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Wild horses in a ‘European wilderness’: imagining sustainable development in the post-Communist countryside

[journal article]

Schwartz, Katrina Z. S.

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Abstract When the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes collapsed, they bequeathed to successor states an unexpected dual legacy: an outsized, backward agrarian sector on the one hand and a wealth of undeveloped nature, rich in biological diversity, on the other. Popular perceptions of the region centre on nightmarish images of environmental devastation, but environmentalists on both sides of the former ‘Iron Curtain’ are increasingly recognizing the unintended benefits to nature of Communist underdevelopment. Eight of the post-Communist states have now consummated their long-awaited ‘return to Europe’, but as they begin a new era as European Union members, they confront a critical developmental challenge. Faced with declining agricultural prospects and growing Western interest in Eastern nature, what to do with a large and underemployed rural population and an everexpanding area of marginal farmland? This article contributes to a growing literature on the political ecology of post-Communist transformation in the ‘Second World’ through a case study from Latvia. At Lake Pape, the Latvian program office of WWF International has implemented a Western-funded project in ecosystem restoration and eco-tourism promotion involving introduction of wild horses in a remote but ecologically rich coastal wetland area. I explore diverse Latvian responses to the polysemic Western narratives of sustainable rural development and biodiversity conservation that have been borne into Eastern Europe along with Western aid monies. Local mediation of these narratives is shaped by the struggle between competing ‘agrarian’ and ‘internationalist’ understandings of national geography, identity and developmental destiny that have structured cultural and political discourse since the emergence of Latvian nationalism 150 years ago.
Classification Ethnology, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnosociology
Document language English
Publication Year 2005
Page/Pages p. 292-320
Journal Cultural Geographies, 12 (2005) 3
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)