Thanks, Rashid

Rashid Alimov

Thanks, Rashid: How We Remember Rashid Alimov
Greenpeace Russia
December 18, 2020

Violetta Ryabko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s media department
“Better not open the refrigerator: I brought back radioactive mushrooms from Bryansk Region for analysis!” Rashid once said. I remember how, at the office, I had voiced my desire to go picking mushrooms, and Rashid replied, “Brilliant! We need to make a map of where the radioactive mushrooms near Petersburg are, and where it is better not to pick them.”

Rashid had so much energy and desire to solve the environmental problems he was dealing with. He could spend days and nights reading thousands of pages of reports to find the truth, as he did with the 2017 ruthenium leak, whose cause was revealed to the world by Rashid. He knew how not to give into despair and write about each new attempt to import uranium tailings into Russia. He was attentive to every detail, word, and comma in the materials that we prepared. We wrote a lot of releases together, fought against the construction of a waste incinerator, and issued a brochure that is still used by activists all over the country. It was never just a job. We supported each other, made each other laugh, and figured out how not to burn out and maintain our enthusiasm, even when things didn’t work out.

I remember how once Rashid was trying to obtain a official report from yet another Russian ministry. (I forgot which one, and there is no one else to ask.) His latest request was sent back with something like the following runaround from a ministry secretary: “Lyudmila Petrovna would be very dissatisfied were these data published.” Rashid said that he had no idea who Lyudmila Petrovna was, and could not understand why the data that the ministry was required to send by law had not been provided. He then looked at me enigmatically and asked, “What’s your middle name?” He dashed off the following email: “Violetta Vladimirovna is extremely concerned that the documents have not been sent on time and promises to take immediate action.” We had the documents the next day.

Rashid was a very principled man and a consistent opponent of nuclear energy. I knew that I would always find the answer to any question by asking him. This year alone, he made several hundred comments to media outlets that were not afraid to cover the problems with construction of the Northeast Expressway in Moscow and the importation of uranium tailings for storage in Russia.

But not everyone was so honest. I remember receiving a message from him: “Guess who might be the subject of article entitled ‘A Story of Ordinary Fascism’?” It was a disgraceful, slanderous article about Rashid on the website of pseudo-environmentalists. Later, television presenter Vladimir Solovyov took to the air to say that, while he had been unable to find any compromising material on Rashid, he had learned that Rashid had graduated from the faculty of Oriental studies at Petersburg State University. Rashid really did speak several languages perfectly, which only aided him in becoming a brilliant expert and doing research in a variety of languages.

I remember how I was angry at Rashid for something stupid and wrote a message about it to a colleague, but ultimately I accidentally sent it to Rashid himself. He read it and thanked me. I was so ashamed and amused, and later we would remember this story and laugh. He was such a wonderful, intelligent man. I don’t believe I’m writing about him in the past tense.

Alexei Kiselyov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxic waste program
I would start with the fact that Rashid is the person whom we have to thank for the fact that garbage is not burned in Petersburg. He also made sure that public hearings on the proposed incineration plant in Petersburg were canceled, the investor bailed, and the governor rejected the project.

Rashid Alimov (center, standing) at public hearings on the proposed construction of a solid waste incineration plant in St. Petersburg

It was Rashid who wrote the pamphlet “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia,” which is still used by thousands of activists around the country.

Rashid was one of the few people for whom the tragedy of the village of Muslyumovo was personal and who always tried to help them. As well as the city of Novozybkov in Bryansk Region, which suffered from the Chernobyl accident. It’s very hard to believe that he is gone.

Kostya Fomin, media coordinator at OVD Info, former media coordinator at Greenpeace Russia
Rashid was the person with whom I seemingly found it easiest to get along at Greenpeace. At first glance, he was calm, intelligent, and even quiet, but he was terribly in love with his work, purposeful, and assertive. He was never an anti-nuclear fanatic. On the contrary, he always advocated careful, sensitive language. But he was a staunch opponent of dangerous technologies that had misfired many times, ruined people’s lives, and poisoned everything in sight for many years to come. He was a genuine old-school Greenpeace activist.

He was irrepressible in a good way and took on seemingly doomed cases. Not always, but not so rarely, either, he got good results, and I am very glad that I was able be with him at those moments and help in any way I could. I remember how he told me about Petersburg poets and revolutionaries as we walked along the embankment, and boatloads of Greenpeace activists sailed toward a floating nuclear power plant: in the end we made sure that its reactors were not activated in Petersburg, a city of five million people. I remember how a guard at a hospital in Arkhangelsk tried to detain us as we measured the background radiation in the yard, where bags of corpses had been piled after the incident in Nenoksa. I remember how we drew a bucket of water from the radioactive Techa River, in Chelyabinsk Region, to prove that people from the surrounding villages were still in danger. I remember how we spent all day and half the night negotiating a press release reporting that Roshydromet recognized that ten of its weather stations had recorded extreme levels of ruthenium in the atmosphere, and in the morning at the airport, I heard our words repeated on REN TV.

Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that exactly a year ago, Rashid and I had been together too. Activists opposed to the import of uranium tailings to Russia set up barrels marked with radiation danger signs outside Gostiny Dvor, in downtown Petersburg, and Rashid had stood next to them holding a poster. No one was detained, and we celebrated the successful protest at a bar. But when Rashid went home, he telephoned to say that a whole squad of police had caught up with him at the front door of his house. Why the front door? Because they had tried to trick their way into his house, but Rashid’s daughter wouldn’t let them in, and the whole ridiculous “tactical team” had to freeze to death. My friends and I thought that Rashid had raised his daughter well. We’ll all miss you.

Rashid Alimov protesting the importat of radioactive waste from Germany, outside Gostiny Dvor in Petersburg, on December 17, 2029

Vladimir Chuprov, project director, Greenpeace Russia
I spent a long time forcing myself to start writing these lines. I couldn’t even imagine that I would have to do this. I don’t want to say anything trivial: Rashid, of course, deserves more. Such blows make you stop and think about how fleeting life is, and how important it is to appreciate each other here and now, in this life. Rashid knew how to do it. With a kind of incomprehensible oriental inner contemplation, he would calmly accept the most unpleasant news and difficult tasks. He would shrug, hunch his shoulders more than usual, and start listening. Being able to hear means being able to hear life, to halt its quiet elusive moments, even if they are compressed in a telephone receiver’s silence.

Reproaches and complaints to others were all things that Rashid somehow knew how to avoid. Or they bypassed him. Sometimes, I would get mad at something or someone, then I would look at how Rashid reacted to it, and realize that it was all a passing trifle. The nuclear power issue has always been difficult and in many ways thankless, since it is almost impossible to help people affected by radiation: the forces are too unequal, and the inhuman system that Rashid struggled with is too clumsy. But it was Rashid who managed to work calmly in the face of this abyss of grief and powerlessness and give people hope.

I am grateful that I was able to work with Rashid for many years and, most importantly, that I was able to communicate with him in his final days. He conversed with me cheerfully and humorously as always, the way he knew how. It is a pity that Rashid did not live to see what he fought for: a harmonious green world without landfills and smog. May the atheists forgive me when I say this, but although we shall not see Rashid, Rashid will listen to us just as calmly tomorrow and the day after. One day I will tell him how he did it. Just wait, Rashid.

Yevgeny Usov, investigative research and expertise specialist, Greenpeace Russia
Rashid and I first became closely acquainted many years ago while inspecting an illegal landfill in the Kingisepp District, where I filmed an interview with him for television. Then there were trips with him to attend a rally in Pushkin and sample radioactivity in Bryansk Region, expert work for the Presidential Human Rights Council and air quality research in Petersburg, long conversations about various matters and editing international reports.

Calm, reasonable, and interested in many different and surprising subjects—that was Rashid. He did many extremely important things for Russia.

Rashid measured the concentration of solid particles outside the window, the level of radiation in the mushrooms picked by his grandmother, was involved in the blockade of a German train, loaded with radioactive waste, going to Russia, investigated the true size of the country’s mountains of industrial waste, and dug up the truth and helped the truth make its way to people.

Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair, Ecodefense
I met Rashid about fifteen years ago when Ecodefense organized a campaign against the importation of uranium tailings. He was a journalist. In 2007, he joined the campaign and organized protests in Petersburg, where uranium waste was delivered by sea. By 2009, we had managed to stop the import of tailings from Germany, and Rashid made a huge contribution to this victory. Later, we interacted a lot in various campaigns against dangerous nuclear projects.

Rashid was one of the most important people in the Russian anti-nuclear movement. An uncompromising activist, he always adhered to the principle of protecting the public interest come what may. Last year and this year, we corroborated a lot as part of a new campaign against the import of uranium tailings from Germany: we organized a number of protests in Russia and Germany, and, in the end, Germany decided to temporarily suspend this activity. I am certain that Ecodefense and other organizations that were involved in the campaign will continue to fight if the imports are resumed—not only for the sake of preventing harm, but also in memory of Rashid. He would have liked that.

Rashid’s family, as well as the environmental movement in Russia, have suffered an irreparable loss. There is no way to compensate for it. We will remember Rashid as a man who made a huge contribution to the fight against dangerous nuclear projects in Russia and other countries, as a great friend and knowledgeable colleague. It is impossible to repair what has happened, but the memory of our beloved friend Rashid will live on, and we will continue to do what we did with him and in his memory.

Elena Sakirko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department
When I became part of the Greenpeace team, Rashid was almost the first person I met. That was when thirty of our colleagues were in the Murmansk pre-trial detention center and a support group was organized in the city. We had to work with lawyers and journalists, and also get letters, food, and clothes (everything they needed) to the detained activists . I was the translator, and Rashid organized the deliveries. Working almost around the clock, we still found time to communicate. Rashid talked about Greenpeace and environmental protection in Russia: it seemed that he knew everything and was acquainted with all the activists and experts.

From the very first day, Rashid radiation so much warmth and attention, so much patience and endurance, that I just wanted to be as brave and calm, as well-versed in environmental issues as him. Another quality of his that saved me was his amazing sense of humor, his ability in the most difficult situations to look deeply and see what mattered the most. And there was his constant willingness to help. The Murmansk period and the case of the so-called Arctic 30 came to an end—all the activists were released and returned to their homes—but the most important thing about Greenpeace for me seems to reside in the calmness, kindness and courage of Rashid, something that put me in touch then with environmental protection.

Then there was my first picket, in which I stood with Rashid on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. There were also collaborations and projects where we did not intersect, but every time I went to Petersburg, I knew exactly who I wanted to see and with whom I could discuss all my difficulties and problems, who could take me on interesting walks in the city and tell me so much. I think people like Rashid just cannot disappear, they have so much energy and goodness that they shared with us—a whole world.

Rashid had his life’s work to do: regardless of the projects he was involved in, the most important thing for him was always radiation safety. I think it’s very important to continue this work.

Environmentalist and Activist Rashid Alimov Has Died
Activatica
December 18, 2020

Rashid Alimov, an environmentalist, anti-nuclear and climate activist, and project manager of Greenpeace Russia’s energy program, died last night. His death was reported to his wife Olga Krivonos by the doctor on duty at the intensive care unit of the hospital in St. Petersburg where Rashid was being treated for complications of the coronavirus.

Exactly a year ago, on December 17, 20198, Rashid Alimov held a protest action entitled “Russia Is Not a Nuclear Dump” on Nevsky Prospekt outside of Gostiny Dvor. Alimov stood with a banner reading “Russia is not a nuclear dump” at the central entrance to the Gostiny Dvor shopping center. Behind him were activists eleven metal barrels painted with the radioactive danger sign and letters forming inscription “Happy New Year.”

Alimov had worked in environmental organizations since 2001. He was the author and editor of numerous publications on environmental issues, including radiation safety. From 2005 to 2011, he led a campaign in Petersburg against the import of depleted uranium hexafluoride into Russia, as well as the construction of new nuclear power plants. He was involved in Below Two Degrees, a bulletin issued by Russian observers at the UN climate talks.

“Rashid was involved in dealing with issues of waste management, air pollution and nuclear energy. He helped close several landfills, and thanks to Rashid’s work, public hearings on a planned trash incinerator in St. Petersburg were canceled and the governor abandoned the project. Rashid wrote a pamphlet, “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia”, which is still used by thousands of activists throughout the country,” Greenpeace Russia wrote in its obituary.

Two pages from What to Do with the Garbage in Russia, a Greenpeace pamphlet written by Rashid Alimov

Alimov was one of the leading experts in Russia on the problems of toxic environmental pollution. He was a very kind, honest and humble man.

Rashid is survived by his wife, parents, daughter, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

Photos courtesy of Greenpeace Russia and Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

Denis Stark: Welcome to the Clean Country

Welcome to the Clean Country*
Denis Stark
Activatica
February 8, 2019

In an article I wrote six months ago, I argued Russia was at a crossroads and there were two scenarios for the future of waste management there. I also wrote that the window of opportunity was quite narrow and was closing. If Russia chose the road of waste incineration, it would be an irreversible decision, at least for the next thirty to thirty-five years.

The window of opportunity has closed, and the scenario has been chosen. Russia is set to become a country with two hundred waste incineration plants and function as the trash bin of Europe and Asia.

What I am about to say is very unpleasant, and you are likely to put it down to the my pessimism. That is why I should say a few words about myself. I have been doing waste management projects for fifteen years. During the last seven years, although I lived and worked abroad, I would come to Russia on weekends and holidays to clean up trash, organize the separate collection of recyclables, hold conferences, and meet with officials.

I believed so strongly in Russia that when my contract in the United Arab Emirates ended in 2018 and my family decided to take a six-month vacation, we didn’t go to Bali, Goa or Montenegro. We went to Russia, where we made the rounds of conferences, met with officials, talked with activists, and wrote articles.

Until January 14 of this year, I continued to believe we could make a difference. This is hard for me to write after fifteen years of intense work in the waste management sector, after making so many friends and publishing a book. I feel responsible to my friends and my country, to my relatives who live in Russia and cannot leave.

I have always been someone who inspired and organized by arguing that small deeds and grassroots involvement would make a difference. I belied it was true, and I still believe it. But now we must admit we have failed.

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What happened on January 14, anyway? President Putin signed a decree establishing the Russian Environmental Authority [Rossiiskii ekologicheskii operator], a public nonprofit company responsible for developing systems for the treatment of solid waste.

Let’s examine several points in the decree and find out what the dry, incomprehensible legal jargon means. The meaning of decrees must be deduced, since they contain numerous long clauses with nice-sounding words, difficult turns of phrase, and formal language. It is thus difficult to cut to the chase and figure out who and what are implied.

To simplify the task, I have replaced what I regard as superfluous verbiage with ellipses and generated my own reading. I am not a lawyer, and so I make no claim to be right. I could be mistaken. My view could be one-sided, so I would advise you to read the decree, watch the president’s speeches on waste management, and reach your own conclusions.

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“The company is established with the goal of creating […] waste management systems […] for producing energy.”

I.e., waste incineration plants will be built. I should explain what this means for readers not familiar with the subject. Officials refer to waste incineration as the production of energy from waste or even recycling waste into energy. This language is misleading, papering over the fact that, besides the energy generated from waste, toxic ash and toxic emissions are released into the atmosphere as byproducts.

“It is involved […] in coordinating the work of the federal government, regional executive authorities, and local governments.”

So, the newly established company will tell the federal government, regional governments, and local governments what to do when it comes to waste. The wording is so gentle and deceptive: “involved in coordinating.” I think this means the new authority will them to what to do.

I am especially jarred by the idea of its riding roughshod over local governments. Are you?

“It is involved in drafting and implementing government programs and projects in the field of waste management.”

My guess is that the new company will handle all government waste management projects. The decree does not say this outright, of course, but no other company has this portfolio. So, I imagine that the new company will enjoy a monopoly.

“It drafts proposals for improving legislation […] and is involved in drafting regulations in this area.”

The new company can amend the laws regulating waste management. Other companies do not have this power, but it does. Does this mean no one else would be able to propose amendments to the laws on waste management? Formally, no. In practice, however, I think the new company will either coordinate or sign off on any and all amendments to the relevant laws and regulations.

“It is involved in drawing up […] agreements […] on the transport […] of waste generated in one region of the Russian Federation to other regions of the Russian Federation.”

That is, the new company will handle the logistics of transporting waste between regions.

“It carries out expert analysis of waste management transport routes and locations […] and submits recommendations for adjusting them.”

So, the new company will be deciding on the logistics, technology, and locations of landfills and disposal facilities in Russia’s regions. But what if local communities do not agree with its decisions?

“It analyzes […] whether the procedures of public discussion of proposed locations have been observed.”

The authority decides whether procedures for public oversight have been observed. For example, if a community opposes the proposed location of a landfill or waste incineration plant, the company can rule the procedure for assessing impact was not observed properly and declare the feedback made at public hearings null and void.

“It implements […] international cooperation […] on issues of waste management, and it makes agreements with international organizations.”

What international issues on waste management could there be? Maybe the decree has in mind importing waste from China and Europe, where the requirements for waste disposal have become more stringent, proposals for waste incineration facilities spark protests, and there is no vacant land left for landfills.

The import of foreign waste should be fairly profitable. Where will the money go?

“It invests temporarily available funds […] and engages in other income-generating activities.”

I will not hazard a guess as to where available funds will be invested.

“It drafts federal and regional government support programs for investment projects and analyzes these programs.”

I.e., it decides which projects to invest in and which not to invest in.

“It is involved in concession agreements and agreements on federal and/or municipal public-private partnerships.”

In Europe, waste management concession agreements are made for periods of twenty-five to thirty years, and governments cannot get out of them. What will happen in Russia?

“It provides […] guarantees (sureties) to private investors..”

For example, it could guarantee shipments of waste in a certain amount, as in Sweden, which provided guarantees to waste incineration plants and currently imports waste from other countries to be burned in Sweden, despite the protests of locals. Nothing can be done, however, because the Swedish government gave its word.

“It carries out voluntary certification of the technological processes, equipment, and capital construction sites necessary for implementation of activities in the field of […] waste management.”

Did I read that correctly? Certification is “voluntary” but at the same necessary for working in the waste management field, meaning that the authority sets the conditions for certifying technological processes, equipment, and construction sites, and no one can make a move without this certification.

“It functions as a customer, operator and/or developer of information systems in the field of waste management.”

The company will have its hands on all waste management information systems. It will bear sole responsibility for the accuracy of information about its doings.

“It engages educational and public awareness work in the waste management field and popularizes modern waste management technologies.”

The company will supersede all grassroots campaigns, organizations and movements that have been engaged in raising public awareness when it comes to waste management and recycling. There is not a word in the decree about cooperating with grassroots organizations, supporting them, developing them or even coordinating them. The new company will do all the educating, explaining, and informing, and the technologies it popularizes will be the most modern by definition.

So, what technologies will the company popularize?

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Perhaps I am worrying in vain? Maybe the new authority will use its unlimited powers for influencing the executive branch from the federal level to the local, its capacity to make and amend laws, and its functions as investor, educator, and certifying agency to promote separate waste collection, recycling, and waste reduction? These things are also mentioned in the decree, after all, not only producing energy from waste. Maybe the company has been established for these purposes?

President Putin answered my questions on December 20, 2018.

“I understand people who oppose the construction of waste incineration plants. We have to make sure the plants do not scrimp on filters, and everything is top of the line in terms of technological know-how, as in Tokyo, where the plants are located right downtown, but there is no smell and there are no problems, because the right know-how is used. We must build two hundred processing plants by 2024.”

This was much more to the point than what Putin said on June 7, 2018, during his annual “Direct Line” TV program. He was as matter of fact as a politician could be.

The decision has been made: two hundred waste incineration plants must be built in Russia. The know-how will be determined by the Environmental Authority, which will have oversight over its own work and also “educate” people about the outcomes of its work.

The decree establishing the authority has been signed. There is no going back: the regime does not take back what it says. Welcome to a garbage-free country, dear rank-and-file Russians. Get your minds ready for “public awareness” campaigns.

That was my introduction. Now I would like to ask the environmentally aware segment of the Russian grassroots community a question. My question is addressed to those of you who know what dioxins and furans are. It is addressed to those of you who have seen the design specifications for the trash incineration plants approved for construction in the Voskresensk and Naro-Fominsk Districts of Moscow Region, and know the differences between this type of plant and similar plants in, say, Tokyo and Vienna.

For ten years you encouraged people to recycle while it still could have made a difference. When, however, you were ignored, you said, “There is still time.”

You thought the horror story in Moscow Region and the regime’s obvious intentions to build trash incineration plants there would trigger a broad-based backlash from the Russian grassroots. When they ignored the story, you said, “It serves Muscovites right.”

When Moscow’s trash was exported to Yaroslavl and Arkhangelsk Regions, you thought it would be more than people could bear. But it was okay: people grinned and bore it.

At each step of the way, the president’s statements have been more and more definite. Now the party’s over. The time for testing the waters has come to an end. The common people have accepted their lot and the powers that be are segueing into “public outreach” mode.

What are you going to do next?

c8238179bed9f435fa597a3ebd1272c2.jpg“Dumping prohibited. Fine: 5,000 rubles.” 

Arkhangelsk activists organized a nationwide day of protest. The protest rallies were attended by several thousand of the usual suspects from around the country. The protest was ignored, and the regime was confirmed in its convictions.** 

That was the best possible outcome. If the day of protest had drawn huge crowds, the regime would have engaged in provocations and arrested the organizers. There was no way to get positive-minded activists who collect waste paper in their own residential buildings to attend: they have no use for rallies.

It would appear that the days of grassroots public conscious raising are over. I doubt the majority of peaceable environmentalists are willing to go to prison like Pussy Riot.

The few remaining dissenting organizations will be subjected to government inspections and shut down for violating the rules. They will be declared “foreign agents.” Or they will simply stop getting grants. On the internet and TV, their campaigning will be seamlessly replaced by the “outreach work” of the Russian Environmental Authority and loyal bloggers and reporters.

* The article’s title is a reference to the Russian government’s so-called Clean Country project for waste management.

** This pessimistic assessment of the protest campaign’s effect seems to be partly contradicted by a February 3 article in the Moscow Times, according to which 30,000 people came out for the protest in Arkhangelsk alone.

Thanks to Sergey Reshetin for the heads-up. All photos courtesy of Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader