise that the game is worth the candle.
In the Leningrad Oblast, there is a local “Khimki” forest – the Siversky municipal forest in the Gatchina district, in an hour from St.-Petersburg by car or by bus. In 1987, it was included in the register of “objects of cultural significance due to its historical, cultural, and artistical value”.
Unfortunately, that has not meant the protection of the forest by the state.
In 2005, the Gatchina district administration (headed them by Aleksandr Khudilainen who is now the speaker of the Leningrad Oblast Legislative Assembly, and has been recently assigned Acting Head of the Republic of Karelia) sold part of the municipal forest area to a private person. A year later, 34 hectares of the forest area were sold to the “Siverskaya Melodiya” company headed by Levon Grigoryan. The new owner plans to build there 47 individual cottages; this will lead to cutting-off of many relict trees and, in fact, close access to the Oredezh river banks for local people.
So, the residents of the Siversky settlement are not going to obey the will of the new “lords” of the forest. The conflict lasts for years up to now. Civil activists try to prevent any works within the forest area the company has not yet got official permissions for (however, local police often takes the company’s side).
In spring 2011, the conflict became more acute: tens of secular trees were cut, and the district prosecutor’s office evaluated the damage only up to 20,000 rubles. Valery Serdyukov, the Leningrad Oblast Governor then, took actions to stop the cutting-off until the prosecutor’s investigation would be completed.
Official responses from the prosecutor’s office has not yet come while the new landlords once more tried to start unlawful construction works. Fortunately, civil activists, hanging together, managed to stop the works once more.
The battle is going on. Not only in open air and online, but also in court. Modest Sokolov, an environmental activist, filed a request to the district administration for access to its head statement with attachments defining borders of the area assigned for construction – in order to control the forest cutting-off by the restricted permitted area if the works will not stop. The administration refused, explaining that “the information requested does not touch rights and interests” of the applicant. Supported by the FIF lawyers, Sokolov applied to the Gatchina town court. Our lawyer Evgeny Smirnov represented him in court, while no representative of the defendant, the district administration, attneded the court hearings.
The case was reviewed by the court deputy chair for civil cases who fully satisfied the plaintiff’s demands and obliged the administration to provide all documents requested. The judge possibly took into account the definition of the Moscow Oblast Court on a similar case concerning the Khimki Forest that was provided for her information.
Now, the activists are to wait till the court decision will come into force and to achieve its observance to obtain the document that will dosclose how the only municipal forest in the Siversky settlement was sold.
For the activists, this court victory is the first official confirmation that they are right. They are now collecting materials to file to court a large-scale claim concerning lawfulness of all construction works within the forest area.