Russia and the Environment

Environmental Activism in Russia
Posted by: , December 15, 2011, 1:39 pm
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During the Soviet period, the public sphere was largely controlled by the state, due to state control of resources.  Autonomous social action was prohibited.  Most public institutions and organizations were overtaken by state-sponsored organizations (youth organizations, party organizations, trade unions).  However, some semi-autonomous public organizations remained in the environmental sphere.  Due to the necessity for unbiased scientific research to create sound policies, natural scientists made up a separate role of “scientific public opinion” in politics.


Generally, Soviet law favored environmental protection, however natural resources were viewed only as fuel for industrialization.  Scientific research was frequently ignored in the development of state projects.  Another element of Soviet environmental policy was that resource use and development were evaluated by output quotas as opposed to measures of efficiency.[1]  By and large, citizens were little aware of environmental issues due to the secret nation of government actions and projects. [3]


Initially, environmental protection movements were centered in the All-Russian Society for Nature Protection (VOOP).  Later, this shifted to the Geographical Society based in Moscow, as well as the Moscow Society of Naturalists (MOIP).  Finally, the movement was based in student movements called Druzhina (student brigades for nature protection), student brigades based out of universities.

Druzhina member

VOOP and MOIP can be characterized as organizations operating semi-autonomously from state control.  However, the Druzhina movement must be characterized as a more grass-roots style organization.  It began as an initiative of MOIP in the 1960s, and by the 1980s included roughly 5000 members.  They worked to establish preserves of land, and conducted environmental inspections and monitoring, as well as anti-poaching campaigns. Other important players included the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and Komsomol.


Following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 (see post on Effects of Chernobyl), Gorbachev’s political reforms allowed public debate and citizen involvement in political reform, as well as allowing citizens to organize groups to address political issues.  This led in a rise in environmentalist activity, including petitioning, and demonstrations.  The halt of construction on many nuclear reactors, hydroelectric power stations and gas pipelines are attributed to these actions.


Environmental activism peaked in the period between 1989 and 1991, massively declining with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Yeltsin administration brought political support to environmentalism, however the disorganization of policymaking, and Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999 prevented any real results.  Under the Putin presidency social organizations were discouraged, while economic activity was encouraged, especially through the extraction of natural resources.  This has created a particularly unfriendly environment for social activism. [1]


Contemporary Activism


Contemporary activism in Russia occurs in three main forms: Civic, or grassroots, sponsorship by other groups, and through labor unions


Collaboration between movements is especially common in Russia, specifically in the role of fascist and anti-fascist groups

associated around right and left-wing political issues respectively. [13] [14]

Antifascist demonstrator


Environmental activism can be categorized into three main types: conservationism, reform environmentalism, and social environmentalism.  Conservationism is argued as the earliest form, and is usually enacted through government reform.  Reform environmentalism is based on scientific and legal approaches, with the purpose of encouraging the state to adopt environmentalist policies, and to hold government and corporate actors responsible for environmental consequences.  This is representative of large NGOs.  Social environmentalism in contrast, is non-institutional.  This type places responsibility for environmental and social issues on both governmental and economic systems.  This type is more representative of populist and grassroots groups. [4]


Environmental groups can be categorized into three groups.


Grassroots Professionalized Government affiliate
Projects *Environmental education and teacher support*Local environmental issues*Eco-spirituality *Biodiversity conservation*NGO support *Environmental enforcement*Biodiversity conservation*Environmental education*Green politics
Tactics *Contact with individuals*Disseminate information*Lobby government *Lobby the government*Disseminate information*Scientific research and monitoring*Cooperate on international projects*Publishing *Use bureaucratic channels*Scientific research and monitoring*Lobby the government*Contact with individuals
Partners *Local educational and cultural institutions *International donors and partners *Government agencies and bureaucrats


Some scholars argue that due to the current political climate, grassroots organizations are unable to lobby government, and that government affiliates do not in fact implement green politics.  Furthermore, that professionalized organizations (such as WWF-Russia, Greenpeace-Russia or the Socio-Ecological Union) are truly grassroots projects run under the umbrella of a professionalized name. [2]

Professional groups have also been established funded with government monies.  For example, Moscow group Ecological International has been established as an international fund for protection of the ozone layer.  However, the Ministry of Defense, and an industrial association support it financially. [3]

Many of the larger organizations for environmental protection are in fact foreign or global.  WWF, Greenpeace, The National Geographic Society, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as international corporations such as Exxon Corporation provide grants for environmental issues.  [3]


Civic activist movements in Russia owe their success to larger political conflicts.  The most successful campaigns have been targeted localized actions that have capitalized on existing conflicts within larger power structures.  In the case of rerouting a pipeline near Lake Baikal, as well as with ongoing protests surrounding the Khimki forest, grassroots organization and mass mobilization has been coupled with support from elite groups.  As well as political repression, the political apathy and distrust of citizens is cited as the primary obstacle to civil activism. [5]


Key Issues:


Khimki Forest (see post on Khimki Forest, and Deforestation)


Rechnik Dacha Village

Protestors and police clash at Rechnik


A dacha village located west of Moscow in the KRylatskoye region covering an area of 20 hectares.[6]  Founded in 1950, part of its territory was included in 1998

in the conservation area of Moskvoretsky park.  In a conflict over the legality of the village, the buildings were condemned to demolition.  Protests of residents resulted in a series of clashes with police. [7]  As of December 1, 2011 demolition had been halted but may resume. [8]


Lake Baikal


Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, located in southern Siberia.  Construction of a paper mill near the lake was planned in 1954, and protested in 1957.  Pollution from the plant affects both the ecosystem of the lake, air quality around the plant, and the water quality of residents.  To this day, a debate continues on the continuation of the plant. [9]  Protests and rallies have been held across Russia against the reopening of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill. [10]

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A coalition of environmental organizations has been formed to halt pollution from the plant, and create an alternative and ecologically friendly industry in Baikalsk including WWF Russia (Moscow), Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk), Greenpeace Russia (Moscow), Movement of Civil Initiatives (St. Petersburg), The MSU Conservation Brigade (Moscow), Green Wave (St. Petersburg), The Socio-Ecological Union (Moscow), Biodiversity Conservation Center (Moscow), and Center of Expertise “ECOM” (St. Petersburg) [11]  Despite public outcry, production was scheduled to resume at the end of February 2010. [12]


Works Cited


[1] Henry, Laura Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia


[2] Yanitsky, Oleg Review of “Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia” Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews


[3] Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn Environmental Activism: A Reference Handbook


[4] Dolutskaya, Sofia Environmental Activists as Agents of Social Democratization: A Historical Comparison of Russia and Mexico…/D_Dolutskaya_Sofia_a_200912.pdf?…1


[5] Nikitin, Vadim The New Civic Activism in Russia, The Nation



















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