Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Fate of Lake Baikal

This morning we headed into the old part of Irkutsk (on the opposite
side of the Angara River from the university where we are staying.
Ruslan and Sergei acted as our tour guides, sharing about many of the
historical landmarks. We visited the Moscow Gate (modeled after the
Arc de Triomphe in Paris), which points towards Moscow. We also
visited two old (early 17th century), but recently restored, Russian
Orthodox churches and watched part of a baptism. The frescos in the
churches were stunning. With the exception of two Roman Catholic
churches (one of which is not used for services), there are only
Russian Orthodox here in Irkutsk. Perhaps even more fascinating,
Professor Hodge seems to remember that these are the only two Roman
Catholic churches until Moscow. For lunch, Irkutsk State University
(our hosts) sent us to Tower, a British restaurant on Karl Marx
Street. We had a yummy four course meal that honestly wasn't too
different from the Russian food we have been eating (plenty of meat,
potatoes and mayonnaise).
After lunch, we visited Jennie Sutton at Baikal Environmental Wave.
She is a British woman who came to Russia in 1974 and has been a
driving force in the Lake Baikal environmental movement. The "Wave" is
almost 30 years old and has been instrumental in protecting Lake
Baikal from threats such as oil pipelines planned through the lake's
watershed. Given how seismically active this region is, such work is
crucial. Alas, because of a complicated and ridiculous new regulation,
the Baikal Environmental Wave may be considered a "foreign agent," a
very horrible thing in Russia. Depending on a court decision on
September 9th, the Baikal Environmental Wave may no longer be able to
exist. There is no other organization protecting Lake Baikal anywhere
near to the extent that the Baikal Environmental Wave does, so it is
vital for the organization to continue its work. After learning for
the last several months about how truly unique Lake Baikal is, and
having spent the last few weeks on its shores, the gravity of this
decision weighs heavy on all of us. We all wish the very best for the
fate of the Baikal Environmental Wave and the lake as well.
Graeme and Lily

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