‘The Kushtau talk must be a dialogue, not a meeting of Bashkiria’s head’

Economist Rustem Shayakhmetov thinks that “both sides have something in what they say” and urges people to solve the problem peacefully

The head of Bashkiria is expected to host a discussion on the Kushtau’s problems with the public, moreover, BSC shouldn’t participate in the dialogue, thinks economist from Ufa Rustem Shayakhmetov. In his opinion, both sides of the conflict — environmental campaigners and regional authorities — have something in what they say. However, now they have to regulate the situation peacefully to save the natural landmark and calm the population down and allow the enterprise to develop. Shayakhmetov talks about how to achieve it in his next column for Realnoe Vremya.

Kushtau — problems of misunderstanding

The recent meeting of the Bashkir leader with environmental campaigners lasted for just 10 minutes. Public activists read their requirements and went.

The reason for the misunderstanding is that the authorities don’t consider they are party to the conflict, this is why they think they are out of this fight as a referee, while the public activists think that the authorities are an active side of the clash that took place. This is why they can’t be a referee, the head of the republic must become an equal participant in the talks like the environmental campaigners. As strange as it might sound, both sides have something in what they say.

Authorities actively participated in the conflict on the side of Bashkir Soda Company until 16 August. About 80 public activists have been held accountable, while BSC supporters didn’t face any punishment.

The discussion of Kushtau problems should take place without BSC, as the company can participate only as a sponsor or investor financing the development of Kushtau as a recreational site meeting requirements for the conservation of a specially protected area, a natural landmark.

On the other hand, the authorities can’t make a decision on the development of Bashkir Soda Company, since this is the expertise of BSC. The authorities’ task is to organise a site for discussion, moreover, make sure the legislation is respected.

This is why it is feasible to use several formats. We can rephrase a famous expression saying that the authorities went by the principle: “Everything for BSC supports, law — for environmental campaigners”. This caused a great protest, as a result of which plenty of people arrived to protect the Kushtau.

Why are the authorities defending the interests of the business?

The absolute majority of people want to understand why the authorities are solving problems of the business, as it is an obligation of the owners. Moreover, the owner of the controlling interest is a foreign company.

Why are the authorities defending the interests of the business so actively that even the head of the local administration personally swears at the camp of supporters? Why are young lads hired for the forced pressure on the Kushtau supporters? Why are workers of a private security company staging provocation, physically abusing environmental campaigners under the guise of law enforcement agencies? How did it happen that BSC, which is owned by a Cypriote company, in fact, manages the actions of power agencies to get rid of environmental campaigners from the Russian natural landmark Kushtau by force? The activists are demanding the authorities to reply.

I would like to have the following questions answered:

  • I think Bashkir Soda Company organised the mass unrest acting in its vested interests, trying to get rid of the environmental campaigners from the Kushtau Hill. Are law enforcement agencies carrying out an investigation?
  • According to the existing messages, the members of the destruction of the camp of Kushtau supporters got paid. These people’s actions led to massive violation and unrest. What are law enforcement agencies doing to find out who financed the mass unrest and punish the guilty?
  • It is seen in the video shared on social media that supporters of BSC were fighting against public activists with physical abuse, strong language in the presence of representatives of law enforcement agencies. How many supporters of Bashkir Soda Company were held accountable? Who in law enforcement agencies will be punished for their, I think, crime?
  • Bashavtotrans company’s buses transported BSC supporters to the Kushtau. Who and how much paid for the rented transport? If this happened at the expense of Bashavtotrans public enterprise, who made this decision and who compensates the enterprise for the material damage?
  • Bashkir Soda Company organised an illegal demonstration with a lot of people on 15 August 2020. What administrative punishment will the BSC managers face for the organisation of illegal demonstration?
  • The head of Ishimbay District administration personally led the actions against the environmental campaigners. What punishment will he get?

The environmental campaigners acted in dire need when protecting the Kushtau because they were eliminating the threat that was directly posed to the society’s interests protected by law. If so, why isn’t Article 2.7 of Code of Administrative Offences of Russia isn’t applied when considering administrative offences that frees them from administrative liability? It is prohibited to interfere in justice, and nobody can tell the judge what a decision to make, but the head of the Republic of Bashkortostan isn’t deprived of the right to provide the court with proof of this circumstance in the form of a written message that the environmental campaigners eliminated the threat of the destruction of the landmark of world importance when protecting the Kushtau, that the damage like disobedience to the law enforcement agencies is smaller than the prevented harm — the destruction of the Kushtau.

All these issues must be a topic for discussion of the public activists and authorities. And it doesn't matter where the head of the republic will sit. The only thing is that the Kushtau talk must be a dialogue, not a meeting of Bashkiria's head.

“The authorities are ready to make necessary decisions, ultimatums aren’t needed”

As the Kushtau Hill was ranked as a specially protected area of republican importance, a natural landmark, of course, it is necessary to speed the process up, but it is also important not to miss anything. The activists made a requirement — to carry out all procedures within 10 days. But it is physically impossible to meet the deadline due to a lot of legislative requirements. The same applies to the environmental campaigners’ requirements to hold a scientific conference dedicated to the geological, biological, cultural and historical and environmental importance of the Kushtau Hill in the next 30 days. Science organises such events, not the authorities. Scientific forums are necessary, of course, it is necessary to choose a development concept of Bashkir hills in general, drawing the attention of not only scientists and public activists but also businesses to these processes creating necessary conditions for this, meeting all necessary requirements, but it is a completely different format.

The authorities are ready to make necessary decisions on the Kushtau, this is why ultimatums aren’t needed, one shouldn’t knock on closed doors, they should rather discuss together what should be done. And this refers not only to the short-term prospect but also the strategy of the conservation of the Kushtau.

Bashkir Soda Company has accumulated a lot of problems, which the soda company itself must solve under the state and public’s control. Production waste is the main problem. Carbon dioxide is made of burnt limestone, which is used in soda production. Calcium chloride is the by-product — waste liquid. The problem is that there is 2,5 times more the liquid is made with the current production capacities than the Belaya River can accept. The poorly controlled above-the-level waste liquid discharge system kills all living organisms in the Belaya River. This is why if the technology doesn’t change, it is necessary to reduce the production of soda ash 2,5 times or modernise the production with a transition to limestone-free soda ash production methods. In this case, the state must organise a discussion of the problems, make strict requirements for Bashkir Soda Company and together with public activists organise proper control over the compliance with legislation. It would be correct to organise independent constant water quality monitoring in the Belaya River at the expense of BSC with the publication of test results.

Though the Kushtau became a symbol of the unity of the multi-ethnic people of Bashkortostan, this conflict demonstrated the fragility of our world. I would like the authorities and environmental campaigners to reach mutually acceptable agreements respecting each other, but this depends on both parties.

And Bashkir Soda Company must develop, its contribution is important for the economy of the republic. But its activity must run without destroying our nature, global landmarks, without schism in our society.

We often talk about how conflicts are resolved in modern society with the help of apologies. I think if Bashkir Soda Company, the head of the Ishimbay District and others who diligently added fuel to the fire blaming Kushtau supporters on Wahhabism, extremism and who destroyed their camp apologised, the tensions wouldn’t be running so high.

By Rustem Shayakhmetov

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the position of Realnoe Vremya's editorial.