Paul Goble reports:
In the latest test of the old notion that those in power can survive almost anything except being laughed at, environmental activists in Moscow and St. Petersburg plan to collect toilet paper for Vladimir Putin since he apparently feels Russia has too little of it and is prepared to allow Lake Baikal to be contaminated in order to produce more.
On March 27th “For Baikal,” a coalition of Russian public organizations that seek to defend that environmental wonder from being contaminated by the restarting of the Baikalsk paper mill on its shores, staged demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg to call attention to this issue.
The demands the group raised were not new. They seek to prevent the Baikalsk plant from sending waste products into Lake Baikal, to find alternative jobs for any workers displaced if the plant is closed permanently, and to prevent the burial of nuclear wastes in the region under the terms of a plan approved by Putin earlier this year. But in order to attract attention to their demands, organizers are calling on all those who will take back to bring not only “a good attitude” and posters or banners in defense of Lake Baikal but also “a roll of toilet paper” because Putin and his regime have suggested that the Baikalsk plant must be allowed to operate because Russia lacks enough of that essential product.
The organizers say that, in the course of the demonstrations, they will collect the toilet paper and hand it over to the powers that be so that the latter will not be “forced” to “destroy Baikal” in order to produce what Putin and his associates continue to insist Russians so badly need.
This use of humor to call attention to a very serious problem calls attention to two aspects of the current upsurge of protests in the Russian Federation that are often overlooked. On the one hand, Russians are going into the streets for a wide variety of issues (For a useful survey, click here). And on the other, they are becoming increasingly creative in the ways in which they are pressing their demands. In addition to the toilet paper campaign, Russians angry at the powers that be in Moscow in general and at Vladimir Putin’s policies in particular have employed two interesting tactics.
In the first case, opponents of the continued exploitation of the Sayano-Shushen hydro-electric dam have sent Putin an open letter in which they have proposed among other things that since he is so confident of the safety of that dam, he should commit himself to live in area that would be flooded if the dam broke. And in the second, supporters of jailed Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky have opened an exhibit of political cartoons about his incarceration and jail, cartoons that opposition leaders like Garri Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov say can spark laughter over “the theater of the absurd quality” of his case.
Whether laughter will be sufficient to force the Russian powers that be to change their policies remains to be seen, but once people begin to see such people as figures of fun, that alone will go a long way to transforming the political atmosphere into one in which the possibilities for the future will be different.