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A Little Corner of Freedom: Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev

A Little Corner of Freedom: Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev

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While researching Russia's historical efforts to protect nature, Douglas Weiner unearthed unexpected findings: a trail of documents that raised fundamental questions about the Soviet political system. These surprising documents attested to the unlikely survival of a critical-minded, scientist-led movement through the Stalin years and beyond. It appeared that, within scientific societies, alternative visions of land use, resource exploitation, habitat protection, and development were sustained and even publicly advocated. In sharp contrast to known Soviet practices, these scientific societies prided themselves on their traditions of free elections, foreign contacts, and a pre- revolutionary heritage.

Weiner's ambitious goal is no less than to explain the intricacies of environmental activism under Stalin and his successors. He portrays the activists not as do-or-die resisters to the system, nor as inoffensive do- gooders. Rather, they were individuals who opened the discursive space and carved out independent social and professional identities within a system that prescribed official models of behavior, ethics, norms, and identity for all. Written in a lively style, this absorbing story tells for the first time how organized participation in nature protection provided an arena for affirming and perpetuating self-generated social identities and preserving a counterculture whose legacy survives today.