September 15, 2019 residents of ecological resistance camp at Shies Station in the Arkhangelsk region announced the establishment of the Commune. Local residents and people from all over the country who stand in solidarity with them try to stop the building of a huge landfill. The protest became known nationwide after several confrontations had taken place between environmentalist and security forces, which the camp has withstood. Moreover, in early summer the construction equipment was removed and all the work was suspended.
However, to this day constant clashes are taking place with thugs from private security company “Garant Bezopasnosti”, hired by the developer “TechnoPark”.
That’s what the Shies Commune statement says: “Basic principles of Shies Commune: decision-making by mutual agreement, by a majority of votes, non-hierarchical structure, eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle. Commune membership includes those actually residing in the commune, including temporary residents. For self-government purposes the Commune can choose a widely respected figure to coordinate ongoing activities”.
Undoubtedly, the establishment of this commune is, most of all, an excellent way to draw attention to outrageous garbage situation caused by Russian authorities. Still, the form which was chosen – the Commune - cannot be just an accident. Commune as a symbol brings to mind a number of revolutionary and countercultural images. It brings to mind the Paris Commune – the rebellious group of citizens which became the archetype of insurrection and freedom struggle, and given rise to a numerous new revolutionary communes-continuers.
“There are no chiefs here or anyone like that: superiors, leaders. But yet, it's got everything. Day to day matters are taken care of, people get everything they need quite promptly. Such a level of human altruism is amazing, fascinating and it brings hope” - Sergey, the camp resident from Arkhangelsk told the newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”.
Perhaps the closest analogue to the Shies Commune is Zone to Defend (Zone à défendre, ZAD) – radical environmentalists and anarchists from France, near Nantes. For many years they struggle against the construction of a giant airport that would severely damage the environment. They organized a permanent village which effectively blockades a development project for Aéroport du Grand Ouest. ZAD became quite a common form of struggle in France, and nowadays there are more than 10 similar communes across country.
A barricade at the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes (2012).
Banner reads: Against the airport and its world.
Journalist Irina Sinyukova describes day-to-day life of Shies Commune: “Women cook and heat up a banya (Russian bath house), wash clothes, chop wood, when men are engaged in more heavy work involving heavy-lifting and so on. Men have to construct some kind of duckboards over marshy lands to prevent sliding into the swamp, they also add thermal insulation to the tents for the colder weather. All of them have to take turns on guard duty and do many other things. Now it’s time to prepare for the approaching winter: from the trees that are already chopped by construction workers the Shies activists have to choose sturdier ones, elevate all the tents off the ground, wire their banya for electricity. Sometimes they find hunting cabins where people can stay and rest”.
The video from Shies camp shows cheerful people who look so inspired – they dance in a circle and sing by the fire. Somehow it reminds us immediately of yet another running character of the latest news – shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev. When Gabyshev created a nomadic community, steadily advancing towards Moscow on foot, Shies activists, instead, embedded themselves in their land, they stubbornly settled down on this territory to save it from destruction and death.
And yet there’s a subtle tread, this common vibe, that connects the two stories – in both cases people speak about self-government, government of the people, about assembly and control of their own lives. Both in Arkhangelsk woods and in Siberian taiga, somewhere amid the campfire smoke the image of a radical alternative is floating around: self-organized society, so unlike Putin's authoritarian rampage, so different from all the liberal projects - carbon copies of western “democracies”.
Becoming more and more popular among “men of the people”, this alternative is very much in tune with anarchist’s concept of liberation and justice. It’s hard to imagine the more important mission for Russian anarchists than to nourish this thought and this image, to give it more substance, intellectual legitimation and a more organized form, so that it becomes a real agenda for tomorrow for the Russian society.
In victory we trust,