With 20% of the world’s freshwater supply, more than the Great Lakes combined, Lake Baikal is the greatest freshwater lake on the Earth. The Russians who settled in Southeastern Siberia in the 1600s understood the sanctity of Lake Baikal and worked with the natives to keep the area unmarked. This continued for most of the 18th and 19th centuries and the beginning of the 20th century.
Along came the Soviet Union and her marvelous 5-year plans. With all of its natural resources Siberia was extremely attractive to Bolshevik planners, they devised plans to take full advantage of the prosperous land. Unfortunately these plans banked on the theory that Lake Baikal and the surrounding area were too big and too vast to be polluted by anything. This theory, while optimistic, was not grounded in any type of scientific fact was religiously cited by the Soviet Union.
From the time of the 5-year plans on the Lake Baikal area was built up into an industrial paradise. Included in this industrial buildup was the Baikal-Amur mainline, large-scale lumbering, and, most importantly, Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant. This plant was built in the late 1950s and continued its high rate of production throughout the 20th century.
Dissent in the Soviet Union was never looked upon with loving, or even understanding eyes., but one of the few places in Soviet life which some opposition was allowed was in the environmental arena. The subject essay in Seventeen Moments in Soviet History states this fact with certainty, “Environmentalism provided a forum for ideas that were otherwise unacceptable in Soviet discourse. In the republics, environmental issues allowed nationalists to organize; and in Russia, it let national conservatives give voice to their concerns.” Environmental causes allowed Soviet citizens to act like citizens of a democracy, well at least a mildly oppressive democracy. The civil society created by this opposition was one of the few opportunities for Soviet citizens to publicly question their government, and it was all because of the beautiful land they inhabited.
Russia: A History