Evicted Sochi Residents Go on Hunger Strike

Olympic construction in the Imeretinskaya Valley. Source: Kavkaz-uzel.ruIn the midst of the chaos over preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics, set to take place in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi, an ongoing dispute between local Olympic officials and landowners who are being forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for construction for the games has reached a critical impasse: on Wednesday, residents of Sochi’s Imeretinskaya Valley announced that they were going on hunger strike to protest the prices that the government is offering to buy up their property.

One member of the settlement told the Kasparov.ru online newspaper that the dozens of residents on hunger strike are demanding that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin come to the valley to meet with them, since “nothing is being resolved on the local level.”

Negotiations are currently underway between the protesters and regional official Aleksandr Zhigalko. Police officers were also on the scene of the hunger strike on Wednesday.

Boris Nemtsov, a former Deputy Prime Minister and Sochi native who lost his April 2009 bid for Sochi mayor to Kremlin-backed candidate Anatoly Pakhomov amidst numerous fraud allegations, explained on his blog how the hunger strike should come as no surprise considering the travails put upon thousands of Imeretinskaya Valley residents since the region was picked to be one of the primary sites for the Olympics:

The reason for the hunger strike is that people are being required to pay 2 to 5 million rubles [$64-159 thousand] out of pocket for a forced move to new housing. For this, the authorities, in a way that is particularly perverse, are offering to “help” the disadvantaged by arranging mortgages for them.

The people have been driven to despair, which is understandable.

For long years they lived in their homes by the sea, grew fruits and vegetables on their plots of land, raised their children, worked, studied, and didn’t plan on going anywhere.

Then Putin decided to hold the winter Olympics in the subtropics, that is to say there in the Imeretinskaya Valley – in the warmest place not only of Russia, but of the city of Sochi.

Then the epic of resettlements began.

The draconian “Olympic law” was adopted that allows evictions from houses and seizures of land to be done by force. They began to intimidate people by saying that OMON riot police were going to come and throw them out all through the night. Then they built poisonous phenol houses in [the resettlement area of] Nekrasovka (they had a few victims in the Lame Horse [night club fire]). Then they valued the homes to be worth 33-35 thousand rubles [$1052-1116] per cubic meter, while the homes where the people live now are worth 20-25 thousand rubles [$638-798] per cubic meter. Then they demanded that they pay the difference.

The Olympics are a celebration.

The games themselves and preparations for them cannot be accompanied by harassment and violence. It contradicts the Olympic Charter and the spirit of the Olympic movement.

Whey must people suffer for Putin’s Olympic fraud?

It is worth noting that in March 2010, the newspaper Gazeta reported that workers building the resettlement homes in Nekrasovka were fired after striking in response to managers withholding their pay. The workers who remained, says the newspaper, have had to resort to selling their personal items to afford bread. Others have handed their passports over to store owners as collateral for food, making it impossible for the workers, some of whom hail from parts of Siberia, to leave Sochi before paying back their debts. The Nekrasovka workers went on strike after workers at a second resettlement site went on hunger strike for the same reason.