Russia’s Rabble-Rouser for the Environment

| 4/15/2008 10:39:03 AM

Goldman Prize–winner Marina Rikhvanova talks about rallying Russians to protect their environment

interview by Lisa Gulya 

Marina RikhvanovaCivil society in Russia has withered since its post-perestroika heyday. Controls on nongovernmental organizations have tightened, independent media have disappeared, and bureaucratic corruption persists. These conditions, along with the Soviet legacy of an industry-first, environment-be-damned development approach, make Russian environmental protection and restoration daunting. Russian biologist Marina Rikhvanova is undeterred.

Rikhvanova was one of six winners of the prestigious 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize announced Monday, recognized for her grassroots activism protecting Siberia’s Lake Baikal. Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake, is home to 1,700 unique plant and animal species. In Soviet times, a pulp mill damaged the lake's ecosystem by pumping pollution into its water. In 1996, UNESCO noted concern about the lake’s pollution when it declared Baikal a World Heritage Site.

Rikhvanova works with her organization, Baikal Environmental Wave, to protect the lake and its environs through letter-writing, marches, protests, and collaboration with international volunteers. Her most visible victory was the culmination of a four-year campaign against an oil pipeline that would have come within a half-mile of Lake Baikal. She and volunteers gathered more than 20,000 signatures to oppose the proposed pipeline route. In 2006, Rikhvanova led thousands of Russians into the streets of the city of Irkutsk to protest. Soon after, President Vladimir Putin ordered the pipeline to be rerouted. Rikhvanova’s recent efforts have focused on opposing nuclear enrichment and power plants that would threaten Baikal. talked with Rikhvanova about her work and winning the Goldman Prize.

Joy Towles Ezell
4/15/2008 5:00:13 PM

Congratulations to Marina and all her supporters! I have studied the pulp mill there in Russia for many years as it is a mill very similar to the mill where I live in Perry, FLorida, and has caused the same kind of pollution and environmental problems - though the Fenholloway River where the Buckeye mill here dumps its poison is a very, very small river - not a huge lake like Baikal. The mill here was built before the mill on Lake Baikal, and like Russia, we have few laws governing the mill as the river was declared an industrial river in 1947. I am very proud that Marina and friends continue to fight the good fight against pollution. Again, congratulations on winning the Goldman prize! Joy

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