Black Sea Palaces of the New Russian Nomenklatura
By YABLOKO Bureau member and head of YABLOKO’s Gender (Women’s) Faction Dr. Galina Michaleva
New Russia’s nomeklatura, including the top officials, has been actively constructing palaces on the Black Sea cost, mostly in the national reserves, grabbing the shore, including public beaches.
This is not only immoral, but openly unlawful. Article 6 of the Water Code of the Russian Federation states that every citizen has the right to be on the shore of a public water body (i.e., all bodies of water of natural origin), as well as use it for personal and domestic needs, including recreational fishing. The width of the shoreline should be 20 meters. No one has the right to partition of the shore, prevent the passage through and staying at the shore, even if the site is in private ownership.
However, laws do not apply to Russian officials and oligarchs (which is virtually the same in Russia). Grabbing of the land and fencing of the shore has been taking place virtually everywhere. However, the top officials of the state do this with an especially blatant arrogance, believing that their palaces should be as large, or even larger, as the famous Livadian Palace of the Romanovs royal family. As a rule, in such a situation we witness destruction of a large number of rare trees, as well as natural landscapes. Construction is conducted with budget money, and often with the use of illegal so-called ‘black’ schemes, such as non-transparent chains of sales of land and buildings transferring them from the state or semi-state property into private property. Virtually this constitutes theft of money from the state budget. As a rule, these property objects have formally a different purpose. Construction sites are fenced at large areas, they are protected by private security firms or the military, and ordinary people can no longer pass to the usual beaches. Local residents, builders and guards know too well who actually owns these buildings and the land. Recently due to bloggers and the work of environmentalists, this information has been released to the general public.
The most blatant examples are given below .
“The Patriarch of the Russian Church Country Cottage” is situated in the Divnomorskoye village, by Gelendzhik. About two hectares of Pitsunda pines from the Red book are cut. Three-meter high concrete wall seals the old Dzankhot road, which over the past 130 years have been the only convenient and safe access to the main “pearl” of the Gelendzhik area – Dzhankhot Pitsunda pine forest. Officially, the Patriarch’s Office says about the construction of an “ecclesiastical administrative centre for the Russian Orthodox Church” in the south of Russia. Construction is conducted at the expense of the Moscow Patriarchate with the assistance of RUR 15 million from the budget of the Krasnodar Territory.
“Vladimir Putin’s Country Cottage” in Gelendzhik has been taken out of the state property with the help of corruption schemes; 45 hectares of virgin forest, 6 of which are the Pitsunda pine areas listed in the Red Book.
“Dmitry Medvedev’s Country Cottage” in the Big Utrish nature reserve, which had to become part of the 120 hectares large national park. Presidential Property Management Department began construction works there in 2008 under the guise of building a fitness centre and a road to it.
“Ex-Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov Country Cottage” (who was expelled for corruption) in Anapa in the area totaling 9,227 sq meteкs was transferred (free of charge) to the Defense Ministry for the construction of a radar station. Now the husband of Serdyukov’s sister’s has been building a luxury residential complex there. During construction works they have changed the landscape, filled in the water zone and cut down rare trees.
“Governor Tkachyov’s Country Cottage”(the Governor of the Krasnodar Territory) in the Blue Bay, near Tuapse, the territory of the ‘estate’ amounts to about 3,000 square meters. Mass felling of rare trees, blocking of the shore and fencing of the public forest area took place in its construction.
With the growth of civil protest activity and the access to information via the Internet, these cases have been examined in detail by environmental activists, particularly from such non-profit organisations as The North Caucasus Environmental Watch and the Open Beach, as well (social-liberal) party YABLOKO. The party published a booklet “The Black Sea Palaces and Their Owners” which was in wide circulation.
Fight against construction works and fencing of the shore has been lasting for several years already, its active phase began in 2008.
The following methods are applied:
– inspections of the fenced areas with penetration inside the fenced area and publication of the results of the inspections in the media and Internet;
– applications to Public Prosecutor and top officials on behalf of the party with a demand to eliminate violations of the environmental laws and conduct anti-corruption audits;
– organization of a series of protest actions in the Krasnodar Territory and across the country for the protection of the Utrish Nature Reserve and the Black Sea coast.
The authorities’ responses to the increasing protests are different:
– prosecutor’s investigation in the context of “the Serdyukov case” indicates that a reaction can be obtained if only an official was chosen be a “scapegoat” within the framework of fight against corruption;
– lack of responses in the cases of Putin’s, Medvedev’s and the Patriarch’s villas;
– persecution of environmentalists and party activists on behalf of Governor Tkachyov: continuous administrative arrests of many activists and probation for environmentalists and members of the YABLOKO party Eugeny Vitishko and Suren Gazaryan. The latter had to seek for political asylum in Estonia under the threat of a real imprisonment after filing of the second criminal case against him.
“The Black Sea palaces” represent, on the one hand, shameless examples of privatization by the top of Russia’s new nomenklatura of a common good belonging to all the citizens and rise of resistance of the active part of the population and growth of civil society activism and solidarity of different groups in different parts of the country, on the other hand. However, prosecutor’s audits starting after the adoption of the laws on NGOs and foreign agents in spring 2013, may paralyze the work of environmental activists.
People are deprived of their habitual places of recreation and witness the destruction of unique natural complexes in the Northern Caucasus and the Black Sea coast. The construction and destruction of the environment has been taking place not only with proclaiming of symbolically important patriotic purposes as the construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi, but (in the case we are describing) only for satisfaction of the greed and ambitions of the authorities, Russian supreme authorities inclusive. These are the same politicians who virtually every day have been trying to convince people from television screens that their main goal is the welfare of the country and the people. The gap between the TV image and the reality has been growing, as well as public resentment, especially as the lies and shameless enrichment of the ruling group in this case is connected with the violation of human rights and painful restrictions on everyday living conditions for ordinary people. Indignation and wrath will obviously get through, but when and how is a matter of time and the degree of decomposition of the Russian authoritarian regime.
But the nature has already been destroyed.
Photo: “The Patriarch of Russia Country Cottage” in Gelendzhik and a fence around it.