Grigory Pasko: Eye on Sochi, Part II

[Also see the first installment of this series] sochi1119.jpgPart 2: Special Operation «Olympiad» By Grigory Pasko, journalist The Imereti Valley President of Russia Putin, who had so confidently presented «project Sochi» to the International Olympic Committee, did not say a single word in his speech about how the rights of local inhabitants are going to have to be seriously infringed upon during the course of the realization of grandiose plans. Building new facilities on already occupied lands – that means evicting the residents and destroying their homes. Like the old Russian saying goes – “when you chop wood, chips fly”. They say that Stalin loved it. Upon Putin’s return to Moscow, someone obviously explained to him that the people living in the places of the future Olympic sites weren’t going to be very happy. Then the president said: “All questions associated with land use must be resolved in consideration of the interests of the people who reside there, within the framework of current legislation”.

So the first thing that the Putinite duma did in this direction was to adopt a law, the so-called “Olympic law”, according to which land can be confiscated from citizens for the needs of the Olympiad. We’re talking, at a bare minimum, of perhaps fifteen hundred individual parcels of land. And it’s going to be incredibly difficult to challenge a judicial decision on the confiscation of land. Knowing our courts and their “complete independence”, I’d venture to say it won’t be difficult, but impossible. In those three and a half months that the law gives landowners before forcibly confiscating their property, they might at best manage to actually get a hearing in court. And even that’s highly doubtful. I know from experience that as a rule, Russian courts hear even the simplest of cases for no less than six months, and most often considerably longer.Right now, there’s a boom of formal registration of the ownership of plots of land going on in Sochi. People are naively thinking that the power won’t seize land that is formally registered. As the head of the territorial department for the city of Sochi, Pavel Gorenko, said, “plots are going to be confiscated in any case, but compensation is due only to those who have had these plots registered in the corresponding manner.”People spend days at a time milling around Gorenko’s department. Gorenko himself has become a star of the local television screen. The staff of his subordinates has increased from 9 to 35 persons and is the largest in Krasnodar Kray.It goes without saying that I visited the Imereti Valley. The constructions and plots of land are right on the ocean. All the houses are solidly built – two- and three-storied. They don’t look like Russian-style expensive houses to me. I try to strike up a conversation with the construction workers who are putting up a fence around one parcel of land. They refuse to talk. They tell me it’s a secret what’s going to be built here, and if we say, they might fire us.dolina1124.jpgThe Imereti Valley near Sochi (photo by Grigory Pasko)A man from a small “base of rest” [a Soviet-style vacation facility—Trans.] with the modest name of «Builder» seemed perpetually eager to answer my questions, but then would back off and speak in veiled hints. He kept asking whether I happened to have a tape recorder hidden anywhere on me. “Or else I’ll tell you all kinds of stuff here, and the next thing I know they’ll round me up and take me down to the KGB”, he said in a half-whisper. I set his mind at rest by telling him: “You’re so cowardly, it won’t even be interesting to take you.” He said something about how the entire country had already been divided up among the chekists, that the president’s wife too has some kind of interests in Sochi, that everything’s been grabbed up by the oligarchs, that you can’t build anything in the Imereti Valley – there’s marshy bog everywhere, wherever you try to dig… Among all this verbal chaff, I actually thought there was something rational in the notion about the marshy bog, because I’d seen it myself – workers were driving piles right into the water. Not even piles, really, just the pediments for the fence they were putting up. So how can you build anything more serious here – hotels, for example, or stadiums?boloto1124.jpgPutting up a fence in the middle of a bog (photo by Grigory Pasko)Russian newspapers have already written about how a sotka [One one-hundredth of a hectare, or an “are”; a plot of land 10 meters by 10 meters, the standard unit of measure used in the former USSR for private plots of land (one acre is approximately equal to 40.5 sotki)—Trans.] of land in the Imereti Valley is appraised at 200—250 thousand dollars. They say that even a small, rickety house there costs no less than five million rubles today. The monetary compensation being offered to the inhabitants of Sochi is 10 times less than the real value of their land. It is noteworthy that the antecedent for the Sochi Olympic law became the events in the Moscow district of Yuzhnoye Butovo. There too, the powers had offered residents not the market value of their land, but sums that many residents found unsatisfactory. It got to the point of sharp conflicts with the executive power. The power, as is its wont, won.In the Imereti lowlands there is yet another circumstance: the ownership of many plots of land and the constructions on them has never been formally registered. Therefore, they can easily be declared unauthorized, and their owners – squatters. And compensation is not due for such construction.A man standing next to the gate of a house noticed me and my camera and hurried to get back in his yard. But he did suggest that I drive over to the house with the green roof and the rooster-shaped weathervane. I did. I saw a beautiful large three-story house. The owner isn’t home, his son Pavel explained. But Pavel did know his father’s position: he intends to defend his house “to the last bullet”.Imereti Valley residents Lyubov and Grigory Drofichev and their neighbor Pyotr Ikonnikov talked about their problems. The Drofichevs’ land hasn’t yet been registered fully, and so they’re worried. But Ikonnikov is certain that their houses won’t be torn down: “The president and the governor gave us guarantees!”His neighbors grin in response: yeah, we know how much these guarantees are worth… By the way, the citizens are right to be so distrustful. Here’s a question asked of that same Gorenko by a correspondent from the local magazine «Krug interesov»: “As concerns the diversion of land for the Olympic projects, is everything all determined already with this?” Pavel Gorenko replies: “Of course. Ten already fully complete files for Olympic sites and facilities, serving as the customer for which was the directorate of the federal state unitary enterprise «Development of Sochi by the year 2014», were received by the territorial department already back in February of this year, and all of them were examined in minimum time periods.”Evidence that these files had been approved long ago was the exhibition taking place in the Art Museum of Sochi. There, situated in several halls, are huge scale models of Olympic facilities, as well as the urban development plan for Sochi. Even a non-specialist can understand that you can’t build such models in a couple of days. Literally every building in Sochi – already existing and planned – is reflected on the models.There is also a separate display dedicated to the Imereti Valley. Not a single one of the constructions that exist there currently – and this can be seen as plain as day – can be seen there. That is, the houses of those who live there now are clearly earmarked for demolition.And while we’re on the subject of the Imereti Valley, we can’t forget to mention the oligarch Deripaska’s company «Bazel». Among the Sochi projects of «Bazel» is the “Imereti Riviera”. That’s the name that’s been given to the Imereti Valley and its future. And the future, in the opinion of Deripaska and Co., is around a million square meters of residential, hotel, retail, and exhibition real estate, as well as sports facilities, an international tele-center and press center. The Olympic village will also be situated on this territory. The volume of investments in the “Imereti Riviera” will comprise around three bln dollars.maket-dolina1124.jpgScale model of the “Imereti Riviera” – no old buildings in sight (photo by Grigory Pasko)Also right here, in Imereti Bay, «Bazel» plan to invest another 120 mln dollars in the erecting of a port with six berths capable of accommodating cargo ships. The company likewise plans to resolve the question with the shortage of electric power capacity in Sochi. Strutures of «Bazel» are going to fight for the right to create a transport infrastructure in the Olympic capital. The Austrian firm Strabag, 30% of which belongs to Oleg Deripaska, intends to take part in the tender for the selection of a general contractor for the construction in Sochi of a bypass road 20 km in length, the sum of the contract – 2.1 bln doll[ars] (the road is already being built).Factoid. «Basic Element», founded in 1997, has assets in power generation, machine building, construction and development. Market value of all the assets – over 23 bln dollars, revenue in 2006 – 18.47 bln. The sole owner – Oleg Deripaska.Now, do you think Deripaska would be investing that kind of money in business in the Imereti Valley knowing that the people wouldn’t be leaving from there? Of course not.Conclusion: either the expensive museum model (moreover, reinforced by the words of the head of the territorial department) is a phony, just an artistic exercise, or, as we say, a “cardboard hoodwink”; or everybody from the president on down to the Sochi powers, is lying about observing the rights of the citizens. Otherwise, it would mean that the powers already knew all about the seizure of lands from the people long before the adoption by the State Duma of the so-called “Olympic law”, and that the law itself was merely a necessary cover for the true intentions of the powers.It goes without saying that nobody is going to speak out loud about any true intentions. But rumors are rife among the people. The main one goes like this: Today’s Russian power has got too much oil-and-gas money on its hands. If they try to invest it abroad, difficulties will arise with legalization. That means they have to invest it in Russia’s lucrative and fat expanses. A particularly tasty morsel of land is the Black Sea Coast. And so they’ve decided to invest the funds here. And the idea of conducting the Olympiad – is a cover operation, a way of investing state money in the construction of facilities that will then quietly be privatized.It is obvious that during the realization of big plans, the interests of simple people are going to have to be sacrificed. That’s why the worker of the construction firm «Our house», Ruslan Tukkayev, wasn’t very optimistic in relation to the powers and their promises and guarantees. Even though his house stands in a more privileged place – the settlement of Mirny. But that’s also in the Imereti Valley. “If they want to tear it down – they’ll tear it down”, he is convinced, as is his wife, who adds: “Living with this Olympiad here is like on a volcano.”tykaev1124.jpgLiving on a volcano – Ruslan Tukkayev outside his house in Mirny (photo by Grigory Pasko)That thought “like living on a volcano” also sounded from the lips of the saleswoman at the newspaper kiosk in the «Paterson» store: “They could kick me out of my job and put in someone younger. Or simply close down the kiosk under any pretext at all.”…When you chop wood, chips fly?