Mr Lebedev, thank you very much that you agreed to give an interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Your initiative group was formed in Soviet times already, in 1989, and - as the BROC Public Organisation - obtained an NGO status in 1997. Which major directions of your work have been determined in this period? What issues are you tackling with right now?
First of all, I would like to tell about our working formats. At the very beginning, there was only a group of journalists and scientists concerned about the issues of natural resources management and wildlife protection from nuclear waste in the Far East. We closely worked with Greenpeace – both with the International one and the Russian office. At that time, I was a deputy in the regional Legislative Assembly. It helped a lot, especially in terms of access to information. In 1995, we launched our own bi-weekly programme on a regional TV Channel – “Zapovedano” (“Entrusted”). It was a very exhausting technical work but also a great achievement for the whole region, as we highlighted not only negative events but also positive developments: These were the time, when authorities, legislators, and the government rather considerably cared for the environmental protection. In 2004, the programme ceased to exist. Yet, since 2001 we have been publishing a regional journal “Ecology and Business”. Now to the directions of our work. As we are primarily a journalist organisation, we are interested in all aspects of environmental protection – management of marine resources and forestry, legislation in the field of environmental protection, indigenous peoples, with whom we have been closely collaborating. But our major area of interest is forestry – timber complex, illegal deforestation, forest certification, etc.
Speaking of forestry, I was told that you encountered illegal forest cuts and a non-sufficient forest regeneration, which is a rather common problem for Russia as a whole. Can you tell me, what the other most acute issues are – amendments to the Forest Code, anything else?
The main obstacle for the forestry and the forest business is certainly the flaws of our legislation, which has been constantly deteriorating. The latest Forest Code reform of 2007 seemed to have resolved an important legal problem – to separate forest and land resources. But eventually it just designed a more comfortable environment for corruption, which we are trying to fight now. It created an enormous number of loopholes for corrupted officials and businessmen, which leads to devastation of the most valuable forests. And this is our pain in the neck. In the Far East, especially in the South of Primorye, there are the most valuable forests of the temperate zone with a variety of rare species. But this is the area of rich businessmen with good connections, who earn money by cutting the wood. This issue concerns all the regions, where such forests are located, as well as big cities. At the moment, the All-Russian People’s Front and us do our best to gradually counter those abuses.