FridaysForFuture Russia: Our interview with Arshak Makichyan
“Many people contact me as individuals or as schools, to say that they want to strike. They’re telling me that I’m doing a very important thing. First I heard good things only from abroad, but now I also hear encouraging words from Russians.”
In the light of the upcoming international climate strike on 20 and 27 September, we want to show solidarity to the young people striking worldwide. With this in mind, we reached out to Arshak Makichyan from Russia to hear how he started his climate strikes in Russia. To read our previous article about Fridays For Future Uganda, see our interview with Nakabuye Hilda Flavia.
Arshak Makichyan is a 25 year old climate activist living in Moscow, Russia. He graduated from Moscow Conservatory but having concluded that playing the violin would not prevent the climate crisis, he put his plans to continue his education in Berlin on hold. He told us that he feels lost considering the next steps of his future career but he is sure about one thing – that he will continue to strike each Friday.
Arshak came to Helsinki to attend the Helsinki Climate event. EKOenergy team gladly took the opportunity to meet him in person.
We are impressed by your persistence in climate strikes in Russia. How did you start?
I wanted to do something for climate but didn’t know how to. I had read about Greta on Greenpeace International’s Twitter account in October (2018). I’m not that good in science but started to read and learn about climate change and the science behind it.
My very first climate protest was with a small group in Sokolniki park, in Moscow. It was in a place that wasn’t so visible. This strike in Sokolniki Park gave me the courage to continue. I found that no authorization was necessary for one-person protests, therefore, I decided to continue alone. For my first one-person protest I chose the Pushkin Square. I felt a bit stupid because I was alone and was standing with a sign about the Paris Agreement. It was in March and it was cold. I wrote about my strikes in my social media but I had to do it alone. Nowadays we strike in a queue, another one waits nearby.
How do the climate strikes work in Russia? Have you ever been detained?
Before the 7th week the police didn’t really understand what I was doing. But after giving an interview to the English newspaper Moscow Times they contacted me. They asked me if I’m paid to do this, and asked other very basic questions. They took a photo of my passport. If they arrested me it would be international knowledge because different media outlets would start writing about me in different countries. They don’t want such attention drawn to this topic.
To organize large strikes you need to get permission, we are trying to get it in Moscow. With all power being in Moscow, it is the best place to change things as Russia is a centralized country. Unfortunately, for the general strike of 20 September, they gave us the permit for a place where nobody will be able to see us.
Fridays for Future Russia is growing. I was organizing the strikes as flash mobs and now every week 20, 30 or more people strike in different cities.
The good thing about the social media campaign #LetRussiaStrikeForClimate is that you can support from a distance, via social media. We live on the same planet after all and people show understanding for countries in which striking is very difficult. In Russian media there’s no information about 2 million Europeans protesting for climate. Even not on the independent media, because they think it’s not a popular topic and they think that people wouldn’t understand it.
Do you think that your actions have brought more awareness to the public opinion about climate change?
I believe that activism works. In Russia as well. Yes, the results are not immediate, but it is clear that authorities will not start acting until someone else does. At first, striking alone, I felt foolish and lonely, finding no understanding or support from other people. But each week things were gradually changing. We have been noticed by independent media and more people started to join, more and more cities started to join this eco-movement.
A lot of companies are state-owned and are therefore afraid to support us, thinking it can be problematic for them. But there are people striking in some very small cities that I didn’t even know about before. In other cities they’re starting strikes and raising awareness about climate strikes, which is great.
Facing global warming, what is the biggest challenge for your country specifically?
All the problems in Russia are so intertwined. There is a long way to go to avoid a climate catastrophe because I think the most difficult thing will be a transition to renewables, given that fossil fuels and oil in particular are the core of Russian economy. The biggest problem now is that Russia is hiding the scale of this crisis, as our media is silent. Currently Russia is wearing a mask, hiding people from these problems. If our society and our government don’t prepare and change very quickly, we won’t be able to act appropriately when the crisis hits. So, awareness is the first step to finding the right solution.
I live in Moscow and in such a big, urban city it can be difficult to observe any change happening to the nature. This year the wildfires in Siberia were twice as big as before, reaching the size of Belgium. People started noticing that something was wrong and started linking wildfires with climate. In Irkutsk region floods began and people started thinking that something wrong is happening with the climate. Irkutsk University wrote about the flooding and the link between climate change and the floods. In Russia there was no information about global warming in the 70s. It’s difficult to spread information in this situation, but once people see that something is wrong it becomes easier to raise awareness.
What could ‘traditional’ environmental organisations do to support you?
Activists need any support possible – through joining our strikes, helping us in professional aspects as we are not professionals, and giving us lots and lots of advice in order for us to influence people. We need everything and nothing at the same time.
To learn more about their activities, follow Fridays For Future Russia on Twitter and @fridaysforfuture.russia on Instagram. If you still need inspiration, find 20 good reasons to support the school striking youth in our previously published article.