Shiyes and Agua Zarca

The Moscow Times reports on the latest developments in the Shiyes protests:

Opponents of a controversial landfill in northwestern Russia have asked Sweden, Norway and Finland for help in averting an environmental crisis…

Five regional environmental groups have asked the three Scandinavian heads of state, as well as the regional Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) organization, for help as neighbors “that have successfully solved the waste problem.”

The technology will obviously have to come from those countries that have chosen better solutions than dumping waste from the capital city in the northern wilderness. Politically, it’s worth taking a look around the world and locate areas where local residents are likewise fighting to protect their communities from environmental degradation threatened or inflicted by the government or big business.

Most of them are in developing countries – in the so-called Third World:

The Philippines has replaced Brazil as the most murderous country in the world for people defending their land and environment…

In Global Witness’s ranking of assassinations, the top five also includes Colombia, India and Guatemala. They are followed by Mexico, DRC (ex-Zaire), Iran, Honduras and Ukraine. Four countries out of Global Witness’s top 10 are in Latin America. The Philippines, they say, is somewhat close, culturally, to Latin American countries like Mexico and Colombia, with which they share a history of Spanish dominance.

In Mexico and Central America, all of the environmental conflicts I’ve read about involve indigenous communities trying to survive yet mercilessly stripped of their livelihood. There’s a racial dimension to the depredations of those governments, corporations, and their security forces, and the resistance they face is a form of self-defence by long-persecuted native minorities.

The Shiyes standoff is different in some ways and similar in others. The planned landfill is not an immediate threat to the residents of Syktyvkar or Arkhangelsk, and the Russian protesters’ ethnic mix isn’t much different from the country average. It’s a Northern province feeling like a wronged colony, saying “we don’t want garbage from the parasitic capital down south.”

This doesn’t mean that parallels with Latin America would be misplaced in the case of Shiyes. Quite the contrary, they should be taken seriously, and so should be the risks. The Russian state’s unprecedentedly repressive – and vindictively cruel – response to the generally peaceful protests in Moscow in the past two weeks might well evolve, over time, into persecution of other protesters, including the environmentalists. There’s no pressing need for Putin’s junta to hire assassins (although at times it might just do that) when it can invoke, say, the laws against foreign agents or undesirable organizations.

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