Capitalists poised to strike down Soviets’ great biodiversity repository

Next Wednesday, August 11, 2010, a Russian court will decide the fate of the world-renowned Pavlovsk Experimental Station outside St. Petersburg, Russia. The station is the world’s largest collection of fruit and berries and is run by the Russian Institute of Plant Industry. According to the Independent, June 26, 2010, the collection consists of  “more than 4,000 varieties of fruits and berries, including more than 100 examples each of gooseberries, raspberries, and cherries, and almost 1,000 types of strawberries from 40 countries, from which most modern commercially-grown varieties are derived.” 90% of the species raised at this station are found no where else in the world.

The land on which the station operates has been handed over to the Russian Housing Development Foundation, a state agency set up in 2008 to sell public land to private developers to construct residential units. While the station itself is under threat of imminent destruction by the forces of real estate capitalists, the founder of the station, eminent biologist Nikolai I. Vavilov, was undone by the antiscience ideology of the Stalinist state. Vavilov developed the theory of “center of origin” of domesticated plants, and in the course of his researches, he organized a series of botanical-agronomic expeditions, collected seeds from every corner of the globe, and created in Leningrad the world’s largest collection of plant seeds. The Pavolovsk Pavlovsk station is one of 11 facilities he established. Over the course of his career, he amassed a collection of 200,000 plant seeds from throughout the Soviet Union, and other places around the world. The collection near Petersburg was considered so valuable by Vavilov and his staff that it was preserved through the great starvation during the seige of Leningrad by the Nazi army, which lasted for more than two years. At least one staff member died of starvation amidst the great abundance of seed and grain contained in the collection.

N.I. Vavilov at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station in 1927, a year after it was founded.

Vavilov was a Mendellian and refused to renounce the scientific basis of genetics even after the fraudster Trofim Lysenko convinced Stalin of the Soviet Realist truth of heritability of environmentally acquired characteristics. When Vavilov refused to accept Lysenkoism, he was arrested and sent to a labor camp, where he died in 1943.

And now one of the jewels of his collection, and one that was saved through pure patriotisms during one of the grimmest tests ever conducted on human will, is now in peril, not from Stalinist obscurantism but from capitalist greed.

“It is a bitter irony that the single most deliberately destructive act against crop diversity, at least in my lifetime, could be about to happen in Russia of all places—the country that invented the modern seed bank,” said Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which aims to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide and supports the operations of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle, according to a release in today’s EurekAlert!

“This is such a valuable collection that we can’t afford to lose it,” said Simon Linington, deputy head of the Millennium Seed Bank, which is based at Wakehurst Place in Sussex. “It is important that it is saved in one way or another, even if that means moving it.” (quoted in the Independent article above.)

But apparently there will be no time to move it, if the court rules for the development authority. According to a release at EurekAlert!: “As Pavlovsk is predominantly a field collection, it cannot simply be moved. Fowler and other experts estimate that even if another site were available nearby—and there is not one—it would take many years to relocate. There are efforts underway to craft an emergency relocation plan, but technical and logistical challenges make it unlikely that more than a small fraction of the collection could be transferred. For example, the most suitable sites for relocation are likely outside of Russia, raising complicated legal questions and quarantine issues that accompany any effort to move plant materials across national borders.”

That apparatchiks still run Russian government offices is shown by the positions advanced to the court: “the property developers maintain that because it contains a ‘priceless collection,’ no monetary value can be assigned to Pavlovsk Station, so, therefore, it is essentially worthless. Furthermore, the Federal Fund of Residential Real Estate Development has argued that the collection was never officially registered and thus it does not officially exist.”

And so having survived the Nazis, human starvation, and Soviet ideology, this monument to disinterested scientific foresight is posed to be destroyed for the benefit of private real estate developers. And it seems like it will happen during the International Year of Biodiversity and in the summer that Russia is facing the consequences of crop loss owing to the kind of droughts that promise to be more widespread and prevalent in the future.

Is there any wonder that some of us, in this era where capitalism has won the battle to end history, have very bleak opinions on the future of the human species?

    • Elaine Charkowski
    • August 28th, 2010

    If the court rules in favor of the developers, cant funds be raised to pay them off?

  1. August 11th, 2010

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