In Memory of Aleksei Yablokov

posted 28 Jan 2017, 07:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jan 2017, 07:07 ]
16 January 2017 

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Many people with open, sincere faces came to say goodbye to Academy of Sciences member Yablokov at the funeral hall of the Academy of Sciences. Many warm and fine speeches were spoken in which one heard the tremendous enumeration of this man’s achievements, both as a scientist and as a public figure.

Except that correspondents with TV cameras didn’t come to this hall, and the country did not see this farewell to a truly great compatriot.

The first point in Aleksei Yablokov’s record of service, published on the Yabloko website ten years ago, is this: chairman of the Group of Young Zoo Biologists (KYuBZ), in 1949-1950.

KYuBZ is a group with stable traditions that has existed in the world for more than ninety years. Inasmuch as I myself was involved with it during my school years, I’ll say that in order to be elected chair there, you have to possess quite exceptional abilities. But along with Petr Petrovich Smolin, who was also forced to quit KYuBZ, Yablokov moved on to VOOP [All-Russian Society for Environmental Protection], which is well known to all biologists. During these same years, future priest Aleksandr Men joined as well.

Yablokov became a candidate of biological sciences [i.e., earned his master of biology degree] at age twenty-six, and marine mammals became the principal topic of his research. The choice was no accident. These are the most defenseless animals and stunningly interesting but hopelessly dying out at the hands of man.

A fortunate characteristic of Aleksei Vladimirovich Yablokov was his ability not only to be filled with compassion and to pinpoint a problem but also to do something unusually significant for its solution. His scientific works exposed for the scientific world the impermissibility of dolphin hunting, and his popular work, “Our Friend the Dolphin,” co-authored with Sergei Kleinenberg, made such an impression on society that dolphin hunting was banned in the Black Sea.

Aleksei Yablokov was a scientist with a broad profile and also a textbook author. He invariably linked depth of scientific research with fiery activity in defence of the environment.

He substantiated and proved the destructive role of radiation and chemical pollution, fought for a drastic cut in the use of nuclear power, and revealed the truth about the Chernobyl disaster.

He belonged to many environmental protection commissions, scientific councils, journal editorial boards, and international ecological organizations.

Due to the breadth of his scientific activity and his encyclopedic knowledge, he was referred to as a member of the Academy even before he became a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences, and only a few people in narrow Academy circles knew that he never was selected to be a full member.

You see, it was assumed that Soviet scientists would only do science, not a word about politics, don’t look for trouble, our laboratory must be protected. . . .

In no period of his life was Academician Yablokov “just a scientist.” He said what he thought was necessary and had no desire to adapt. “If all Academy members were like him, what happened to the Academy wouldn’t have happened,” someone said candidly at the wake inside the Academy’s walls.

Indeed, adapting and keeping quiet in order to preserve something can lead to losing everything as a result. Living according to your conscience and safeguarding your own soul as the basic minimum, you will gain a victory.

“Yablokov had the courage not to be afraid of anything. . . . He spoke only the truth without a second thought. . . . He held to a high moral and ethical bar,” was heard at his wake.

Aleksei Vladimirovich did not shun politics. For many years, he was a member of the Yabloko party and was regularly elected a member of its Federal Political Committee. This is why the party’s entire leadership came to say goodbye to the Academy member, and in his speech, Grigory Yavlinsky said that he considered it an honor to have worked alongside Yablokov.

The list of Aleksei Yablokov’s public and political activities is endless: 1991-1993, presidential advisor on environment and healthcare; 1991, member of the Russian State Council; 1993-1997, chairman of the Russian Security Council’s Interdepartmental Commission on Environmental Security; 1993-2005, founder and president of the Russian Center for Environmental Policy (TsEPR) . . . The list could go on.

Yablokov held an honorary doctorate from the University of Brussels and was a member of the International Council of the Institute for Animal Protection, an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary member of the International Marine Mammals’ Society, director of the Programmr on Nuclear and Radiation Security of the TsEPR and MSoES [International Social Environmental Union], a member of the “Biological Diversity” Programme’s Scientific Council of the Russian Ministry of Science. . . . You can’t list everything. And there’s no point even starting a list of his international prizes and awards—they wouldn’t fit on the page.

Despite all this, Yablokov was an exceptionally modest man, responsive and open. I had occasion several times to telephone him—for advice of some kind, or for a signature on a human rights document. And always there was attentiveness, courtesy, and a sincere readiness to sign in defence of a human being.

It’s hard not to mention one other line in his biography. Aleksei Yablokov spent a lot of time with his family in the village of Petrushovo, Kasimovsky district, Ryazan region, where he had a home and where he could work well and breathe the fresh air.

But instead of resting there from Moscow’s bustle, he worked actively for people: he fought alongside the residents against environmentally harmful production in the district, as a result of which he was subjected to a brutal attack. He built a chapel and got a House of Popular Culture opened in Petrushovo.

He joined residents of Sasovsky district in their labor-intensive struggle against development of the dangerous production of phenol formaldehyde near the settlement of Nizhnee Maltsevo. Through his efforts, this fight ultimately ended in a victory.

But most surprising, in my view, was the fact that he bought, for almost nothing, a few hectares of land and planted a park and garden there! No, I realize that planting a few hectares with trees and cultivating them is hard but perfectly manageable labor. But to combine this with fruitful scientific, public, political, and human rights activity . . .

Apparently, we have lost a giant, and the loss is irreplaceable. If not for radiation sickness, he would still be with us and would have done still more. If all members of the Academy were like him, the world around us would be completely different. . . .

Translated by Marian Schwartz