A young violinist’s lonely mission to pressure Russia against climate change

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – The young violinist holding a sign reading “Climate strike” in a Moscow square did not wait long for the police to arrive. His individual demonstration lasted only 30 minutes before being detained this summer for the second consecutive Friday.

The city’s COVID-19 lockdown is now complete, but protests remain illegal, posing a new challenge for Arshak Makichyan’s mission to build a movement from the ground up to pressure the government of the fourth largest transmitter greenhouse gases in the world.

Inspired by Greta Thunberg at the end of 2018, he organizes political demonstrations every week.

But unlike the Swedish teenager, who galvanized a global movement of young environmentalists, Russia’s strict protest laws and people’s general apathy towards activism made the 26-year-old’s campaign a lonely one. .

Makichyan was often the only activist to participate. Last year, he was jailed for six days for leading a three-person protest that city officials did not allow. A passerby once threatened to stab him for holding up his sign.

“Fear rises whenever something happens, but I have to do something with it because either way you understand that our future is threatened,” he said. “I know we can have an impact on the situation, so of course I’m not going to give up.

“The climate crisis is happening in Russia… There are constant ecological disasters in various regions. The government is doing nothing. “

Temperatures hit record highs in the Arctic this summer and contributed to massive forest fires in Siberia. A Russian mining company blamed a large fuel spill in May on melting permafrost that it said had eroded the foundations of its fuel tank.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is warming to 2.5 times the global average and it would be a disaster if the permafrost melted in its northern cities. But he also said it is not clear what is causing climate change.

MODERATE OBJECTIVES?

Russia, a major energy exporter, belatedly joined the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change last September, and Makichyan said his targets were so modest that they could actually increase emissions while meeting goals.

The Energy Ministry told the Izvestia newspaper in July that Russia had already fulfilled its emission reduction obligations under the Paris agreement.

Just over a third of Russians see climate change as the world’s most serious problem, but only 7% see it as a major problem for Russia itself, according to survey data released by the Center Levada based in Moscow last December.

Makichyan put aside his plans to continue his musical studies at a prestigious school in Germany, deciding to be an activist instead. He started organizing the Thunberg movement in Russia in 2019 and has held weekly protests since March of last year.

He first lived off the savings he had set aside for a new violin, and now works as a grocery courier and lives at home with his parents.

Makichyan fears low participation in Russia in Friday’s global climate strike protests to demand urgent action, due to the pandemic and the government’s firm stance on the protests.

Authorities say all street protests are illegal due to the health risks posed by the pandemic.

“Our movement is not at its best because people are afraid to join the picket lines,” he said. “Now the authorities are using the pandemic as a pretext to stop all forms of activism.”

Editing by Mike Collett-White


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