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Chapter Two— Archipelago of Freedom
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Chapter Two—
Archipelago of Freedom

At a Soviet-American conference on the history of environmentalism, the historian Leo Marx voiced his surprise at the degree to which Russians, especially scientists, equated conservation in general with zapovedniki , inviolable nature reserves.[1] For Russians zapovedniki have a significance far transcending their ostensible functions as centers for ecological research and the protection of rare species and habitats, because they were central to the social identity and mission of Russia's leading field biologists, who doubled as the leaders of that country's nature protection movement. This was particularly true from the late 1920s and early 1930s, when zapovedniki and the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature were nearly the only scientific institutions that escaped elimination or stultifying Party control.

Protected territories first appeared in Russia about a century ago, the efforts of scientists attached to the Imperial Academy of Sciences, the Russian Geographical Society, and teaching institutions, as well as of private landowners such as Baron Friedrich-Eduard Falz-Fein (Fal'ts-Fein) of the southern Ukrainian estate Askania-Nova. Later, during World War I and into the Bolshevik period the state emerged as the chief patron of a growing network of nature reserves.[2]

Although some of these reserves, those established by the tsarist regime or by the People's Commissariat of Agriculture in the Soviet period, resembled American national forests in their open dedication to the propagation of commercially valuable resources, the remainder had no U.S. analogs. Organized by scientists, especially Russia's pioneers in plant and animal ecology and other field naturalists, and coming under the patronage of the RSFSR People's Commissariat of Education and its Scientific Administration (Glavnauka), the inviolable zapovedniki were aimed at the protection and long-term study of what were believed to be pristine, intact ecological commu-


nities. Such study, it was hoped, would reveal the ecological dynamics of "healthy" natural systems and could serve as a baseline (etalon ) against which "degraded" communities, that is, those under economic exploitation, that had allegedly shared the same natural conditions, could be compared. The end result would be that scientists would not only gain knowledge about biological processes but would be able to use such knowledge to make expert recommendations regarding the most appropriate economic use for a given natural complex.

An array of assumptions was built into this model of the ecological community and consequently into that of the zapovedniki as well: that discrete natural communities existed, that they normally maintained themselves in a state of balance, that they represented "healthy" pristine nature, and, correspondingly, that humans existed outside nature as a "pathological" force. These beliefs represented unprovable assumptions about how to map nature. Although few would deny that nature is highly ramified—every life form is linked by myriad threads directly or indirectly to other life forms as well as to the inanimate environment—the idea of a tightly bounded natural community is a speculative leap. Nevertheless, Russian field naturalists heavily favored it over rival theories of how nature was put together.

Since the 1910s in America, France, and Russia, another view of nature had been advanced that, while accepting the interconnectedness of species in food chains and other relationships, denied the existence of bounded, self-regulating natural communities. However, field naturalists needed to believe in the existence of fragile, holistic ecological communities to justify their magnificent research project, based in the zapovedniki , that would decode those alleged pristine communities and ultimately allow the scientists, as experts, to make the key judgments about land and resource use that would prevent catastrophic injury to those systems. Although both models of nature were unprovable, most scientists opted for the one that best supported their attempt to present themselves as the expert arbiters of resource and land use.[3]

Zapovedniki were valued for a more prosaic reason as well. Those who became field naturalists were drawn to studying life forms free in their natural habitats, rather than as caged, dried, or dissected specimens in the lab. Zapovedniki , as undisturbed wild habitats, were indispensable to field naturalists as the last bastions where they could securely pursue their distinctive kind of scientific observations of "free," living nature. Such a role made the reserves valuable not merely to community ecologists but to a wide range of naturalists, including plant and animal taxonomists and physiologists, ethologists (experts on animal behavior), soil scientists, and geologists.

The 1920s were good years for the Russian nature protection movement. In 1924 an All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature (VOOP) was established under the leadership of eminent field biologists and successfully initiated the expansion of the network of zapovedniki , based on expeditions


organized by the Society. As a result of activists' lobbying and the support of a sympathetic leadership of the People's Commissariat of Education, in 1926 a unique Interagency State Committee for the Protection of Nature was established and given the power to examine all resource-related government decisions and to veto those it found excessively damaging to nature. This forerunner of the environmental impact process existed nowhere else in the world. By 1932, moreover, VOOP had 15,000 members and was supported in its program by the 60,000-plus-member Central Bureau for the Study of Local Lore (Tsentral'noe biuro kraevedeniia ), which was led by many of the same naturalists and their supporters. A national conference on nature protection was organized in September 1929, arguably the high point of the movement's efficacy.[4]

By the end of the 1920s, though, with the onset of Stalin's triple revolution—collectivization, frenetic industrialization, and the attempted elimination of any effective form of civic autonomyzapovedniki and the nature protection movement began to acquire another layer of meaning: they were among the rare physical and social spaces in the Soviet Union that had largely escaped the juggernaut of Stalin's "Great Break." As such, they came to constitute an "archipelago of freedom," unique islands in the scientific intelligentsia's geography of hope.

To understand why scientists and their allies defended the inviolability of zapovedniki with dogged tenacity, we must understand the cultural meaning and the political and social implications of the landscape that Stalin and his regime sought to create. The writer Maxim Gorky wrote that poets must champion "the struggle of collectively organized reason against the elemental forces of nature and against everything 'elemental' . . . in the formation of man."[5] Stalinists viewed the wild with repulsion, seeing in it the embodiment of everything outside the rational control of humans or, more correctly, of the Party's leadership. Nothing characterized the Stalinist worldview better than its unquenchable craving for total, conscious control over nature, society, and events. This phobia of spontaneity and obsession with conscious control permeated Stalin's policies toward the land and society both. Gorky's euphemistic motto for the "Belomor" White Sea Canal slave-labor project, "Man, in changing Nature, changes himself," summarizes this connection, even as the canal embodied the linkage in real life.

Faced with this overwhelming threat to their own professional freedom and perhaps comprehending on some level the linkage between Stalin's plans for a great transformation of the landscape and the reenserfment of society, Soviet scientists responded by marshaling ecological arguments against collectivization and the great earth-moving projects. When this scientific opposition to the Five-Year Plan failed, scientists retreated to a defense of the inviolable zapovedniki under their control.[6]


By their charters the reserves were absolutely inviolable. As Vyacheslav Gerovitch and Anton Struchkov have noted,

the idea of the "absolute inviolability" of zapovedniki has been disclosed as an allegory of the age-old Russian theme of "The City of Kitezh." According to their old Russian legend, when the country had become the Kingdom of Evil and Falsehood embracing both the State and the church authorities, the Kingdom of Good and Righteousness—the City of Kitezh—sank to the bottom of a lake. Hence [it] is the idea of withdrawal from surrounding vicious life, the idea of wandering elsewhere in search of this "ideal City."[7]

Nikolai Vorontsov has corroborated that one major reason for the unique scientific milieu in the reserves stemmed from the continuing policy of repression directed at the intelligentsia, which drove leading scientists to seek physical refuge in those territories.[8] But the zapovedniki were more than tangible sanctuaries for the "endangered species of bourgeois scientists."[9] They had become the symbolic embodiment of the harmony of communities, of natural and human diversity, and of the free and untutored flow of life (in Struchkov's eloquent phrase, the "unquenchable hearths of the freedom of Being"). As long as the "pristine" zapovedniki could remain independent, what was denied to human society in Stalin's Russia could be preserved in symbolic, natural form in these reserves. Indeed, the struggle over the defense and, later, the reestablishment of inviolable zapovedniki eclipsed all other environmental issues through the 1960s or even 1970s, if we include Lake Baikal in the sacral geography of the academic intelligentsia.

To protect its own fragile institutions as it continued to defend the prerevolutionary ideal of "science" (nauka ), the nature protection movement labored to present a public face of loyalty to the regime in a strategy the movement's critics termed "protective coloration." Somehow outlasting the critics, the effective leader of VOOP and of the RSFSR Main Administration for Zapovedniki from the early thirties, Vasilii Nikitich Makarov, raised protective coloration to an art form.[10]

Vasilii Nikitich Makarov

Born August 5 (New Style), 1887, in Lunëvo, a village not far from the provincial town of Vladimir, northeast of Moscow, Vasilii Nikitich Makarov came from peasant stock, although both his father and paternal grandfather were workers (see figure 1). After excelling in his rural school, he was recommended by his teacher for a zemstvo scholarship to complete his higher grades in town.[11] For two years after graduating, Makarov worked in agriculture, entering the Moscow Teachers' Institute in the fall of 1905. Soon he


Figure 1.
Vasilii Nikitich Makarov (1887–1953) at age sixty.

was drawn into the vortex of protest during that revolutionary year. A member of revolutionary student circles (kruzhki ), Makarov joined a strike committee and distributed illegal literature among workers. With the restoration of order the following year, Makarov was arrested, but he was released after three months for lack of conclusive evidence and was allowed to resume his studies, graduating in 1908.[12]

Trained as a science teacher, Makarov was posted to a school in the Volga town of Kostroma, north of Moscow, but returned to Moscow in 1911 to attend night school at the Moscow Commercial Institute to upgrade his qualifications, teaching fourth grade during the day at a school attached to the Moscow Teachers' Institute. Apparently, the punishing schedule did not


diminish his effectiveness as a teacher; indeed, he seems to have had a talent for teaching In bidding him farewell, his students in both Kostroma and Moscow emphasized not only his kindness and empathy, but also his ability to inspire them to strive for a life "in science."[13]

In 1916, after meeting a physician who was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, Makarov joined the SRs as well. With the overthrow of the tsar, Makarov was elected the uezd (county) commissar of Makar'ev uezd and chair of the democratic rural assembly. But his growing misgivings about the irresolute policies of the SR party led him to decline the nomination by the local Provincial Peasant Congress to stand as a deputy for the Constituent Assembly in the fall of 1917. He officially resigned from the party on January 1 1918.

In September 1918 he was tapped to serve as the principal for a middle-grade school for workers in Moscow province and later for a number of schools in the capital itself. Rising through the educational bureaucracy, Makarov was named head of the Moscow's Bauman School District but apparently continued to teach science. This relatively placid existence ended in June 1930, when he was appointed academic specialist in the Science Sector of the RSFSR People's Commissariat of Education, almost immediately thereafter rising to deputy head and then head of the sector (which he remained until February 16, 1937). Simultaneously, he was appointed the director of the Zoological Museum of Moscow State University, to replace Grigorii Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov, who had been forced to resign as a "bourgeois" professor. By the beginning of 1931 Makarov was also president of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature, and with the reorganization of the zapovedniki in September 1933 became the deputy director of the Main Administration. Makarov could have achieved none of this had he not been accepted into the Communist Party in April 1928.[14]

When Makarov assumed leadership of the nature protection movement, hostile critics were already identifying the "counterrevolutionary" implications of the movement's ecologically based objections to elements of the First Five-Year Plan. To deflect these accusations, Makarov instituted a policy of "protective coloration," muting criticism of regime resource policies, pledging verbal loyalty to "socialist construction," and renouncing a commitment to the absolute inviolability of the zapovedniki . At the same time, however, the strategy sought to preserve the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature as a place where alternative visions of development could be freely discussed and to preserve the zapovedniki as factually inviolable, although no longer officially so.[15]

Both the movement and the regime at times revealed an awareness of discord between Soviet environmentalism and Stalinist policies and values. Recent finds in Russian archives throw dramatic new light on just how courageously "out of step" leading conservationists were with the Five-Year Plan


for "socialist construction." Of course, not every ecologist always evinced courageous behavior, nor did every occasion elicit it. With the exception of ichthyologist Mikhail Nikolaevich Knipovich, the nerve of almost all prominent ecologists and zoologists withered under the ferocious attacks of Isaak Izrailovich Prezent at the All-Union Faunistics Conference in February 1932.[16] Yet, surprisingly frequently ecologists sketched out an alternative vision of land use, the use of scientists, and even civic speech. Perhaps unmatched in its time as a call for norms of decency in political discussions was a letter sent in 1931 by Makarov, now the de facto leader of the Russian conservation movement, to the Scientific Sector of People's Commissariat of Education (where he was deputy head) and to its Communist Party cell.

Only recently having become president of VOOP, Makarov in early 1931 inherited a precarious situation. VOOP had undergone a high-level audit the previous year that revealed numerous deficiencies in the work of the Society from the perspective of the regime, including "undisguised apoliticism" and ecological "alarmism."[17] Press articles ridiculed scientific societies, including VOOP, as an "All-Union zapovednik for the endangered species of bourgeois scientists," coming dangerously close to the truth.[18] Makarov's letter combined a surprisingly forthright objection to an excessively rough, denunciatory style of polemics with protestations of loyalty to the regime's strategies of development, "socialist construction." Because the nature protectionists' visions of development clashed with those of the regime, their averring loyalty was either conscious dissembling or self-delusion in pursuit of "protective coloration."

Makarov's letter was one of his first serious attempts to counter the ominous assaults directed at the movement he now headed. While he conceded that "Marxist-Leninist criticism" prodded "many stagnant areas of science to come alive" and succeeded in getting academics to descend from their ivory towers and to begin to meet society's "legitimate expectations" of them (sotsial'nyi zakaz ), Makarov observed that "that was not so in all cases." Sometimes, he contended, "comrades offering critical comments have acted too hastily and made superficial judgments, not possessing the requisite erudition for a proper consideration of the problems addressed." At times, "Bolshevik" critics behaved even more irresponsibly, driven by "the preconceived aim—whatever it takesto identify an enemy, reveal a [political] deviation, and to unmask sabotage and counterrevolution in science; they have 'twisted and distorted' critical material, turning healthy Bolshevik criticism into the dubious weapon of polemics and even denunciation. This unfortunate criticism, purveyed in the mass media and distracting the masses from the substance of the issue, has been harmful."[19]

Amazingly, the concrete example Makarov chose to exemplify, his charges was the recent article "Sabotage in Science" published by Arnosht Kol'man


in the Party's theoretical journal Bolshevik . Kol'man was one of the Party's key curators of science, even serving as watchdog over such illustrious figures as Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov and Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin during their 1931 visit to Great Britain. In strong language Makarov contested what he argued were Kol'man's false claims—that the conservation movement sought to "undermine our socialist construction and engineer a restoration of capitalism."[20] "Pointing out to Comrade Kol'man the error of his views in the given case elicited no effect." He evidently continued to remain convinced that the protection of woodlands in "sparsely wooded areas and on nonarable lands is a land mine under socialist agriculture." Similarly, Makarov accused Kol'man of failing to understand the value of the protection of unplowed steppe as a reservoir for genetic material, especially in developing drought-resistant varieties of agricultural plants, as demonstrated by Vavilov.

Additionally, the conservation leader cited an equally vicious article by two other authors also directed against his movement, and concluded:

These [articles] also force us to consider the following questions: Is THIS KIND OF defense of the great cause of socialist construction of the Five-Year Plan from putative sabotage useful? Is it permissible to purvey gross distortions, as Comrade Kol'man and others have done, in full public voice? Doesn't this gladden the genuine enemies of socialist construction both here and abroad, enemies who will snatch at any opportunity to demonstrate, on the basis of isolated examples, how science is profaned in the USSR and how thoughtlessly and wantonly scientific ideas and the people selflessly serving science are trashed? . . . The Council of the [All-Russian] Society [for the Protection of Nature] insists that the Scientific Sector and the Party cell . . . rap the knuckles and head of those adepts of "leftist" witchhunting and "distortion" of the authentic character of the activity of our Society and the content of its journal. Criticism, merciless Bolshevik criticism of the entire press is an essential fact of life, but, in the opinion of the Council of the Society, the "obfuscating" tactics of [our] critics has nothing in common with that.[21]

The conservation movement's defense not only of "free" nature but of "free" science and, to an extent, of prerevolutionary norms of public communication, was fraught with risk.[22] As mentioned in my previous work and now confirmed by a host of newly available archival documents, repression did indeed strike Russian environmentalists hard during the early to mid-1930s.[23] Some few lucky ones like movement founder Grigorii Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov were merely fired from their positions or, like A. V. Fediushin, were able to flee to distant regions. Others, like geographer V P. Semënov-tian-shanskii, were placed on blacklists but somehow were never picked up. Many others, though, were less fortunate, and the roster of those arrested during that period abounds with important names.[24] Although not all environmentalist victims of Stalinist repression suffered because they were


environmentalists, and a majority of committed activists emerged relatively unscathed from the terror, a climate of intimidation enveloped the conservation cause during the dark decades of the 1930s and 1940s.

The Purge at Askania-Nova

The episode that was most traumatic to the conservation movement was the devastating purge of Askania-Nova, engineered by Trofim Denisovich Lysenko and Isaak Izrailovich Prezent during the fall of 1933.[25] The newly available archival documents and oral testimonies do not permit us irrefutably to determine the cause or causes of the purge;[26] however, it is likely that the mass arrests of Vladimir Vladimirovich Stanchinskii and his colleagues at the Ukrainian nature reserve flowed in good measure from their resistance to Stalinists' plans for a "great transformation" of Soviet nature.

In the hope that he would bring coherence and cutting-edge research to Askania-Nova, V. V. Stanchinskii, a professor of zoology at the Smolensk State University, had been hired by the troubled reserve in 1929 as deputy reserve director for science, simultaneously joining the zoology faculty of Khar'kov State University. Losing little time, Stanchinskii organized the measurement of energy budgets by groups of organisms arranged by trophic levels and pioneered the first attempt anywhere to measure the amount of solar energy captured by plants and then subsequently passed along to herbivores, carnivores, and decomposers. While pursuing that audacious program in trophic dynamics, in 1931 Stanchinskii assumed responsibility as the principal editor of the USSR's first scientific journal of ecology, the Zhurnal ekologii i biotsenologii , and began to develop scientific arguments against one of the favorite nature-transforming schemes of Stalinist academics and politicians, the acclimatization of exotic plants and animals.

Acclimatization was being promoted as a means of enhancing economically exploitable biological productivity and was predicated on the idea that natural conditions were being underutilized by the existing mix of organisms. New nonnative organisms could be "inserted" into nature's "empty places" to provide new sources of ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables, game and pelts. Stanchinskii argued that there was no guarantee that the genotype (genetic make-up) of the introduced plants and animals would enable them to survive in a new habitat, making these widespread experiments a potential loss of lots of money. Even if they did have such adaptive fitness, Stanchinskii warned, their successful acclimatization could entail equally heavy costs. That was because in real life there usually were no "ecologically empty places"; introduced animals and plants, to survive, would need to outcompete endemic or native forms that subsisted on roughly the same mix of resources. Thus, the addition of a nonnative species would


 Figure 2.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Stanchinskii (1882–1942) in the
Balitskii Penal Kolkhoz.

probably be at the cost of the elimination or even possibly the extinction of a native one. Moreover, there was the further possibility that the introduced species could serve as a vector for the introduction of new parasites and also become an unchecked pest. Underscoring the need for caution, Stanchinskii's objections threw cold water on the grandiose hopes of Stalinists for an unprecedented rearrangement or "transformation" of nature.

Following a first visit to the reserve by Lysenko and Prezent, a decision was taken in December 1932 by the Ukrainian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and supported by the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Moscow to shut down Stanchinskii's Steppe Research Institute as "not having any real importance for socialist agriculture."[27] Although the institute had been eliminated, the zapovednik formally still remained, but with the arrests of Stanchinskii, Gunali, Fortunatov, and the other members of his research team in the autumn of 1933, that too fell into the hands of the sheep breeders and the "barefoot agronomists."

Sentenced to a prison-kolkhoz run by the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, where he worked as a veterinarian from 1934 through 1936, Stanchinskii was released two years before his term was up. A photograph from his incarceration shows how much he aged in the two years after his arrest (see figure 2 ). Yet, at the Balitskii penal kolkhoz (named after Ukraine's


secret police chief) he enjoyed surprisingly liberal conditions of detention. He was permitted visits from his family, and he was even permitted to accept an invitation to spend New Year's Day, 1936, at the home of the great evolutionary geneticist Ivan Ivanovich Shmal'gauzen in Kiev. Under the circumstances, the invitation was a courageous act of friendship on the part of Shmal'gauzen.

After his early release, however, Stanchinskii was unable to pick up where he had left off. Forever barred from teaching, he had to rely on the loyalty and generosity of old friends to secure employment again as a research biologist. Returning to the region of his roots, Stanchinskii accepted the invitation by G. L. Grave, director of the Tsentral'no-Lesnoi (Central Forest) zapovednik north of Smolensk, to become deputy director for scientific research.

Olga Borisovna Lepeshinskaia's Investigation

Not long after the purge of Askania, the conservation movement lost its most devoted patron from among high-ranking members of the regime. In April 1935 Pëtr Germogenovich Smidovich died under questionable circumstances at the age of sixty-five. The year before, Smidovich had saved the zapovedniki from falling into the hostile hands of the economic commissariats, bringing them instead under his direct care as head of the newly established Committee for Zapovedniki of the Presidium of the RSFSR Central Executive Committee (VTsIK). After the trauma of the Askania purge and the conservation movement's near annihilation, the movement had slowly recovered during 1934.[28] Moderate Bolsheviks—the protectors and patrons of the conservation movement—seemed in the ascendant at the Seventeenth Party Conference; the horrors of the First Five-Year Plan, the famine, and the "left-wing" extremism of the Cultural Revolution all seemed past.

The clear skies of 1934, however, were suddenly darkened by the events of December 1; Stalin's arranged assassination of leading Bolshevik Sergei Mironovich Kirov served as the prelude to a terror that cast its pall over the whole nation. The conservation movement's horizons clouded over as well, particularly after Smidovich's death.

On April 25, nine days after Smidovich's passing, Frants Frantsevich Shillinger was fired from his position at the Committee for Zapovedniki without explanation, and the Science Department of the Central Committee of the Party ordered another audit of the reserves and of the conservation movement.[29]

It is unclear whether the conservation movement was aware of just how close to the edge of danger it had strayed. An ominous official report of more than one hundred pages assembled the case against the nature pre-


serves and the conservation movement. Entitled "Report to the Science Department of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party on the Results of an Investigation of the Zapovedniki of the RSFSR," this document was still in the form of Ol'ga Borisovna Lepeshinskaia's notes intended for circulation among the other members of the investigation team.[30] Feliks Robertovich Shtil'mark has recently unearthed the final version of the report, countersigned by Makarov, and dated December 19, 1935.[31]

Reflecting what movement scientists told the investigators about the distinctive purposes of Soviet reserves, Lepeshinskaia noted that although foreign protected territories were directed toward tourism and other forms of profit-making activities, Soviet reserves were created to "preserve gene pools [sokhranenie geno-fondovl,   for scientific study, to enable humans to master nature, and for educational purposes." However, it would have been awkward to include this dubious claim to superiority on the basis of a largely traditional program defined by scientists—the Party sympathized more with the capitalists' approach of exploiting the reserves for revenue—and this section was crossed out.[32]

What remained in the report was an almost unrelieved portrait of the reserves as refuges for anti-Soviet politics, values, ideas, and scientists. The reserves, Lepeshinskaia held, were pervaded by "anarchy and lack of supervision and planning." It was bad enough that nature reserves were established on the basis of private or citizens' initiative; worse was that some of these activists, for example, longtime movement leader Frants Frantsevich Shillinger, "son of an emigre White Guard," deviously arranged for the creation of zapovedniki (e.g., Altaiskii, Crimean) on the very frontiers of the Soviet republic, the better to facilitate hostile subversion, she alleged.[33] Shillinger was additionally faulted for the alleged emigration of his son in 1924 (the family claimed that he had died) and for Shillinger's himself becoming a German citizen in 1935.[34]

Commenting first on the personnel of the zapovedniki, Lepeshinskaia remarked on the "absence of a firm Communist nucleus" and offered that, in general, the "SELECTION OF PERSONNEL HAS BEEN UNHEALTHY. IN THE MAJORITY OF CASES, THEY HAVE BEEN POLITICALLY UNRELIABLE TYPES, RECOMMENDED BY THE OLD-LINE PROFESSORS. AS A RESULT ALMOST IN EVERY ZAPOVEDNIK THERE IS A GREAT INFESTATION [zasorënnost '] BYANTI-SOVIET ELEMENTS, those exiled by the Soviet regime, those arrested previously, those [class enemies] deprived of their civil rights, and even disguised bandits."[35] Partly at fault were those in the Party elite that afforded the conservation movement patronage and protection. Lepeshinskaia even fingered Lenin's science adviser N. P. Gorbunov and prosecutor-general Krylenko for their support in the hiring of class enemies (byvshie liudi ) for the nature reserve system.

The investigation revealed the penury of the zapovedniki better than any


scientists' petition; there were only two cars for the entire thirty-one-reserve, 8,457,436-hectare network, an absence of furniture, tableware, scientific instruments, work clothing, and shoes. There were no radios or telephones, and no electricity. One reserve staffer, Vvedenskii, even died of hunger. Security was deficient; abandoned mud or wooden shelters testified to the trespassing of poachers or even smugglers.[36] Although such conditions could well be regarded as evidence of the central government's neglect of conservation, the report implied that they were the result of negligent and deficient leadership by the Committee for Zapovedniki of VTsIK, an agency with no independent funding source.

More weighty were arguments against the scientific research conducted by the reserves. At once eclectic and unsystematic, overly descriptive and unrealistic, and without links to the world of practice or to outside institutions, the reserves' scientific work was also ideologically highly suspect. The crucial problem of acclimatization, for example, was largely neglected, with the exception of work on beavers and muskrats at the Laplandskii zapovednik and on raccoon dogs at Buzulukskii bor. Lepeshinskaia cited information provided by Pëtr Aleksandrovich Manteifel' in denouncing a number of Committee and zapovednik staffers as believing in "the existence of harmony and equilibrium" in nature and in the idea of "nonintervention by humans in the life of nature." Specifically named were Buturlin, Zhitkov, and Alëkhin, although these names seem to reflect more the quirks of Manteifel"s personal animus than an exhaustive list of unreformed "bourgeois professors." As Manteifel' emphasized, all was not well on the ideological front.[37]

Indeed, in addition to the ideological heresies of the nature protectors there was the implication of political unreliability, if not outright disloyalty. Lepeshinskaia saw a political cover-up in the decision of the conservationist community, including Communists, to delete the names of individuals from a conference resolution condemning erroneous "class positions."[38]

Within the Committee for Zapovedniki , the staff of thirty-one was named by Pëtr Smidovich on the recommendation of Vasilii Nikitich Makarov. Lepeshinskaia was clearly unimpressed. Half were "dead souls," while some, such as Alëkhin, Zhitkov, and Buturlin, were active, but were philosophical "idealists," holding "reactionary" views on nature reserves. Buturlin, a prominent ornithologist, was additionally mocked as a "walking encyclopedia" and a positivist (how that was reconciled with his idealism remains a puzzle).[39] On the ground in the zapovedniki themselves there seemed to be a veritable swarm of suspect "elements." I. I. Puzanov's dedication to conservation won him the label of "fanatic."[40] The deputy director of the Pechorollychskii zapovednik , one Pirogov, was a non-Party member of noble origin with-higher education! Another was the wife of a colonel in one of the White armies who had emigrated abroad. A third was exiled from Moscow in 1933 for his harmful ideological influence on students.[41]


The director of the Tsentral'no-Lesnoi zapovednik , Grigorii Leonidovich Grave, was of the landowner class and had attended classical gymnasium. Now, complained Lepeshinskaia, Grave's hereditary class instincts led him to treat the reserve as his own baronial estate. More ominously, she noted Grave's friendly association with Stanchinskii, who had been arrested as a counterrevolutionary in the autumn of 1933; indeed, it was to Stanchinskii that Grave owed his own appointment to Smolensk University's zoology department.

Foreigners visited the Committee for Zapovedniki , which maintained ties overseas, ipso facto a sign of unreliability. The zapovednik system was aswarm with "alien elements" and alien values.

For Lepeshinskaia, it was not surprising that the Committee was such a swamp. After all, Makarov was a former Socialist Revolutionary, and although "personally honest and devoted to his cause," he was also a "rotten liberal who makes a show of party loyalty" and a "man of weak character, without principles, and too mild."[42] An example of Makarov's weakness was his failure to press the accusation of extortion against the Caucasus zapovednik director, Krasnobryzhev, to its logical conclusion. Makarov also failed to achieve a "firm Bolshevik line" in the literature of his committee.[43] The "Bolshevik spirit was undetectable" in the training of new staff members.[44] Although Lepeshinskaia's conclusions did not call for the elimination of the nature reserves, "which give us nothing at the present time," and although she did not call for the removal of Makarov, indeed giving him credit for being selfless and informed, she did demand a strict housecleaning.[45] The bottom line was her recommendation that the reserves be turned over to the USSR People's Commissariat of Agriculture.[46]

Lepeshinskaia's conclusions contained more than a grain of truth; from the "Stalinist" Soviet standpoint the whole nature protection movement together with its institutions was an island of subversion. Why then was it spared during that terrible year? Frants Shillinger revealed in his 1937 letter to Nikolai Mikhailovich Kulagin that, in a mood of terminal despair, Shillinger had decided to take a big risk. On January 20, 1936, telling no one, he wrote a twenty-page letter to Stalin. Seemingly miraculously, the transfer of the reserves to the Commissariat of Agriculture was called off. Not only that, state allocations for the reserves were dramatically increased. Shillinger's other suggestions—to create a Main Administration for Hunting and Animal Breeding within the USSR People's Commissariat of Agriculture and a Main Administration for Forest Protection and Afforestation under the USSR Council of People's Commissars directly—were enacted as well. Ironically, Shillinger himself remained without work until his arrest on April 14, 1938, thence to be devoured in the maws of the terror machine.[47]

Why did Stalin or his immediate subordinates indulge the doomed Shillinger? Why were the serious accusations leveled by Lepeshinskaia against the


movement set aside? So far the archives have failed to provide any definite answers. One plausible reason is that those at the top regarded these field biologists as too impractical, too "nerdy," and far too marginal to pose a recognizable political threat. Teachers were threatening because they shaped young minds. Historians were threatening because they could subtly undermine the Party's legitimacy by constructing other ways to explain the past and the present. Writers were threatening because they might try to smuggle into their novels, poems, and short stories encoded messages of opposition. But a zoologist who studied the effect of snow cover on the foraging habits of hoofed mammals? Or a botanist who sought to explain whether or not the steppe was a result of some sort of grazing or pasturing? Such figures, if the Party elite thought about them at all, must have been objects of gentle ridicule. Ultimately, as a "class," they were not serious enough to be worth liquidating.

Despite the unwanted scrutiny of the Central Committee, the conservation movement did not rush headlong for the cyclone shelters. Here and there VOOP managed even to expand its network. In Gor'kii (Nizhnyi Novgorod) in 1935, the energetic activist Professor Ivan Ivanovich Puzanov, a well-respected zoologist, emerged as the organizer of that city's branch of the Society. (He would play equally central roles in the Crimea and in Odessa, where he later resided, testifying to the importance of specific individuals in the life of the Society.) Nevertheless, despite isolated successes, the movement's leaders looked to the future with apprehension. Owing to a paper shortage and rising electricity costs, the monthly, and later bimonthly, journal of the Society—Okhrana prirody to 1931, Priroda i sotsialisticheskoe khoziaistvo through 1932—became an annual anthology in 1933 and ceased publication altogether in 1935.[48] Deprived of its old lodgings at 38 Sofiiskaia naberezhnaia by the Moscow Soviet, which aimed to "renovate" the building, VOOP was forced to be taken in by the Committee on Zapovedniki , which itself was cramped for space. Then there was the general political situation in the country.

As Stalin built his paranoid case against much of the elite of the Bolshevik party, the atmosphere of terror and suspicion took on a life of its own. Political vigilantism and denunciations were incontestable; those who tried to mitigate the terror were ipso facto guilty of protecting counterrevolutionaries, and were themselves carted off. In the deep of the night, every night, thousands were dragged from their apartments to the dungeons of Stalin's secret police. Even the army general staff was not immune from this seeming madness and was liquidated in June 1937. Recent figures suggest that it is likely that as many as two million people were arrested in 1937–1938 alone.

Against this backdrop the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature on June 10, 1937, drafted a letter to Andrei Andreevich Andreev, one


of Stalin's colleagues among the Secretaries of the Central Committee. If the great purge then raging was madness, this letter could only be described as lunacy—or great courage. Noting that "progressive minds of all eras and peoples, alarmed at the impoverishment of natural resources . . . they have noticed, began seriously to occupy themselves with the problem of protection of the entire complex of natural treasures," the drafters of the letter then used contemporary international efforts in that area to buttress their case for more Party support for conservation. "Both in lands large and small, on the basis of weighty scientific work governmental and nongovernmental movements for conservation have expanded. Everywhere there are hundreds of scientific and citizen's mass societies, state committees, and entire departments attached to ministries, as well as special legislation, tens of nature preserves [zapovedniki] and a rich literature (especially in the USA)."[49] The All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature's Executive Council, they wrote, had assembled a delegation that included the president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Leontievich Komarov, academician N. M. Kulagin, the deputy president of VOOP, A. P. Protopopov, Presidium member V. N. Makarov, the VOOP secretary, S. N. Fridman, and VOOP Council member V. N. Fofanov, which, they proposed, should meet with Andreev. They sought to raise four issues: (1) the expansion of the Society from all-Russian to all-Soviet status, with direct patronage from the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR; (2) the nomination of Andrei Matveevich Lezhava as president of this all-Union society; (3) permission to enter the International Center for Conservation and to attend the 1938 Vienna conference; and (4) assistance from the Party in the cause of conservation, including issuance of directives. The typed draft of the letter was then emended in pencil. Deleted was the nomination of Lezhava, a former USSR minister of domestic trade who had just been arrested and would be shot in October, but added were requests for permission for VOOP to resume publication activities and for an incremental increase in governmental subsidies to the Society. One has to know what Moscow was like in those bone-chilling days of June 1937 in order to appreciate the considerable courage involved even in drafting this letter. Regrettably, the relatively disorganized and incomplete condition of the Central Committee archives do not permit us to confirm whether this letter was sent or received. But this draft nevertheless testifies to the endurance of the conservation community in its defense of its vision of the entitlements of scientific public opinion.

In 1937 the Society also started up its second commission devoted to the study of regional environmental problems. On the model of the Crimean Commission, the Caucasus Commission convened for the first time on February 26 with veteran Society leader Aleksandr Petrovich Protopopov presiding. The growing political chill did not seem to cool the fervor of the Commission members. Still at liberty, Frants Frantsevich Shillinger, a founder of


the Society, urged that the Commission not restrict its purview to the zapovedniki of the Caucasus. "The question [of conservation] must be posed more broadly," he continued. And while nature transformer Kh. S. Veitsman tried, circuitously, to deflect such a broad mandate as beyond the Commission's capacities, Protopopov quickly injected that "the Commission has nothing to fear by conceiving its tasks broadly. V. M. Fofanov [another Commission member] is absolutely right when he states that the Commission must not restrict itself only to collecting facts, but must evaluate the economy of the Caucasus region as well." The lionhearts carried the day, and the resolution of the meeting pledged to address conservation problems "in their entirety," although work would begin immediately on the more limited problems of forest depletion and water quality.[50]

The Conservation Congress of 1938

On April 20, 1938, the First Congress of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature opened in Moscow. Although a previous all-Russian conservation congress had been held in 1929 and an all-Union one in 1933, neither had been convened under the exclusive auspices of the Society. Nor had the Society's leadership previously had to give an accounting of its activities to representatives of the membership at large. And although such stalwarts as Makarov and the Society's secretary, Susanna Fridman, still held center stage, gone were Grigorii Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov, who had died at the previous congress, Pëtr Germogenovich Smidovich, and Shillinger, who had been arrested five days earlier.

Formally vice president but really in charge, Makarov presented the first major substantive address. One striking note repeated by Makarov (recall his letter to A. A. Andreev) was his assertion that the Soviet conservation movement remained a part of "a larger international movement" at a time when Stalin's regime was slamming shut all the windows between the Soviet arts and sciences and the outside world. He was, however, mindful enough (and probably sincere in this) to emphasize that capitalism and private property were systemically bound to plunder the environment. "If capitalists could assert a right to the air, they would," he said. "Luckily, air cannot be appropriated as private property by individual entrepreneurs" because of its ambient nature.[51] Nevertheless, great enough damage to the environment had already been done, he argued; by the late eighteenth century most of Western Europe had already become deforested, and "with every passing year the faunal web has become thinner and thinner." As recently as in the seventeenth century Eurasia experienced the extinction of the aurochs, in the eighteenth, the Steller's sea cow, and in the nineteenth, the tarpan. The


North American bison and the European bison had been driven to the edge of extinction more recently, and the situation of marine mammals had become catastrophic. Of the three groups positioned to notice this alarming turn of events—commercial hunters, sport hunters, and scientists—"only the latter could adopt a reasonably objective view rising above self-interest."[52]

Interestingly, Makarov, in his thumbnail sketch of the emergence of conservationism worldwide, reserved his strongest praise for Americans, who regarded conservation as "a national ideal."[53] Indeed, he noted, "the Americans were right when they advanced the rule of thumb that a nation's culture may be judged by its treatment of natural resources," although he was quick to add that "it must be said in advance that capitalist countries will scarcely be able to resolve their internal contradictions that flow from the nature of the capitalist system."[54]

Invoking the names of the founders of the movement in Russia—Kozhevnikov, Semënov-tian-shanskii, Borodin, Taliev, and others—Makarov chronicled the often rocky path for nature protection both before and after the Revolution. In one revealing comment, he recounted how Mikhail Petrovich Potëmkin, the onetime president of the Society, had been subjected to a long interrogation by the president of one of the Party purge commissions, who demanded of Potëmkin in consternation: "How can you, a member of the Party, have gotten involved in a cause like conservation?!"[55]

Although Makarov had little good to say about the last years of Narkompros's stewardship of VOOP after its patron, former People's Commissar of Education Anatolii Vasil'evich Lunacharskii, had been replaced by A. S. Bubnov, who was hostile to conservation, he did note that with the Society's transfer to the jurisdiction of the Presidium of VTsIK, it had experienced a revival. For the first time "juridical members," including the Academy of Sciences, the Committee for Zapovedniki , and the Main Administration for Forestry and Afforestation, affiliated as institutions."[56] Additionally, the number of thematic sections of the Society continued to expand, with an ornithological section formed in 1936 and a mammalogical one added in 1938, exemplifying what Makarov categorized as "academism in the good sense of the word"—linking research with practical problems.[57] Academism it was; of the 150 members of the ornithological section, forty-one were professors and an additional thirty-six were docents and senior scientific workers.[58]

Despite the purges and disruptions of the mid-1930s, VOOP refused to allow itself to be frightened or diverted from pursuing its bold goals. In conjunction with the Committee it continued to sponsor expeditions to promote the creation of new zapovedniki (Barents Sea, Teberda, Kazakhstan) and persisted in its studies of the ecology of endangered species such as dolphins in the Black Sea. VOOP's submission to the government of a huge amount of research data on deforestation led to a law on headwaters protection,


and the Society's special study of the Crimea, long a focus of special interest among conservationists, although failing to elicit comprehensive governmental action, did result in a disbursement of 400,000 rubles for some improvements. VOOP's far eastern branch asked the State Committee on Procurements to cut target quotas on sea lions by half, which was done, remarkably, and VOOP also successfully secured the creation of a twenty-five-kilometer-wide green belt around Moscow (which was eventually built over in the 1950s).[59]

Despite the Party's refusal to allow VOOP delegates to attend the international conference in Vienna, Makarov emphasized that ties with similar foreign organizations were continuing to be maintained. With 5,000 volumes in sixteen foreign languages, all acquired through exchanges with foreign conservation societies, VOOP's library was one of the best in the world and was unique within the USSR. Sadly, the volumes were languishing in boxes; the Moscow Soviet had dispossessed VOOP of its office space, and the Society's operations were hanging by a hair, its paperwork processed on one desk in a corner of the office of the Committee for Zapovedniki . Komarov, the Society's president-designee, had even called on the president of the Moscow Soviet to try to straighten out the matter, but was also unsuccessful. "If the Society is acting improperly, then it must be eliminated," Makarov stoutly challenged; "if not, and it contributes to the general good, then it is to the shame of the Moscow Soviet that the Society lacks its own office space."[60] The Moscow Soviet "should think about its outrageous attitude toward social organizations," he admonished bitterly.[61]

Because a reregistration of members had not been conducted in some years, it was unknown how many of the 16,000 putative members were real and how many were "dead souls."[62] Negligent in collecting membership dues, the Society's financial situation continued to be precarious.[63] At the evening session on April 22 , 1938, the Society elected its Executive Council. V. L. Komarov was elected president, while Makarov continued as vice president and de facto leader. The inveterate secretary of the Society, Susanna Fridman, was reelected overwhelmingly as well. In addition, Konstantin Matveevich Shvedchikov, official head of the Committee for Zapovedniki , was confirmed in his virtually ex-officio council seat. Not surprisingly, academic biologists and biology students represented the single largest bloc on the council. Testifying to the continuing fiercely independent spirit of this Society, members rejected the candidacy of S. V. Turshu, considered more friendly to Stalinist tempos of resource exploitation, giving him only seven votes.[64] Perhaps Turshu's criticism of the Congress as too dominated by academics also had something to do with the result.[65]

Even the election of the honorary presidium, comprising prominent members of the Soviet scientific and cultural elite, became an occasion for a dis-


play of nonconformity. A number of academicians as well as Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin, whose aviatorial efforts rescued the crew of the icebreaker Cheliuskin, all received unanimous support. Otto Iul'evich Shmidt, a cosmologist and one of those whom Papanin rescued, was elected with the surprisingly large number of eight abstentions, however. Noting that the election of honorary members was "a serious political act," one member asked that those who abstained justify their positions. One who abstained, Lukashevich, then explained that his abstention was not occasioned by a lack of respect for Otto Iul'evich, but rather because he thought that others were closer to the movement's ideals: "Why was it necessary precisely for our society precisely now to advance the name of Otto Iul'evich?" Lukashevich earlier had exhibited the same fierce spirit of independence regarding the question of press access; the press had shut out issues involving conservation. "We must not view ourselves as poor relations," he thundered; "rather, we are Soviet citizens . . . imbued with passion to assist our government and people. And since that is the case, we can certainly demand space in the pages of the press and not simply timidly beg for it through intermediaries."[66] It was not always easy for VOOP to walk the fine line between political accommodation and its own robust grassroots traditions of fierce scientific and political autonomy.[67] That tradition of autonomy, however, was inextricably linked with a desire to be a fully accepted, valued, and heeded part of the power structure.

Although after mid-1938 the "Black Maria" police sedans no longer swarmed as frequently through Russia's cities in their terrifying early-morning feeding frenzies, it is inappropriate, to say the least, to speak of a return to "normalcy," let alone liberalization. Nevertheless, until the Nazi invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, Soviet society began a slow recovery from the trauma of the Great Purge. VOOP, too, reflected this upsurge of civic energy. It resumed its propaganda activities with a booth and lectures in Gorky Park, and successfully gained protection for polar bears from Glavsevmorput', the administration that organized expeditions, transport, and supply for the Soviet Arctic Ocean and its coastal zone.[68] In the spring of 1941 a section of the Society devoted to marine and waterway protection was inaugurated under Professor Lev Zenkevich of Moscow University.[69]

Records of the Society's activities during 1939 support this picture of heightened activity. While membership stood at only 2,553 on January 1, 1940, that figure did reflect a growth by 696 new members over the real figure for 1938.[70] Significantly, there were almost as many members of the Academy of Sciences (7) as peasants (10), and more than half as many professors and docents (55) as workers (95). Communists (127) and Komsomol members (97) were still underrepresented in this largely non-Party milieu.[71]

A new branch was organized in Astrakhan, which quickly attracted 300


new members, while in Moscow a new section on protection of the earth's crust was established by the noted geologist A. E. Fersman, a close colleague of Vernadskii. A seed bank, an herbarium for rare steppe plants, and a photo gallery of conservation figures were all established, too. The mammalogical and ornithological sections compiled lists of endangered species, which were delivered to the Main Administration for Zapovedniki , along with a proposal to publish a series of monographs of these interesting and threatened life forms.[72] Indeed, a special Species Commission was organized within the mammalogical section to organize this initiative.

Linked with the above efforts was an intensive lobbying campaign to stop hunting of the desman, a rare aquatic shrew. Based on field observations subsidized by the Committee for Zapovedniki ,[73] VOOP sent the SNK RSFSR a memorandum "illustrating the real state of affairs and directly clashing with the data presented by SOIUZZAGOTPUSHNINA," the state's fur procurement agency. The result was a big victory for the conservationists; the SNK's decree No. 673 extended the ban on trapping desman to January 1, 1943, continuing a policy first set (at VOOP's initiative) in 1935. Lobbying continued for an all-Union structure for conservation as well as for the removal of responsibility for hunting matters from Narkomzem's Main Administration for Hunting and Breeding to an interministerial body.[74]

The Society cleverly called for adoption of the "newer methods" propounded by Academician Lysenko as a desirable replacement for the use of arsenic-based pesticides by the People's Commissariat of Agriculture. Such use had resulted in a massive die-off of birds, and a special trip was planned for 1940 to study the question in greater depth. Meanwhile, Iu. A. Isakov, a member of the ornithological section, conducted a study into the death of Black Sea waterfowl as a result of pollution by petroleum products.[75] Other research sponsored by VOOP included investigations of the decline of willow ptarmigan in Kalinin oblast' despite protection and of ways in which the Moscow-Volga canal affected avian life. The Society was heavily represented at conferences, symposia, and meetings of governmental advisory agencies.[76] Additional commissions on endangered species—walrus, sable, beaver, otter, tiger, polar bear, and others—were organized to influence public policy. New nature reserves were called for, and extensive areas were carefully surveyed and drafts were meticulously prepared.[77]

As Europe edged toward war in 1939, the Hitler-Stalin pact bought the Soviet Union a dual cushion of extra time and extra territory. The partition of Poland with Soviet absorption of its eastern half had tragic consequences for that country, not the least of which was the cold-blooded massacre by Stalin's secret police of almost 15,000 Polish Army officers in the Katyn forest of Belorussia. One zoological footnote to that terrible political drama, however, loomed large for Soviet field biologists: for the first time since 1923, wild pure-line European bison were living at liberty within the political


boundaries of the USSR, in the newly acquired Belovezhskaia pushcha reserve, formerly run by the Poles.

VOOP's membership continued its slow growth right up until the war. In January 1941 it stood at 2,960, although a major setback came when the People's Commissariat of Finance prohibited financial contributions to the Society by state or economic organizations in their capacity as "juridical members."[78]

Although the Society recognized that its small membership affected its public image and effectiveness, this was not viewed as a catastrophic problem. The Society's old guard instead put a premium on the individual, the amateur, and the enthusiast. "Their role is very great," the VOOP activities report emphasized, "and it may boldly be stated that wherever there are even one or two such enthusiasts the cause of conservation successfully develops."[79] Put in less sentimentalized terms, the nature protection movement, because it was a sanctuary for individuals of a certain social type, not only was uninterested in converting VOOP into a truly mass society; its raison d'être was to preserve the Society's clublike atmosphere, which guaranteed a safe and comfortable haven for "scientific public opinion."

World War II

The World War was an unparalleled cataclysm for the USSR. War ravaged not only the Soviet Union's vegetation and wildlife, but especially its people.[80] Among the tens of millions who perished were many conservation activists; some died at the front, while others, such as professors Andrei Petrovich Semënov-tian-shanskii, his brother Veniamin, and Daniil Nikolaevich Kashkarov, were claimed by the Leningrad siege and famine. Despite the hardships, nature reserve staff scientists and other conservation workers tried to save what they could while contributing to the war effort; work on natural substitutes for rubber and on vegetation cover suitable for airfields was vigorously pursued in the zapovedniki .

Even wartime conditions, which relegated conservation concerns to nearly last place in the national agenda, could not stop VOOP activists from finding ways to press their programs. V. M. Bortkevich, a longtime member, wrote a brief that sought to use the commemoration of battle and massacre sites as a means of expanding protected territories. The flagship of this system would be the Central Park of the Patriotic War, to be built near Kuntsevo, just west of Moscow. Other parks would commemorate the struggles of Rus' with the steppe peoples and the like. "The cult of our forbears ancient and recent, the recognition of their valor and great heroic deeds, that is the slogan for new zapovedniki  .  .  . of national honor and glory . . . and as a lesson and a warning to our enemies," he floridly concluded.[81]


Amid the mass evacuation of millions of citizens, institutes, whole factories, and ministries to the east, the war prompted another, unlikely evacuation. As Moscow fell prey to German air raids, zoologists worried about the denizens of the Moscow Zoo, some of which represented highly rare and endangered species. At the time, the RSFSR Main Zapovednik Administration held responsibility for the zoos of the Russian Republic in addition to the nature reserves, and so an agitated Nikolai Sergeevich Dorovatovskii, director of the Administration's Zoo Division, went hat in hand to RSFSR deputy premier Aleksei Kosygin, pleading for allocation of vehicles to transport the animals to safety. Ultimately, many were shipped out on rafts and other transport, but Kosygin could find no trucks or train cars that could accommodate the giraffes, which had to be left at the zoo. Sadly, they were soon killed by a bomb during a German air raid.

More than one hundred caretakers and scientists remained at the zoo to care for the 1,400 other, less valuable animals that were not chosen for "Dorovatovskii's Ark," and because Moscow, unlike Leningrad, still had decent food supplies, none of the animals starved. An elephant even gave birth to a calf in 1944, which prompted another visit to now-Premier Kosygin by Dorovatovskii, who suggested that the premier publicize the event to boost morale. (By contrast, the Leningrad Zoo's elephant died of starvation.)[82]

A little victory garden for the animals—mostly carrots and potatoes—was planted by the staff with an assist from prominent zoology professors V. G. Geptner, B. M. Zhitkov, Sergei Ivanovich Ognëv, and S. S. Turov, all of whom also tended to the animals themselves. Miraculously, there were no significant losses to cold, even in the monkey house, despite the zoo's low priority for fuel. Even the tropical birds survived.[83]

Other zoos were not so lucky. The Leningrad Zoo, understandably, suffered from the blockade of the city. The situation was much worse, though, in Ukraine, where in Kiev and Khar'kov the Nazis intentionally shot the zoo animals. Luckily for the European bison (zubry ), Hermann Goering was a sometime hunter with a Gothic sensibility. He ordered twelve of the beasts shipped off to his personal estate in Bavaria, which is how they alone escaped the general bloodbath; they were sent back after the war to the Polish side of the Bialowieza[*] Puszcza (Belovezhskaia pushcha) reserve and some of them ultimately were given to the USSR by Poland as gifts (see chapter 3).[84]

Wherever the Germans came across zapovedniki , they inflicted sadistic carnage. Happily, the hoofed mammals of Askania-Nova were successfully herded into the steppes of Kazakhstan, but the birds of that reserve were not so lucky: they all died by firing squad. By a bit of good luck, the Germans were never able to penetrate the Kavkazskii zapovednik in the North Caucasus, only reaching as far as the reserve's borders.[85]

On a less lurid note, VOOP was able to print up two large print runs


of posters urging care to prevent forest fires and some assorted brochures. Beekeeping courses continued to be offered by leading specialists; evidently, it had its appeal. There were sixteen on-site classes with a total of 879 students, not counting three advanced groups with 126 and five correspondence classes with 364. Next most popular was a class in poultry-raising and the breeding of small-sized stock with 315 enrollees, in third place were the orchard and vegetable-growing classes with 295 each, and pisciculture was last with 31 students. However, the Moscow Soviet—which bore serious food-supply responsibilities during the war—was dissatisfied with the low numbers in the vegetable-growing classes, and by an order of January 13, 1943, sixteen new vegetable-growing groups were organized and one new group of stock-raisers, which were completed by 484 enlistees. Altogether, 2,236 students took these victory-garden classes, learning to keep up supplies of honey, cabbage, chickens, and potatoes for the hard-pressed Soviet capital. In addition, classes to help citizens identify medicinal and other important wild-growing plants were organized in Moscow, Gor'kii (Nizhnyi Novgorod), and other cities.[86]

The Achievements of the Zapovedniki

Although the network of ecological zapovedniki prospered during the 1920s, by the mid-1930s their unique status as inviolate ecological research centers was critically impaired. Economic ministries, notably the People's Commissariat of Agriculture, derided the ecological reserves for pursuing "science for science's sake" and sought to incorporate them into their own networks of zapovedniki , which pursued the more narrowly utilitarian goals of maximizing the propagation of selected, economically valuable species of wild animals. Cultural revolutionaries denounced the reserves as "havens" for the despised species of "bourgeois academics." Isaak Izrailevich Prezent, a close collaborator of the notorious charlatan agronomist T. D. Lysenko, accused the zapovedniki of leading a counterrevolutionary resistance to such key economic programs as collectivization and acclimatization (introduction of exotic animals and plants) under the cover of scientific argument. Although we may deplore Prezent's political thuggery, we must acknowledge that there was more than a grain of truth to his charges.

Owing perhaps to Prezent's potent political connections as well as to Stalin's desire now to favor only those scientific findings that supported his economic and social policies, Prezent's attacks proved the most telling. Through his direct involvement, the highly innovative work in trophic dynamics of Stanchinskii at the Askania-Nova zapovednik was abruptly ended (after which the ecologist was arrested in 1934), and Prezent served notice


that holistic ecological doctrines that asserted limits to humans' ability safely to transform nature were now to be regarded not only as flawed but as devised by the "class enemies" of Soviet socialism. For an unrelated reason (discomfiture with mathematics), Prezent also announced the unsuitability of attempts at the formal, mathematical description of biological phenomena. Both of these measures, in the words of two of Stanchinskii's students, had the effect that "theoretical research in biology, including ecology and biocenology, was excluded from the work plans not only of Askania-Nova but also of all scientific institutions for two decades at the very least."[87] Although this assessment seems exaggerated, especially for the period after World War II, there is no doubt that severe damage was done. With the exception of the bold interdisciplinary studies of the fir forest directed by Stanchinskii in the Central-Forest zapovednik until his final arrest in late June 1941, community ecology, particularly its theoretical side, was indeed stunted by Prezent's attacks.

Ironically, just before theoretical ecology's development became subject to attack, there was a growing tendency among a few ecological thinkers to emancipate themselves from a priori judgments about the nature of the ecological community. Indeed, it can be argued that such seminal thinkers as Stanchinskii and the geobotanist Leontii Grigor'evich Ramenskii were approaching the sophisticated view that the biocenosis was just another useful category we impose on nature to make it comprehensible and manipulable. At first, Ramenskii waged total war on what he believed to be the idealistic conception of the natural community. In his earliest view, vegetation was an unbroken continuuim, whose patterns of species distribution could be explained on the basis of environmental gradients rather than on the basis of the structure of some mystical community.[88] Ramenskii admitted the conditional utility of the community concept, but only so long as its arbitrary nature was clearly recognized: "In connection with the multifaceted inexhaustibility of phenomena there does not exist nor can there be a single all-embracing classification of them, fitting for all times and situations. In fact, such a classification system is not desirable. We need taxonomies firmly linked to specific objectives, helping to solve definite scientific and economic tasks."[89] Stanchinskii, for his part, in the years just prior to his arrest, had been moving strongly away from the view of the biocenosis as "closed." Migratory animals and birds participate in multiple systems, he pointed out, precluding absolute closure. Rather, his trophic pyramids (food webs) were only "loosely ordered systems," to use R. H. Whittaker's term.

Neither ecologist's colleagues were receptive to these de-idealized views of nature, however.[90] And these views were too sophisticated for induction in the service of the regime's crude nature-transformism. Consequently, for more than a decade a theoretical vacuum surrounded a sullen and silenced camp of holists and a tiny, ignored band of antiholists. The policing of bi-


ology by Prezent and Lysenko, combined with the pervasive fear among scientists and editors, all conspired to impose an unnatural silence over ecology, so recently brimming with discussion. This meant that members of the conservation movement continued to take on faith the scientific-ecological justifications for zapovedniki , just as nature protection's adversaries took on faith transformist beliefs.

The zapovedniki , while continuing to increase in number, were in some cases unable to avoid becoming bases for the very radical transformation of nature that their establishment originally had sought to prevent. As the price of the reserves' survival, Makarov felt that he had no choice but to renounce their prior official policy of inviolability. As concessions to Prezent and other critics, acclimatization of exotic fauna and flora proceeded apace together with such other aggressive management techniques ("biotechnics") as predator and pest elimination, winter feeding of select species, and measures designed to change the mixes of tree and shrub species in some reserves to more economically advantageous ones. Incidentally, the biological concepts of conservation's critics, despite their utilitarian and commonsensical ring, were just as speculative and politically motivated as those of the movement scientists.

Despite the crippling political ravages, the 1930s and 1940s were years of solid and occasionally brilliant achievement for Soviet field biology. Much of the best work was done in the zapovedniki . Although that work is not the subject of this book, we may note the contributions of Nasimovich and Formozov on the role of snow cover in animal ecology, that of Kashkarov on the ways in which burrowing mammals influence soil development and, consequently, vegetational cover, and that of Stanchinskii, Rode, and their colleagues on the influence of decomposers on the specific development of soil microenvironments, to name just a few examples.

It is sometimes said that the practitioners of many trades and disciplines are self-selecting. There is a strong suggestion that those who commit themselves to biological field research have a deep and abiding love for the outdoors and an attraction to studying life in its unfettered state—"in the wild." This may be an indicator of an even broader stance toward freedom: the aversion to seeing any life forms—including humans-enchained or oppressed.[91] The entomologist Andrei Petrovich Semënov-tian-shanskii reflected this set of values, as Anton Struchkov reminds us, when he said that "freedom is necessary for nature as it is for humans."[92] Perhaps no one has made this point as strongly as Feliks Robertovich Shtil'mark, when he critiqued me for making too crisp a distinction between "scientific-ecological" and "aesthetic-ethical" camps of nature protectors:


I am convinced that the aesthetic (ethical or emotional) approach somehow invisibly is present in all matters linked with nature protection, even if arguments of a completely different cast are uttered or written. The crux of the matter is how any given individual relates to the world around him or her and what their personal attitudes about nature are. It seems to me that Soviet (and, perhaps, international) scholarship completely underestimates the emotional-personal factor. But numerous examples may be held up to show its decisive significance—examples of how particular problems in the sphere of nature protection were solved not on a strictly scientific basis but precisely on an emotional one, conditioned by the concrete attitudes on the part of specific individuals to natural objects. There can be no doubt that the productive activity of such prominent biologists as G. A. Kozhevnikov, I. P. Borodin, V. N. Sukachëv, and many others, including N. I. Vavilov and V. I. Vernadskii, drew their inspiration from feelings of deep love for the nature of their birthplace, from that 'emotional-ethical factor' over which our author [D. Weiner] as an objective historian feels duty-bound to pronounce a harsh sentence. . . . And here too, officials of the agencies concerned with zapovedniki such as V. N. Makarov or F. F. Shillinger fought to create new zapovedniki not only owing to the requirements of their jobs, not only out of bureaucratic calculations, but from their own convictions, their purely emotional strivings to save protected [zapovednye] corners of Russia.[93]

I now strongly agree. Not by chance did the field biologists, in their litanies of justifications for setting aside inviolable tracts in zapovedniki , frequently smuggle in the "aesthetic" justification, despite the fact that such an argument was unlikely to win any points with the regime. As for Makarov, who tried mightily (and successfully) to acquire a high level of biological literacy, there is no longer any doubt about his deep emotional attachment to nature. A letter of his to the ornithologist Georgii Petrovich Dement'ev from his home village, Lunëvo, where he was vacationing in the summer of 1934, reveals some of this: "How am I relaxing? I take walks in the forest, gather strawberries, blackberries, and wild raspberries. I go fishing more rarely because the rods are not too good. And I read some in biology. . . . I'm feeling well, I'm relaxing, and I must confess that I have not fretted the absence of more serious work or other distractions of an urban variety. Twelve days have passed by like a breeze."[94] For its later inductees such as Makarov no less than for its adepts, field biology was a "calling" in the fullest sense of that word. As a corporate social identity it was tailor-made for those whose inner selves did not fully subscribe to the modernist impulse to completely control the world around us and who clung to ideals of professional mission and status in a society whose rulers sought to obliterate them.


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