Neglect of Lake Baikal

Shores of Lake Baikal (1980)


During Stalin’s reign in the USSR, it is safe to say that certain aspects of society were neglected. One important concept that did not receive the attention that it deserved was the idea of environmental conservation. Due to Stalin’s great emphasis on the industrialization of the Soviet Union, environmental issues were not properly acknowledged. Lake Baikal is a prime example of the devastating impacts of environmental neglect.

Located in Southeastern Siberia, Lake Baikal is the world’s largest freshwater body of water. This body of water is so massive that it accounts for 20 percent of the world’s freshwater. The lake is home to 1200 different species of animals and 1000 species of plants according to this subject essay. Lake Baikal holds historical significance as well, regarded as being sacred to early Russians who colonized the area in the 1600s.

Industrialization, an important goal of Stalin, took devastating tolls on the lake. Because of the lake’s abundance of natural resources, oil and mineral exploration and lumbering projects were numerous. During the war and due to the relative dangerous conditions in cities, factories were built on the lake to provide safety for these installments. The Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant were among the most destructive of the industrial installations. The construction of the railway and the waste from the paper plant progressively polluted the lake, and turned the historically clear waters of Lake Baikal into a murky mess. Before the extent of environmental neglect of the lake obvious and undeniable, the impacts of industrialization were debated and many speculated on the affects factories would have on the lake. One such article outlines the thoughts and predictions of such effects.

Due to the Soviet Union’s notorious  reputation of political repression, Russian environmentalists’ concerns for Lake Baikal were completely ignored. A lot of the opposition for the environmental neglect of the lake was voiced in the official press. The neglect of the lake united and mobilized citizens in their concerns for the environment.


Cleaning up Baikal

10 thoughts on “Neglect of Lake Baikal

  1. This is really interesting. I had no idea that Siberia was home to the largest body of fresh water. I think that, typically, when someone hears about Siberia they think of a frozen tundra. It makes sense that while the soviets were focussed on industrialization they ignored the implications it had on natural resources that were vital to the country. Excellent post!

  2. The neglect of Lake Baikal is a great example of Stalin’s undivided attention to industrial development and the Soviet economy. Your post raises an interesting point that while much of the dissident movement critiqued politics and culture, the environmentalists were also subject to repression, despite valid concerns with the physical well-being of the lake and surrounding land.

  3. I think this post outlines an important aspect of Stalin’s rule and highlights a part of his reign that may be otherwise overlooked. I think it’s interesting also because of the current environmental issues that the world is dealing with today and how those issues play a part in politics and diplomacy

  4. I really liked this post, because we haven’t really looked into the environment during the Soviet period. We are facing a lot of environmental issues in the world today, and it’s interesting (and also a little sad) to see where they began all over the world.

  5. This is such an important topic! Check back on the Subject essay on 17 moments though — Baikal become a focus point and eventually a success of the environmental movement in the Soviet Union.

  6. I never thought I would read about environmental issues of the Soviet Union. When reading about industrialization in the Soviet Union, I had never considered the environmental impact that comes with industrialization. What a cool post! Good job!

  7. Cool post! I am taking Russian right now and the last chapter we studied was all about geography. My professor was giving us a tour of Russia via a map and she showed us lake Baikal and how all the industrialization was right on top of it. I wondered if it had an effect on the environment, obviously it did!

  8. It is incredible to me that such a large and biologically rich body of water could be so ignored and polluted in just the span of a few decades. The Soviet Union often placed productivity and efficiency over everything and it is clear that that resulted in some massive ecological damage. Environmentalism took off in the Soviet Union around the same time that it did in the U.S. so hopefully the conditions in the lake continue to improve over time!

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