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Russia: Bloggers’ Summer of Civic Actions

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

Although August is traditionally considered a quiet month in Russia, the country's Internet has been alive with hundreds and thousands of people taking part in a number of social actions. On Saturday August 6, 2011, an event took place which had been months in the planning: ‘Bloggers Against Garbage.’

‘Bloggers Against Garbage’

The instigator of the action was popular travel-blogger Sergei Dolya, who has not previously been noted for his social activism. He had the idea to organise a large group of Russian-language bloggers to clean up garbage in the places they lived. This is how Dolya phrased [ru] the goal of the action:

Я прошу вас очнуться и решить для себя раз и навсегда, равнодушны лично вы к вопросам чистоты и порядка в месте, в котором вы живете, или нет.

Я объездил 65 стран, и только в самых бедных из них люди не заботятся о внешнем виде своих городов и поселений. Нам еще нужно много сделать и пережить, чтобы наше общество стало ставить в приоритет аккуратность, рациональное отношение к ресурсам, чтобы каждый уважающий себя человек считал своим долгом сделать замечание нарушающему порядок. Но это общество состоит из нас с Вами. Давайте начнем уже сегодня понемногу менять ситуацию и, может быть, к нашей старости мы будем знать, что мы с вами выиграли самую коварную войну – войну со своим безразличием.

Акция «Блогер против мусора» – это шаг, который, как мне кажется, способен запустить сложный механизм борьбы с самим собой за право жить в чистом и цивилизованном мире…

I ask you to come to your senses and decide for yourselves once and for all whether or not you care about the cleanliness and order of the place that you live in.

I've been to 65 countries and only in the very poorest of them do people not care for the external appearance of their towns and settlements. We still have a lot to do and work though in order for our society to start making rational attitudes towards resources a priority, so every self-respecting person considers it their duty to make comments that challenge the prevailing order. But this society is composed of us and you. Let's start changing the situation a little today and maybe when we are old, we'll know that you and I won the most insidious war: the war with our own apathy.

The action “Bloggers against Garbage” is one step, I think, which can start off a difficult fight with our own selves for the right to live in a clean and civilised world.

Bloggers not just in Russia, but also in neighbouring countries responded to the action. Moreover, it was supported by a multitude of sponsors, including companies such as Beeline (popular Russian mobile carrier), Lenovo, Coca-Cola, DHL, Kaspersky Labs (well known Russian anti-virus company), Dymov (Russian meatpacking company), the retail chain Respublica and many others. The company News Outdoor advertised the action and the factory ‘Nova Roll’ provided the participants with free garbage bags. Participants were also provided with t-shirts, bandanas, gloves and signs with the slogan “No More Garbage Here.”

This map shows the cities where the action took place:

Map of cities where the 'Bloggers Against Garbage' action took place, by Sergei Dolya.

Map of cities where the 'Bloggers Against Garbage' action took place, by Sergei Dolya.

Here is a short but telling list of statistics which Sergei Dolya provided [ru]:

В акции приняли участие 16 тысяч человек в более чем 120 городах России.

Собрали около 25 тысяч мешков мусора по всей стране, т.е. примерно 200 тонн.

В качестве организаторов было привлечено 439 человек координаторов

На подготовку и проведение акции было потрачено 11 млн. 568 500 рублей.

16,000 people in more than 120 cities in Russian participated in the action

About 25,000 bags of garbage were gathered in the whole country, approximately 200 tonnes.

439 people got involved as organisers

11,568,500 Russian roubles [387,800 US dollars] were spent on preparations and implementation of the action.

A special community, blogerprotiv [ru] collected posts reporting on how the action went in different cities. The event united different political forces: members of Yabloko, Molodaya Gvardia, the National Bolsheviks and other parties and movements all took part in it. In several regions the action was headed by governors, for example, in the city of Blagoveshchensk, Governor Oleg Kozhemyako came [ru] to help the fight against rubbish. In the city of Vladimir, Mayor Sergei Sakharov also came [ru] to the action.

From numerous reports it became clear that ‘Bloggers Against Garbage’ had attracted more than just bloggers, and that in many places they were actually in the minority. With the exception of one case [ru], where bad organisation of the cleaning process and the unfamiliarity with the phenomenon of volunteering played a negative role, the action went off peacefully and without problems everywhere.

Greatest civic action of bloggers?

Summing up the results of a successfully carried out action to clean up rubbish, Sergei Dolya wrote [ru]:

Акция “Блогеры против мусора” войдет в историю российского интернета как крупнейшая гражданская акция блогеров. Никогда до этого на улицу одновременно не выходило такое количество интернет-жителей.

The action ‘Bloggers Against Garbage’ will go down in the history of the Russian Internet as the greatest civic action of bloggers. Until now, there has never been such a collection of Internet-citizens heading onto the streets at one time.

Well known blogger Anton Nossik shared Dolya's view [ru]:

Совершенно однозначно так, если говорить об оффлайновых акциях. Может быть, в каких-то сборах подписей или денег больше народу участвовало, но физически на улицы через Интернет столько народу выводили только в Каире

It's unambiguously the case if we're talking about offline actions. Perhaps more people participated in some sort of signature collection or fundraising action, but in terms of people physically coming out on the streets thanks to the Internet, only in Cairo were this many people coming out.

However, ‘Bloggers Against Garbage’ did not inspire such enthusiasm and support in everyone. A couple of bloggers expressed the opinion that such an action could only cause harm, in as far as tax-payers were starting to carry out government work, which their taxes should have been paying for:

Что собственно произошло? Несколько тысяч человек пошли убирать кал в своих населенных пунктах. То есть простые люди платящие налоги и коммунальные платежи пошли выполнять работы этих самых чиновников и служб. Милейший Доля делает вид, что он не знает – это прямая обязанность городских властей. И делая наивное лицо заявляет – то, что мы денег немеряно платим за поддержание чистоты в городах – фигня. А давайте мы еще и работу за них начнем выполнять – пишет блогер piligrim67.

What happened here? A couple thousand people went to clean up excrement in their towns and villages. These are normal people paying taxes and local charges who went and carried out the work of the civil servants. Sweet little Dolya pretends he doesn't realise that this is the straightforward responsibility of municipal authorities and feigning naivete, he announces that the massive money we pay towards keeping the cities clean isn't worth a damn. Why don't we start doing even more of their jobs –  writes [ru] blogger piligrim67.
Garbage removal men sleep as bloggers collect rubbish in a St Petersburg park. Photo from blogerprotiv on LiveJournal.

Garbage removal men sleep as bloggers collect rubbish in a St Petersburg park. Photo from blogerprotiv on LiveJournal.

Some bloggers have pointed out that one-time actions to clean up rubbish cannot help fix the situation with regards to environmental pollution. Many bloggers proposed increasing the punishment for despoiling nature:

Почему бы нашим законотворцам не придумать что-то по настоящему мотивирующее задумываться. Например, ужесточить наказания. Тем, кто не попал бычком в урну – отрубать руку, кто не донес мусор до контейнера – 25 лет лагерей, а любителям плевать жвачку на асфальт – обрезать язык. Я, конечно, утрирую, но почему-то кажется, что только такие меры способны заставить мусорящую биомассу пораскинуть мозгами прежде чем нагадить – пишет блогер i-narodny.

Why can't our lawmakers come up with some way of making [litterers] reconsider. For example, increasing the punishments. Those who don't throw their cigarette butts in the bin can have their hands cut off. Those who don't take their rubbish to a container can get 25 years in a [prison] camp, and those who love to spit chewing gum on the ground can have their tongues cut out. I am of course, exaggerating, but why does it seem that only these measures are capable of forcing litterbugs to think about the planet before they befoul it –  writes [ru] blogger i-norodny.

Blogger amuzzz published [ru] photographs of places in Losiny Ostrov National Park in Moscow, which were cleaned by bloggers the previous evening and had subsequently been littered and vandalised again:

Torn up sign in Losiny Ostrov. Photo from blogger amuzzz.

Torn up sign in Losiny Ostrov. Photo from blogger amuzzz.

Думаю, что зря отменили обязательные субботники в учебных заведениях. Мусора стало больше, а ответственности мусорящие теперь никакой не ощущают. Обидно. – пишет в конце своего поста блогер amuzzz.

I think that they should not have canceled these compulsory subbotniks [en] [days of voluntary work] in our schools. There is now more rubbish, and litterers responsible now cannot be caught out. It's disgraceful – writes blogger amuzzz at the end of his post.

The organiser of the action, Sergei Dolya responded [ru] to the doubts of bloggers:

Одноразовая акция не имеет смысла. Их надо проводить регулярно. Я думаю, что следующую акцию мы проведем весной, а пока мы займемся установкой урн в городах и пинанием местных администраций на тему ликвидации нелегальных свалок.

One-time actions make no sense. They need to be carried out regularly. I think we will carry out the next action in spring, but for the time being, we will be setting up bins in the cities and prodding local administrators on the issue of liquidating illegal dumping.

A summer of civil actions

Several other notable actions were taking place at the same time as ‘Bloggers Against Garbage.’ The website fursenko.net [ru] was launched, where several participating groups, in particular, the Russian Students’ Union, the movement “Education for All,” the union of workers from the Russian Academy of Sciences and others, collected signatures for the dismissal of the country's Minister of Science and Education, Andrei Fursenko.

In the manifesto published on the website, the organisers wrote:

НЕВОЗМОЖНО БОЛЬШЕ терпеть воровство чиновниками сотен миллиардов бюджетных рублей и бремя тотальной бытовой коррупции в детсадах, школах, вузах, научных центрах! НЕВОЗМОЖНО БОЛЬШЕ терпеть кумовство, клановость, непрофессионализм и некомпетентность, процветающие в управлении образованием и наукой!

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to further tolerate the thieving of hundreds of billions of roubles from the state budget by civil servants and the burden of total day-on-day corruption in kindergartens, schools, universities and scientific centres! IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to further tolerate the nepotism, croneyism, unprofessionalism and incompetence thriving in our institutions of learning and science!

Recently, the latest chapter of the analytical document ‘Power of the Families. Government – 2011‘ [ru] was published, focusing on Minister Fursenko [ru] and analyzing his influence on business and links to corruption. By the start of August, over 17,000 signatures had been collected for his dismissal.

Blogger Ilya Varlamov (zyalt) meanwhile is continuing to fight against illegal parking. He reports [ru] that on August 8, in the Public Chamber, a “hotline” was started on this theme, as a result of the project ‘A Country Without Idiocy.’ The hotline will operate from August 21. Varlamov calls on all to use the telephone number 8-800-700-800 to report the illegal “columns, chains and ribbons that have encircled our city.”

Young Yabloko members have opened the website Ушахиди.рф [ushahidi.rf], which aims to ensure regulation of the upcoming elections in Russia. Time will tell if this website is successful; for now, the only problems are that the address of the site can only be typed in Cyrillic letters and no mirror of the website exists yet.

According to the most recent VTsIOM report [ru], Internet-users already account for 53 percent of Russia's population, and their participation in social action grows every day. Having taken the first step – taking part in a garbage clean-up – some citizens may want to take the following step, participating in a “clean-up” of political rubbish.

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