06/17/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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First forum of Russian civil society held in Khimki forest

by Nina Achmatova
From today until June 20 the AntiSeliger festival in the Khimki forest - at risk of extinction - to "form a strong and conscientious civil society" capable of making itself heard. Leading ecologist Evegenja Chirikov main promoter of event: are we ready to face pretentious police action or nationalist groups.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - Despite fears of possible provocations from nationalist groups and violent police intervention a unique and unprecedented even in recent Russian history got underway today in Khimki, near Moscow: a three-day festival that through discussion, music and art aims to "strengthen civic consciousness in Russian society, still in a primitive stage”, explains the promoter of the initiative Evgenia Chirikhova. This young woman is the soul of the movement "In defense of the Khimki forest", that in the last year has managed to gather behind the environmentalist cause the most diverse voices of the opposition: from human rights activists, controversial artists, to anti-corruption activists and non-parliamentary democratic politicians.

Khimki is a protected forest, just outside the capital, which will be partially destroyed to make way for a Moscow-St. Petersburg highway that has been given the green light by President Dmitri Medvedev in person. For years Chirikov’s movement has been appealing for the project to be diverted to another site to preserve the important natural heritage of the area and has dennounced speculative construction. "Khimki is a symbol of how power in Russia does not care about the common good, but only personalistic interests - explains Chirikov - and this has become more broadly emblematic of the struggle for the Russians to make known their rights and see them respected”.

From now until June 20, Khimki will also be home to the first organized forum of civil peaceful disobedience that has ever taken place in Putin's Russia. The festival is called "AntiSeliger" and is born in opposition to the annual summer camps on Lake Seliger run by the Nashi youth movement, financed by the ruling party United Russia, of which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is leader.

More than 1500 people are expected to take part in the four days in the woods, as well as prominent names from the world of national culture and human rights. Chirikov will lead excursions into the forest to make known the damage that will result by the highway. Also attending are anti-corruption attorney AlexeiNavalny who many would see as a new president, Elena Panfilova of Transparency International, the music critic Artemy Troitsky unpopular with the Kremlin; bloggers and other civil activists. The human rights champion, dissident and former politician Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group has also given her support to the initiative.

Between concerts and film screenings, talks will also be given on corruption, civil rights, politics and online revolutions. "The goal - Chirikov announced in a press conference – is to form a strong and conscientious civil society capable of making itself heard. This the only way to really hope that things will change in this country." The media are not giving much coverage, but nine months from the presidential elections it is certain that the Kremlin will be closely monitoring the event.

Chirikov together with other promoters signed an appeal to Medvedev asking the President to respect the right of citizens to gather in public places and not to invoke Article 11 of the Russian Forest Code, which imposes restrictions on such events in the dry season to avoid the risk of fire. The fear is that using a legal technicality, the police will intervene to disperse the event. There is also a risk that pro-Kremlin and nationalist groups will attempt to provoke conflicts. "Let's be realistic - concludes Chirikov - and ask each participant to keep in mind that our beloved police are capable of inflicting injuries and therefore not respond to provocations. "
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