FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

Contemporary environmental history of the Soviet Union and the successor states, 1970-2000. Ecological globalization and regional dynamics – EcoGlobReg

Contemporary environmental history of the Soviet Union and the successor states, 1970- 2000. Ecological globalization and regional dynamics

How can we explain that in the Soviet Union hundreds of thousands of people took the streets to protest the destruction of nature and of their living conditions in the years 1987-1990? Where did this protest come from, how did it form, and why has it not become a serious political force in the fifteen states that appeared on the USSR's ruins?

Ecologization and de-ecologization

EcoGlobReg is devoted to understanding how ecological concerns shaped society and politics in the late Soviet Union and the post-Soviet space. We analyse the sometimes tumultuous processes associated with the ecologization and de-ecologization of politics and society in the last three decades of the 20th century. By “ecologization” we mean the social dissemination and deepening political use of scientific knowledge on the state of the environment. We isolate three main vectors for spreading ecological preoccupations in society and political discourse: social activism and protest for the protection of landscapes and life conditions; environmental disasters understood as catalysts of discontent and revealers of failed relationships between society and nature; and sensitization and popularization (in the media and education) of nature seen as threatened by economic development.<br /><br />The apparent de-ecologization of public discourse in the post-Soviet era, marked by green activists withdrawing from the political scene, will be examined to see how environmental practices have evolved and taken on new forms.

The project takes ecologization and de-ecologization to be essentially globalized processes. It shows how environmental issues acquired a global character at the turn of the 1960s-1970s and what role Soviet citizens played in this process. From there the project moves to asking whether the Soviet Union entered an “environmental turn” comparable to the one identified for capitalist countries.

But transnational and globalizing trends are only one aspect of ecologization. The project pays attention to the regionalization of power dynamics: strengthened national and regional identities fired ecological mobilization in the perestroika years; well before that point in Soviet history, they played a major role in shaping environmental protest. Given this context, the project will test Jane Dawson's eco-nationalist argument, that green activism during perestroika essentially a substitute for nationalist demands of independence for the Soviet republics.

(for the first six months of the project) The project's member met twice in Paris in July and October 2014. A managing group compose of the three project initiators and one researcher has set up the project: opening of a public research blog, opening of a collaborative research platform for the project member, contacting of Russian colleagues and the French and German research institutes in Moscow (CFR and DHI).

Members have begun organizing an international conference to be held in Moscow in October 2015.

In the course of the project, the members will publish two thematic issues with international journals, two doctoral students will defend their theses and three members will submit their habilitation theses.

This cooperative Franco-German project in the field of (post) Soviet contemporary environmental history will move beyond national borders in terms of both its research and its organization. In its research, the project will analyze the sometimes tumultuous processes associated with the ecologization and de-ecologization of politics and society in the last three decades of the 20th century. The individual studies, with their overlapping global and regional historical perspectives, will contribute to a more in-depth analysis of a) the reciprocity within processes of cross-border interaction, b) the formative powers of centralized state politics, and c) practical activities at the regional level. In doing so, they will provide an innovative and highly insightful perspective on the contemporary “East Side Story” of global environmental history.
The project has five primary research goals:
1. To look more closely at the social importance and scope of environmental politics and environmental awareness by examining the role of political ecology in the late Soviet and post-Soviet eras (= ecological structural change of environmentalism)
2. To determine the role played by the Soviet Union and its successor states in global environmental history by analyzing cross-bloc interactions and global institutions (= ecological globalization)
3. To re-conceptualize the collapse of the Soviet Union and the post-communist transformation by questioning conventional periodization and characterizations from an environmental history perspective (= reconceptualization of late Soviet and post-Soviet history)
4. To gain new insights into the changing dynamics of power during this period by studying Russian, Siberian, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Baltic border regions and domestic contexts (= regional ecological dynamics and the reconfiguration of power and space)
5. To underscore the socio-political relevance of environmental history scholarship for the post-Soviet states by historicizing current environmental problems and ecological debates (= history of current ecological issues).
Furthermore, the project aims to create a Tübingen – Regensburg – Paris research triangle with a strong international network and innovative research program that can become a gravitational center for (East) European environmental history. Joint conferences, workshops, archival research, and publications will productively bundle together German and French scholarly resources.

Project coordination

Marc Elie (Centre d'études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CERCEC Centre d'études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen

Help of the ANR 245,352 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: June 2014 - 36 Months

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