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Russian Activist Chirikova: Russia Can Learn A Lot From Estonia

Russian environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova (file photo)
Russian environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova (file photo)

Russian environmental activist and opposition politician Yevgenia Chirikova has announced that she has moved with her family to Estonia to protect her children from the possible consequences of her activism.

Chirikova, 38, says she made the decision to move with her two young daughters to Estonia because the Russian authorities visited her in 2011 and said they were considering taking her children from her because of alleged "abuse."

She spoke by telephone with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Lyubov Chizhova about her decision and her determination to continue her work to protect the environment in Russia.

RFE/RL: Why did you decide to leave and why did you choose Estonia?

Yevgenia Chirikova: The main thing is that it is close to Russia. I am a Russian citizen and I have temporary status here. I can go to Russia at any moment. It is very close -- literally, two or three hours and I am in Russia. That is important for me, on one hand.

On the other hand, there are incredible opportunities here. Estonia -- and for some reason no one in Russia knows this -- is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of Internet technology. I hope that this will give a boost to my project, Because there are completely different possibilities here.

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My passion and my sorrow is nature in Russia, of course. But I don't have the feeling that I am in a different country. For one thing, I'm already pretty old and I remember when we were one country with Estonia.

Now, there are a lot of people here who speak Russian. They have a very respectful relationship with Russian culture. There are absolutely no oppressed Russians here -- that is all lies that we are told. Russians feel just fine here. At least, my Russian friends and I are fine here.

RFE/RL: Do you plan to seek political asylum in Estonia?

Chirikova: Why would I? I don't need that at all. My task is to travel to Russia frequently -- that's where my work is. If something happens in Russia, it will only affect me. My children are in a safe place and nothing will happen to them.

Now I will feel completely differently. But I don't want to lose the opportunity to travel to Russia. My home is there. My parents are there. My friends, the places that I love.

But now we are going through a period in which practically all my friends who were involved in public life have either been killed or put in prison or they are under travel restrictions. They are in such a position that they cannot work. I am not so old that I can sit around without working, wondering what the Investigative Committee is thinking. Here, I feel completely free.

RFE/RL: Aren't you afraid of being called a traitor for leaving Russia?

Chirikova: After the Khimki Forest matter [Chirikova's grassroots campaign in 2010-11 to save the Khimki Forest, near Moscow], after they took my children away from me, and opened criminal cases against me, and after they murdered Misha Beketov [Khimki newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov was savagely beaten by unknown assailants in 2008. He died of complications from his injuries in 2013], I definitely am not afraid of mere words. And it is important that I am not leaving in order to live in comfort. If that was my goal, I'd go to England or America.

I am moving to a country that is not terribly rich -- but one with a good sense of ecology. I am living here quite modestly, but I'm able to work. And I'm not seeking political asylum because I want to keep traveling to my homeland.

You know, we have a pretty primitive view of the world. No one calls it 'treason' when a professor from Hamburg goes to work for a few years in the Sorbonne. No one says, 'you traitor! You betrayed Hamburg!' This is a normal practice. There is no treason in it.

[The poet, Joseph] Brodsky left Russia and lived abroad, but that didn't mean he stopped being a Russian poet. There are many such examples. [Brodsky was expelled from the U.S.S.R. in 1972 and lived in the United States until his death in 1996]

Russia is just going through a period when they begin to destroy everything that is more or less healthy and alive. It isn't the first time this has happened in history. And I think we need to stay away from that and work effectively. That is, to try to change this situation.

I take a sober view of my abilities. I don't have an army or police riot troops. My field of battle is the Internet. And I can effectively and systematically organize that work from here.

In Russia, you can be very effective, but they will then take you, put you under house arrest or in prison, like [Russian environmentalist Yevgeny] Vitishko. And then you can't do anything and that is, to say the least, ineffective.

What's more, I see that we already have such a large number of political prisoners that it is hard to help them. It is unfortunately true that people have gotten used to the idea that there are political prisoners, so there isn't the kind of help that there was back in the beginning. And this is very bad. There are victims who are sitting in prison. In order to attract attention, they can't just go on a hunger strike, but have to practically die. I think this is very bad.

I think it is better to be free, to work effectively, and give your children the opportunity to get an education in a proper, nonzombified society.

Why doesn't Russia like Estonia? Here they have a correct relationship with nature. You can see trees growing right out of people's porches. They cut a hole in a porch and a tree is growing up through it. You can see soccer fields with trees growing in the middle, with everyone playing around it because trees are more important and there was always a tree there.

We have a lot to learn from Estonians. It is time for us to stop thinking that we are surrounded by enemies, fascists, Banderovtsy [Ukrainian ultranationalists], and so on, who want to steal our wealth and who are only dreaming of attacking us. This is a lie. It isn't true. We have a lot to learn from other countries.

RFE/RL: Tell us more about how it feels to be living and working in Estonia. What differences do you feel?

Chirikova: When I pay taxes here in Estonia, I know that they are going for proper things. They pay for education -- by the way, the lunches in schools here are free and very good and are prepared right in the schools. It isn't some sort of compote that is trucked in by some friend of [Vladimir] Putin, some sort of school lunch that is impossible to eat.

Public transport here is free. Tallinn can afford that even though it is a poor city, in principle, nothing like Moscow. Moscow should notice this. It is wonderful and convenient. When I paid taxes in Moscow, I always felt uncomfortable inside. I knew that those taxes would pay either for some war with a fraternal country that never did anything bad to us or for some propaganda. And I didn't want to pay taxes somewhere where they pay for all sorts of horrors. Here, I know they will be used properly.

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