Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki

Victoria Lomasko
Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki: Grassroots Protests in Russia, 2015–2016

In late February 2015, politician Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, was gunned down near the Kremlin.

Grassroots activists immediately set up a people’s memorial, made up of bouquets, photos, drawings, and candles, at the scene of the crime, on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. For over a year, they have been taking shifts guarding the memorial from members of various nationalist movements and bridge maintenance workers, who routinely haul away the flowers and photos as if they were trash.

Slogan on man’s t-shirt: “Navalny didn’t steal the timber.” May 24, 2016

“The assaults on the memorial occur like pogroms in a Jewish shtetl: it’s the luck of the draw,” these two people on vigil at the memorial told me. “They pick a time when the people on duty have let down their guard, like three or four in the morning.”

Woman: “People will take to the barricades only when food runs out in the stores.” Slogan on her shirt: “The ‘Russian world’ has no use for science and education.’” Rally in defense of science and education, June 6, 2015

Headed by opposition leaders and attended by thousands of people, the 2012 rallies and marches for fair elections and a “Russia without Putin!” ended with the show trials of 2013 and 2014 against opposition leaders (Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov) and rank-and-file protesters (the so-called prisoners of May 6).

In 2015 and 2016, the Marches of the Millions have given way to small-scale rallies and protests. People far removed from politics have tried to defend their own concrete rights.

I made these drawings at a rally in defense of the Dynasty Foundation. An NGO founded to support scientific research and science education in Russia, it had been declared a “foreign agent” by the Justice Ministry.

“Today, they killed Nemtsov. Tomorrow, they’ll kill a nationalist leader.” Rally in defense of science and education

Torfyanka

In June 2015, residents of Moscow’s Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District came together to stop construction of a church in their local park, Torfyanka. The building had been planned as part of the Russian Orthodox Church’s 200 Churches Program.

“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015
“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015

Residents set up a tent camp in the park and stood watch in shifts to keep construction equipment from entering the site. They also filed a lawsuit, asking the court to declare the public impact hearing on the construction project null and void. The hearing had been held without their involvement. Continue reading “Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki”

Striking Russian Truckers: A Call for Solidarity

Truck Drivers in Russia Urgently Need Your Solidarity

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Striking Truckers’ Camp in Khimki. Courtesy of antiplaton.info

In Russia, despite crackdowns against independent labour union activists, a group of truck drivers organized themselves in mid-November of last year to defend their labor rights and livelihoods. Their goal is to found a nationwide union of truckers that would be run on a non-hierarchical basis by its members. For the last three months, these truckers have been on strike against a draconian new system of cargo haulage tolls that would make it almost impossible for workers like themselves to earn a living.

On December 3, 2015, truck drivers organized a protest camp in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, that has served as a coordinating center for all striking truckers. At the moment, around ten thousand drivers are taking part in a nationwide strike, and since February 20 of this year, more than ten other protest camps have been set up in different regions of the country.

The truckers would like to keep striking until the so-called Plato system has been abolished. The Plato system has introduced a new set of tolls for long-haul trucks, and it directly benefits the corrupt businessmen and officials who have profited the most from fifteen years of misrule by Vladimir Putin and his cronies.

Russia has not seen such widespread and serious labor protests since the 1990s. The striking drivers are supported by many other downtrodden groups in Russia. In the course of the protests, new networks have emerged through which the truck drivers have issued other demands such as reforming housing policies and reinstating benefits for pensioners as well as abolishing the transport tax. In addition, many wage earners and other precarious groups have been inspired to join the new union of transport workers or form their own new associations or labor unions.

Despite broad support from the Russian public, the Khimki camp is now in dire straits in terms of resources. Above all, the strikers need financial support for publicizing the strike and providing for their families, as they have no sources of income at the moment.

Therefore, we are asking for any kind of solidarity (media, material or other kinds of support) from the international anticapitalist movement, and labor and trade unions around the world.

If you can and want to help us, please write to: solidarity_trucker@yahoo.com

Yours in solidarity,

The Striking Truck Drivers of Russia

For more information, see my previous posts on the strike and antiplaton.info (in Russian). TRR

A Lesson in Solidarity: With the Striking Truckers in Khimki

Tamara Eidelman
How I Gave a Lecture to Truckers
echo.msk.ru
December 26, 2015

When I informed my near and dear that I had been asked to give truckers a lecture on civil disobedience, their reactions were basically the same.

“They won’t understand a thing.”

“They support Putin and won’t give you the time of day.”

“Update your vocabulary,” someone even said to me.

“Haven’t they left yet?” asked a woman who knows her way around politics quite well.

All these statements were not very encouraging, and in any case I was badly dithering. I knew I was capable of giving interesting lectures, just not to truckers. I pictured burly men who yawned as they listened to my arguments and might even, for all I knew, shout, “Why are we listening to this? We are not interested.”

But it turned out they were interested.

My friend, who had dreamed up this whole thing, and I slowly and painfully made our way to Khimki. The shuttle bus dropped us off on the wrong side of the Mega shopping center, so we had to walk through it. Holiday lights were shining, people were hurrying to do their New Year’s shopping, but no one wondered about the big rigs parked in the parking lot.

And we still had to find the parking lot. We walked a long way through enormous spaces crammed with the cars of happy Mega and Ikea customers. Finally we saw the trucks: the word “lonely” came to mind. They were parked in the back of beyond. True, they had to be visible from the road, not far from the anti-tank obstacles, but who would see them there?

The trucks sported homemade placards reminding Rotenberg that the tire iron was under the seat. There was a New Year’s fir tree with only a few decorations on it. We were looking for Viktor with whom we had arranged the lecture. We were told Viktor was in the “cafeteria.” Oh, they had a cafeteria? The cafeteria was yet another truck, where you could have tea. We discovered only two or three fellows there. The rest had gone off to have lunch, obviously, to a more suitable place for such things. Were they really going into Mega? What did they think about the happily occupied shoppers, who had arrived as it were from another world?

We stood and chatted. It transpired we were not the only guests there. There was a bus driver who had brought a load of passengers to Mega and in the meantime had stopped by to see how things were going. It seemed it was not his first visit. He talked about how much money people who drive buses had to shell out for no reason at all.

Young women who wanted to draw what was happening at the truckers’ camp and post the drawings on Facebook showed up, as well as a woman with a camera. They said it was not their first visit, either, and that there were even old women who brought the lads borscht.

Meanwhile, the guys had started to gather. They really were big and strapping, and I found it hard to picture them listening to the lecture. But as soon as Viktor said the lecturer had arrived, they immediately happily formed a circle round me and listened.

I told them about Parnell and the first boycott in the world, against Captain Boycott, about how the landlords in Ireland had pitilessly raised the rents and complaining was useless.

“It conjures up certain associations,” commented one of the listeners. “Only there is no point in boycotting Rotenberg.”

“Hang on and let us listen. This is interesting,” the others said, stopping him short.

I looked around and could see they really were interested.

I saw I was surrounded not by ferocious wild men, but by attentive listeners with intelligent faces. I continued.

We moved on to Gandhi. The interest grew. The slogan “fill the prisons” provoked healthy mirth. One of the men was told he would be their Gandhi and would go to prison first. Another man asked whether there was not a difference between Russia and India: in Russia, where so many people had perished in Stalin’s camps, it would hardly be possible to fill the prisons. He was told that no one was forcing him to go to prison: he was just being told how things had been in the past. Someone immediately said they did not have to repeat what had already been done, but could come up with something of their own.

We had an intense discussion of what exactly they could come up with. This was the problem. So far they had not come up with anything than blocking the road to Moscow, and even then far from everyone agreed with this plan. The drivers gathered in Khimki were supposedly supported by their comrades in dozens of regions, but the majority was inclined to “wait and see.”

Discussions broke out after almost every sentence. Meanwhile, Shamil, an intelligent-looking Dagestani, and Sergei, a short, energetic man, had joined us. Everyone had his or her say. Someone said it was a pity that his schoolteacher, Raisa Demyanovna, had not talked about things as emotionally as I was.

The conversation became more and more relaxed. When I said that Gandhi had called on his supporters to refrain from sex, everyone gleefully hooted that I was talking about them, that they had long refrained from sex. All of them had very unhappy wives waiting at home, some of whom had threatened divorce. They had no money and their husbands were away from home, so of course you could understand them. Some of the men had gone home, while others said they could not, because “what would the guys say.”

We segued to Martin Luther King. The story of the busy boycott by Montgomery’s Negro population elicited cheers of approval.

“That’s great! They hit them in their wallets!”

Sergei commenced on a fairly coherent account of Gandhi, but he was interrupted and told the “speaker” had just told them about Gandhi.

The questions rained down one after the other. Of course they mainly boiled down to the famous “What is to be done?” We tried to discuss how to break through the media blackout. Some said we had to establish a public television channel.

“Do you have a website?” I asked.

It turned out a site was being created.

Everyone unanimously chewed out Channel One. Everyone wanted more lectures. Everyone was interested.

An hour later we said goodbye. We were asked to come back again, and we promised to do it.

We headed back home, our emotions overflowing. What a joy it had been to converse with completely sane, intelligent, energetic people, to establish a rapport with them, to see the look in their eyes, and hear their questions.

I would love for them to get an answer to the question “What is to be done?” I would love it if as many people as possible went to see them, if they did not feel worthless and abandoned on New Year’s Day, if they won.

By the by, as for the issue of “updating my vocabulary,” not a single truck driver swore even once when I was there.

And the man who asked about Stalin’s camps also asked me why I thought that, unlike in Europe, each new Russian regime wanted to “bend” us. I said there was a really long answer, but I would give the short answer: because we put up with it. Everyone applauded.

Tamara Eidelman is an Honored Teacher of the Russian Federation and a historian.

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Truckers
Anatrrra
LiveJournal.Com
December 26, 2015

Yura, Mikhail, Anatoly, Andrei, and Vitya are all truckers and arrived in Moscow from different cities almost a month ago. After an unsuccessful attempt to paralyze the Moscow Ring Road, they are stuck in a parking lot in Khimki. They can leave if they like, but the police will not let them back. In Khimki, almost all the protesters against the Plato toll payment system are individual entrepreneurs. After making all the various deductions, their take-home income is around 20,000 rubles a month [approx. 250 euros]. If they earn even less, they won’t have enough to feed their families, and some of them have three or even four children. This is their first large-scale protest and coordinating with their brother and sister drivers has not been so easy, because it is a big country and very few of them know each other personally. There were many provocateurs at the beginning, and the know-how of cooperating accumulates only gradually in a new protest arena. “The economy must be changed” is a phrase that you hear them saying along with disappointed remarks about the government and those commentators who depict them as savages. In fact, it is very pleasant and interesting to converse with the truckers in Khimki. They are interested in lots of things and are open to communication. And they need support. In addition to information support they mainly need diesel fuel, 300 liters a day. One Moscow activist showed up with his own canister. Everyone can do this: you don’t have to have your own car. So let’s support the truckers both emotionally and materially!

"Plato came online and the price of bread went up."
“Plato came online and the price of bread went up.”

"Russia's independent media: Russia 24, Channel One, NTV" / Truckers with placard: "No to Plato!"

"Russia's independent media: Russia 24, Channel One, NTV" / Truckers with placard: "No to Plato!"
“Russia’s independent media: Russia 24, Channel One, NTV” / Truckers with placard: “No to Plato!”
"Remember, Rotenberg: the tire iron is under the seat."
“Remember, Rotenberg: the tire iron is under the seat.”
Tamara Eidelman (center; see her account, above) in discussion with the truckers in Khimki, December 26, 2015.
Tamara Eidelman (center; see her account, above) in discussion with the truckers in Khimki, December 26, 2015.
Victoria Lomasko (top right) making a graphic reportage of the proceedings (see below), Khimki, December 26, 2015.
Victoria Lomasko (top right), producing a graphic reportage of the proceedings (see below), Khimki, December 26, 2015.

To see the rest of Anatrrra’s photo reportage, go to her LiveJournal blog.

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Victoria Lomasko
From A Chronicle of a Troubled Time

Compared to A Chronicle of Resistance, which I compiled in 2011-2012, this is a more modest series. I have neither the drive nor the resources to regularly document protests, nor are there inspiring scenes of rallies attended by hundreds of thousands of people, but there are certain kinds of pressure groups I still want to sketch.

What do they have in common?

  • The people involved are self-organized and there is a lack of obvious leaders.
  • The people involved constantly emphasize they are “normal, ordinary people, remote from politics.”
  • They have specific social demands, caused by a violation of their rights.

Notable examples are the protests by residents of the Moose Island (Losinoostrovsky) District of Moscow against the construction of a church in Torfyanka Park and the protest by truckers. The protest camp in Torfyanka and the truckers’ camp in Khimki continue to function.

Andrei, a trucker from Petersburg: "After the New Year everyone will wake up, but the truckers in Khimki will be gone. We need support now." Placards on truck: "No to Plato" and "I'm against toll roads."
Andrei, a trucker from Petersburg: “After the New Year everyone will wake up, but the truckers in Khimki will be gone. We need support now.” Placards on truck: “No to Plato” and “I’m against toll roads.”
Dmitry, an activist from Torfyanka: "The authorities are put too much pressure on people. There is an idea of linking this protest with the one in Torfyanka." Placard on truck: "I want to feed the wife and kids, not oligarchs."
Dmitry, an activist from Torfyanka: “The authorities are put too much pressure on people. There is an idea of linking this protest with the one in Torfyanka.” Placard on truck: “I want to feed the wife and kids, not oligarchs.”
Anatoly, a trucker from Petersburg: "I have two loans, the apartment is mortgaged, and three kids . . . I am not interested in politics: let me work!!!" Placard on back of truck: "Remember, Rotenberg: the tire iron is under the seat."
Anatoly, a trucker from Petersburg: “I have two loans, the apartment is mortgaged, and three kids . . . I am not interested in politics: let me work!!!” Placard on back of truck: “Remember, Rotenberg: the tire iron is under the seat.”
Tamara, a teacher and historian (left): "My acquaintances tried to scare me that truckers were zombies." Man in black hat (right): "They don't even know us."
Tamara, a teacher and historian (left): “My acquaintances tried to scare me that truckers were zombies.” Man in black hat (right): “They don’t even know us.”
 Tamara (left): "Would you like me to lecture about trade unions next time?" Man in white coat (right): "Sure! And for you to dress warmer." Truckers' camp, Khimki, December 26, 2015.

Tamara (left): “Would you like me to lecture about trade unions next time?” Man in white coat (right): “Sure! And dress warmer.” Truckers’ camp, Khimki, December 26, 2015.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Anatrrra and Victoria Lomasko for their kind permission to reproduce their work here.

Hive Minded: The Ghettoization of Suburban Moscow

“The residents of new buildings are forced to look at the windows of neighboring buildings and not see the light of day”
Olga Trakhanova and Olga Shamina
July 6, 2015
Bolshoi Gorod

Recently, residents of several new areas of Moscow and satellite cities have been protesting against excessively dense development. Residents of Krasnogorsk, Khimki, and Reutov, among other suburbs, are dissatisfied. The complaints are one and the same. High-rise residential buildings are built too close to each other, the necessary infrastructure is not constructed, and roads and public transport cannot withstand the rapid population growth. More and more often the word “ghetto” is invoked. According to experts, this is the likely future of these areas.

We asked residents of Moscow suburbs who are unhappy with excessively dense development to tell us why they do not like living in their towns. Here, for example, you can see how houses are being built in Reutov. Here are photos of dense development in the Pavshino Floodplain.

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Yevgeny Sosedov, Resident of Krasnogorsk, chairman of the Moscow branch of the All-Russia Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK)

I live in the Krasnogorsk District of Moscow Region. I was born and raised in the village of Arkhangelskoye, but for the last fourteen years I have lived in Krasnogorsk.

I am dissatisfied with the town planning policies of the regional and municipal authorities, which have a negative effect on the quality of life. Practically speaking, in the last few years we have had to live on a giant construction site. The city and the district are being thoughtlessly built over with high-rises (up to forty-five storeys high). All town-planning standards have been violated; green spaces, forests, parks, cultural heritage protection zones, and nature reserves have been destroyed. Just next to my house, two gigantic shopping centers have been built, and several hectares of a historic park were cut down to make way for them. A third shopping center has been built literally ten meters from my windows, blocking the entire view and depriving the residents of our building of sleep during the five years it was being built. To top it off, intolerable conditions for navigating the city have been created: pedestrian paths have been cut off or dug up, parks are cluttered, and there are no sidewalks along highways and roads.

Infrastructural problems have been snowballing. There is no transportation infrastructure. The existing roads cannot cope with the flow of vehicles. There are traffic jams nearly round the clock in the district. To get to work on weekdays, residents have to leave at five or six in the morning.

During rush hour it is almost impossible to get onto commuter trains. People jam into them at a run. These problems are not being solved, they are only getting worse. For example, the Mortongrad Ilinskoye-Usovo development project, approved by the governor, presupposes delivering another fifty thousand people to the already overburdened Krasnogorskaya train platform.

High-rises are being built in the most problematic traffic spots without obliging investors to reconstruct roads and build interchanges. For example, the Moscow Region Urban Planning Committee, chaired by the governor, has approved the construction of the nine 32-storey towers of the Tetris residential complex in Pavshino at the most problematic spot in terms of traffic. This is in addition to the already-existing Youth residential complex, being built by the same firm, and the 45-storey towers of the Krost complex, which was built without any permits at all. (The development plan still has not been submitted.)

The situation is identical with all other infrastructure. Moscow Region is the leader in terms of families waiting in queues for spots in kindergartens. There are huge problems with health care facilities. There are only two functioning clinics in Krasnogorsk, one of which was built in the nineteenth century. And yet, the population increases by several tens of thousands of people annually, and this whole burden is placed on the existing infrastructure. The biggest infrastructural problem in store for us in the coming years is the drinking water supply and sewerage.

One of the main problems associated with real estate development is the rapid deterioration of the environment, which has extremely detrimental effects on the populace’s health and quality of life: the destruction and clear-cutting of thousands of hectares of forests, the shallowing of bodies of water and sources of drinking water, and the redevelopment of agricultural land and nature reserves.

Something must be said about the quality of the new construction. Moscow Region is a leader in terms of putting so-called new substandard housing on line, housing which starts to fall apart as soon as it is put into service, and huge amounts of money are subsequently spent on its maintenance.

None of these housing projects is provided with places of employment. 80–90% of the population of Moscow Region towns near Moscow travel back and forth to work in Moscow every day.

Huge estates of high-rises, built in the middle of fields according to obsolete designs and without the necessary infrastructure and places of employment, will inevitably turn into ghettoes.

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Olga FilatovaResident of Reutov

The town of Reutov is divided into South and North Reutov. There is new construction in both parts. However, North Reutov is adjacent to the subway, and so, apparently, it is being developed more recklessly.

When flats in South Reutov were being presold, the future tenants asked the developer what would be built near their home. The construction company told them there would be a square, shops, and other infrastructure. Instead, however, dozens of residential buildings were built.

A new neighborhood is being built next to us. One of the buildings there has 645 flats. If three people end up living in each flat—and there are several such buildings—what will happen to our town in the next five years? Property prices will fall, and consequently it will be harder and harder to unload a flat in such a “marvelous” place.

While not all the buildings are inhabited, the town is already overcrowded. Population density in Reutov is nearly one and a half times greater than in Singapore.

Because of the dense development, the town’s ecology is deteriorating. All trees are cut down on construction sites. Consequently, South Reutov is almost bereft of greenery. And the residents of news buildings are forced to look at the windows of neighboring buildings and not see the light of day.

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Elena NosovaResident of Khimki

We, the residents of the Novokurkino District of Khimki, are suffering from the illegal new construction of the PIK Group, a catastrophic lack of infrastructure, the corruption of the local administration, and the inaction of officials and law enforcement agencies. Our district is rapidly turning into a ghetto. We are being deprived of the right to live in humane conditions. We have been trying to put up a fight, but we have remained unheard.

For several months, the district’s residents have been trying to halt the illegal construction of multi-storey residential buildings that the PIK Group has launched on the site of planned infrastructure. Due to excess housing density, the district of Novokurkino, which has a population of 40,000 and includes three microdistricts, is experiencing a catastrophic shortage of infrastructure.

PIK Group has been developing Novokurkino for ten years. The district development plan was approved in 2005; the latest revisions for the sixth and seventh microdistricts were officially approved and went through the compulsory procedure of public hearings way back in 2011. During this time, PIK has built and settled all the residential buildings in the sixth and seventh microdistricts and has begun construction of the next microdistrict, the eighth, but the infrastructure sites stipulated by the plan have not been completed. The construction of schools, kindergartens, and medical clinics has been unacceptably slow, and residents have been unsuccessfully complaining about the situation for several years.

At this point, although 100% of the housing has been built in the sixth and seventh microdistricts, only about 60% of the kindergartens, 50% of the schools, 30% of the medical clinics, and 18% of the parking lots have been built as planned. In the seventh microdistrict, construction of a school, a clinic, a multi-storey car park, and a sports center has not even been started. Consequently, the capacity of kindergartens, schools, and clinics in Khimki and the nearest district of Moscow has been stretched to critical limits. The situation with parking remains catastrophic and continues to worsen.

Despite these circumstances, the developer, PIK Group, has begun building new high-rise residential buildings on the site of the planned infrastructure sites with the permission of local authorities. On the site where, according to the district plan, there should be have been the only sports center in the district, equipped with a parking lot, they have begun building five residential buildings. The building permits were issued on the basis of a city land development plan that was at odds with the district development plan. The Khimki prosecutor’s office confirmed the illegality of the city land development plan, and it was canceled. However, the building permits have still not been withdrawn. Taking advantage of the inaction of the authorities, the developer began construction work, violating all the building codes in the process. At present, the foundation pits of the first buildings have been dug, and piles are being driven into the ground. There is a hoarding on the site advertising that flat are for sale, and pre-booking of spots is underway.

For two and a half weeks, residents who were against the ensuing construction blocked it on their own by parking their cars opposite the driveway to the site, thus preventing construction equipment from entering. However, after almost three weeks of our blocking the construction, the PIK Group moved about twenty well-built young men into workers’ sheds who set about illegally towing away the cars, damaging two of them in the process. The total damage came to about 600,000 rubles [approx. 9,500 euros]. Moreover, the district beat cop was present. He signed the towing tickets, which is not one of his duties, not to mention the fact that the drivers of the cars had not violated any parking rules. Next, PIK fenced off the driveway onto the construction site with concrete blocks, seizing half of the road in the process, meaning they left only one lane for travel. The road is very busy, because it leads to the school. Now all residents, especially children, are also suffering substantial discomfort from this as well.

In addition, permits are being sought for residential construction on two more plots of land, which had originally been zoned for parking lots and a shopping mall with a parking lot.

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All photos courtesy of tuteyshaya.livejournal.com