"Civil society" is a loaded concept in Russia; during the Soviet period, the voices that heralded civil society were the same ones that demanded the Union's dissolution. So, for the Kremlin, civil society is not the guarantor of democracy, but a force that has the power to end governments. This book looks at how civil society negotiates power on a global stage, under Russia's authoritarian regime, and in a particularly isolated and remote part of the world: within environmental activism around Lake Baikal in Siberia.
More than a mile deep, Lake Baikal is the oldest, deepest, and most voluminous lake on the Earth, and home to thousands of endemic species. It is also ecologically unique in that it is oxygenated to its maximum depth and supports life even at the lake floor — a phenomenon occurring nowhere else on the planet. The lake is not just a natural wonder, but home to a strong environmentalist community that works tirelessly to protect the lake from human harm.
Environmentalism at Baikal began in the late 1950s, eventually igniting the first national protest in the USSR. They have remained active in some form ever since, across the years of chaos, instability, and crisis, from the opening of Russia to the forces of globalization to the authoritarianism of Putin in the present. This book examines the struggle of Baikal environmentalists to develop a new understanding of civil society under conditions of globalization and authoritarianism. Through extended, historically-informed ethnographic analysis, Kate Pride Brown argues that civil society is engaged with political and economic elites in a dynamic struggle within a field of power. Understanding the field of power helps to explain a number of contradictions. For example, why does civil society seem to both bolster democracy and threaten it? Why do capitalist corporations and environmental organizations form partnerships despite their general hostility toward each other? And why has democracy proven to be so elusive in Russia? The field of power posits new answers to these questions, as Baikal environmental activists struggle to protect and save their Sacred Sea.