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December, 24

“Baikal Keeper”: The Thoughts of Ecologists and Residents of Olkhon

“Key to Baikal” has decided to get to know the thoughts of ecologists and residents of Olkhon about the most scandalous sculpture of the lake and why there is so much chatter around the “Baikal Keeper”.

The scandalous monument of the world-famous sculptor Dashi Namdakov titled “Baikal Keeper” has been recently installed on the Island of Olkhon. However, originally it was planned to place the monument on the Cape Khoboy, but due to the protests of the outraged public, the place of installation has been changed. And, after some doubt, the sculpture was installed not far from the settlement of Uzury, far away from the tourist routes - in the north of the island. How do people with a pro-active attitude react to this: we mean the ecologists and the residents of Olkhon themselves?

The author of the sculpture himself tries to refrain from commenting.

“When we meet on Olkhon in ten years, you will see that there will be many piligrims (near the sculpture). Of course, you need to take measures to protect the nature, besides, it is necessary to limit the number of people so that they do not trample the land. But I pursue no commercial interests. This is purely a gift to the motherland”, as Dashi Namdakov briefly described his creation before the installation of the “Baikal Keeper”.

One of the most active lobbyists supporting the installation of the monument on Olkhon, Irkutsk businessman Viktor Bronstein claims that the leader of the Mongolian shamans Bair Tsyrendorzhiev himself approved it.

“He said that this place is going to become one of the most sacred places of Baikal and that the spirits of Baikal will rejoice if the sculpture is installed here”, Bronstein claims.

This is partly confirmed by the words of the famous Baikal shaman Valentin Khagdaev who lives in Elantsy.

“We have really been discussing the issue for a long time, convened a whole expert council. First they wanted to install the sculpture at the Cape Burkhan, the most famous place on the island, but I was totally opposed against it. Spirits can become angry with the image of the idol. So we chose Khoboy. This is also a sacred place, but if you hold a special rite and ask permission from the deities, then you can do it. Let people come and admire the monument”.

There were also many opponents of the installation of the scandalous work of monumental art. An appeal from the movement titled “For the Sacred Baikal” was sent to the Prosecutor of Irkutsk Oblast with a request to make the things clear.

“We don’t know whether the assessment of environmental impact and environmental expertise assessment were carried out when designing this monument. We declare that these projects have nothing in common with the traditional values and beliefs of the peoples living at  Lake Baikal. In our opinion, they only desecrate the name of Baikal, insult the religious feelings of local residents and may cause irreparable harm to the unique ecosystem of Olkhon”, as the representative of this movement Andrei Ershov expressed his judgments.

The Senior Assistant Prosecutor Natalia Ryaguzova actually confirmed:

“We received two appeals from the residents of Olkhonsky district who expressed their disagreement with the installation of the sculpture. We are currently holding a check on the legality of the provision of the land plot for the sculpture installation and on the impact of the sculpture on the environment. In case it is established that the statue has some impact on the environment, there is a possibility that the monument will be dismantled.

A little bit later, it was revealed that the Prosecutor's Office had no claims whatsoever against about the new location of the statue. At the very least, Vasilii Maltsev, the Head of the Tourism and Recreation Department of the “Reserved Baikal Region” FSBI, said:

“The installation of the sculpture on Khoboy was denied. It decided to put the monument in Uzury. We drove there and examined the place. The land plot is a small territory of the municipality. After the establishment of the new boundaries of the Pribaikalsky National Park, we will examine the location of the monument from the point of view of its legality.”

The most fierce opponent of the installation of the creation of Namdakov was the Irkutsk eco-activist and entomologist Vitalii Ryabtsev.

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“Personally I do not feel any rejection towards the sculpture itself, only its name is dubious. Like many others, I believe that the “Spirit of Baikal” cannot look like this. But the most important objection is: there no place for such objects on a specially protected and valuable territory. Let it be installed in some settlement. But not on the natural landscape of Olkhon which is already experiencing an extraordinary tourist load”, he commented on the situation before the monument was installed. But when the final decision and the place of installation became known, he spoke in a more categorical way:

“We are speaking about the installation of ​​the object not related to the goals, objectives and main activities of the specially protected natural area of ​​the federal level - the Pribaikalsky National Park where this object is installed. On the contrary, the installation of this object will lead to the emergence of another site where the grass cover of the Baikal steppe will be completely destroyed by the newly created parking lot that will be a place for dozens (possibly hundreds) of cars at a time, besides an accompanying network of trails will be trampled around the statue. The area of ​​the “lost plot of nature” will be many thousands square meters, not only 900, as it has been declared”.  The fact that the site is “not considered to be promising for further research” does not in any way reduce its high natural value.”

However, the residents of Olkhon themselves are not so categorical and not always unanimously opposed against the monument.

“The number of tourists visiting the island has been growing in recent years. And the nature obtains only such contribution as trampling of the soil. Personally I think that the only thing that can cope with degradation is culture, so I support all projects related to raising the general educational and cultural level”, Natalia Bencharova, the Director of the oldest tourist center on Olkhon explains. “As for me, nature is beautiful, but so is the artist, the creator, who interprets this nature, adds something of his/her own to it and brings it back. That is, personally for me, the installation of the sculpture is a gesture of good will of the author, who was touched by the beauty of Baikal and now makes an offering to the Lake. This way he expresses his respect to the place: what else can an artist give as a present? On the other hand, he calls the sculpture a “Keeper” and makes it look somewhat formidable: thus he tries to somehow warn everyone against the unwise use of the nature’s benefits. This resembles the images of the formidable guardians of Buddhist teachings, who, according to the faith of the followers of Buddhism, protect the purity of the teachings from profanation.”

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