Evgenia Chirikova, 35, ECMO, Interviewed in Moscow.
"It seems to me that our problem is not Putin but the people. For [we should be] more demanding with respect to our own lives, with respect to what we see out of our windows, and resist every time when government functionaries offend us." --Evgenia Chirikova, in an interview with the Echo Mosvy Radio, Aug. 10, 2010
"Dear Leon!" Evgeniya wrote me on July 17 after we left Moscow without meeting her. "I was terribly upset because I could not meet with you [and] talk. I think the most realistic way to proceed will be to question me over the phone. It's just that I am either under bulldozer, or in negotiations. Even this I am writing you from my phone: I am almost never in front of a normal computer these days. So please call me and I will answer all your questions with great pleasure. With much respect, Zhenya."
Chirikova is the head of ECMO, an environmental group with a rapidly growing national and international following, is attempting to defend from destruction the Khimki forest and other areas in the path of the planned Moscow-St. Petersburg highway. Far more than all the groups and movements in our study, ECMO activists have been subjected to physical abuse. As they throw themselves in front of bulldozers and trucks and lead "unsanctioned" demonstrations in Moscow, Chirikova and her comrades are beaten by the thugs hired by the highway construction company, roughed up by police, and put in "pre-trial detention."
Even getting her on the phone was easier said than done. A few days after she wrote this note, this mother of two young children (she also holds advanced degrees in jet-engine designs, economics, and business) led yet another rally in downtown Moscow, and was arrested as usual. After "carrying her in his arms to the detention center, the arresting policeman came to apologize saying," according to the Interfax, "You are so young and beautiful and I am sorry to have detained you." She was released.
When I caught up with Chirikova later, she told me the remorseful policeman's story -- with one crucial detail changed: "He did not carry me in his arms. He put his arms around my upper body and dragged me. My ribs still hurt [a week later]." Five months later, she became one of the leaders of the Russian Spring.
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"This could not be lawful!" I was pregnant with my second child and we walked in the woods every day, my husband and I, 'walked the belly.' So one day we walked and saw spots [of clearings] in the forest. And the struggle began right after the baby was born. Right away, I found information in the Internet about the planned highway and the decree of the governor to the effect that, instead of the forest, we will have a highway and "structures" that go with it. So we began to bombard various ministries and agencies with questions and received idiotic answers to the effect that this decision was made by [then President Vladimir] Putin himself and, as a result, it is fully lawful. This seemed totally bizarre to me because it was clear that this could not be lawful. We spoke to a lawyer, and understood that the authorities would be useless. I began to print, on the home printer, leaflets about how there are plans in existence that were absolutely monstrous, that would change our lives. Simply, they were taking away our way of life and throwing us on the side of the highway. But we wanted to live as we had lived. Afterwards, I began to leave everywhere my phone number and we began to gather as a group.
"Horrible things are happening in my country." I worked in big business for a long time, then I had a business of my own, and there was no time to look around and see what is going on in the country. I thought I would stay at home with the second child and will be taking nice walks in the woods. But the reality hit me over the head. Horrible things are happening in my country now. For the first time in our history, people came to power for whom the sole aim is to get rich from the resources of our country. And one of these resources is land.
"No a change of regime without a change in people's mentality." What do I understand "the change of the existing system" to mean? First and foremost, I understand it to mean the change of people's mentality. If citizens have political will, if they are not indifferent to their fate, if they actively participate in their own life and the life of their country, then the regime, too, will be absolutely different…[Otherwise] it is useless to exchange Putin for anyone else. The change of political regime is possible only through the change in the mentality of the people.