A mass fainting, handing out fresh air, a human chain that tries in an obscure way to light a lamp – Central Asia is a meeting place for creative ecologists and not only that. Through flash mobs, the youth of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan wants to talk about environmental problems and attract the attention of random passers-by and international press. A report by Jelena Kilina
In the center of Pavlodar, a city in southern Kazakhstan, two pedestrians are distributing talons to hurried pedestrians. The light blue slips of paper can be exchanged for a very precious thing – a plastic bottle. The empty bottle is filled with the most important substance: fresh air. Through such a flash mob, the local Center for the Protection of Human Rights wants to bring attention to the construction of a factory for manufacturing sodium cyanide, a highly toxic cyanide salt. For the city, where just over 300,000 people live, this factory would be the ninth largest industry object.
"As recently as 20 years ago, none of us could imagine that we will have to buy fresh water, but today this is a standard of living," a participant of the flash mobs says. "And if this factory is built, will we not buy fresh air in ten years as well?"
Ecology doesn't matter
The fight against indifference and actions, which fall outside the framework of logic, accounts for a flash mob. In the center of Tashkent, some people are holding hands and the last person in the chain ignites a lamp. There are two human chains. The bigger one is giving the lamp ordinary energy. For the energy saving lamp, the human chain is shorter. "The new bulbs use less energy and save resources," said the flash mob participant Dmitri. Passers-by follow the action with interest. However, there is no explanation for them. According to the laws of this genre, the participants of the flash mobs – the mobbers – disappear from the scene quickly, without noise, dust, and without an exit that pollutes the environment. The flash mob is different from proactive environmental actions with its mandates, leaflets or speeches. Creativity and unconventionality attract the youth, but the low information content also bothers the organizers themselves.
"The conflict is also in the desire to make the planet clean, and the philosophy of flash mobs. Although the flash mob pulls the attention of the masses, no meaning is passes on, "says the program coordinator of the program of the Kyrgyz environmental movement BIOM, Dmitry Vetoshkin. "The environmental issue is very versatile. It is hard to tell the whole history of problems, opinions, and example solutions in a minute. There remains only the bare informational content that can be difficult to understand without context."
For more than twelve years, Dmitry has been looking for a way to save the forests in Kyrgyzstan, although it was only in 2011 that he decided to go on the streets and to bring up ecological problems unconventionally. For example, at the day of environmental protection every child could paint its face with natural colors of carrots and beets, with an animal from the red book of Kyrgyzstan – the golden eagle or the snow leopard. Or you could examine leaves, moss and berries under a microscope. After the program an earth dance was announced, when suddenly 50 people fainted, the spectators were shocked, because they were not told that without forests, not only the earth and animals, but also humans, would have no life. "The flash mob is a good shock factor, it evokes emotions and the interest of the youth," said Dmitry.
"The flash mob as a form of work fits young people," agrees an activist of the Uzbek environmental movement, Iraida Sajzewa: "But without laws, a flash mob cannot solve a problem. Our mission is to achieve improvements in the legislation, which allow to solve a problem concretely, for example a ban on logging trees in certain places."
The city saves spontaneous extreme sports
The ecologists who harbor doubts about the flash mobs still do not intend to give them up. Spontaneous actions always draw the attention of the media.
"To draw the attention of journalists to environmental problems is difficult, but flash mobs are an interesting topic for an article," says Dmitry Vetoshkin. "If they have already written several times about something, then it is those actions. So we're back on topic. And so we will do it."
Flash mobs had no deeper meaning in the countries of Central Asia until recently. In several cities, the youth jumped out of the bus with a parachute, held up supposedly collapsing buildings and ran around the city with telescopes. For each of these actions, there was a desire to have fun and to shock the audience just a bit. Now the goal of entertainment has not gone away, only the tasks have changed a bit.
"We have often done flash mobs, and once we figured, why don't we do something useful for our city, not only to draw attention to ourselves, but also to the problem," says the mobber expert Vasily Melentev. He was one of the organizers of crying for the river Irtysh. At that time, the mobbers went into mourning and walked with photographs of the river bound with black ribbon, through Pavlodar.
The first result has encouraged the mobbers to continue their actions. The cyanide plant, against which they have protested in Pavlodar, will not be built. Of course not just mobbers have stepped up against the factory, but they have caused a wave of publications in all media, even internationally. And so the young people are sure that this is also their success.
This article has been published already on the website of To4ka-Treff. It is part of a cooperation of To4ka-Treff and Objective Mind. The rights of this article are owned by To4ka-Treff. The translation into English has been done by the editorial staff of Objective Mind.