Dissidents not Welcome; but Environmentalists Tolerated

Sunset on Lake Baikai (Source: http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/cleaning-up-baikal/cleaning-up-baikal-images/#bwg185/945)

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.

“Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar.” Source: http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/cleaning-up-baikal/cleaning-up-baikal-images/#bwg185/941

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.

 

Sources:

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/cleaning-up-baikal/

Russia: A History

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6 Responses to Dissidents not Welcome; but Environmentalists Tolerated

  1. Mitch Sherman says:

    This is a really interesting post. I find it interesting that the Soviet government did not make any move to ban these groups once it became clear that the environmental aspect was just a cover to voice greater dissent. It also shows that as the Soviet Union wore down, people were looking for opportunities to more easily question the government. Great post.

  2. I thought this was an extremely interesting post. It’s ironic how the Soviets would work so hard to suppress dissidents speaking out against the government, but would tolerate environmentalists speaking out about the over-industrialization of Siberia. I guess in this sense the Soviet Union was ahead of it’s time in making environmental considerations. This also speaks to the Soviet concern of the well-being of the state. I believe they were so ready to take environmental concerns into consideration because they knew that caring for the environment was vital to the ultimate success of the state.

  3. Michael Vlcek says:

    I really liked this post. I too wrote about dissidents in the Soviet Union. Your take on the environmental aspect is very interesting. It’s intriguing that while the Soviet Union cracked down on criticism regarding many of their policies, they allowed outrage about pollution and other environmental concerns.

  4. Mitchell Lester says:

    Awesome topic for your post. Lake Baikal represents a key strategic resource: water. As water scarcity becomes more of an issue, especially in post-industrial Asia, Lake Baikal will undoubtedly have to be used for its water. On a lighter, Lake Baikal looks absolutely stunning when frozen in the winter.

  5. A. Nelson says:

    Thanks so much for writing about Baikal! It would be interesting to connect the issues you raise here (and I love your title by the way) with the posts on the dissident movement. I’d also be curious as to what kind of articles are in the Current Digest on saving Baikal?

  6. Hunter Thompson says:

    Great post! It was interesting to see how dissent groups disguised their movements under the guise of environmentalism.

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