Preferred Citation: Weiner, Douglas R. A Little Corner of Freedom: Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c1999 1999.

Chapter Three— The Road to "Liquidation": Conservation in the Postwar Years

Chapter Three—
The Road to "Liquidation":
Conservation in the Postwar Years

One of the few bright spots for the scientific intelligentsia in the USSR's desperate struggle against Nazism was the internal liberalization of society, owing partly to the government's need to regain popular support and partly to its need to solidify its alliance with Great Britain and the United States. VOOP tried to consolidate the authority of "scientific public opinion" after the war and eagerly looked forward to celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its founding with a slightly belated congress. In April 1947, when the congress convened, and even in late October, when the Society and the movement celebrated V. N. Makarov's sixtieth birthday, VOOP's members still held hope for the cause and for the larger world. Few suspected that these brief years would be viewed in retrospect as a golden age.

With the end of the war in view, VOOP began to redirect its energies toward its prewar concerns and jettison the activities for the war effort that had dominated the previous four years. In January 1945 the Executive Council of the Society had requested that A. S. Shcherbakov, a Stalin associate of the USSR State Committee for Defense, take off VOOP's hands the Experimental Institute for the Rehabilitation of Wounded Veterans of the Great Patriotic War.[1] Reflecting the Soviet intelligentsia's expectations that the postwar period would bring the long-desired cultural and political relaxation seemingly augured by the regime's wartime policies, VOOP's vice president Makarov in March reported on nature protection groups in Great Britain, which provoked lively discussion and a request for an analogous report about the United States. Continuing his push for a reestablishment of international links, Makarov in June opened a discussion about the invitation of foreign guests to the Society's planned twentieth anniversary jubilee.[2]

Here, VOOP's leaders were again caught between hope and caution. The


most ambitious program, suggested by V. G. Geptner, included visits by foreigners to the Seven Islands (Barents Sea/Arctic Ocean) and Voronezh zapovedniki plus Kiëvo Lake. V. V. Alëkhin was more realistic, observing that a simpler excursion program within the Moscow area would place less strain on the Society's treasury and would not require the elaborate travel permits necessary to follow Geptner's plan.[3] Holding a congress of the Society, however, required express government permission, and bureaucratic delays frustrated the activists' hopes for a speedy convocation. Indeed, when the congress was finally held in April 1947, the invitation of foreign guests had become a moot point. The Cold War had already chilled the international atmosphere and dashed the hopes of educated Russians for the long-awaited liberalization.

A more immediate problem was filling the Society's presidency, left vacant with the death of the Academy of Sciences' president, V. L. Komarov, in December 1945. Because the Society's first two candidates—academician Nikolai A. Semashko, the People's Commissar of Health under Lenin, and academician Leon A. Orbeli, a prominent physiologist—declined for reasons still unclear, Makarov continued effectively to lead VOOP from his new position of acting president.[4]

VOOP's postwar activities were defined by continuing attempts to restore the autonomous, civilian ethos of the Society in the face of fiscal and political obstacles. When the Society's annual budget was examined by the Presidium in January 1946, it turned out that there was no budget line for "nature protection" per se. This motivated Aleksandr Petrovich Protopopov to raise the politically sensitive question of whether it was essential for the Society to continue to involve itself in tree plantings and forest management when "it should be occupied only with issues of nature protection," by which Protopopov meant protection of biota and the creation of nature reserves. Here, however, the Society was caught on the horns of a dilemma. Agreeing with Protopopov in principle, Makarov questioned where the bulk of the Society's income would come from if not from contracts with interested agencies and enterprises for landscaping and arboriculture. Was it not better, he asked, that the Society earn its funds by performing socially useful afforestation work rather than depending on "charity" from the government (which would also decrease the Society's autonomy)? Geptner added that if the Society refused contract work, its membership dues would not cover expenses, and the Society would run the risk of losing the contracting enterprises and agencies as "juridical" (institutional) members, whose dues represented significant income.[5] Maintaining the Society's viability, not to mention civic autonomy, seemed to entail a never-ending series of painful trade-offs, particularly when the choices pitted nature protection activism against the survival of the Society as an institution.

Undeterred by budgetary woes and formalities, however, the Society re-


sumed its energetic and independent-minded defense of nature. It energetically opposed specific assaults on natural objects, such as plans to drain historic Lake Glubokoe; in that instance, the Society won a big victory, saving the lake and even securing its inclusion in the new Moskovskii zapovednik .[6] Remarkably, considering the aura surrounding the recent veterans of the world war, the Society won its appeals to the RSFSR Council of Ministers and the Iaroslavl' oblast' government to impose an 80,000-ruble fine on members of the Military Hunting Society for illegal moose hunting.[7] The Society won other, less dramatic victories as well, including thwarting the attempt by the head of a game-procurement sovkhoz (state farm) to wipe out an ancient colony of beavers and saving patches of forest in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR).[8]

Saving the Zubr

Also at the initiative of the conservation movement one of the USSR's most strikingly successful efforts to rescue an endangered species was begun at the close of the war. The zubr , or European bison (Bison bonasus bonasus ), had been the Russian Empire's largest land mammal, its range limited to two widely separated, and geographically disparate, protected tsarist game preserves: the Belovezhskaia pushcha in western Belorussia and the Kubanskaia tsarskaia okhota (Kuban Imperial Hunting Preserve) in the north Caucasus. Winter forage had become inadequate for the herds in both ranges, however, and from the mid-nineteenth century special winter feeding by game wardens had become the rule. Even so, by spring the animals were thin and breeding rates were low: the animals were able to bear calves in the best case every two years, and often only once every five.[9] After birthing in May, calves nursed on mother's milk until the following June; winter feeding was critical to the survival of mother and calf.

Under this regime, the population of bison in the pushcha remained largely stagnant until World War I, when hostilities, a devastating epidemic, and poaching snuffed out the entire herd there. The Caucasus bison lingered until 1927, when the general climate of weak respect for the law in NEP Russia contributed to its extinction. Thus, on January 1, 1927, there were forty-eight European bison left in the world, in Swedish, Polish, German, Austrian, and Belgian zoos. The Duke of Bedford kept a small herd at Woburn Abbey, but these animals were hybrids with the North American bison. The most intensive efforts at breeding were led by the Polish professor Jan Sztolcman, who worked at the Bialowieza[*] Puszcza, which was then entirely in Polish territory, but his herd of thirty in 1929 had dwindled to nineteen in 1939, when Poland was partitioned; miraculously, only two died during the war.[10]


One of the largely unnoticed footnotes of the Hitler-Stalin pact was that it placed the largely coniferous forest in Soviet hands.[11] Perhaps at the urging of Geptner, Makarov quickly wrote to Kliment Efremovich Voroshilov, the Soviet defense minister, asking him to place the nineteen bison in a special breeding farm (pitomnik ) under special military protection. Likely owing to his passion for hunting, Voroshilov had become a patron of the nature protection movement. Here, those interests seemed to coincide, and Voroshilov dispatched a special commandant and a cavalry guard detachment to guard the woodland giants. (By contrast, Air Marshal Vershinin did not lift a finger to save the bison in the Ruminten pitomnik in Kaliningrad oblast' from extermination by Soviet airmen-hunters. All were killed.)[12]

The pushcha itself, an area of almost 130,000 hectares, was almost immediately added to the zapovednik system in June 1940, but with war imminent even the decree of the USSR Council of Ministers was no guarantee of the reserve's inviolability. American readers will recall the attempts of loggers to cut timber in the Olympic National Park during World War II. Analogously, the legendary aircraft designer Sergei Vladimirovich Il'iushin had written to the authorities asking to cut wood in the Belovezhskaia pushcha for aviation veneer. Voroshilov, no supporter of mechanized warfare, refused to grant Il'iushin's request. Perhaps Stalin should have appointed Voroshilov to be head of the Main Administration instead of defense minister![13]

The vagaries of politics now worked at odds with the aims of Soviet nature protection activists and scientists. Barely had the reserve celebrated its first anniversary when the German blitzkrieg ravaged the reserve and everything else in its path. Ironically, the huge losses of the initial weeks of the war, including the loss of the reserve, were a consequence of Stalin's arrest of leading military aircraft designers during the late 1930s, including Il'iushin, and of the dictator's and Voroshilov's idiosyncratic and fatally wrongheaded prejudices in the areas of military strategy and engineering.[14]

Of the bison hardest hit were the hybrid (European-American) bison mixtures in the Askania-Nova hybridization institute and Crimean reserve; all seventy bison died during the first two years of German occupation. Although the worldwide European bison population actually increased through 1944 to 146, the brutal last year and a half of war ravaged many of the breeding areas (many maintained by the Germans), and with peacetime the bison's numbers fell back to the 1937 level of eighty-four animals.[15]

Unlike the smaller American bison, which subsisted on huge quantities of grass, the European bison required forest nutrients: bark, oak twigs, and aspen. Curiously, two generations could survive on a diet of grass, but the third would die from nutritional deficiencies. Owing to their rarity as well as to the survival requirements of these colossal bovines, captive breeding seemed the most prudent first step toward a recovery of their numbers, despite the disappointing prewar Polish experience. Eventually, Soviet zoolo-


gists hoped to restore 1,500 zubry to the wild. For Makarov's Main Administration, supported by VOOP, this became a mission of the highest priority, heavily charged with symbolism. Not by coincidence were "bourgeois" professors of science ridiculed as zubry in their scientific zapovedniki during the Cultural Revolution. In the same vein, Daniil Granin's biography of Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeev-Resovskii, a giant of Russian field biology (population ecology and population genetics), was entitled Zubr , for that relict mammal symbolized the fate of the Russian prerevolutionary scientific intelligentsia for both its friends and its enemies.

Makarov entrusted zoologist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Zablotskii with overall leadership of the rescue operation (see figure 3). If anyone were to rescue the bison, a knowledge of their genetics would be essential. Zablotskii not only knew genetics; he had studied with the famous Nikolai Petrovich Dubinin.[16] He was also a diplomat by nature and worked well with people, although he never shirked from speaking out if the situation required it.

With Zablotskii on board, Makarov sent a note to Molotov, now foreign minister, alerting him to the urgency of restoring the European bison to viability. With the establishment of a new frontier with Poland, the USSR would recover half of the Belovezhskaia pushcha nature reserve. On November 12, 1946, at a meeting of the Central Council of VOOP, Zablotskii laid out his proposal to establish a breeding farm for zubry near Serpukhov, south of Moscow on the Oka, and gained the Society's support for a newly-created Bison Commission to approach the Russian Republic's Council of Ministers for funding and support.[17]

While trying to coordinate support from both the all-Union and the republic levels of government, Zablotskii had been conducting his own private diplomacy, involving officials of the Belorussian foreign ministry, Polish zoologists, and Makarov in his capacity as deputy director of the RSFSR Committee for Zapovedniki .[18] Thanks largely to his efforts, five pure-line bison—three males and two females—were donated by the Polish government to the Soviet half of the Belovezhskaia reserve in July 1946. A calf born to one of the females that September was an encouraging augury,[19] yet the experience of the war, including new epizootic infestations among the bison, and the need for genetic monitoring of such a small population both recommended a more controlled venue close to Moscow. Zablotskii continued to press for his plan for a breeding station near Serpukhov.

Finally, on April 11, 1947 the Bureau of the RSFSR Council of Ministers met to consider the bison situation. Both Shvedchikov, the official head of the Main Administration, and Makarov attended. Geptner, who was unable to attend, sent a written argument against keeping rare species in border reserves as too risky, and he supported Zablotskii's plan for a Moscow-area reserve with captive-breeding facilities. These arguments had swayed Makarov, who was unusually literate scientifically for a layman, and he asked that all



Figure 3.
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Zablotskii (1912–1996).

five pedigree bison constituting an additional new gift from the Polish government be transferred to the Prioksko-Terrasnyi zapovednik , site of the proposed breeding station. With the usual strong support of Deputy Premier Aleksandr Vasil'evich Gritsenko this package was approved by the Russian Republic leaders, and Zablotskii was soon on his way to Poland to see Zabinski, president of the Polish Bison Society, to nail down Polish approval for the transfer of these animals to the RSFSR.

Not one to simply take without giving, despite the USSR's overwhelming ability to dictate terms to its "allies," Makarov proposed a shipment of beav-


ers, Bactrian camels, moose, and other animals, including polar bears, to Poland in exchange. The Poles were very gracious and the new bison—three females and two males—were sent to their new home in 1948. Indeed, there seemed no end to Polish generosity: three pedigreed descendants of the Belovezhskaia line were delivered to Prioksko-Terrasnyi in 1951. In all the USSR received nineteen pedigreed European bison from Poland between 1946 and 1951, which represented no small contribution; on January 1, 1947, there were only forty-four such bison in Poland and ninety-three throughout the entire world.[20] By the 1970s, Zablotskii's labors had borne fruit for all to see: through 1980, 170 animals had been reintroduced into appropriate environments to start independent herds of their own.[21] Significant for us is the unusual initiative demonstrated by Makarov and the scientist-cum-diplomat Zablotskii as well as the independent diplomatic support they received from the leaders of the Russian Federation.

Conservation activists also had their share of disappointments. A Moscow region zapovednik first proposed in 1940 to be composed of eight separate tracts with an area of 50,000 hectares had been approved by the Moscow oblast' authorities that same year. The war delayed confirmation by the republic-level authorities, however, and only a letter to Kosygin signed, among others, by VOOP's president, Komarov, got matters moving again in mid-May 1944. In 1945 an "Oka River Interdisciplinary Commission" headed by Sukachëv delineated the exact territories to be protected. However, a last-minute objection by the Main Administration of Forest Protection and Afforestation to the inclusion of Pogono-Losinii ostrov, a patch of undeveloped forest to the northeast of the capital whose tongue extended into Moscow proper, impelled RSFSR deputy premier Aleksandr Pavlovich Starotorzhskii to remove the tract from the proposal; Losinii ostrov remained under the control of the objecting agency. Makarov and Protopopov wrote a memo to the RSFSR government on February 24, 1945, calling the forestry agency's objections "unfathomable and unacceptable" and arguing that only zapovednik status could guarantee the integrity of the largest forest in the vicinity of Moscow; if the tract were not included, the value of the zapovednik would be significantly reduced, they added.[22] Nevertheless, the exclusion of Losinii ostrov was not reversed.

Contrasting with the indifferent attitude of the central authorities in the Kremlin toward nature protection was the active support and patronage accorded conservation by the government of the Russian Federation and by individual oblasts. A local initiative, supported by a resolution of the Primorskii krai Executive Committee on October 23, 1945, sought to expand the Sudzukhinskii zapovednik from 138,000 to 32,000 hectares, allowing the


inclusion of the southern portion of the Sikhote-Alin mountains. This request was forwarded by Konstantin Shvedchikov to Russian premier Aleksei Kosygin, who speedily signed the change into law on January 4, 1946. Instructively, the letter two days earlier to Shvedchikov from Starotorzhskii announcing the decision revealed that Russia's leaders apparently endorsed the "etalon " rationale for zapovedniki ; the expansion was approved "in light of the fact that the existing territory does not represent fully the natural conditions of the southern part of the Primorskii region."[23] Kosygin also signed on to the creation of two completely new reserves, the Visim and Denezhkin kamen' zapovedniki .[24]

More dramatic support by the Russian Federation for its Main Administration for Zapovedniki came three months later, following a letter of April 30, 1946, from Ivan P. Bardin, a prominent metallurgical engineer and leading member of the Academy of Sciences, to Lavrentii P. Beria. In his note, Bardin sought the return of the Il'menskii zapovednik , hard by the crucial Cheliabinsk-Kyshtym facilities of Beria's nuclear empire, to the Academy, even though it had been under that institution's aegis for all of one year, 1935. The request for transfer worked its way through the USSR Council of Ministers and back to the Russian Republic, where Mikhail I. Rodionov had just succeeded Kosygin as premier. In his response to A. A. Andreev, Rodionov agreeably offered any assistance to the Academy in its research in the zapovednik , but firmly refused to approve the transfer. Perhaps because the dispute was between a scientific institution, albeit an all-USSR one, on the one hand, and a lower level of administration, on the other, the central authorities did not feel particularly invested in the outcome, and did not seek to overturn Rodionov's decision.[25]

Behind the modest gains of the postwar period was the cultivation of personal ties between the leadership of the conservation movement and that of the RSFSR and other republics, and more local politicians. Links between the political patrons of the movement and VOOP had been especially strong when Lunacharskii and Smidovich were in office, but had weakened with Lunacharskii's retirement and Smidovich's death, the subsequent great purge, and the war. Rebuilding them was a top priority for VOOP.

An important opportunity for conservationists to present their case in person to the RSFSR leadership arose with the decision by the Russian Republic to issue a decree on nature protection. A draft was solicited from VOOP and was discussed at a meeting of the Operativnoe biuro (Operations Desk) of the RSFSR Council of Ministers on August 9, 1946.[26] The draft, incorporated into a longer brief, was another attempt by activists to educate the political leadership. A short history of the conservation movement in Russia underscored the great promise of the late tsarist and Lenin periods left unfulfilled in the Stalin era. Rodionov and his colleagues were reminded that tsarist Russia was a participant in the first international con-


servation congress in 1913 and that the cause had been endorsed by such luminaries of Bolshevism as N. K. Krupskaia (Lenin's wife) and Lunacharskii in their day. But "not only among the population at large but among the leaders of the economic apparat as well attitudes toward nature here at best are based on primitive utilitarian positions." VOOP had succeeded in uniting within its ranks "all of the leading naturalists of the USSR," but their scientific understanding of the issues had not penetrated the general public and political leadership, whose "superficial and untutored observation" continued to regard natural resources as limitless.[27]

Three days later Makarov addressed a session of the Council of Ministers of the Russian Republic, making a strong case for increased political and financial support for VOOP, the zapovedniki , and conservation generally.[28] Claiming only 5,183 members in VOOP, Makarov urged the Council of Ministers to require local governments to provide support to VOOP branches. Additionally, he requested that conservation matters be raised routinely at all levels of government in the RSFSR as well as in the press, that an institute for the study of problems of conservation and nature protection be established, that a new RSFSR statute on nature protection be enacted, and that conservation be included at all educational levels in all programs of study. More specifically, Makarov requested permission to resume publication of Okhrana prirody , the release by Gosplan RSFSR of two tons of paper, a subvention of 150,000 rubles from the RSFSR Council of Ministers' reserve fund, a dependable printing plant from the system controlled by the State Publishers (OGIZ), and the convocation of a congress of the Society in December 1946. Perhaps Makarov's most controversial proposal, which, along with that to resume publication of VOOP's journal elicited a question mark in the margins by the premier's aide, was to replace the Main Administration for Zapovedniki with one that would also be responsible for broader questions of nature protection generally.[29]

One result of Makarov's appearance was the promulgation of a decree on September 25, that among other things, called for more scrupulous observance of conservation laws and principles, awarded VOOP a 100,000 ruble subsidy for expenses, and delegated to the Society together with the Main Administration for Zapovedniki the responsibility of drafting a law for nature protection in the RSFSR to be submitted to the Council of Ministers in January 1947.[30] Despite this recognition, militant members of the Society were dissatisfied with the decree. Geptner wanted to know why the decree made no mention of reviving the Society's journal, Okhrana prirody , which had already been approved in principle, while Giller deplored the decree's silence on the issue of paper supply, which was controlled by Gosplan of the RSFSR, concerns that had been included in the draft resolutions submitted by Makarov to the Council of Ministers at their meeting.[31]

Pursuant to these instructions the RSFSR Council of Ministers was soon


presented with two draft decrees on conservation, one from VOOP and the other from the Main Administration for Zapovedniki . Where the VOOP draft was broad, reflecting the scientific intelligentsia's pretensions to veto power over resource use, Shvedchikov's Main Administration's draft sought to limit the scope of the law to the territory of the zapovedniki , considering a broader bill unrealistic.[32]

This narrower bill, however, was rejected as well by the Bureau of the RSFSR Council of Ministers on June 3, 1947, and VOOP was asked to report back in a month with another draft law text. But as the slow wheels of the Soviet bureaucracy turned, changes in high politics raced on ahead, rendering moot the hopes of the immediate postwar period.[33] The RSFSR law was enacted only in 1960.

Among the greatest sources of frustration for the activists was the absence of a monthly journal. A journal was confirmation of the Society's social importance as well as an important vehicle for communication and bonding both domestically and with nature defenders abroad. In late 1946, Makarov and VOOP secretary Zaretskii wrote to the Press Department of the Central Committee about this. Coming after Winston Churchill's Fulton, Missouri address and a general souring of the international atmosphere, Makarov's letter could have been a serious tactical error, stressing as it did the importance of foreign models and foreign ties. In the absence of overt repression, however, those were concerns that Makarov and his colleagues were unlikely to disavow; international standing and a feeling of belonging to the world's scientific community were important mainstays of the self-image of these Russian scientists.[34]

Because it went so heavily against their hopes and their own sense of self, the nature protection activists were among the last to come to terms with the new isolationism of the Stalin regime. Although their request for a journal with a circulation of 50,000 to appear four times a year beginning April 1947 did not elicit an immediate response, by the following year, miraculously, Okhrana prirody (Protection of Nature) was off and running, albeit as an irregular anthology with a more modest print run—3,000 copies. Although any kind of approval might strike us as surprising, the Press Department of the Central Committee's decision reveals a capacity on the part of high Party bureaucrats to avoid "surplus repression"; perhaps, the Party censors thought, there was no harm in allowing these quaint activists a minor concession or two.

During these years of transition VOOP continued to be dogged by the pull of contrary aims: retaining its ethos as perhaps the country's sole remaining, intact defender of nauchnaia obshchestvennost ', or corporate scientific autonomy, and becoming an influential mass organization that would be well connected within the system. The ideal of nauchnaia obshchestvennost ',


it must be emphasized, was not a fully democratic one, for it regarded the educated—especially scientific—elite as the truly authentic and enlightened representative of all of society. Nor was it an all-out oppositional stance toward the regime; the scientist-leaders of VOOP tried to stay within the bounds of acceptable dissent, a threshold in continual flux. Dissent, then, became transformed into an elaborate theater of identity, where scientists could defend the ideal of nauchnaia obshchestvennost ' symbolically while avoiding the GULAG.

Yet, the scientist-leaders of VOOP also cared about nature, saw nature protection as a preeminently scientific problem within the realm of their expertise, and wanted to be effective. A draft of a letter from Makarov and Zaretskii to Andrei A. Zhdanov in 1947 illuminates this quandary. In it, Makarov and Zaretskii announced that VOOP was embarking on a new stage in its history, becoming a truly mass organization "while conserving its scientific base." For this, they sought a candidate for the Society's presidency who would enjoy broad public authority. Three political figures had been proposed as candidates: I. A. Vlasov, chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR; S. V. Kaftanov, RSFSR minister of higher education and prominent supporter of Lysenko; and A. V. Gritsenko, a deputy premier of the RSFSR and movement patron. However, all three candidates refused to allow their names to be considered without express agreement from the Central Committee of the Party. Hence the letter to Central Committee secretary Zhdanov.[35]

The choice for president ultimately settled on academician Nikolai V. Tsitsin, an early apparent supporter of T. D. Lysenko and sometime personal acquaintance of Stalin whose political reliability gained him membership in the Academy of Sciences and the directorship of the Academy's Main Botanical Garden in Moscow. Like Lysenko, Tsitsin was a botanist specializing in hybrids; on the surface he sometimes appeared to be more charlatan than scientist, a regime toady, and a Lysenkoist. Unlike Lysenko, however, Tsitsin was not a hopeless biological illiterate; consequently as Valery Soyfer has noted, his "attitude toward Lysenko shifted with the political winds."[36]

The choice of Tsitsin, which seemed to go against the overwhelmingly anti-Lysenkoist sentiments of the VOOP board and executive council, in fact followed both logic and tradition. The scientist-activists of the conservation movement had always turned to prominent and loyal public figures to serve as the nominal leaders of VOOP and the Main Administration for Zapovedniki , posts Makarov was unable to assume personally, in part because of his Socialist Revolutionary past.

Tsitsin turned out to have a few surprises up his sleeve. Competing with Lysenko for leadership in biology, Tsitsin attempted to exploit what in 1947 and early 1948 seemed to be a withdrawal of regime support for his rival. In


a letter of February 5, 1948 to Stalin, Tsitsin daringly revealed his opposition to Trofim Lysenko, writing apparently in response to a note from Lysenko that Stalin had asked to be sent to Tsitsin:

Many representatives of biological science in recent years have been living in an atmosphere in which they feel shut in, an atmosphere of fear of one-sided criticism and of biased exposition of many questions that have already been solved by them.

An organized discussion could identify much that is new and of value both for theory and for practice and could enable us to assess what is of value, to discard that which is not or which is actively harmful. A discussion might allow us to find a common line in tackling the problems of our agriculture.

That is why I consider Lysenko's formulation incorrect in principle as it has been presented in his letter. To demand acceptance by all scientists of our country of his scientific point of view as if it were a command to be obeyed, I would even believe, from the point of view of Comrade Lysenko's interests, is simply awkward and tactless.

I ask you, Comrade Stalin, to permit us to hold such a discussion at the nearest future time.


The same day, Tsitsin sent an extended scientific critique of Lysenko to A. A. Zhdanov, with a copy to A. A. Kuznetsov, in which he assumed an even more urgent tone:[38] "I may boldly state not fearing to exaggerate matters that the situation now is such that the normal development of biological and agricultural sciences . . . has become impossible without the intervention and serious assistance of our Party and government."[39] Tsitsin rejected Lysenko's characterization of his opponents as "reactionary scientists" and added dramatically: "If they agree with Comrade Lysenko, the Soviet people should then . . . deport to the camps such reactionary individuals, whose hands created our best . . . plant varieties, and, on the other hand, recognize as 'progressive' . . . the theory of Lysenko, on the basis of which, by the way, during the course of twenty years, not one acceptable variety has been produced, notwithstanding the numerous promises and loud assurances."[40] Wondering how Lysenko could be president of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Genetics, the Siberian Research Institute for Cereals in Omsk, and the Institute of Genetics and Selection in Odessa, as well as editor of Agrobiologiia , all while holding grossly erroneous views, Tsitsin accused his rival of "surrounding himself with a claque of unscrupulous individuals" and charged that Lysenko had transformed Vaskhnil into "a vacuous bureaucracy, excluding all scientists except his own loyalists."[41]



Figure 4.
Delegates to the VOOP Congress, 1947.

Tsitsin then debunked Lysenko's vague and primitive Lamarckism and stated: "Such 'dialectical materialism' as exemplified by Comrade Lysenko, in philosophical language, has to be called metaphysics."[42] From the standpoint of scientific argument, Tsitsin's extended critique of Lysenko was passably coherent, reflecting a far greater ability to cope with questions of genetics and developmental biology than his intellectually stunted rival, who excelled only in deviousness, theatrics, and imagination. To his credit, Tsitsin also protected a limited number of plant geneticists at the Botanical Garden. The VOOP scientists hoped, no doubt, that he would play the same role for them. All in all, the chudaki of the nature protection movement proved surprisingly adept at this high-stakes chess game of survival and social identity.

The VOOP Congress of 1947

The long-awaited delegate congress—nine years after the previous one—was brought to order by Makarov on April 26, 1947 (see figure 4). Delegates elected a working presidium and an honorary one (the Politburo) and, after a greeting by Old Bolshevik F. N. Petrov, commenced its real work. One of the more memorable addresses was that of Susanna N. Fridman, the longtime secretary of VOOP from its founding through the war, who voiced the feelings of the founders' generation: "We are the generation already exiting from life." She had not come to the tribune, however, simply to pass the baton. A bigger question was on her mind: "Is nature protection, or, more


correctly, the survival of wild nature and its blossoming, compatible or incompatible with our quickly changing culture and civilization?" "Science," she continued, "has answered that it is compatible, and, I would go further, that if that is not the case our science is worthless, empty, and, as theory, holds no water. We know a great deal, but if we cannot [make the survival of wild nature compatible with culture], then that which we know wasn't worth knowing."[43] With these remarks Fridman had exposed—for a remarkable instant—the submerged tension between ethics and science within the nature protection cause. Because nature was held to have a normative, healthy state that was identifiable by scientific experts, the scientists who led the nature protection movement promoted the view that nature protection was a fundamentally scientific problem. But Fridman was suggesting that nature protection was fundamentally a problem of values and ethics; science as a system of social knowledge and organization could be fundamentally flawed in its ethical vision, in which case it was important openly to defend more compelling alternative ethical positions. Taken to its logical conclusion, Fridman's talk raised the question of whether the Russian nature protection movement wished to represent scientific opinion or a broader public opinion in the spirit of Russian moral and political activism from Radishchev to Tolstoi to the Marxists and other socialists. Although outweighed in the leadership by scientists, nonscientists such as Fridman, Krivoshapov, Protopopov, and, to a certain closeted extent, Makarov always represented a minority within the movement who viewed nature protection as a civic and ethical imperative rather than as a defense of part of the empire of science, however sacred. It was rare, though, to hear this explicitly; the scientists' hegemony within the movement was nearly total. That was not surprising: openly ethical speech was far more dangerous under the Soviets than scientific speech, which tended to submerge its ethical positions.

In line with her wider conception of nature protection as the problem of protecting life itself, Fridman—as Makarov had done earlier—raised the call for replacing the Main Administration for Zapovedniki , which she characterized as just another economic agency, with something broader and more authoritative to handle conservation policy questions. "Nature protection is a momentous question," she averred, "not only of international but of planetary importance," but it has become "not only unpopular, but, in fact, odious. And that is our failure." Challenging all sorts of narrow orthodoxies and emphasizing the moral poignancy of the issue, Fridman called for a new educational offensive by activists fueled by an independent moral vision. "I must declare that in our Union we must engage in nature protection with pure and burning hearts and with passion," she proclaimed, for, among the broad masses, "no one has any conception of the sweeping scope of this cause or its crucial importance for the whole world. We must enter the international arena. Life itself urges us that way." In perhaps the


ultimate heresy, she concluded that "it is not necessary for us to wage a struggle with the world of private property over those specific problems which those societies have already successfully tackled."[44]

Perhaps inspired by Fridman, Krivoshapov was equally blunt in his critique of Soviet economic and ideological rigidity: "We have a planned economic system, but there is no sense to it. We write laws, focus our attention on delineated issues, but things never get further than producing a document." The only way out, he said, was to raise VOOP's status to the all-Union level and generally to elevate the level of culture of young adults, focusing on the middle schools.[45]

On the morning of April 28, the congress held its final session to hear the concluding remarks of the Society's acting president. Remarkably, Makarov tentatively engaged the difficult questions raised by Fridman and Krivoshapov. Addressing the questions of education and youth, he urged the adoption of a prewar Estonian statute that required those seeking certification as teachers to pass a special exam in problems of nature protection and natural history. "We, of course, have had nothing like this in memory," he lamented, courageously holding up a "bourgeois" legal precedent as a model. Perhaps his courage, like Fridman's, was stimulated by the realization that "the old guard is little by little leaving its posts . . . and our ranks are thinning."[46] Would there be a new generation to which the founders could pass the torch? The Society's demographics were far from encouraging, for there had been no appreciable influx of young people into the Society in the two years following the war.

Last, Makarov touched on aesthetic questions of nature protection, which were ideologically among the most sensitive for Soviet conservation. "I here would like to fully associate myself with the comments of Comrade Bogdanov of the Bashkirian ASSR and consider that the aesthetic importance of nature protection must not be sidelined from VOOP's field of action. We must care for and protect not only the paintings of Kuindzhi, Shishkin, and Levitan, which we treasure as works of great aesthetic value, but those natural scapes that inspired Kuindzhi, Shishkin, and Levitan."[47] "I have always been amazed," he continued, "that people are conscious of the value of these products of human creativity but find it impossible to perceive the beauty of nature and protect the actual nature [that inspired these paintings]."[48]

Makarov then shared a personal recollection:

I sometimes recall a particular time in my life when I was in the Crimea; there I used to be terribly struck and upset by the following picture: a few lonely pines standing on a high precipice. That scene had always upset me, and I was traveling once with a friend with whom I would frequently talk about things, and he was perplexed by the power of a devastated forest to upset me. "Why does that scene touch you so?" he asked. "It would be nice to build a beautiful palace where those pines now stand." I answered him that the palace


might indeed be beautiful and that it might captivate me for the moment, but that I might not pay it any attention the next time. But I could see pines ten times and they would still stir me, because they tell much . . . because they are more valuable to me than a palace built in their place. It seems to me that we love nature through its specific examples, and, loving nature, we also love our homeland. For that reason, it is in the interests of the homeland and of cultivating love for it that we must care for the preservation of the most ancient examples of our own land's nature.[49]

During a final question and answer session, a number of delegates asked about past and future press coverage of the movement. Makarov and other organizers assured the delegates that the entire domestic press, as well as overseas press representatives, had been informed about the congress. Makarov admitted that there were no articles in Pravda or Izvestiia , and promised to find out the reason for that. "Perhaps they are covering more important questions now than the work of our congress," he wryly observed.[50]

Tsitsin chaired the first meeting of the new Central Executive Committee, which met on May 15 to elect a presidium.[51] The scholarly secretary, Zaretskii, offered a list of eleven, which was immediately amended by M. A. Zablotskii to include V. G. Geptner, and by N. A. Gladkov to include S. N. Fridman and K. N. Blagosklonov. A proposal by Tsitsin to limit the nominees to the original eleven with an option to expand later was put to a vote, and passed over surprisingly strong opposition, sixteen to eight, with one abstention. Ratification of the eleven as a group then proceeded smoothly, with twenty-three in favor and only two abstentions.[52]

Under the new president, Tsitsin, and his first deputy, Makarov, the new Presidium of VOOP included a founder of the Society, F. N. Petrov, and long-time activists A. P. Protopopov, a retired agronomist, and ornithologist G. P. Dement'ev, who became second deputy president. D. V. Zaretskii was elected scholarly secretary, and the remaining members included I. S. Krivoshapov of the Main Spa Administration of the USSR Ministry of Public Health; the USSR minister of higher education, S. V. Kaftanov; the USSR minister of the timber industry, G. P. Motovilov; G. A. Avetisian, an expert on bees at the Academy of Science's Institute of Evolutionary Morphology; and the Moscow University geology professor Vera Aleksandrovna Varsonof'eva.[53]

Although VOOP was not given the opportunity by the regime to celebrate either its twentieth or twenty-fifth anniversaries, one anniversary was warmly marked: V. N. Makarov's sixtieth birthday on October 20, 1947.[54] The presence of 285 people at the Executive Council meeting, a record crowd, testified to the genuine affection Makarov inspired. More than fifty greetings from agencies and societies were read, with an additional hundred messages from individuals and private groups. Makarov was truly in his prime, bathed in the appreciation and devotion of his colleagues and followers. A motion


was presented to make Vasilii Nikitich an honorary member of VOOP, a high honor in Russian academic culture. It passed unanimously.[55] And a handsome photograph of Makarov was included in the second fascicle of Okhrana prirody , which appeared in 1948.

Finally, 1947 was remarkable for the appearance of the first major popular work on nature protection in the USSR, Makarov's sixty-page soft-covered book, Okhrana prirody v SSSR . With its attractive cover showing bison peaceably grazing in an alpine meadow of the Caucasus zapovednik , where they were being reintroduced, the message of Nature Protection in the USSR was serious: if we continue destroying habitat we could put an end to evolution itself. To make this point as strongly as possible, Makarov cited a letter from Russia's great paleontologist V. O. Kovalevskii to his brother, dated December 27, 1871, in which Kovalevskii wrote: "The vertebrate kingdom, especially Ungulata [hoofed mammals] now is simply in flight, seeking refuge anywhere they may find it. There will be no place for them to develop and to evolve into new forms; for this they will need thousands of years of a free and unfettered existence."[56]

From the end of the war until the summer of 1948 was a transitional period, in which the dying embers of hope for a postwar liberalization could still occasionally be fanned. The new realities of the Cold War and of an almost airtight and militantly anti-intellectual isolationism began to be felt with the onset of the Zhdanovshchina (the Party's new campaign for culural orthodoxy, led by Central Committee secretary for ideology Andrei A. Zhdanov) in 1947 and, in the natural sciences, with the final battle over genetics that took shape during 1948.

Leonid Leonov and the Green Plantings Society

During the 1930s, under the banner of the "Green Cities" movement, groups of citizens focused their efforts on the cosmetic improvement of factories and urban neighborhoods through the planting of trees, shrubs, and flowers.[57] This was a far cry from the radical antiurbanism of Leonid Sabsovich and the original utopian theorists of "Green Cities" during the late 1920s and very early 1930s, but with monstrously dehumanizing industrial landscapes emerging out of the Russian mud, it was better than nothing.

The constituency for such a tame meliorist movement had grown by the end of the war. More important, the movement had found a spokesperson in Leonid Maksimovich Leonov, the author of some of the more memorable epic novels of the First Five-Year Plan. In 1947 Leonov published a long article in Izvestiia , "In Defense of a Friend." The friend was nature, specifically the Russian forest. He took to task municipal administrations that invested billions of rubles in urban greening but had nothing to show for it. "It


would be nice . . . more often to grab [these officials] by the buttonhole and take them on foot on a tour of their imaginary groves," he wrote sarcastically. "Let them admire . . . the pitiful remnants of their courageous armchair leadership." He issued a challenge to Moscow's authorities: "We must start this great crusade in defense of our Green Friend in Moscow."[58] Evidently, it worked.

In 1947, with the Moscow city government's support, the Main Botanical Garden, the Timiriazev Agricultural Academy, and other prominent institutions had joined together as the All-Russian Society for the Promotion and Protection of Urban Green Plantings, which, Leonov noted, had also gained the crucial support of the leadership of the Russian Federation. To help "our green friend" was not simply a matter of aesthetics or utilitarian self-interest, Leonov emphasized. It was a question of patriotism: "We took a collective vow in '17 making it our duty to transform our fatherland into a place more beautiful than all the Floridas and other capitalist Edens." Now, he wrote, "we have placed the issue before an all-national veche ," using the archaic term for the town meeting of medieval Rus'. Leonov's article is interesting on a number of levels, perhaps most because it foreshadows the attraction of Soviet patriots—later to become Russian nationalists—to that unparalleled symbol of the Russian land, the Russian forest.

By 1948 the first stage of Leonov's vision was a material fact. The chairman of the RSFSR Council of Ministers, Mikhail Rodionov, approved the charter of the urban greening society on June 23, 1948 and sent the materials to A. A. Kuznetsov of the Central Committee for final approval.[59] The president of the organizational bureau was Nikolai Aleksandrovich Maksimov, director of the Academy's Institute of Plant Physiology, and Leonov, who was also a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet, became vice president.[60] A local Moscow society, DOSOM (the Voluntary Society for the Greening of the City of Moscow), was formed as well.

DOSOM and the All-Russian Society for the Promotion and Protection of Urban Green Plantings (VOSSOGZN) would be curious footnotes to the great sweep of Russian and Soviet conservation history were it not for just those qualities that made them seem platitudinous and banal. When the heavy hand of state repression once again was raised against VOOP, Makarov's strategy of protective coloration called for a merger with those conformist societies: the subversive VOOP core would be shielded and disguised by the patriotic and trivial veneer of urban greening.

The Alma-Atinskii Zapovednik Problem

On June 12, 1948, the Main Administration for Zapovedniki of the Kazakh SSR sent a plea to the Expediter of the USSR Council of Ministers to stop


the Kazakh Ministry of Forestry from seizing a majority of the woodland belonging to the Alma-Atinskii zapovednik . A similar threat faced the Borovoe reserve, whose forests served to sustain natural climate and bathing water conditions at the nearby elite spa, Borovoe, which had housed much of the Academy of Sciences during World War II. To make matters worse, the forest ministry's plan, hatched in late 1947, redefined an additional large tract of steppe as "forest" to justify the seizure of that parcel as well.[61] In a letter supporting the plea of their Kazakh counterparts, the Presidium of VOOP concluded that the forestry's plan would constitute a "liquidation" of the two zapovedniki .[62]

Although it was unclear whether this was simply another of the numerous opportunistic depredations by "economic commissariats" on the reserves that were so common in the 1920s and early 1930s, or reflected the postwar crisis in fuel supplies, or represented something even larger and more ominous, the Kazakh forestry plan was the conservation movement's first serious challenge from a regime agency in more than a decade. An ominous sign was that the plan, an addendum to a Union-wide forestry decree, was passed by the USSR Council of Ministers on May 17. The last-minute protests by the head of the Kazakh Main Administration for Zapovedniki and of VOOP hinged on being able to engineer a rare emendation of existing legislation. They were not successful.

Another disruptive development was a decision by the Department of Agitation and Propaganda of the Central Committee to close down all small publishing houses attached to agencies and voluntary societies. VOOP's own facilities were closed on August 2, 1948 on order of the Moscow oblast' pub lishing authorities. In an impassioned letter to the Agitprop Department head Suntsov, Makarov protested that such a move "is tantamount to liquidating the activity of the All-Russian Society for Nature Protection, which has been in existence since 1924." Makarov argued that the Society was not receiving any publication subsidies and that the publication plan for 1948 had already been approved by the Central Committee's Press Department.[63]

A further disappointment came in December when Central Committee secretary and USSR deputy premier Georgii Malenkov turned down a request by Makarov and Aleksei Vasil'evich Mikheev, secretary of the Communist Party organization among the staff of the Main Administration for Zapovedniki , seeking to establish a scientific research institute for problems of zapovedniki and nature protection.[64] The proposal for such an institute had been kicking around since 1940, and had gained the important support of the Academy president, Sergei I. Vavilov, in November 1945.[65] Academician V. N. Sukachëv, Professor A. N. Formozov, and others moved it along in May 1948 in a letter to the chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, Ivan Andreevich Vlasov.[66] They even included as one of the research aims the study of the inheritance of characters acquired by wild animals and plants as a


result of "the actions of their conditions of existence (of the external environment)," which could be construed as at least rhetorical acceptance of a Lysenkoist view of heredity.[67] Such an institute, however, was clearly not a top priority for the Soviet regime, whose cities were still piles of rubble three years after the war. A deputy chairman of Gosplan of the USSR, A. Lavrishchev, one of those delegated by Malenkov to sort through this question and recommend a course of action, provided a terse justification for his negative conclusions: the zapovedniki already have perhaps 180 permanent scientists among them, with an additional eight attached to the Moscow-based Main Administration. Any scientific problems that they could not handle should be passed to the Academy of Sciences or institutes of the Ministry of Agriculture.[68] D. Shepilov and F. Golovchenko of the Central Committee's Department of Agitation and Propaganda, similarly asked by Malenkov to perform an analysis, contacted two Academy institute directors and the secretary of the Academy's Biology Division, Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin. Their conclusion was equally blunt: "The creation . . . of a special institute will only lead to parallelism in the organization of the study of living and nonliving nature and will encumber an unnecessary expenditure of state funds."[69]

Amid these disappointments were a few hopeful signs. By November 1948, after persistent lobbying, VOOP obtained a larger, permanent suite of offices, a move that required official approval of the USSR Council of Ministers.[70] Happily, the approval for the issuance of an official VOOP insignia pin (nagrudnyi znak, znachok ) was somewhat simpler, resting only with the more sympathetic Council of Ministers of the RSFSR.[71] Membership, too, seemed to be on the rise. The Sverdlovsk branch had about 2,000 members, the Kabardinian ASSR branch 500 plus another 1,500 in the youth section; there were 500 members in Saratov, more than 2,000 in Kazan', and 10,000 schoolchildren in Gor'kii.[72] And in 1948 the Society was finally able to restart publication of its journal, Okhrana prirody .

Yet the Society was suffering from an unmistakable malaise. In his report on the affairs of the Society from the 1947 congress to September 1949, Makarov struck an uncharacteristically doleful note. The number of branches had stagnated, Presidium attendance had fallen on average to only three or four, and the December 1948 Plenum of the Central Executive Council drew a meager eighteen on the first day and sixteen on the second. Only half of those council members present in Moscow bothered to come to hear Makarov's report.[73] Was it inertia, fatigue, or something else? To answer this, we turn to events unfolding in the larger society.


Chapter Three— The Road to "Liquidation": Conservation in the Postwar Years

Preferred Citation: Weiner, Douglas R. A Little Corner of Freedom: Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c1999 1999.