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Chapter One— Environmental Activism and Social Identity
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Chapter One—
Environmental Activism and Social Identity

Some who have reflected on the prehistory of Russian environmentalism, such as the geologist Pavel Vasil'evich Florenskii, a former member of KIuBZ (the Young Biologists' Circle of the Moscow Zoo), believe that the environmentalist ethos draws its source far back in time, from the traditions of brotherhood that flourished in Pushkin's day at the Tsarskoe Selo Lycée, which then were revived in the traditions of the St. Petersburg University studenchestvo (radical student subculture).[1] These traditions somehow survived in the kruzhki (circles) that the Soviet-era nature protection movement created to ensure the perpetuation of its values and social identity:

In the children's circle a collective was forged of like-thinking individuals with their democratic structures, independent self-governance, continuity over the generations, here were molded principles of morality, traditions of friendship, an awareness of our unity with nature and of the need for an eternal dialog with it. The free Young Naturalist life was a life-filled alternative to the dry and bureaucratized school and the decayed Pioneer and Komsomol organizations. Having been members ourselves in our childhood and adolescence of this noisy youthful community, we continue to feel to this very day that back then we swore our loyalty in friendship and our loyalty to nature. KIuBZ and its spin-off, the VOOP circle, were the nurseries where the future leaders of the nature protection organizations were lovingly cultivated and where the principles were honed that later would provide the basis for the charters of environmental organizations. . . . [S]ince [the 1950s] the nature protection movement has irrepressibly grown, realizing an "ecological niche" in all age and social groups. Its schools were the student druzhiny for nature protection—as well as "Kedrograd" in the Altai. Those were the milieux where the country's future "green" movement's leaders were molded.[2]

We cannot say for sure whether the continuity of the ethos of the tsarist-era studenchestvo was unbroken before it reemerged within the university brigades for nature protection in the 1960s. However, Florenskii and Shutova


are right to point to the linkages between a decades-old nature protection movement, that movement's youth organizations (especially from the 1940s onward), and the university student nature protection brigades (druzhiny ) of the 1960s through 1980s to which the older movement gave rise.

Tempting as it may be, however, it would be an error to conflate the distinctive groups of Russian activists into a unified "environmental movement." The earlier nature protection movement of the field naturalists and activists, the later movements of university students and of engineering and technical students, the Russian national-patriotic movement for the protection of nature, and the mass protests of the late 1980s all must be distinguished from each other sociologically despite the links between them. Although all these currents enlisted the rhetoric of nature protection, they drew inspiration from sometimes quite distinct cultural, professional, and ideological traditions. For example, the druzhiny echoed the hoary traditions of the Russian studenchestvo , whereas the "scientific public opinion" of their professor-mentors was rooted in the prerevolutionary ideology of the old academic intelligentsia. Those divergences reflected underlying social differences among the members of these various environmental activist movements: levels and kinds of professional training, professional or career status, social origin, and generational cohort. Admittedly, the distinctions made here are overschematized; nevertheless, our insight is better served in this case by splitting than by lumping.[3]

If environmental activism served as an unauthorized form of public speech, what were the "speakers" trying to say? They were not all saying the same thing. Only by understanding what anthropologist Walter Goldschmidt has called the various "human careers" of members of these distinct groups may we begin to grasp the part played by environmental activism in their struggles for self-definition and self-affirmation under evolving Soviet conditions.[4]

Scientific Public Opinion as a Social Category

To understand one of the most important social meanings of environmental activism in the Soviet period, it is first of all necessary to appreciate its connection to a Russian ideology of science and learning that emerged during the tumultuous years of the late 1850s and early 1860s.[5] In those years a "mystique of nauka " (science, learning), in James McClelland's phrase, gripped an entire generation of Russian educated youth. Whereas the tsar and the political system proved limited and flawed, science held out the promise of nothing less than the secular redemption of the world. Its adepts were characterized by "an enthusiasm that elevates and enthralls a person, a conviction that he is doing something that is capable of absorbing all of his intellectual inclinations and moral energies—something which . . . enters as


a necessary constituent part of the much broader general movement that will guarantee the eventual elevation of the intellectual and material well-being of the public as a whole."[6] Russian scientists and academics retained this faith in the redemptive power of science up to and through the Bolshevik Revolution.

One corollary of this ideology was that a life in scholarship conferred moral superiority. A scholar not only became a knight in the army of enlightenment but also acquired through learning a superior moral vision. As a rule, liberal politics—including opposition to tsarism, support for some kind of representative democracy, belief in intellectual freedom, and commitment to civil and human rights—formed part of this vision of an enlightened future. Among professors, this "mystique of science" was colored by a shared "caste" or "corporate" sensibility.[7] They embraced a social identity that McClelland has called an "academic intelligentsia," which,

while subscribing to the general outlook of the larger liberal intelligentsia as a whole . . . developed an additional and distinctive viewpoint of their own, which stressed the vital importance of university autonomy and the role of nauka in Russia's future social and cultural development. The majority of Russia's professors, in short, were more than just scholars and scientists. They formed a closely knit and articulate sociocultural group which sought to embody in its academic activities a moral commitment to progress and reform.[8]

A further component of this ideology, at least among many academics, was a high regard for basic or fundamental research, what the Russians called "pure science" (chistaia nauka ). If science and learning were a secular religion then pure science was its most sacred precinct, undefiled by outside political, commercial, or social pressures. Pure science embodied the principle that true academics answered only to the ethical injunctions of their priestly calling.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, nauka became a more contested issue. Certainly not all educated Russians endorsed the ideology described above. Progressive but loyal tsarist bureaucrats, seeking to modernize the country, had an obvious stake in denying that the march of knowledge would inevitably lead to the downfall of the autocratic order. On the one hand, they lobbied for greater regime support for academic institutions; on the other, they tried to convince academics of the need to dissociate learning from antiregime politics.

At the other end of the spectrum, radicals, especially students, demanded that academics actively subordinate learning and science to the struggle against autocracy. In its later incarnation in the postrevolutionary period, this view denied the possibility of science and learning independent of socioeconomic and ideological interests and consequently came to challenge the notion of an autonomous, value-free realm of "pure science."[9]


Insensitive and repressive policies, including a pattern of disregard for academic freedom and university autonomy, characterized tsarist education policy. Although by nature basically unrevolutionary and staid, the academic professoriate gradually concluded that to defend or attain academic freedom it needed to change the political structures of the land. Motivated by its ideology of nauka (not by a passionate interest in politics per se) the academic intelligentsia in 1905 crossed the political Rubicon, joining the "all-nation struggle" against the autocracy. Several thousand professors even signed a declaration proclaiming that "academic freedom is incompatible with the present system of government in Russia."[10]

For Russians, therefore, science was not simply a form of employment. It was a calling, a unique form of "human career" that endowed the lives of its adepts with a transcendent moral significance. Writing in the Imperial Academy of Sciences' monthly, Priroda (Nature), the physicist V.A. Mikhal'son captured the precise flavor of this Russian ideology of science:

The average German pursues nauka as a profitable trade—profitable not only for himself personally, but also for the people and the state. Many Englishmen and Frenchmen pursue nauka as an interesting and noble sport, not giving a thought to its utility. But one often finds Russians, and Slavs in general, to be motivated by a sacred enthusiasm which regards the pursuit of nauka as the only way to achieve a tolerable if incomplete worldview, and the search for truth as both an irresistible personal need and a moral duty before the fatherland and all of mankind.[11]

Many went beyond that to claim for members of the academic intelligentsia a generally superior vision of life, gained on the basis of their scholarly training and erudition. One of the classic expressions of this understanding of scientific public opinion was voiced by the great biogeochemist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskii, who in 1892 wrote:

A society is strong to the extent that its processes are consciously determined. . . . Let us imagine a series of human societies and states. In some of them, people are given broad freedom to speak their minds, to expound and discuss opinions. In the others, this possibility is reduced to a minimum. Societies of the first kind will be much stronger and happier than those of the second. If in societies of the first category necessary collective actions are, moreover, performed on the basis of the correctly established views of the best people, and in societies of the second type these actions are performed on the basis of arbitrary decisions by chance individuals, the strength of the former societies will steadily increase. Meanwhile, the question of the existence of societies of the latter type will inevitably be placed in question, and life in them will become more squalid and difficult. . . . Russia is in just such a situation.[12]

Of course, everything hinged on who were considered "the best people" and who "chance individuals." After the Bolshevik seizure of power, leaders of the Party considered themselves to be the "best people," who, thanks


to their Marxism, enjoyed a privileged view of human society and its problems. Not surprisingly, many non-Bolshevik scientists and academics continued, like Vernadskii, to view themselves as the "best people" and Bolsheviks as "chance individuals," and to treat the Party's claims to privileged knowledge with condescension. The Bolsheviks, like the tsarist regime before them, returned the compliment, resisting the efforts of scientists to press their claims to decision-making power. The authorities almost always prevailed; academics did not have much of an independent power base. But that did not mean that academics entirely ceded their claims to technocratic expertise.

Yet, alongside academics' pretensions to independence and power was a poignant cognizance of their ultimate dependence on the state: "Russian professors could hope for academic freedom, but they could not forget that they were state employees," the historian Samuel Kassow has observed.[13] Unlike other professionals, academics could not retreat into private practice. They preferred to cultivate the state's confidence and trust; they entered into overt political opposition only after the regime posed a threat to nauka .[14]

These attitudes and contingencies carried over into the Soviet period. But the Soviet drive to demolish scientific autonomy was far more thorough-going than anything attempted by the tsars, placing a tremendous strain on the ideology of nauka . Both the tsarist regime and radicals often viewed science and learning in purely utilitarian terms, as a means to achieve national sufficiency or a better material life, and disparaged what they called "science for science's sake." The Bolsheviks inherited these attitudes in double measure.

With all of the human and social sciences under the most relentless scrutiny as class-based from both the Bolshevik authorities and freelance ideological vigilantes, an overt political defense of learning in general was too dangerous. The natural sciences, however, were best able to retain a remnant of intellectual and institutional autonomy. Disciplines and approaches that could convincingly be gathered under the umbrella of the natural sciences stood better chances of survival, for Lenin and his immediate coterie still regarded the natural and exact sciences as relatively more objective than the patently ideology-ridden social sciences (although later, for a time, natural sciences too would lose their "value-free" exemption).

By the end of the 1920s astute leaders of the nature protection movement had succeeded in redefining nature protection as a branch of scientific ecology. Although the scientists who led the movement viewed nature protection as a matter of ethical and aesthetic concern on a personal level, their public discourse was almost exclusively framed in scientific terms to provide legitimacy for their cause. More important, they almost certainly believed their own contentions.

Like American Progressives such as Gifford Pinchot, the Russian field biologists who led the nature protection movement tried to make the case that


questions of land use and resource exploitation were scientific and technical, best resolved through scientific study and evaluation by experts—themselves.

These scientists had convinced themselves that ecological science would sooner or later reveal to them the precise limits of permissible human incursion into natural systems. That conviction rested on their view that individual ecological communities formed the building blocks of the biosphere, earth's envelope of life. Each of these communities (biocenoses), the field biologists and ecological theorists believed, was largely self-contained and bounded, and existed in relative equilibrium. That is, within these putative natural systems, all constituent elements balanced each other; fluctuations in the numbers of one or another species would soon be followed by a return to the norm. Scientists assumed that humans were extraneous to these "natural" systems and could only harm them. In their judgment, the task of ecology and field biology was to determine for each ecological system the kinds and levels of human economic activity that could be pursued without catastrophically damaging the biocenosis.

As a vision of nature, the idea of the ecological community was static. Taken to its logical conclusion, it implied that perfect natural balance on earth could be attained only in a world without humans. It was hardly demonstrable. Nonetheless, this picture of nature—later assailed by Bolshevik critics as reactionary—retained a deep hold on Russian naturalists and ecologists for decades, largely because it served as the "scientific" justification for an entire edifice of claims and institutions connected with the role in Russian public life these scientists sought.

Thanks largely to the contributions of Grigorii Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov, a Moscow entomologist, a strategy for allegedly determining ecologically acceptable levels of economic development had been put forward in the decade before the Revolution. Kozhevnikov envisaged a vast network of inviolable nature reserves—zapovedniki—dedicated exclusively to the long-term study of the ecological dynamics of the biocenoses they were supposed to incorporate. Managed and staffed by scientists, zapovedniki , created on tracts believed to be both pristine, intact ecological systems and representatives of even larger landscapes, would serve as etalony , or baseline models of "healthy" nature. Kozhevnikov proposed that these tracts be compared with areas, once similar, that had undergone human economic transformation in order to assess how much damage was caused by which kinds of economic activity. With the endorsement in the mid-1920s of this strategic vision by the leaders of the RSFSR People's Commissariat of Education and its science-management department, Glavnauka, just such a network of zapovedniki came into being.

Such views and strategies neatly fit within the larger ideology of the cult of Science (nauka ), once nature protection was defined as within the realm of "science." In this spirit, scientists' opposition to elements of the First Five-


Year Plan and later Stalin-era and post-Stalin-era projects on ecological grounds was doubtless motivated by their understanding of the sacred duty of responsible scientists before nauka . Ditto their claims to veto power over the resource policies of the regime. However, although activists may not always have consciously understood such claims to be "political" (viewing them rather as "scientific"), they were political nonetheless, for the Party had already claimed a monopoly on all decision-making authority.[15]

Similarly, protecting and expanding the system of zapovedniki was not simply an instrument for assuring the adequate protection of objects of scientific interest and venues for their professional study. In the Soviet context it also represented an expansion of the realm of autonomous scientific institutions within the Soviet polity and more. Symbolically, the reserves constituted a counter-GULAG, territories that remained inviolable and hence undefiled by the kinds of social and nature transformations that characterized the social sea that surrounded them. In the words of Sergei Zalygin, they were "islands of freedom in that concentration-camp world that people would later call the GULAG archipelago."[16] That made the scientists' fight to defend and extend them a fight to extend a realm of extraterritoriality where at least nature could develop without fetters. In other words, zapovedniki also functioned as a geography of hope.

Caught up in these heady theories, scientists failed to ask themselves whether the theory of the biocenosis was the best model for understanding the distribution and structure of life on earth. They did not question whether they were buying into a delusional construct of "healthy" versus "pathological" nature. Indeed, it did not occur to them that they might be sacrificing science to the cult of nauka (Science).

With the demise of an overarching "academic intelligentsia" during the first decade and a half of Soviet rule—so-called "bourgeois" professors were thoroughly expunged from the humanities and social sciences—the survival of the ideology of nauka was now mainly dependent on natural scientists. However, because so many of the corporate institutions of even these academics were policed, terrorized, reorganized, or eliminated, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, after 1932 there were practically no venues for the active expression and vocal affirmation of academics' prerevolutionary social identity.[17] Some few, such as Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskii and Pëtr Kapitsa, valued by the Soviets for their strategic importance to the economy or national security, were allowed as individual exceptions to continue to profess the old academic creed unrepressed. Most who dared to defend science or to oppose regime policies in the name of science, such as the geneticists Nikolai Konstantinovich Kol'tsov and Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, met tragic fates.[18]

Social identities are subject to radical mutation if they fall into desuetude—witness the Judaism of the conversos during the Spanish Inquisition.


They cannot survive indefinitely in the individual imagination; rather, they need a social setting with real human interactions in order to maintain a full-blooded existence. Like the conversos , individual academics kept their felt social identities a secret, publicly professing loyalty instead to regime values and largely acting out the public roles prescribed for them. After a while, though, many isolated and terrorized academics lost touch with their original values and perspectives. Some even came to adopt their prescribed public roles as new social identities.

Against that backdrop, then, the continued existence and independence of a few voluntary societies of field naturalists assumed a crucial importance for the survival of the old social identity. Like the zubr (European bison), they became a relict population. The institutions, praxis, and speech of nature protection formed the basis for the continued expression and affirmation of an unauthorized, suspect social identity.

Given Soviet conditions, the field naturalists needed to be creative in order to survive. They perfected a strategy that I call "protective coloration," which involved promoting their own aims while rhetorically professing loyalty to the regime's. Accordingly, they took up a new designation for themselves, rhetorically in keeping with new Soviet social categories. They called themselves "nauchnaia obshchestvennost '" (scientific public opinion). Outwardly this term had the virtue of sounding eminently "Soviet"; in the media one never ceased to hear about the support or participation of sovetskaia obshchestvennost ' (Soviet public opinion) for one or another regime campaign. Accordingly, nauchnaia obshchestvennost ' seemed to constitute one small subgroup of the loyal cheering section—that of scientists. Yet, for the members of the field naturalists' societies in the nature protection movement the term had another, internal meaning. En famille it was a self-description in which they recognized themselves as representing the last organized bastion of the old ideology of the prerevolutionary academic intelligentsia. Not that the scientists were disloyal; they were simply presumptuous and critical. For them, "scientific public opinion" was the only truly credentialed public opinion, credentialed because it was "scientific." That, they believed, entitled them to critique the policies and strategies of the regime in areas where "scientific public opinion" had determined that the regime was acting at odds with the interests of "science."

The cult of nauka contained important elitist elements, reflected in the ambiguous nature of the term nauchnaia obshchestvennost '. Despite the fact that it seemed to fit into a larger, official, choreographed group of "broad Soviet public opinion," nauchnaia obshchestvennost ' still had at its core the prerevolutionary understanding of obshchestvennost '—the voice of educated, responsible public opinion. In the absence of comparably independent organizations of scientists and educated society, nature protection activists spoke as though the burden of representing scientific public opinion fell on


them alone. It was unclear, however, how much of a public they really represented as the decades of Soviet power wore on. At times it seemed that they represented a constituency of historical memory, the residue of the dreams and hopes of a bygone era.

Another aspect of the nature protection activists keeps us from romanticizing them as complete democrats. Although priding themselves on their own independent initiatives, such as the VOOP-sponsored expeditions to chart and propose new zapovedniki , their ultimate hope was to be invited by enlightened leaders of the state to take their rightful places as the expert arbiters of resource decisions. Fearing the acquisitiveness and dark ignorance of the masses, scientific public opinion hoped to realize its nature protection programs through the mighty fiat of the Leviathan-state. Each small liberalizing shift in the political winds lofted activists' hopes that they would receive the Kremlin's call to serve. As things turned out, they spent many decades in fruitless waiting and had to content themselves with the occasional—though sometimes enthusiastic—patronage of local and republic-level politicians.

One caveat must be included here. Nestled within scientific public opinion's All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature were a number of individuals who can be better be described as "citizen activists" representing the broader prerevolutionary ideal of obshchestvennost ' (educated lay public opinion) rather than the narrower one of nauchnaia obshchestvennost '. For such truly rare relicts as VOOP secretary Susanna Fridman or longtime activist Aleksandr Petrovich Protopopov, there were few if any other independent voluntary societies where their civic concerns could find an outlet. Partly because they were not invested in defending a cult of Science, partly because they were not as dependent on the system for their perquisites and careers, and partly because they still nourished the nearly extinct ideal of the dignity of the citizen qua citizen (not scientist), Fridman and Protopopov were consistently on the front lines of the Society, holding the most militant positions. They must be regarded as admirable but tragic curiosities in the tale this book will tell.

The Tradition of the Studenchestvo

Another prerevolutionary social identity that reappeared in the Soviet period as environmental activism was the studenchestvo , or membership in the student movement. This social identity, possibly born in Pushkin's lycée as Florenskii suggests but certainly flourishing from the 1860s on, was based on students' perception that they constituted "a unique and distinct subgroup in Russian society . . . with its own history, traditions, institutions, code of ethics, and responsibilities."[19] Reflecting their intrepid, impatient psychology was the students' penchant for skhodki , or mass meetings, as well as


street demonstrations. However, they were also capable of sustaining long-term institutions that reflected their intense in-group solidarity: mutual aid societies, independent banks, libraries, cafeterias, and even dormitories.[20]

Reaching its height during the final two decades of tsarism, to outward appearances the ideal of the studenchestvo seemed to be dead among Soviet college students by the 1970s; Solzhenitsyn had even unflatteringly rechristened them an obrazovanshchina , or "educated rabble."[21] Soviet students had lost their nineteenth-century corporativist traditions of solidarity; groups independent of the Komsomol (Young Communist League) were seen as potential nodes of subversion and were at times ruthlessly snuffed out.[22] From the 1960s, however, there was one exception: the druzhiny po okhrane prirody (student nature protection brigades), which grew out of the particular esprit de corps preserved at Moscow State University's Biology Faculty. Here again, nature protection served as a protected locus for the preservation (or resurrection) of a prerevolutionary-style group identity, in this case that of the studenchestvo , with its characteristic attributes of impatience, direct action, group loyalty, moral absolutism, independence, and bravado. Students were also protected by a long tradition of indulgent attitudes toward them throughout society. Without asking the permission of higher authorities, the druzhiny organized independent efforts to enforce environmental laws: roundups of poachers, checkpoints to ensure that New Year's trees were procured legally, and the monitoring and testing of factory discharges. Because they studied under professors who were central figures of scientific public opinion, the druzhinniki could not help imbibing many of their teachers' scientific ideas and liberal, internationalist, and statist ideological biases. Nevertheless, unlike their teachers, the ardent students put adventure and direct action ahead of the ideal of nauka in their own civic activism. They also tried to penetrate the state's bureaucracy, so as to get their hands directly on the levers of power and policy.

If druzhiny , spreading from Moscow University's Biological Faculty to most other important universities of Russia and the USSR, represented the studenchestvo tradition in its elite form, then the "Kedrograd" movement expressed the corporate student identity of those in less prestigious technical and engineering schools. By contrast with the druzhinniki , many of whose parents were members of the intelligentsia, these technical school students (kedrogradtsy ) were largely first-generation college-educated and were mostly from the provinces. Arising from the vision of a group of Leningrad forestry academy students in the late 1950s, "Kedrograd" was a quixotic attempt to manage Siberian stone pine forests in the Altai so as to harvest the forest's secondary production—sables, squirrels, pine nuts, and so on—without logging the trees themselves. Fired by the optimism generated by Khrushchëv's thaw, these ardent Soviet patriots wanted to build Communism. They wanted


to make the system work more efficiently by applying their expertise to the problem of resource management.

Like the druzhinniki , the kedrogradtsy used environmental activism as a means of asserting their own independent status as experts in the area of resource management, particularly forestry, and to build a special feeling of fraternity and identity. As the idealistic graduates saw their dreams dashed by cold bureaucrats, a number of the Kedrograd movement's key organizers as well as a prominent journalist who covered the story traded tarnished feelings of Soviet patriotism for a strong Russian nativism. Environmentalist images and rhetoric were as central to this shift in political/social identification as they had been to the forging of the original Kedrograd movement.

National-Patriotic Nature Protection

From such beginnings as the Kedrograd experiment, the rhetoric of nature protection mobilized a considerable number of Russians by the 1970s. They were led by prominent writers and other public figures to affirm a social identity whose highest value was ethnic Russian cultural patriotism. While individual beliefs among this group ran the gamut from a benign antiquarianism to extreme xenophobia, members shared the premise that Russian culture could not be preserved in its integrity without preserving integral Russian landscapes and the Russian village. Although members of this movement, united in such large organizations as the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Monuments of History and Culture, frequently fought side by side with those of the scientist-led movement against the pollution of Lake Baikal or for other causes, the cultural patriots were far removed from the social identity of nauchnaia obshchestvennost '. Whereas scientific public opinion prided itself on its membership in an international confraternity of science, a "universal" global civilization, the cultural patriots, composed of Soviet-era writers and Soviet-trained engineers, technicians, and even scientists, did not worship at the altar of the old-style cult of Science. Rather, they claimed to speak for an equally grandiose "public," the Russian nation. The rhetoric of nature protection proved equally serviceable to both movements.

Middle-Level Officialdom

One of the curious facets of Soviet politics this study brings to light is the highly supportive role, including active patronage and protection, that Soviet republic-level and oblast' -level leaders accorded the nature protection movement. Unable to counter decisions of the USSR Council of Ministers and the Politburo on a whole range of more important matters, local-level


leaders were able to demonstrate their independence and authority in the realm of nature protection. Precisely because of nature protection's marginality, republic-level leaders and oblast' first secretaries dared to oppose the center's plan to "liquidate" the zapovedniki in 1951, counting on the relatively low risk of such dissenting political speech. A series of Russian Republic premiers gave significant material and political support to both VOOP and the zapovedniki , and directly intervened to save the Society from the Central Committee's repeated attempts to eliminate it. This was one of the few policy areas where these middle-level politicians could express their independence from the center, pursue policies strictly on their own initiative, and demonstrate the "dignity" of their offices by protesting attempts by the center to confiscate or eliminate territories and organizations lodged within local bureaucratic portfolios. Nature protection, consequently, also provided the policy arena for middle-level politicians to express political identities other than simply cogs in a larger, centrally driven Party machine.

Ordinary Soviet People

Finally, beginning in 1987 when Soviet people began to test the sincerity of glasnost , the plazas, parks, and boulevards of Soviet cities became the locations for a remarkable series of public protests, involving hundreds of thousands of people who rallied under environmentalist—mostly public health-related—slogans. Mass environmental protest made its mark on Soviet history only to give way first to explicitly economic protests, then to overtly political protests, and finally to apathy, all largely before the official collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the period of mass environmental protests, brief as it was, is important in its own right, it marks the end of the special role of nature protection in pre-glasnost' Soviet society. For these ordinary people, nature protection was not an arcane exercise in identity politics (with the exception of environmental protests in the non-Russian republics, where it was often a stand-in for an expression of the local ethnonationalism).[23] Their spouses, parents, children, coworkers, and friends were slowly or quickly being poisoned by Soviet industrial and agricultural development.

By 1987 the day of scientific public opinion had nearly passed. Its successors, the student druzhiny , were left partly on the sidelines through their continued focus on the protection of sacred space and on the campaign against poaching, which led them to ignore the environmental public health and safety issues that troubled the population at large. Similarly, the appeal of a Russian nationalist nature protection proved limited against the backdrop of the life-and-death environmental concerns of the broader public. The closed, castelike nature of scientific public opinion and the druzhiny



and the abstruse and self-limiting nostalgia of the cultural nationalists prevented them from assuming leadership in building a civil society.

Additionally, Gorbachëv's reforms made it possible to assert almost any kind of independent social identity openly for the first time in many decades, and people had other vehicles besides environmental advocacy to express dissatisfaction with the regime's policies and visions. Environmental advocacy had to compete for attention in a completely changed political environment. Doubtless involvement in nature protection will continue to serve as a nucleus around which groups build special identities in post-Soviet Russia and elsewhere. But it will no longer have the special—in Iurii Efremov's words, "brave"—role it had in the highly repressive Soviet polity of decades past. And its potential for the creation of an inclusive, full-blooded civil society is still to be tested.


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