HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF ECOLOGICAL NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS IN RUSSIA
Institute of Sociology
The beginning of sustainable development in Russia as a political objective was established by a presidential decree and became more specific as a socioeconomic program during the first Russian Environmental Protection Congress.
The direction for achievement of a balance between economic development and nature preservation was set at a time of radical transformation of the whole social order in the country during the last decade of the twentieth century.
On the one hand, it was to be a positive process, because the approach to sustainable development could be initially taken during the process of structural transformations.
On the other hand, the most complex processes occur in the social sphere. The development of a new social structure meant new actors operating in an ecopolitical arena. It turned out that nongovernmental non-commercial ecological organizations (NGOs) had the best educational and experimental backgrounds. The history of their development covers more than 30 years. All other structures were developed during the State reorganization at the end of the 1980s, including the State Environmental Protection Committee, ecological departments of industrial enterprises, and environmental protection bodies in regional administrations.
Public consciousness began to acquire an ecological orientation only at the beginning of reorganization, when ecological problems became one of the first freely surveyed issues in the mass media (magazines, TV, radio). Up to that time, sharp problems of ecological infringement had not been reported in the mass media. Newspaper articles that glorified nature only in general terms were being published.
At the end of the 1990s, it had become possible to talk about a system of environmental protection structures, ways of their interaction, and technologies that promoted cooperation. However, the variety of socio-economic development models for different Russian regions resulted in a variety of such systems.
Due to the severity of ecological problems, the variety in regional socio-ecological development, and the development of decentralization processes, the State is expected to retain a leading position in the formation of environmental protection legislation consistent for the entire country. Also, it takes on monitoring functions. However, the levers of economic management and protection of nature belong to regional actors.
Thus, civil society initiatives of the population about environmental quality remain a stimulant of policy formation and realization.
HISTORY OF NGOs
The oldest environmental protection public organization is the Russian Environmental Protection Organization (REPO), which was founded in Soviet times. It originally was a semi-official structure that had some environmental protection functions of today’s State Ecological Committee while legally remaining a public organization.
During the 1960s, Nature Protection Teams (NPT) were formed by university students and teachers. These teams were engaged mainly in monitoring activities. They struggled with poaching (fishing, hunting, cutting trees for the New Year, collection and sale of wild spring flowers). NPTs helped maintain nature preserves. The main forms of interaction of NPTs with the State were protest letters and collection of signatures, with appeals to the State authority for help in solving ecological problems.
Thus, public ecological organizations acquired extensive experience in self-organizing and self-management and skills in the solution of ecological problems using only their own resources and interacting with State authorities. They were ready to prepare various documents (including ones for the establishment of NGOs), to develop ecological programs, and to participate in socio-political events. Therefore, at the end of the 1980s they led the creation of local organizations, based on the initiative of the public, which have expanded all over the country. NGOs were established in each large city and in the majority of small towns. The NPT movement became a part of the overall Russian environmental movement.
At this time NGO activities were primarily of a protest character. As a result, a number of ecologically dangerous projects were stopped: the reversal of the north-flowing rivers to the south, the increase of the Cheboksary water level,
the construction of the Katun hydro-electric power station, and the building of a number of nuclear power stations.
CURRENT STATUS OF THE ECOLOGICAL MOVEMENT IN RUSSIA
During the current economic crisis with the decline of industrial production, the ecological movement has been reduced. It has been replaced by small NGOs, which today continue the tradition of popular initiatives and initiatives by different professional organizations in the sphere of ecological activities—for example, ecological management, ecological expert examination, research, and education.
The severe ecological conditions have required the formation of umbrella-like organizations at the federal level. These organizations are international— Socio-Ecological Union (SoEU) and Green Cross—as well as Russian ones— Russian Ecological Movement, Russian Socio-Ecological Union.
Regional NGO associations have been established, for example: Save the River (Povolzhye), Rostov Anti-nuclear Movement, Tatarstan Youth Ecological Movement, Vologda Public Movement.
To assist in the mobilization of resources several Russian regional resource centers have been created: Coordination and Information Center of the Socio-Ecological Union (Moscow), Ecocenter “Dront” (Nizhny Novgorod), Institute of Assistance to Public Initiatives (Moscow), and Center of Assistance to Public Initiatives (Saratov). Their main functions are data collection and distribution, education, sharing of NGO experience, provision of financial resources, and organization of meetings, seminars, conferences, and congresses.
A number of Russian organizations are specialized in their ecological activities: the development of preserves, eco-management, examination by experts, research, education, technical assistance. Those types of organizations include the Center of Wild Nature Protection, the Center of Ecological Policy, Ecoline, Institute of Social Ecology, the Association EcoSociology, the Association of Socio-Ecological Education.
REPO continues as a part of the ecological society. The functions of the regional branches of REPO are diverse. REPO on the regional level represents a resource center, providing a meeting place, a legal address, and telephone services. This function was mainly inherited from Soviet times. Sometimes REPO can provide use of office equipment—computer, fax-modem, printer, and copier. An important REPO activity is ecological education and training. Also REPO often receives financial support from ecological funds of regional authorities.
The NPT movement helps attract new members into the ecological movement. But NPT members from previous generations are the most active. In the beginning of the 1990s, the Russian Green Party and the Russian
Constructive Ecological Movement (KEDR) were founded. The Green Party participates in elections, and develops an ideology and political programs at all levels—central, regional, local. KEDR, as a political unit, is active during pre-election campaigns but has not yet had positive results.
Radical green associations occupy a special place in the modern movement. They include the international organizations Rainbow Keepers and Russian Greenpeace. Their activity addresses ecologically dangerous projects such as import and burial of radioactive waste from abroad. They urge the authorities and industrial circles to cooperate with Russian green organizations.
The main problems of NGO development at present are recruitment of new members and financing. Both of these problems are directly linked to the deep economic crisis. The population, worried about physical survival due to the low level of wages and delays in wage payments, is unable today to address environmental quality, let alone new actions. The financing of NGO activities is not possible from sources within the country. The main support is from foreign charitable funds, which is not sufficient.
The main directions of Russian NGO activities are nature protection, the anti-nuclear struggle, ecological education and training, sanitation of the urban environment, the struggle against chemical pollution (especially in connection with destruction of chemical weapons), ecological policy formation and ecological program development, and restoration of water basins and large tracts of forest.
Russian NGOs can be divided into five groups.
Conservationists: Biologists and other expert-professionals involved in the process of nature protection. They are especially interested in nature reserves.
Alternativists: New generation of eco-anarchism and community supporters. They prefer radical actions and are engaged in development of a theory of ecologically oriented society and its ideological basis.
Deep ecologists (or traditionalists): Representatives of Russian intelligentsia who seek harmony of man and nature, achievable through voluntary self-restraint, and using traditional forms of social life and technologies.
Civic initiatives: Groups of activists worried about local environmental problems. They use any method, from protests to cooperation with the authorities and other social structures.
Pragmatists: Urban inhabitants characterized by their involvement in the political process. They believe it is possible to change ecological conditions only when ecologists have authority.
At present the Russian ecological movement must survive economically and increase its efficiency. Taking into account the democratization process and orientation of progress toward sustainable development, efficiency means growth of influence on society and of participation in decision-making.
INTERACTION WITH THE AUTHORITIES
The process of decision-making is where the essence and scale of NGOgovernment interaction are defined. In other words, it is the point to strengthen the role of NGOs in the eco-political arena.
The new political orientation toward sustainable development in official state ecological documents creates the opportunity for closer interaction of the ecological movement with the authority structures at all levels. Interactions can be not only in the form of tension or protest but in cooperation and consultations.
Environmental protection authorities at all levels gradually become the main partners of NGOs. They become two main interacting participants of eco-policy. This dual approach takes place when public interest is high. Also, the scale of NGO participation depends on the readiness of the authorities for such participation.
The legislative base for realization of such a process exists. Specific mechanisms of public participation have been determined: legislative requirements for public hearings; the right for public ecological examination of projects before or in parallel with the State; the right of the public to participate in the assessment of impacts on the environment; and the opportunity to influence government representatives.
Public participation is also realized by inclusion of eco-activists in government. There are numerous cases when NGO leaders became chiefs of regional environmental protection bodies or served in such federal bodies as the Ministry of Natural Resources and the State Duma.
Specialized NGOs, which involve a large number of scientists, have become partners with government in fulfillment of specific environmental protection measures, especially the development of preserves. Special successes in this area has been achieved by eco-activists from the Ecological Center “Dront” of Nizhny Novgorod. Also, they investigate environmental quality—air, soil, and water basins. Some NGOs have their own laboratories, and in some cases monitoring is conducted by children’s collectives supervised by scientists, such as in Ryazan. NGOs play an important role in assessment of ecological infringements on health. The Krasnopresnensky District Fund of Nature Protection and Population Health has discovered two large areas with high rates of cancer in the center of Moscow. The Sanitary-Epidemiological Inspection Service knew nothing about this problem. As a result, the Government has forced several enterprises to leave the city. NGOs also deal with clearing debris from rivers and shorelines and with gardening within cities. Examples are activists from Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, and Vologda.
Environmental protection bodies need the help of NGOs and the public in discovering ecological infringements, as well as public support in clearing up problems.
Also, public organizations now frequently apply to the courts, especially in the cases of contested land ownership, illegal forest cutting, and construction of parking places. Building of dachas by Russian businessmen in green zones has led to struggles with local NGOs in Novosibirsk, Vladimir, and Cherepovets.
NGOs actively cooperate with legislative authorities at all levels. Two Moscow organizations of lawyers and ecologists, Ecojuris and Ecology and Justice, participate in development of federal laws and actively assist eco-activists at the regional level.
Yet another significant form of participation in the process of decisions is referendums, which deal with ecological problems that cannot be solved by other methods, such as attempts to construct new nuclear power stations.
The interrelationships of NGOs with industrial enterprises have revealed pollution impacts which require penal actions, the use of new technologies, and the monitoring by the government. NGOs together with environmental protection bodies establish norms of permissible releases from industrial enterprises, which should be regularly revised. But, industrial enterprises still remain one of the main opponents of the ecological movement.
Current Russian authorities are searching for ways to end the economic crisis, which is accompanied by constant political instability. Complex actions in the environmental protection sphere are impossible without a base in the political system. The base will consist of such foundation stones as public consciousness, self-organizing ability, level of knowledge, skills and experience of administrative structures, and readiness of the federal government to create a State strategy in the sphere of ecology. It will also depend on the theoretical and practical bases of interaction between society and nature.
A new stage of eco-political process development has begun. It is characterized by the orientation of federal authorities at the end of the economic crisis with the help of maximum use of natural resources. The first steps of the government to restructure federal management bodies (elimination of two main environmental protection organizations) reflect this orientation.
In these conditions, it seems probable that the activity of the ecological movement will be important to determine the level of State activity in environmental protection.