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East Side Story of Ecological Globalization

Conference (Regensburg, Germany)

16.05.2017 – 17.05.2017

Location: Leibniz-Institute for East and Southeast European Research, Room 319 (3rd floor), Landshuter Str. 4, Regensburg

Conveners: Melanie Arndt (IOS Regensburg), Ulf Brunnbauer (IOS Regensburg), Marc Elie (CERCEC/CNRS-EHESS Paris), Bernard Ludwig (ANR, Paris)

Sponsors: Rachel Carson Center, Agence nationale de la recherche, DFG, EcoGlobReg, Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, University of Tübingen,  Le Centre d’études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen (CERCEC) / Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Paris

Many historians, social scientists, and others have explored the extensive environmental degradation and the rapacious exploitation of natural resources under the Soviet command economy and their justification under socialist ideology. A number of them referred to ecocide or eco-nationalism, and many others wrote as if the capitalist system was without similar features of resource use, pollution, and the like. More recently, researchers of Eastern European environmental history have moved beyond these simplistic explanations of the causes and effects of the human and environmental costs under socialism to consider the broader international, transboundary and other features of human economic development. Several scholars have seemingly attempted to “greenwash” Soviet history, while others sought to place it in comparative perspective with the experience of other nations as a way to avoid sensationalism. Still, the place of Soviet environmental history in global ecological and environmental processes has yet to be thoroughly analyzed. The complex Soviet and East European socialist experience still lacks in grand narratives of the “age of ecology” (Worster).

The aim of this workshop is to integrate the ‘Eastern’ story into explanations of global environmental processes. Participants will explore the role that the Soviet Union played in an “ecological turn” of the 1970s, and what impact this had, in turn, on the Soviet Union. By the mid- to late-1980s, in the context of perestroika and glasnost, socialist nations experienced a rapid and extensive rise in ecological consciousness. Public activities took hundreds of thousands of people to the streets and contributed decisively to the de-legitimation of the rule of the Soviet Party state. Only a few years later, however, ecology had lost its mobilizing effect almost completely. The workshop will look at both the rise of this phenomenon and its decline in the 1990s after the breakup of the USSR.
Special attention will be paid to circulation of knowledge, practices, and policy choices. How were environmental degradation and the need for protection measures negotiated by state and non-state actors, and what triggered and changed conflicts? The workshop will ask for ecological contact zones that made comparison, exchange and interaction with the non-socialist world possible. Participants will also discuss the existence of distinct Soviet or Eastern European paths and specific socialist contributions to ecological globalization. What role did local, regional, national and international institutions play as facilitators or obstructionists and how did they interact with each other? What were the trajectories, dynamics and temporalities of these processes? Finally, the conference aims at disclosing blind spots both in terms of Soviet and global environmental history.

The workshop is the concluding event of the French-German research project “Contemporary environmental history of the Soviet Union and the successor states, 1970-2000. Ecological globalization and regional dynamics” funded by the French Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The workshop is organized in co-operation with the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Research (IOS Regensburg), the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Research, the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and Le Centre d’études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen (CERCEC) / Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Paris.