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Environment in the Soviet Bloc Dr. Zoltán Grossman Dr. Zoltán Grossman Assorted Cabbage-Eating Peoples Studies, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington.

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Presentation on theme: "Environment in the Soviet Bloc Dr. Zoltán Grossman Dr. Zoltán Grossman Assorted Cabbage-Eating Peoples Studies, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington."— Presentation transcript:

1 Environment in the Soviet Bloc Dr. Zoltán Grossman Dr. Zoltán Grossman Assorted Cabbage-Eating Peoples Studies, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington

2 Environment in Russia

3 Environment in Soviet Central Asia

4 Engels’ Dialectics of Nature (1883) “We by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature--but that we… belong to nature and exist in its midst…” belong to nature and exist in its midst…” “We are…getting to know both the immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature…. The more will men not only feel, but also know, their unity with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and anti- natural idea of a contradiction between …man and nature.”

5 Rosa Luxemburg (1917)

6 Soviet Central Planning “The means—industrialization— came permanently to replace the end—egalitarianism—as it was…expressed in the Bolshevik Revolution.” (Bailes) Economic decisions made not by workers’ self-management, but central planners insensitive to local communities’ needs

7 USSR was worse than West 2.5 X air pollution of U.S. (per GNP) 20% water unsafe 1/3 of arable land affected by acid rain Etc., etc.

8 Why Soviet bloc was worse Stalinist heavy industry Expansion of agriculture –Khrushchev: “Virgin Lands” “Inexhaustible” resources in large empire/bloc Sacrifice for defense of Communist state

9 Why Soviet bloc was worse Little or no free opposition Secrecy; lack of enforcement Only capitalism harms nature Need to “catch up” with (historic) West & capitalism

10 Why Soviet bloc was worse State legitimacy, self- sufficiency through technology Aviator heroes, 1920s-40s Space Race, 1950s-60s

11 Soviet Technocracy Technocratic institutions had the ear of the Kremlin (Konrád / Szelényi) Leaders technicians; questioning of technology prevented 80% of Politburo had high technical education, 1970s. Many Western-recognized Soviet dissidents were also technocrats (Sakharov, etc.).


13 Aral Sea Once the 4th largest inland body of water in the world. A series of dams was built to irrigate cotton. Aral Sea reduced to about 25% of its 1960 volume, 4x salinity wiped out the fishery. Pollutants became airborne as dust, causing significant local health problems.

14 Amu Darya Size of Aral Sea Kara Kum Canal Environmental damage estimated at $1.25 -$2.5 billion a year. Interbasin water transfers (river diversions) Aral Sea

15 BLACK SEA Sea of Azov Don R. Crimea Ukraine Georgia Turkey Dnieper R. Danube R. Bosporus Russia Romania Moldova Dniester R. Bulg.

16 Sea of Azov Metals plant on Dnieper River Eutrophication (Algae growth)

17 Lake Baikal Environmental objections to paper mills as early as 1960s Network with Lake Superior

18 Gabcikovo Dams, Slovakia Conflict, protests between Slovakia and Hungary over diversion of Danube River in Gabcikovo/ Nagymaros project

19 AIR & LAND Kola Peninsula, NW Russia

20 Black Triangle GDR CZECHOSLOVAKIA POLAND Devastation from acid rain, SO2, toxics

21 Pop., 1870

22 Pop., 1910

23 Canals & RR, Pre- 1914

24 Industry 1945- 1989

25 Donbass & Kuzbass Donbass coal fields, E. Ukraine Kuzbass coal fields, W. Siberia

26 Kalmykia European Buddhist Mongols Desertification Chemicals/ Salinization Oil development

27 Sakha (Yakutia) Siberian indigenous Coal, metals mining Logging

28 Noril’sk nickel smelter

29 Arctic Haze and Acid Rain

30 Kola Peninsula Acid rain, Mining, Nuclear subs scuttled MILITARIZATION

31 Toxic Soviet military bases Abandoned Soviet military bases in Central Europe, ex-GDRhave toxic wastes (like U.S. bases elsewhere.)

32 Sverdlovsk anthrax, 1979 Bioweapons disaster, 79 cases (66 dead) in Yeltsin’s district

33 Bombing civilian chemical plants Toxic cloud after NATO bombing of Pancevo plant in Yugoslavia, 1999

34 1 st uranium mines in Czech Rep. Maria Sklodowska Curie, Polish-French scientist who discovered radium from Czech mines, 1890s

35 Uranium mining in Hungary Roma (Gypsy) kids playing on radioactive mill tailings from Soviet uranium mine in Pécs (Like Native American kids in US). Mecsek Range miners threatened to flood mine in 1956 Revolution

36 Soviet nuclear tests in Kazakhstan Kazakhs protest, network with Nevadans for 1996 ban Genetic defects near Semey (Semipalatinsk)

37 Kyshtym waste disaster, 1957 –Explosion at Soviet weapons factory forces evacuation of over 10,000 people in Ural Mts. –Area size of Rhode Island uninhabited; 30 villages demolished; many cancers reported Orphans

38 Novaya Zemlya

39 Chernobyl disaster, April 1986 NUCLEAR POWER


41 400 million people exposed in 20 countries


43 “It Can’t Happen Here”: West Mirrors East U.S. reaction to Chernobyl, 1986 –Blamed on Communism, secrecy, graphite reactor Also Soviet reaction to Three-Mile Island, 1979 –Blamed on Capitalism, profit, pressurized-water reactor US, Soviet industries covered for each other –No technology is 100% safe –Fukushima 2011 due to corporate profit & state secrecy

44 Soviet media reaction to Three-Mile Island, 1979 Literaturnaya Gazeta: Pennsylvania near- meltdown was a “serious, major accident.” Kommunist: Build nukes in less populated areas. Izvestiya: “essentially minor unfavorable consequences were depicted in an extremely exaggerated form,” by an antinuclear movement that is a “tool” of Western oil companies (!)

45 Half of deaths, many genetic defects in local contaminated zone 8,000-10,000 premature deaths United Nations Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), 2005

46 My grandmother, by Luda

47 Death of my life, by Marina

48 Chernobyl is war, by Irena

49 Beauty and the beast, by Helena

50 Nothing escapes radiation, by Irena

51 Chernobyl, our hell, by Eugenia

52 Self-portrait, by Natasha

53 Chernobyl’s political fallout Secrecy stimulated opposition to nuclear power in GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia (with Western activists) Stimulated nationalism in Ukraine and Belarus, and Baltic republics that lost clean-up workers (strike by angry Estonian conscripts). Gorbachev’s Glasnost (openness) stronger in short-term. USSR weakened in long-term by questioning of the heart of technocratic power; collapsed within 5 years.

54 Nuclear plants in Europe

55 Transitions to Capitalism Central Europe best world region to study transition from state-run socialist economy to privatized capitalist economy Transitions uneven within and between different countries State & global institutions still play roll in economy Move from Primary/Secondary to Tertiary/Quaternary economy

56 1. Primary economic activities Extracting raw materials

57 2. Secondary economic activities Processing and manufacturing materials

58 3. Tertiary economic activities Sales, exchange, trading goods and services Stock exchange Call Centers Tourism

59 4. Quaternary activities Processing knowledge and information

60 Positives since end of USSR Democratization: NGOs, data Decentralization: local sensitivity Deindustrialization of old areas Expanded national parks Protection laws stronger by 1993

61 Negatives since end of USSR Financial difficulties; jobs stressed Reduced monitoring, enforcement Increased affluence, cars, waste Forests, mines, oil open to foreign companies Putin dismantled agency, 2002

62 Caspian Sea Western, Russian oil and gas companies in Caspian Basin

63 Oil spill off Baku, Azerbaijan Caspian Sea Caspian sturgeon and its caviar Caspian Seal in Kazakhstan

64 Clear-cutting in Siberia Japanese and South Korean companies take advantage of Yeltsin’s “fire sale, ” 1990s International campaign to protect Amur Tiger near China Putin restricts foreign companies, 2010s

65 Other positives in Central Europe Ecological activists in transition –Slovenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, etc. Increased spending in some states Pollution control technology Loss of markets in USSR Entry into E.U. standards 2000

66 Cleaner air and water, 1990s Because of capitalist market reforms (Bochinarz) or in spite of them? Due to deindustrialization of heavily polluting military plants? Due to severe recession? Due to end of censorship? Due to E.U. standards?

67 Natural Gas dependency Russian cutoff to Ukraine, EU, 2009

68 New problems under capitalism Profit motive for corporate secrecy –Need for strong regulation during time of weakening state and privatization. Foreign companies not accountable –Go bankrupt when face penalties –Power transferred from COMECON to WTO Market-based models for regulations –Emissions trading, carbon markets, etc. allow polluters to continue polluting

69 Tisza cyanide spill Australian-run gold mine in Romania, 2000 80% of fish in Tisza River / wetlands died, spill to Danube Hungary highest surface water flow on Earth, 85% ag, land, 96% rivers originate outside borders

70 Hungarian cyanide disaster fallout Czech Rep., Hungary, Montana, etc. ban cyanide in metallic mining; East inspires West


72 Cross-border Pollution Few mechanisms for cross-border pollution control in Bug R. between EU (Poland), non-EU (Ukraine), along new “Schengen Line”

73 Kolontár sludge disaster, 2010 Hungarian alumina plant toxic waste pond spills red sludge, kills 9, injures 150 Govt nationalizes, shuts plant

74 “Ecological Imperialism”? Western environmentalists imposing beliefs? –Like feminism, took decades to develop in West –East Bloc citizens had zero political or consumer choices Nationalists resent EU holding back development –Also resent polluting foreign companies Countries have their own ecological traditions –Village regulations of use of Commons; forest access Western, Eastern activists now have common issues

75 Nature & National Identity

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