The trash is thrown out unsorted and the stove is used as a heater; since the Russian withdrawal from the UNO Climate Conference in Durban in December 2011, Russia is apparently less active in the area of environmental protection than ever before. The Russian-German office for environmental information, RNEI, wants to change that and hits a nerve especially with young city dwellers. A report by Carina Huppertz
Angelina Davydova doesn't have much time, the 33 year old Petersburger having just returned from Germany. She participated there in a discussion organized by the German-Russian Exchange (GRE) in Berlin on the elections in Russia. Back in Saint Petersburg, a lot of work awaits her. Next to her job at GRE, she not only writes for various Russian and German publications but also teaches at the department for journalism at Saint Petersburg State University. At the same time, she directs the Russian-German Office for Environmental Information, RNEI.
“The biggest problem with environmental protection is the lack of interest on this topic”, says Davydova. This is why RNEI, a project of the German-Russian Exchange founded in 2009, focuses especially on education and raising awareness. The emphasis of the office lies in training journalists in the area of environmental journalism, but it is not limited therein. It also offers support to other projects and initiatives and involves experts in its work. Since December 2010, the three permanent employees of RNEI in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Berlin manage the information portal RNEI.ru / RNEI.de in Russian and German. Angelina Davydova points out the role RNEI plays in civil society. It does not aim to influence political structures directly. “Environmental and climate protection should become a matter of course in Russia.”
A subject that spoke to me personally
The idea for the project developed from two directions. On the one hand Grigory Pasko, a well-known environmental journalist and blogger from Moscow, contacted the German-Russian Exchange in Berlin about starting such a project. On the other hand, Davydova, who was in charge of GRE projects like the journalist exchange, had already been involved in environmental protection in Russia at that time. “I had worked in journalism for six years. One day I thought that there must be more” Davydova explains her motivation. “Environmental protection – that was a subject that spoke to me personally.”
The focus of the office lies on the support of other initiatives. Self-supported projects are rare. “We don't have enough employees for that,” says Davydova. Just in August, Saint Petersburg was a side stage for the Berlin-based conference Über Lebenskunst, which attempted to combine art and environmental protection. Russia cooperates with Germany especially closely. “Germany is Russia’s most important partner in Europe, economically and politically as well as in cooperation of civil society,” says Angelina Davydova. Germany is a role model in the area of environmental protection, but not everything should be transferred blindly. “Of course we have to question what is feasible and useful for us in Russia. It makes no sense to just copy everything.”
A new era in Russia
Davydova thinks that a change has taken place in Russia already. She divides social activism into two stages. From the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most initiatives in the newly founded Russia were established from the outside and had low public support. For about two years the situation has been different. “The people are founding initiatives by themselves,” she explains. “And most of them concern environmental and climate protection.”
Above all, Russians in big cities like Moscow, Saint Petersburg or Yekaterinburg have started reflecting on their lifestyle. Sustainability and a healthy way of life are discussed mainly by young people. Angelina Davydova explains this development: “They travel more than they used to in the past. Also, there is the internet. The interest in environmental topics is supported through the exchange with other countries.” The youth support each other. In this way, a network of initiatives was created. Angelina speaks especially about ECOWIKI, an internet portal founded in Moscow. It collects and organizes information about all environmental initiatives in Russia.
Mainly young people reached
Davydova knows that the effect of her work is often difficult to evaluate. “We are working with the awareness of the people; how does one measure awareness?” She knows that her work is not attracting the whole population. Her target group is between the age of 15 and 40. Still, a noticeable success was achieved after the Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The RNEI sent six Russian journalists there. Following the conference, RIA Novosti, one of the biggest news agencies in Russia, published an unprecedented number of contributions on the topic, as did Kommersant, according to Davydova. Today, both publications send their own correspondents to such events.
Davydova herself was a correspondent at the UNO Climate Conference in Durban in December 2011. Russia especially attracted attention through its refusal of new commitments. The Russian delegation's main argument was that neither the USA nor China accepted any obligations . Now, the countries under the Kyoto Protocol only representing 30 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. “Of course it would be better if Russia actively stayed in the process,” Davydova comments on the development. As negotiations are as of yet incomplete, there remains a chance for Russia to reconsider. Whatever the choice will be, it will not affect her own work. Angelina Davydova is sure: “In order for something to really happen, something has to change in the heads of the people.”
1st picture: Carina Huppertz / all rights reserved
2nd picture: Über LebensKunst (permisson by RNEI)