“We don't want to have it nearby” — Chuvashia protesting against investors from China

Disagreements with the population can deprive the republic of 10 billion rubles of foreign investments

Possible arrival of Chinese investors has caused a popular revolt in Chuvashia. Public hearings in the Sinyalsky rural settlement of the Cheboksary district has turned into a mass brawl. The conflict between the government and the people broke out after officials changed the category of lands from agricultural to industrial use. The residents of the municipality fear that they need this land for the construction of a Chinese dairy plant. The authorities claim that foreigners have nothing to do with it but people want guarantees and demand to return the agricultural status to the disputed land plot. Realnoe Vremya has investigated the causes of the disagreements.

Land in exchange for investments

The story of the Chuvash confrontation with the “Chinese expansion” has lasted from mid-2018 when the residents of the village of Ekhvetkassy, Morgaushskiy district, found out that the land near their settlement had been sold to the Chinese corporation Sichuan-Chuvashiya to implement the investment project on the construction of a large agroindustrial park that includes a dairy complex for 10,000 cows and 20,000 hectares of arable land.

The project was supported at the level of the republican leadership. The government of Chuvashia guaranteed the partner from China all measures of non-financial support for the implementation of the project. The foreign company, in its turn, promised 10 billion rubles of investments, jobs and taxes. However, the residents of the village did not like the prospect of neighbourhood with Chinese comrades: in conversations with officials and the representatives of the investor, people stated that they themselves were able to cultivate their native land.

A brawl

As a result, the Chuvash authorities began to offer the investor plots in different regions of the republic and almost everywhere encountered resistance from local residents. But the brawl that was caught on video in the Cheboksary district has become, perhaps, the most ardent example of the people's protest. Even assurances from officials that the site was not intended for a Chinese project did not help in this case.

As Dmitry Morozov, a participant of the events, resident of the Sinyalsky rural settlement (the disputed site is located there), told Realnoe Vremya, the brawl began after the head of the settlement, Andrey Mikhailov, tried to “confuse” people:

“They [officials] changed the category of land, but not the type of permitted use. This required a public hearing, which was scheduled for the end of December. We came to it together. We were told that the Chinese project would not be implemented on this site and that they were talking about building a logistics complex, but even if it is true, we do not want to see this complex nearby either! People want this area to remain agricultural land because otherwise you can build anything there. Therefore, we spoke out against changing the type of permitted use, and the deputies supported us in this. Then the authorities announced that according to the regulations they can issue this decision only after 10 days, that is, after the holidays. On January 10, we went back to the club, but they showed us a completely different document and tried to confuse us. People became indignant, and the head tried to leave the meeting. Then a brawl started. In the confusion, the decision not to change the type of permitted use of the site was never formalized, that is, everything turned out as the leader needed to be.

The leader saved by the police

The video shows that the club's premises, where the meeting was held, are filled to capacity, many of whom are so angry that they shout obscenities at opponents, try to get “to the body” of the head of the settlement, and two police officers barely restrain them. One man, apparently in an attempt to “arm himself”, raised a row of interconnected spectator seats above the crowd. As a result, the head of the settlement could leave the club only under the cover of the police.

As Dmitry Morozov added, the activists intend to cancel the decision to change the type of permitted use of the disputed site and set restrictions on any manipulation of it until 2024.

“This is the date until which the intergovernmental agreement of our government with the Chinese is valid," Dmitry explained. “For us, the main thing is to prevent Chinese investors from coming here. It will be easier to deal with your own people.”

“Own farmers and large families do not have enough land plots”

When asked why the residents of Chuvashia are so aggressive towards Chinese investors, our interlocutor replied that there is not enough land for local farmers and even large families, and they can find another place for the implementation of industrial projects.

“We are Chuvash, we have no minerals, oil, gas, gold, but we enjoy life, why do we need this plant? We don't need it, we're fine with it. We cultivate our land ourselves. We have cows grazing, fields are sown. We live in peace, we have silence, joy," says Dmitry. “Large families do not have enough plots, our farmers are not given lands, they are said they do not have it. And all of a sudden, agricultural lands in three kilometres from Cheboksary are transferred into the category of industrial. This is a very tasty morsel. There is a gazillion of unused industrial areas: tractor plant, aggregate plant, industrial zone in Kanash. Let them build there!

We can recall several more episodes from the history of confrontation between officials and the population of Chuvashia about the presence of Chinese investors. For example, last autumn, Specialized Developer TUS JSC filed for bankruptcy of SU-56 PLC to the courts. Earlier, the latter company itself sued the Chinese, it acted as a contractor for land clearance operations in the Poretsky district within the project of Sichuan-Chuvashia agro-industrial trading company PLC — a Chinese agricultural park with an investment of 10 billion rubles. SU-56 won the dispute for 24,9 million rubles.

Tatarstan and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast considered as alternatives

Realnoe Vremya asked the Chuvash authorities to comment on the situation with the public protests against Chinese investors. Our correspondent got through to Acting Director General of the Republican Development Corporation (the agency oversees the implementation of investment projects) Yevgeny Kirillov, but he, referring to being busy, refused to comment on the topic. The press service of the republican government said that they were ready to comment only in writing, but our publication has not yet received a response to the request.

Meanwhile, the current state of affairs may well lead to that Chuvashia will lose all Chinese investments. The representatives of the corporation from China have already informed the media about their readiness to move the project to one of the other regions of the Volga Region. Tatarstan and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast are being considered as alternatives. The neighbouring Ulyanovsk Oblast has experience of unrealized Chinese investment projects. Conch Corporation intended to build a cement plant there, but due to mass protests by local residents (it came to a hunger strike), the project had to be abandoned.

By Vitaly Akhmerov