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»Everyone fears repression«

Liuba of Fridays For Future about the Russian climate movement and ways to protest against the war

Interview: Hannah Eberle und Guido Speckmann

Liuba in uncomfortable company. Foto: private

On March 20th, the apartment of a Fridays For Future (FFF) activist in Volgograd was searched. An activist of the movement wrote on Twitter: »It seems as if the climate movement in Russia is declared the most criminalized movement. Fighting for the future is illegal in a country where the regime fights for the past.« ak spoke with Liuba (22) – the activist in question. Meanwhile, the first FFF activists*have started leaving Russia because the repressive situation in Russia has become unbearable for them.

Liuba, the Russian authorities have initiated criminal proceedings against you. Consequently, your apartment was searched. How are you doing?

Liuba: At first, I was shocked – as were my acquaintances. Almost all of my technical equipment was confiscated, my apartment was destroyed, and my neighbors’ apartments were also searched. No one knows how long it will take to get our things back. However, I am doing well now. Many of my colleagues and friends showed emotional and financial solidarity.

Were you given any reasons for the action?

The investigators told me that the reason for the search was my »possible involvement in the commission of crimes«. This means they are accusing me of being a member of a criminal organization, similar to terrorists. I am part of the Fridays For Future movement and now I also stand against this war. Apparently, that is enough for them.

Have there been any other investigations against FFF activists?

No, surprisingly I was the only one for now. We currently have difficulties to communicate and discuss with each other. But we try to exchange information nevertheless.

Following the first attacks from Russia on Ukraine, Fridays for Future very quickly put out a call on Facebook to participate in a worldwide climate strike against the war, which in Russia may only be called a »special operation«. How did that come about?

It was very important for us to act. We published our Anti-War Declaration and called for people to participate in the following Friday strike and more importantly in the global climate strike on March 25th. Unfortunately, this had little response in Russia because the situation continues to be dangerous. Usually, we try to organize bigger strikes or protest rallies and mobilize people to join our protest – or at least make one-person rallies. Nowadays, all that has become too dangerous. We are forced/have to find other ways to express our criticism.

Can you tell us more about FFF in Russia?

We’ve been striking on Fridays since March of 2019. At that time, there were no groups in Russia that were interested in organizing a climate movement. We truly started working as Fridays for Future last summer. I guess by now we are about 200 activists. We are not an NGO and as in any movement, it differs how much and how quickly people are able to organize something or react right away.

I’ve heard there are big differences in organizing for FFF depending on the regional circumstances in Russia.

We were several groups from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. We communicated via Telegram and took to the streets every Friday usually with a common theme to make the protest more effective. In some regions, there are fewer comrades, in others, there are more. It was the same with the first anti-war protests. In Saint-Petersburg, where there are five to seven million people, you don’t feel like you’re alone; it’s safer because the number of participants is so large. In Volgograd, on the other hand, where one million people live, you can’t even shout »No to war« because you’re immediately recognized and arrested.

The money Russia receives from fossil fuel exports is invested in the military.

You said that open protest has become too dangerous. Can you tell us about other ways of protesting?

Currently, people stick statements on bags or at subway entrances to protest the war. Others are hanging flyers in building entrances or at bus stops. In addition, a feminist anti-war resistance has been founded. The coordinators come up with safe forms of protest, such as laying flowers at the memorials on March 8th in honor of Ukrainian women killed in the war. In general, though, I think protesting in the streets is the best way to make positions visible.

Do you have a particularly successful example of this?

A really good example was the protest that occurred in support of Alexei Nawalny in the winter of 2021, when he was arrested after his return from Germany. The public protest was unexpected, thousands of people were on the streets. For me personally, it was significant. But when Navalny was convicted and imprisoned for more than nine years, almost no one took to the streets. Basically, street protests in Russia have become more and more dangerous. Ever since 2019, participants have been getting arrested. Everyone knows the risks and is afraid of repression. Since the spring of 2021, I, too, no longer call for mass demonstrations, but only share with my friends on social media that I will protest and invite them to join.

Is approval of the war on the decline or on the rise?

I wouldn’t say that approval is increasing, but it’s difficult to assess. Because of censorship, many Russians don’t know what the purpose of this »special operation« is. They are not informed. It makes no difference to them whether you call it a war or a special operation – but for us as activists it does. One thing is for sure: it’s part of the propaganda that people should not get too well informed on what is going on.

What is the attitude towards the Western sanctions?

Rather negative. From my point of view, this may lead people to believe in Putin’s rhetoric that everyone around us is an enemy and we have to defend ourselves.

Let’s still talk about climate and war, have these been focal points in recent years?

I think one achievement from the recent past is Russia’s ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2019. Our main goal is to get the Russian government to reach climate neutrality. The issue has become more present in parliament and on television, and we have focused on collaborating with other ecological movements or projects that are ideologically close to us, organizing strikes and posting messages on social networks. We are concerned with preventing forest fires, the melting of permafrost, and reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. Currently, the (our?) issue is the link between war and climate. The money Russia receives from fossil fuel exports is invested in the military. Moreover, armaments and war are big emitters of greenhouse gases. This also has the effect of preventing countries involved in war from taking action to achieve carbon neutrality or participating in climate negotiations.

Would it be necessary for Western Europe to start stopping gas imports now?

I see that as a way to at least reduce the amount of gas exported from Russia. As a climate and social movement, that is our task now, yes!

And what will you and the movement do now in the coming weeks?

Earlier this year, me and other activists considered gathering all of us together offline in the summer for a big meeting to assess needs, demands, and resources across Russia. But now some FFF activists have already left Russia and I know that I am not safe, either. I expect and hope that the war will end, that Putin will be imprisoned and that I will be able to live and protest in Russia one day.

Hannah Eberle

ist Aktivistin und Sozialwissenschaftlerin in Wien. Bis 2022 war sie Geschäftsführerin bei ak.

Guido Speckmann

ist Redakteur bei ak.

Das Interview auf deutsch lesen