Red to Green

Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia

Laura A. Henry
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Red to Green
    Book Description:

    Environmental activism in contemporary Russia exemplifies both the promise and the challenge facing grassroots politics in the post-Soviet period. In the late Soviet period, Russia's environmental movement was one of the country's most dynamic and effective forms of social activism, and it appeared well positioned to influence the direction and practice of post-Soviet politics. At present, however, activists scattered across Russia face severe obstacles to promoting green issues that range from wildlife protection and nuclear safety to environmental education.

    Based on fifteen months of fieldwork in five regions of Russia, from the European west to Siberia and the Far East, Red to Green goes beyond familiar debates about the strength and weakness of civil society in Russia to identify the contradictory trends that determine the political influence of grassroots movements. In an organizational analysis of popular mobilization that addresses the continuing role of the Soviet legacy, the influence of transnational actors, and the relevance of social mobilization theory to the Russian case, Laura Henry details what grassroots organizations in Russia actually do, how they use the limited economic and political opportunities that are available to them, and when they are able to influence policy and political practice.

    Drawing on her in-depth interviews with activists, Henry illustrates how green organizations have pursued their goals by "recycling" Soviet-era norms, institutions, and networks and using them in combination with transnational ideas, resources, and partnerships. Ultimately, Henry shows that the limited variety of organizations that activists have constructed within post-Soviet Russia's green movement serve as a "fossil record" of the environmentalists' innovations, failures, and compromises. Her research suggests new ways to understand grassroots politics throughout the postcommunist region and in other postauthoritarian contexts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5874-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. [Map]
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    On June 5, 2005, more than two hundred environmentalists drawn from fifty-nine regions of the Russian Federation gathered in the town of Koroleva, just outside Moscow, to form a new political party. This new party, the Union of Greens, boasted the leadership of several prominent activists, including Aleksei Yablokov, a former environmental adviser to President Yeltsin, and Aleksandr Nikitin, a naval officer who had been accused in 1996 of espionage for revealing information about nuclear contamination caused by Russia’s Northern Fleet. According to Yablokov, the Union of Greens was founded “out of despair” in order to combat “the ongoing de-ecologization...

  6. 1 Citizen Activism and Political Change
    (pp. 14-32)

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party–dominated regime in 1991, some observers anticipated that Russia’s more open post-Soviet political environment would encourage the flowering of social activism.¹ Citizens’ groups would spring up naturally in the more benevolent context of new democratic institutions, laws, and practices. In fact, however, the 1990s were difficult years for many fledgling social organizations as political and economic instability hampered their activities. Although social activism has not flourished as optimists hoped, neither is Russian society a wasteland of isolated individuals concerned only with their own survival. Focusing on the weakness of contemporary Russian...

  7. 2 Space for Activism? Russia’s Political and Economic Transformation
    (pp. 33-60)

    Russian social organizations have faced a variety of challenges throughout the post-Soviet era, challenges that have changed over time as the chaotic openness of the Yeltsin years has given way to the state’s campaign to recentralize political power and rein in dissent under the Putin and Medvedev administrations. Reviewing the changing political and economic circumstances highlights the fact that classifying the country’s political transformation as a failed “transition to democracy” oversimplifies the complex, multidirectional nature of Russia’s post-Soviet experience—an experience in which Soviet institutions bend to accommodate new realities, formally democratic structures are infused with patronage and corruption, and...

  8. 3 Environmental Organizations in Russia’s Regions
    (pp. 61-85)

    This chapter examines the relationship between regional governance and environmental mobilization in post-Soviet Russia. Specifically, it considers how varying levels of political and economic liberalization may affect the level and quality of social movement mobilization by investigating the development of Russian environmental organizations in five regional capitals—St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Vladimir, and Bryansk.¹ While hypotheses of social mobilization would lead us to expect growing variation in mobilization as a result of increasingly diverse political and economic conditions at the regional level, this chapter challenges the conventional wisdom by demonstrating that levels of mobilization across regions are strikingly similar.


  9. 4 Seeking Sustainability: Dynamics of Organizational Survival
    (pp. 86-136)

    When asked about the biggest challenges they face, Russian environmentalists did not first mention Russia’s alarming environmental problems, the country’s largely unreceptive political system, or their difficulty mobilizing the public to support green causes. Most frequently they cited the problem of funding—the need to find scarce resources to continue their activities. This chapter examines the most basic goal of the leaders of social organizations: their desire to maintain and expand their organizations and activities. Environmentalists’ efforts to sustain their organizations, and more specifically the strategic choices they make about where to seek resources and support, lead to the emergence...

  10. 5 Strategies for Defending Russia’s Environment
    (pp. 137-183)

    A tiger-preservation organization in Vladivostok; a group studying the lingering effects of radioactivity from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Bryansk Oblast; a neighborhood association cleaning a local pond in the historic city of Vladimir. What do these groups have in common? First, they all consider themselves to be environmental, or ekologicheskie, organizations. Their primary goal is to address Russia’s environmental crisis. Second, they all face a political system generally dismissive, if not hostile, to their concerns. Third, they all seek a stable flow of resources that will allow them to continue their activism. Russia’s state-dominated, institutionally unstable, and economic growth–...

  11. 6 Environmentalism and State-Society Relations in Russia
    (pp. 184-231)

    Environmental activism is not only a way to reckon with Russia’s poor environmental conditions but also a way to inject new ideas, identities, and interests into the political arena. Green activism offers a potential path for increasing public participation in the political process and demanding government accountability. Indeed, supporters often frame the contributions of social organizations in terms of their role in developing civil society. Social organizations’ efforts to change the political and social system in a way that increases participation and renders future activism more likely to be successful are referred to as transformational goals. This chapter demonstrates that...

  12. 7 A Greener Future?
    (pp. 232-244)

    Civil society and social mobilization are believed to be the keys to democracy and sustainable economic development. Optimism about the power of social groups, however, is based on a limited understanding of the causes and consequences of activism—particularly in postauthoritarian societies, the very settings where political change is most eagerly sought. To amend this gap in our knowledge we need to study how social organizations survive under challenging political and economic conditions and how this struggle shapes their activities and effectiveness. The impact of political liberalization on civil society and of civil society on liberalization is portrayed in its...

  13. Appendix A. Organizations Studied in Each Regional Capital
    (pp. 245-248)
  14. Appendix B. Regional Indicators
    (pp. 249-252)
  15. References
    (pp. 253-272)
  16. Index
    (pp. 273-282)