From "Prime Mover" to "Victim of Change":
Political Environmentalism and Its Effects in Central and Eastern Europe(1)
Paper prepared for a seminar held on March 10, 1998, at the Department of Political Science
and Public Policy, University of Waikato at Hamilton, New Zealand
Helmut Wiesenthal
Humboldt University at Berlin

1. Introduction

Rather than being an overview of the actors and the strategies promoting the rise of ecologically sound post-socialist societies in East Central Europe (ECE), the function of this paper is to provide a set of background information. In the following section (no. 2), the reader will be reminded of the precarious relationship between socialism and environmental protection, both in terms of institutions and excessive pollution. The subsequent section (no. 3) will throw some light on the impact of environmental groups in the breakdown of socialist regimes in ECE. Section no. 4 aims at an assessment of what is happening to the environment in the process of wholesale societal reform and, in particular, through the influence of external pressure and financial assistance. This will be followed by a special part on East Germany (section no. 5). Finally, in section no. 6, the major traits of political environmentalism in the new democracies will be summarized in order to detect a common pattern and infer from it some insights into the problems and options of institutional reform.

2. Nature and Environment under Socialism - A Near Catastrophe

Though capitalist systems display astonishing dissimilarities when their political economy is analyzed in a systematic way (as e.g. by Hollingsworth/Boyer 1997), there are some common features which allow for a clear-cut juxtaposition of capitalist and socialist systems of production. For a long time, these dissimilarities were coined in a contradictory fashion in the concepts of plan and market. Eight years after the demise of socialism and an impressive history of trial and error in the process of institutional change, plan and market appear to be rather oversimplistic concepts. The assumed contradiction tells little about an often observed complementary relationship. Furthermore, a proper assessment of the socialist institutional systems requires ever more precise distinctions than those offered by the plan-market controversy. As there is a rapidly increasing body of literature on the real forms of life, work and economic exchange under socialism, West European politicians and social scientists are asked to unlearn a certain picture of social life: the picture in which an identical set of social entities -- such as individuals, households, enterprises, and public administrations -- existed in the West and in the East, with the latter soon functioning like the former after being set "free" from its subordination to plans and commands.

Contrarily to a picture that assumes the same set of elements in both socialist and capitalist systems, in reality, the elements of the socialist system were different. Insofar as they were different in the past, they tend to remain different even after the plan-command system became abolished. This becomes quite clear when we take a closer look at the goal system and the production units of the socialist economy.

As a strictly output-oriented system, the socialist economy was monitored according to a single measure of performance: material output, be it number of cars, tons of steel, or bushels of wheat. Statisticians who attempt to compare economic output in terms of the monetary value of all the goods produced, mostly termed GDP (gross domestic production), fell into dispair because of the near impossibility of measuring socialist performance by imputing some equivalent of value and relative prices revealed in market exchange. Socialist planners suffered as well. Because they lacked a consistent and overall standard of efficiency, output growth told nothing about relative performance.

Instead, the all-inclusive concentration on output figures coincided with the near neglect of the input side. Even worse, in order to approach the often ambitiously set output goals, bureaucrats and managers tended to maximize inputs. The consequences of this rather uneconomical way of behaviour were manifold: an extremely high rate of (enforced) labour market participation, the practice of stockpiling everything that could become scarce, the highly symbolic value of growth figures in energy and steel production, and, last but not least, the projects of irrigation and cultivation of land by large-scale landscaping and the redirection of rivers (Goldman 1989). Maximizing the availability of input factors (which themselves, of course, had to be produced as outputs of production) appeared to be the only guarantee to approach the plan goals. Arbitrary resource pricing, an emphasis on extractive and steel industries, and an increasing energy consumption were additional features of the Soviet type economies.

All other social goals, in particular the proper use of scarce resources, limiting externalities on nature and neigbouring communities, research and development of more efficient technology a.s.o. were at best of secondary importance (Busch-Lüty 1989). According to the dominance of output performance and plan fulfillment, the failure of maximizing at the expense of such secondary goals remained unrecognized and unsanctioned. Poor environmental performance of industries was unlikely to be sanctioned by the central state agencies, whereas production targets were often monitored quite closely. At the level of managerial decision-making, little or no interest in limiting or reducing pollution was institutionalized. As a consequence of this productivist bias, if there happened to be efforts targeted at environmental goals, "virtually all implementation activities can be traced to external diplomatic pressure" on the USSR government (Kotov et al. 1997: 112).

Why did workers and citizens tolerate such a one-sided system of production? Though any correct answer has to stress the limits to political expression and opposition, there is an institutional explanation as well which has to do with the type of "local" work organization as established in state enterprises as the core institutions of socialist society. Corresponding to the principles of "socialist indivisibility" (Hausner et al. 1995) -- or functional integration -- and organizational synthesis, the ideological roots of which go far beyond Leninism, socialist enterprises were at the centre of communal life. They not only comprised the factories and bureaus concerned with the tasks of "reproducing" society in substantial ways, but were purposely made the locus of a catalogue of "social" functions in the broadest sense.

In contrast to the increasingly specified production unit which emerged as a consequence of adaption to competitive markets, socialist "firms" steadily grew into functional "conglomerates" in a technical and economic, as well as in a social sense. On the one hand, they ran an extensive in-house production of raw materials and semi-finished goods (that capitalist firms would routinely purchase on the market), and, on the other, they provided a comprehensive bundle of social services which in a market environment would usually be supplied either by private producers or public agencies: such as housing estates, hospitals, kindergartens, homes for the elderly, holiday homes, sports facilities, community centres, and cultural institutions including libraries, cinemas and theatres (Kozminski 1991; Nissen 1992b). In terms of its responsibility for the nearly entire communal infrastructure and the bulk of public services, the executive board of large socialist "firms" functioned in fact as a sort of municipal government.(2) These "socially responsible" enterprises, even if operating at low levels of economic productivity, enjoyed a high level of "political productivity" (Frydman/Rapaczynski 1994: 193). This means, by the way, that their demand for state subsidies gave them a favorable hearing of their requests from the government, even in the early years following the demise of socialism.

With job security guaranteed in the sense of a constitutional right-to-work, low productivity and the consequence of over-staffing, the employees should not have found themselves in such a bad position to make demands concerning environmental matters. The fact that they generally refrained from doing so cannot be explained with recourse to political repression. Case studies done in Soviet enterprises in the time of late perestroika and early privatization show that employees enjoyed considerable elbowroom for promoting particularistic interests (e.g. Burawoy/Krotov 1992). Whereas the fear of dismissal may be an important explanatory fact in the newly established market context where firms need only between a fifth and a tenth of the former workforce for efficient production, it was absent under socialism. Instead of focussing on the opportunities for dissent and opposition, a proper explanation for environmental inactivity has to take into account two facts: an extremely low level of information and individual knowledge of hazardous emissions , and a high level of personal identification with the production unit (or work group) as a family-like multipurpose social entity.

There may have been economic reasons for environmental inactivity as well. Given long hours and low wages as the corollaries of low productivity, employees might have experienced an incentive to refrain from long-term assessments of the quality of life. They benefitted from the opportunity of illegally "privatizing" firm assets (such as construction material) as a widely practiced form of work compensation. But they refrained from more demanding attempts to act collectively in order to improve their lot in the long run. Seen this way, the tacit compromise with management and political leadership appears to be both a consequence of the blurring of boundaries beween private life and work life (Nissen 1992b: 12) and the result of implicit choices favouring short-term gains of labour participation at the expense of long-term quality of life.(3)

An ex post attempt of reconstructing the hidden preference ordering of the socialist economic system reveals the undisputed predominance of output goals for the attainment of which usually any means appear to have been allowed and excused. Whereas efficiency goals might have ranked second behind the ultimate original goal, limits to externalities ranked at best fourth behind the attainment ("as far as possible without a loss in output") of private goals in terms of consumption, goods and wages. However, when looking at a particular socialist country at a certain period of time , it is disputable whether consumption and wages or efficiency ranked second. At least in the case of GDR, where the Communist Party felt a lack of legitimacy beside its Western counterpart, the improvement of consumption levels gained prominence over efficiency standards (Brie 1996). In order to secure the necessary minimum of political support and ideological cohesion, the Socialist Unity Party literally "bribed" its labour force after experiencing a workers' upheaval on June 17th, 1953.

The consequences of environmental neglect are enormous. In Poland, up to 11% of the territory and not less than 35% of the population were negatively affected by hazardous pollution. In Czechoslovakia only 7% of the territory, but 57% of the population suffered from pollution. In East Germany, as well as in the USSR, about 40% of the population are said to have been negatively affected.(4) Only in Hungary and Bulgaria was no environmental disaster reported. Romania is said to rank between these two groups.

Even in the final years of socialism environmental pollution rose in line with industrial output, thus demonstrating a very low level of resource efficiency. While emissions of SO2 and NOx declined in OECD countries between 1980 and 1985, several East European countries showed a continued increase (Förster 1991; Tang 1993). In socialist countries, even in the USSR with its large gas stocks, coal use per capita far exceeded the West European average (see International Energy Agency 1992: Fig. 1). Due to the lack of adequate reduction technologies, CO2 and NOx emissions reached extreme levels. Until 1989 energy consumption and economic output were closely correlated resembling the pattern of early industrialization that most Western European economies had left behind (see International Energy Agency 1992: Fig. 2).(5)

Environmental neglect extended into other areas and had many more aspects. Among them was and still is the often unsatisfactory state of wastewater processing. Even large cities such as Warsaw still lack biological wastewater treatment. Although waste disposal facilities were of a rather low standard, some countries, the GDR included, did not hesitate to import hazardous waste in exchange for hard currency -- a deal that sheds some light on Western strategies of waste disposal as well.

However, it would be erroneous to conclude that socialist countries lacked any environmental protection laws. Beside the regulations concerning natural parks and reservations, there were legal restrictions on air pollution and the like, paralleling the rise of an environmental agenda in advanced capitalist countries. In the 1980s, socialist countries had established more or less the same set of agencies and commissions as had spread in the West (Kosta 1992). The main differences between socialist and capitalist countries lay in the implementation of the existing set of rules and regulations. For reasons mentioned above, environmental policies were far less effective than elsewhere -- though implementation failure and ineffective regulation e.g. of West Germany's environmental policies has been strongly criticized. Fines for violating the law were extremely low, only marginally increasing production costs and thus playing an insignificant role in managerial decisions. Given the lack of information and the low level of public awareness, as well as the fact that the single-party system was not very open to popular demands, what demands an explanation is not so much the absence of effective environmental regulation, but the few exceptional cases. One of these is Hungary, where a significant increase in environmental investments has been reported for the period from 1983-88 (Hardi 1994: 41).

After 1989, the extent of environmental problems was evaluated with the help of international agencies. Upgrading environmental quality in the major ECE countries to levels similar to those in West Germany would cost about US$ 1 trillion. The cost of ecological redevelopment in Poland is estimated at US$ 260 billion over a period of 20-30 years (according to Weidenfeld in Hardi 1994: 12). Adequate efforts at stopping further destruction and, at the same time, redeveloping the most contaminated areas would require yearly investments of no less than US$ 15 billion according to the former West German Minister for the Environment. The total cost of the agreed upon project of halting the pollution of the Baltic Sea, a 20-year program to be finished in 2012, is estimated at US$ 22 billion (Darst 1997: 52). Thanks to an agreement on international cost-sharing, two thirds of the spots to be decontaminated or reconstructed have actually been transformed or are under transformation in order to meet the standards.

Such good news is pretty rare. As we will see (in section 3 below) post-socialist societies have more pressing problems to face than keeping up with international standards of environmental protection. But before we shed some light on what happened after 1990, let us take a look at the prominent role that environmentalists played in the period of system change.

3. Political Environmentalism Participating in the Abolishment of Socialism

In the second half of the 1980s, environmental groups emerged nearly everywhere in the socialist world. This appears to have been a reflection of two changes. First, it was a pale reflection of "glasnost", i.e. the cautious policy of political and informational liberalization initiated by Gorbachev in the USSR. Second, with more and better information, people living in areas with hazardous pollution felt increasingly motivated to protest against the most obvious risks to their health. Environmental groups experienced a further push from the fact that any other topics of critique -- such as human rights, disarmament and true democracy -- posed a far greater risk of triggering off political repression than the "health" and "nature" themes (Szabo 1990). As a consequence, environmental protest flourished in a lot of notorious "problem areas" often characterized by the concentration of large chemical or heavy metal industries.

An informative example is analyzed by Olga Tsepilova (1996), a St. Petersburg sociologist. In her paper, Tsepilova describes the rise and fall of an ecological protest movement in the town of Kirishi. Although the biochemical plant, as early as two years after its establishment in 1974, was identified as the main cause of an increase in several diseases among workers and residents, in particular the doubling of respiratory diseases in the children, manifest protest did not emerge before 1987.(6) As Tsepilova puts it,

This condensed history of the environmental movement in Kirishi quite closely resembles what happened in various places in the late 1980s. The path of organizing people collectively and experimenting with the new opportunities of bottom-up political participation in Kirishi was taken as well by people in other socialist countries. There were Green movements and Green parties almost everywhere. By starting public debates on the environment, industrial risks to health and the quality of life, environmental groups were able to claim legitimacy even in light of the official ideology. Thus, they quite often served as a focus for a much broader range of political demands, including those aimed at individual freedom, participatory democracy and thoroughgoing economic reforms. One might even infer that the opportunity to relate a wide range of "environmental" issues to the value catalogue of the official ideology became a major factor which allowed for non-violent strategies to system change. Political movements lacking in opportunities to relate their demands to the official values would have experienced a more effective backlash from the old regimes.

Whereas the functional diversity of the environmental protest helps to explain its outstanding role in times of revolution (1989-90), it is also considered to be a major reason for the movements' irreversable decline during the still ongoing processes of wholesale societal reforms. In retrospective, the political "power" developed by environmental groups appears to have been related much more to feelings of dissent and opposition than to the actual environmental problems or -- what "deep" ecologists might call -- the intrinsic values of environmentalism(7). After having successfully contributed to and benefitted from widespread opposition to the socialist institutional system, the environmental actors found themselves in a new setting: they became players in a competitive game of political representation -- a game with different rules and many more players striving for recognition and success. Furthermore, the games of pluralist democracy had to be played simultaneously at different institutional levels (national, regional or district, and local) and were about a significantly enlarged agenda. Suddenly, environmental demands were just one among a lot of other, even more pressing issues. Whereas most of the new political parties could claim competence for the entire agenda (though they were not always prepared to deal with it in appropriate ways), Green and Ecological parties were perceived as narrow-minded and biased in favour of a "single issue". Within the context of the first free and democratic elections, the so-called founding elections in the period from 1990-92, the environmental movement had lost a lot of steam -- and most of its supporters. It suffered from its "liability of newness" much more than most of its competitors in the new political game.

Let us have a look at how the Green parties fared in individual post-socialist countries. A demarcation line can easily be drawn between countries where the party was able to attract a significant share of votes in the founding elections and those where it failed to do so. In 1990-92, it was quite successful in Slovenia (8.8% of votes in 1990, 3.7% in 1992),(8) Romania (two parties with 1.7% and 2.6% respectively),(9) Latvia (3%) and Estonia (2.6%)(10). As members of a broader electoral coalition, the Greens succeeded in Bulgaria(11) and in Romania(12) (in 1996) as well as in the Czech Republic(13) (only in 1992) and Slovakia(14) (only in 1994). In Lithuania, Hungary and Albania they were less fortunate, already losing in the first elections with a voter turnout of less than 1%. A different case is Poland where there has never been a Green party -- mainly because environmental protest was well established from the start in the political agenda of Solidarity which in fact was more of an oppositional rainbow coalition than a mere labour movement or a trade union. While after 1992 the voter turnout and the political clout of the Green party declined in the Baltic states, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, it still seems significant in the Southeastern European states Bulgaria and Romania. In Bulgaria, the Green Party "ZP" belongs to the "Union of Democratic Forces", the ruling party to date. Analogously, in Romania the "Romanian Environmental Party "PER" belongs to the "Democratic Convention CDR" which won the 1996 elections and became the leading partner in the new coalition government.(15)

Poland, as well as Hungary, demonstrate that parliamentary representation of "Green" parties is not only the result of competition between multiple-issue and single-issue actors. Institutional legacies and opportunities, on the one hand, and the transactions costs to be covered in a necessary process of organizational consolidation, on the other, have to mentioned as well. Whereas environmental "consciousness" in Poland had solid roots within Solidarity as early as 1981, there was a similar situation in Hungary, where, since the early 80s, the communist party had acted on a relatively liberal political agenda (and consequently in 1989, through opening the "Iron Curtain" at the Hungarian border to Austria, gave rise to the mass exodus of East Germans, whereby, in turn, the implosion of the more rigid communist regimes in Central Europa gained enormous speed). Pushed by serious environmental problems and pulled by the more liberal political climate, the Hungarian environmental movement flourished in several organizations in several towns and regions (Szabo 1994). As was the case in Bulgaria as well, there were close connections to academic professionals in the health care system and among the science departments of the universities and academies. These traits of an "early professionalization" helped to boost popularity and establish channels of cooperation with expert and specialist groups abroad.(16) This, in turn, allowed a kind of immunity against political repression to develop.

The factors contributing to the development of strength vis-á-vis the socialist regime were of little help in coping with the problem of organizational fragmentation that had to be overcome if the separate groups were to successfully transform itself into an all-encompassing political party. However, the political "transaction costs" of uniting a large number of specialized "target groups" around a political agenda to be created collectively are enormous. No wonder the 54 alternative and ecological groups that were counted in Hungary in November 1990 (Szirmai 1992) remained without a parliamentary arm. Even in Bulgaria, where a broad anti-pollution movement consolidated itself under the name of "Ekoglasnost", the problems of institutionalization after the collapse of the old system resulted in a set of fragmented organizations with different political ideologies (Baumgartl 1992)

A somewhat different case is Russia. For geographical reasons, as well as its peculiar legacy as a Socialist state and a major power on the world stage, the environmental protest exhibits a different pattern, or to be more precise: a series of patterns, all of which differ from what developed elsewhere. By and large, Russian environmentalist groups are more target-specific, are centered around spots of local or regional importance, are ideologically heterogeneous and -- to a large extent -- subject to changes in the general political agenda and conjuncture. To date, they are not reported to have a recognizable impact on political life in Russia. There are of course exceptions. The St. Petersburg Greens are still active in promoting local policies to stop the pollution of the Baltic Sea. The same is said about many local environmental groups in several countries, including Estonia, Poland and Bulgaria.

The decline of the post-socialist environmentalism finds expression in the revised priorities of popular demands. Among the residents of the Russian town of Kirishi, environmental problems (mentioned by 18.2% of respondents) in 1993 rank behind seven more pressing issues, namely "the need for social protection" (39.4%), increasing unemployment (34.8%), "increased social inequality" (34.8%), "increase in the crime rate" (34.6%), "deficits in the supply of goods and services" (28.4%), "alcoholism" (27.3%) and "the problem of housing" (18.3%) (Tsepilova 1996: 13). According to other sources, concern for the environment fell from the second or the third rank to rank five or six (always behind social and job security, housing, and crime), or even to rank 10 (Kotov et al. 1997: 109).

4. The Difficult Start of Post-socialist Environmental Policy

With democratically elected governments entering office, the situation that environmental activists and their organizations had to face underwent a twofold change. On the political level, environmentalists, together with all former dissident and all new political groupings (including the reformed post-communist parties), profited from the opening of the political process. All political actors with the capability of overcoming the "logic of collective action" by motivating their membership through ideological commitment or private benefits, were allowed to participate in elections and, if successful, enjoy access to the bodies and stages of political decision-making. However, adapting to the enlarged opportunity structure, the new actors experienced increasing difficulties in presenting their individual views and demands. As soon as they became aware of having lost their common adversary, they had to engage in competition over a quite diverse set of policy demands and goals. When the formerly "frozen" civic societies returned to life the input of the political systems became heterogeneous. In order to promote environmental policy, it was no longer enough to address the one and only party but, instead, necessary to attract public attention and to reach a deal with potential partners, in exchange for supporting their particular issues. The first thing political environmentalists had to learn under the new circumstances was the logic of political competition, i.e. competition among actors as well as issues. Issue competition and value diversity led to a loss in support for environmental demands. With liberalization on the march, not only did long-suppressed facts become disclosed, but long-suppressed values started emerging and attracting public support. The pursuit of short-term economic self-interest became no less legitimate than the claim for environmental action in order to save future generations (Kotov et al. 1997: 109).

To be more precise, environmental movements lost their political clout as a consequence of several factors and changes triggered by the project of wholesale institutional reform. Besides issue competition and an increased diversity of values and goals, a mismatch between the problems to cope with and the coping capacity of the state became obvious. There was an overload of problems and tasks to be dealt with by legislatures and state administrations. The economic transformation turned out to be much more complicated, risk-laden and time-consuming than anticipated. However, looking back on what was achieved during the past few years, one does not as yet feel entitled to blame the new democracies -- its citizens, voters, and governments -- for failures and problems left unaddressed. More often than not, the task of turning the wheel full circle to embark on the road to democracy and market capitalism was mastered with impressing success. The well-known list of shortcomings and drawbacks, above all, is to remind us of the huge dimensions of the project. These should also be kept in mind when assessing both the problems associated with environmental reforms and their limited success.

When we turn to actual environmental policy in the subsequent paragraphs, there will be no further mention of what has remained of the environmental movements. This does not mean that they became totally insignificant or are absent from the political system. Because the paper is not a comparative policy analysis dedicated to the task of revealing the relevant influence of the different actors involved, we will take a glance at the output side of politics. Organized environmentalism is assumed to remain a factor of more or less significance on the input side but will not be touched upon in the remainder of this section. However, we have to take note of an important exception concerning the role of environmental groups in the context of international negotiations that at present are tremendously important. Because information is no longer constrained by repression or control from above, governments are experiencing that it is nearly impossible to lie in international negotiations, e.g. by pretending that adequate measures against pollution have just come into effect. To date, environmental groups and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have established a sufficient international reputation to denounce a government if it attempts to deceive its partners. Furthermore, pressures to act more frequently will derive from within the transition countries and join external claims to comply to international agreements. As the accountability of governments improves, it becomes more likely that domestic pressure to support compliance to contracts will increase as well.

Before looking at indicators of success and failures as the result of environmental action, one has to recognize the ambiguous economic situation in post-socialist countries. As a consequence of the introduction of hard budget constraints at the enterprise level and measures of macroeconomic stabilization including prize and trade liberalization, state budget constraints and anti-inflation policy, the new democracies faced a serious economic crisis. The shocks inflicted by market forces and the so-called economic shock therapy hit the often outmoded manufacturing industries the hardest. Thus, the decline and delayed recovery of industrial output appears to be an appropriate indicator of the initial transformation crisis. Comparable data show that there are two groups of post-socialist countries with different performances. One group is made up of countries that are presently members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, e.g. Belarus, the Russian Federation, and the Ukraine. The second group comprises the Central and Southeastern European countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Republic of Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. While the countries belonging to the first group still suffer from an extreme decline in production, the second group of countries appears to have left the "valley of tears" behind and is now progressing on the path to full recovery (see table 1). Surprisingly, even all the "better-off" countries, i.e. the Czech Republic, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and the Republic of Slovenia, display a severe decline in industrial production as shown by the curves in figure 3.

Table 1: The Development of Industrial Output during Economic Transformation
Decline and Recovery of Industrial Production 
(Manufacturing industries, mining, energy) 
1990 = 100
1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
Bulgaria 77.8 65.4 60.8 63.2 ?
Czech Republic 76.5 65.2 68.1 69.5 74.0
East Germany 72.2 67.6 71.5 81.4 86.9
Hungary 81.4 73.8 76.6 84 88.1
Poland 88.1 91.8 97 108.8 120
Romania 77.3 60.3 58.0 59.8 65.4
Slovak Republic 87.2 70.8 70.3 73.6 79.7
Republic of Slovenia ? 76.0 73.9 78.7 80.3
Source: OECD (1994ff.); Statistisches Bundesamt (1993ff.)

Job losses as a consequence of declined production, price liberalization and the cancellation of state subsidies to certain consumer goods resulted in feelings of social insecurity and increased uncertainty (Slocock 1991). People became increasingly preoccupied with short-term problems of securing household income, as well as adapting to the new opportunity structure which offered previously unavailable options such as entrepreneurship and the establishment of businesses. The changed circumstances led to the decomposition and "demobilization" of environmental groups (as described by Tsepilova 1996). They furthermore gave rise to unforeseen conflicts between workers employed by enterprises with hazardous externalities and remaining environmental protesters who demanded a stop in production (such conflicts are reported to have happened inside the Polish movement of Solidarity). The coincidence of a weakened economy and heightened popular discontent stemming from job losses and rising prices not only led to a reversal in the political agenda (with economic matters at the top and environmental issues at the bottom), but in some cases attempts of environmental regulation even met with popular opposition.

Two more features of the new relationship between state and economy appear to be constraining the pace and range of environmental regulation, both having to do with the ambiguities of a prolonged interim period. On the one hand, transition economies were (and still are) in a certain disarray in their resistance to state intervention and, in particular, to regulations which aim to internalize social and environmental effects. Since the wholesale privatization is a rather complex project, for a certain period there are going to be large sectors of the economy (mainly the old industrial sectors) with rather poorly defined property rights. Although formerly under the control of privatization agencies or state-monitored investment funds, neither the government nor private share-holders expect management to follow costly regulations. Both full-scale and semi-privatization appear to have lowered the burdens of state regulation felt by CEOs. Given the lack of investment capital as well as market prices for scarce resources, the often projected conversion of hazardous production is postponed until "better times". While both state agencies and private investors lack the necessary capital for an immediate modernization of old-fashioned factory equipment, the expectation that there could be a recovery in the near future of the environment from industrial pollution appears premature. Often, state agencies seem to be the more viable candidates for organizational reform. The agencies' structure does not always follow the multiplication of new addressees as happened with the dissolution of large socialist enterprises into 50 or more autonomous private firms.

Even more problematic would appear to be "the devolution of power" (Kotov et al. 1997: 113) that happened in the early years of "destatization" in the former USSR. It resulted in a significant increase in managerial power at the expense of state and public authorities (Wiesenthal 1996). With the erosion of the central state bureaucracy and the devolution of governance functions to both the "corporatized" (former) state enterprises and local governments, the power and discretion of the directors of enterprises increased tremendously. They became sovereign with respect to the prices charged, their investment plans, borrowing policies and the use of possible profits. This did not, however, always include the firms' liability for a balanced budget, i.e. a volume of market sales that covers its pay-roll. Quite often, the central state remained liable for the complementary provision of funds that the firm failed to earn itself in the marketplace. Whereas the state's deficit guarantee reflects the public interest in the firms' social functions -- as a sort of multi-purpose institution responsible for the well-being of the whole citizenry (above all by abstaining from massive lay-offs) -- the factual softening of budget constraints provided the "direktora" with more freedom of action than it enjoyed under the rule of the socialist state bureaucracy. Ongoing subsidies combined with increased autonomy made the former state enterprises that were once rather weak elements of the plan-command economy become powerful "local heroes" of the new semi-private business sector (Tsoukas 1994). Confronted with the economic transformation crisis and the increased power of the semi-private big business sector, local governments have no other choice but to refrain from implementing regulations whose consequences are declared costly by business representatives. Legal exemptions and temporary relief from valid norms of behavior became serious obstacles to the implementation of environmental laws (Kotov et al. 1997). This applies in particular to the profitable, but extremely hazardous industries producing oil, gas and heavy metals.

On formal grounds, the introduction of environmental laws and regulation comes close to being revolutionary when compared to the past. Nearly all former socialist countries resorted to the entire catalogue of market-related policy instruments such as pollution taxes, fines and permits.(17) For the time being, the efficacy of economic instruments is reported to be unsatisfactory for three reasons. First, there is a lack of knowledge and experience on the side of both state and business adminstrations to use economic instruments effectively. Second, while environmental monitoring is still underdeveloped, defective behaviour on a level below actual catastrophe is unlikely to become detected and thereby subject to sanctions. Third, the enduring lack of hard budget constraints lessens the behavioral impact of cost-related positive and negative sanctions. Given that pollution fines did not keep up with inflation, their effect as incentives to secure compliance with the law is close to nil.(18)

Not surprisingly, with respect to compliance to environmental regulation there are large differences not only between post-socialist states but among regions as well. Poland is said to have a rather impressive record of successful environmental policies. Taxes on SO2 pollution are the highest among all new democracies. Pollution taxes, together with other environment-related earnings, are used to finance more appropriate technologies for reducing pollution and improving waste disposal. This appears to be a superior concept because of the use of special environmental funds that are detached from the regular state budget. Poland is said to comply with the international regulations concerning pollution in the Baltic Sea (Darst 1997: 55), whereas Russia made little effort to stay on track in its commitment to improve wastewater treatment (Kotov et al. 1997).

The lack of compliance that most environmental analysts identify in the case of Russia is considered to have two major causes. On the one hand, the Russian institutional system still appears inconsistent, with little regulatory impact. Since the allocation of competences and duties is not always clear, and state authorities are reluctant (or unable) to implement the law, existing rules have little influence on behaviour. This applies to tax regulations as well as legal norms. Looking at the role of the so-called mafia one might even speak of the existence of a "market for institutions". On the other hand, international negotiations have became more complicated since the times of a unified Soviet power. A lot of internal coordination will be needed before the Russian Federation can take a position on the issues at stake. Furthermore, several issues of international environmental coordination have to be negotiated between new autonomous states that were formerly parts of the USSR such as the Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and of course the Russian Federation. Similar disadvantages are said to stem from the multiplication of autonomous nation states on the shores of the Baltic Sea where reducing the level of pollution is extremely important.

Paradoxically, the record of environmental pollution after 1990 is not as bad as one would expect in view of the aforementioned limits to effective regulation. Economic decline in terms of drastically reduced industrial output resulted in lower levels of pollution. "In 1993, SO2 emissions from European Russia were 52% lower than in 1980" (Kotov et al. 1997: 110). With step by step recovery, however, the situation might again change for the worse. At least in the years to come, the sectoral composition of the transformed economies resembles a sort of regression. Because the relatively most advanced technologies need huge capital investments, they tend to be passed over in favour of "bread and butter" products on a lower level of technological complexity. While the Bulgarian (as well as the Russian) electronics industry almost disappeared after 1990 (Genov 1997), steel-making and chemical industries are gradually recovering.

A similar situation exists in agriculture where environmental problems "are both serious and diverse" (OECD 1994: 7). In almost every post-socialist country, a two-fold process of structural change is underway. On the one hand, large farms either formerly state-owned or managed collectively are transformed through allocating their assets to a number of single private farms. On the other hand, there is a serious reduction in average farm size, which has brought about changes in the work organization as well as in production technology (Lütteken/Hagedorn 1998). The structural changes, together with the effect of declining demand after price liberalization, resulted in a decrease in total agricultural output, sometimes followed by a disproportionate decline in employment (due to increased productivity).(19) From 1990 until 1994 crop production in 10 East and Central European countries fell by 13% , animal production even by 30% (Lütteken/Hagedorn 1998). A further result of agricultural transformation which can be welcomed is the reduction in the use of agro-chemicals due to the abolition of price subsidies and other incentives to boost production. While the USSR together with major COMECON countries had "the total amount of mineral fertilizer use increased by a rate of 18 % from 1980 to 1989" (Lütteken/Hagedorn 1998), fertiliser use by 19 West European declined by 5%. After 1990 the Eastern European countries joined the Western path with reduction rates between 20-70%. An analogous trend is reported for the use of pesticides.

At first glance, the changes in agriculture appear to be a major step in the direction of environmentally sound production. However, as experts explain, this picture is unlikely to remain valid in a mid-term perspective. The use of agro-chemicals already began increasing after 1994, in the case of Poland as early as 1992 (Lütteken 1998). This is all the more problematic as some countries have as yet failed to fix upper limits for the use of chemicals with potentially hazardous effects. Because of the still drastically reduced pollution, the need for strict regulations may be underestimated. If, however, preventive regulations are not going to put into place for the time being, the restructured agriculture appears ill prepared for their envisaged integration into the Common European Market with its strong incentives for an extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Should Central European Countries be made members of the EU without having introduced proper regulations, the economic incentives of the Common Market framework can be expected to work against environmental goals. With a view on investments made and vested interests, the postponement of adequate regulation appears to be the wrong choice (Lütteken/Hagedorn 1998).

The last point to mention in this section is the role of external partners, in particular neighbouring countries and the member states of the European Union. Though there are solid arguments in favour of mutually beneficial cooperation in general and generous unilateral financial help from Western states in particular (Vobruba 1992),(20) the overall significance appears to be overrated. With the exception of single projects to reduce far-reaching risks of single installations such as nuclear reactors, financial contributions from abroad are of little importance. For example, 90% of all environmental spending in the town of St. Petersburg is financed domestically. The same applies to 95% of the costs of environmental policies in Poland. A considerably larger share is contributed by Western countries to the costs of investments targeted to reduce Baltic Sea pollution; the Western partners shouldered 32% of the costs (Kotov et al. 1997). However, there are also examples of failed cooperation: Western donors withdrew from joint implementation projects after recognizing that the Russian partners had defected.

Environmental disasters may not only affect those who are responsible, but the neighbors abroad as well. Therefore, neighbouring states might be willing to tolerate a violation of the so-called "Polluter Pays Principle". The willingness of Western partners to contribute to the reduction of risks threatening to cross the border of former socialist states can be exploited by the "polluting" state. Such a situation emerged after the Chernobyl catastrophe in the Ukraine. In order to prevent another outburst and long-range dispersion of radioactivity as occurred in April 1986, Western countries offered a huge amount of financial subsidies (Darst 1997) including grants, soft loans and loan guarantees. This "bribery" package was intended to change the pay-off structure of local actors in such a way that they would prefer the closure of their hazardous nuclear installations instead of making further investments in insufficient improvements. After Russian and Ukrainian representatives recognized that a prolonged existence of the hazardous power plant would serve as a continous source of grants and subsidies, they changed their minds and demanded even larger contributions from the European Union and G7 countries. As Robert Darst puts it, "(t)he prospect of environmental subsidization (...) may encourage potential recipient states to accept higher levels of ecological risk than they would otherwise be willing to live with, in the hope or expectation that their neighbors will furnish the resources necessary to reduce that risk to an acceptable level" (Darst 1997: 50). Even after the Western offer was raised from $2.3 billion to $3.1 billion for the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear plants, the Ukranian partners remained reluctant and demanded another round of negotiations. Further examples of environmental blackmail by former socialist countries are reported with respect to the Nickel plant of Pechenganikel near Finland and Western offers to contribute to projects targeted at the modernization of several nuclear power plants. Also worthwhile remembering as a case of environmental blackmail is what happened in 1993 when Russia dumped 900 cubic meters of radioactive wastes in the Sea of Japan. This was followed by the announcement of an official Russian spokesmen of subsequent dumpings if there were no financial help offered to proceed otherwise. After some pressures from the USA, Japan agreed to finance the construction of a reprocessing facility in the Far East for about $26 million.

Taken altogether, it would not appear to be too pessimistic if one concludes that the former socialist countries -- notwithstanding the indications of important progress in the reduction of pollution -- remain major polluters deserving both focussed attention and assistance to master their tasks.

5. East Germany as a Special Case of Political Environmentalism And Environmental Regulation

The environmental situation in the GDR was among the worst of all socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. After economic exchange relations had been almost completely severed in the years before and after the erection of the Berlin Wall and similar structures along East Germany's Western border, industrial autarchy prevailed even over efficiency criteria. Under these circumstances, environmental pollution was nearly a non-issue. Although the GDR increasingly benefitted from trade with West Germany, after having agreed to establish formal bilateral (though explicitly not declared "international") relations, the priorities of its industrial policy remained strictly output-related.

With the establishment of a state agency for environmental protection and water use in 1971, the Socialist Unity Party (SED) of the GDR kept pace with the institutional developments in the neighbouring countries. As was the case at this time in almost all capitalist and socialist countries, the official acknowledgement of environmental problems through the creation of agencies was little other than "politics as symbolic action" (Edelman 1971). Being surprised at the sudden increase of popular concern with the environment after the broad reception of the famous "Limits to Growth" report to the Club of Rome, governments all over the world claimed responsibility for the environment and saving energy. The context within which this sudden "move to nature" occurred was created by economic changes as well: above all the so-called oil price crisis as a side effect of the situation in the Near East and its geopolitical impact. Of course, socialist countries had to mention the possibility of increasing energy prices and other sorts of natural resources as well. With a surprisingly flexible reaction to the foundation of the West German Green Party in 1980 -- or, as a sort of "preemptive strike" -- the East German government created an environmental association of its own, the "Gesellschaft für Natur und Umwelt" (Hampele 1997).

In the case of East Germany, the close -- though inofficial -- contacts with West German discussions and, through these, with international issues, could be expected to have facilitated and hastened the development of an environmental movement in the GDR similar to that in the FRG. However, the SED's monopoly of political representation precluded any explicitly organized expression of the growing environmental concern. Given the closed political system of the GDR --which appeared to have been several degrees stronger than in other socialist countries such as Hungary and Poland -- it is all the more remarkable that environmental protest and an articulated sense of the problematic relationship between (the socialist) society and nature ranked among the most influental intellectual currents leading to the creeping delegitimization of the regime. As outlined above, because the point of departure of ecological critique -- its relation to the quality of life of the masses as well as its anti-capitalist connotations -- was broadly consistent with core features of the communist political philosophy, environmentalism had a strong comparative advantage over alternative frames of reference for the development of an internal opposition. Because of this, both environmental issues as well as an upswing of organized environmentalism played a major role in the collapse of the regime.

First indications of "non-official" environmental concern -- environmental protest would be the wrong term -- appeared as early as in the mid seventies.(21) The major social locus and for at least one decade the only place where ecological concern could develop was the network of the Protestant (Christian) churches. In its outsider role as a social institution, the church provided an umbrella for a bundle of self-organized discussion groups of mostly younger people. Members of these groups did however have a solid footing in the Marxist philosophy and took the declared values of the system seriously. As early as 1982, a West German newspaper printed a report on the Eastern environmental groups entitled "The Development of Environmental Discussion in GDR -- a Delayed-Action Cap?" (Die Tageszeitung, 15.7.1982, page 9). In the mid-80s, there were about 15 environmental libraries ("Umweltbibliotheken") in major cities of the GDR. This peculiar organizational form was chosen in order to demonstrate political innocence by stressing functions such as the provision of neutral information. The topics of socio-ecological critique ranged from one-sided urban development strategies -- famous for its notorious prefence for replacing 19th-century buildings with large concrete housing blocks -- and from energy waste and damaging agricultural practices to the rejection of nuclear energy plants (cf. Wensierski/Büscher 1981). Of course, environmentalism was not the only issue dealt with by the early oppositional groups. These groups were also concerned with disarmament and peace negotiations, feminism, participatory democracy and human rights. However, in 1989 the Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) counted 39 groups of environmentalists associated with or protected by the church (Hampele 1997).

Serving as a major point of reference for the demands for thoroughgoing reforms, after the collapse of the SED's power monopoly, not only the oppositional groups but the hastily reformed communist party, its allies (the so-called bloc parties), as well as the mass organizations claimed to have a stake in the environmental agenda. Given the near impossibility of freely discussing the virtues of pluralism and market economy during the times of socialist rule, the issues of environmental critique, the freedom to travel as well as a better supply of consumer goods and other dimensions having to do with the quality of life became the prominent demands of change. However, citizens already actively engaged in environmental politics took the opportunity to create nation-wide organizations. They not only formed an East German Green Party of their own -- naming themselves the "Grüne Partei" instead of imitating the West German "Die Grünen" -- but a particular association for environmental protection, the "Grüne Liga", as well (Hampele 1997). Due to its access to state subsidies and its integration into the German corporatist structure of "acknowledged" interest associations that are regularly consulted by legislatures,(22) the Grüne Liga was able to survive the downswing in citizen participation after the unification of Germany.

What happened after the collapse is extensively analyzed in studies about the end of GDR and the unification of the two Germanies.(23) As participants of the Round Table, that which was substituted for the power monopoly of the SED, oppositional groups became more occupied with the obstacles to completely smashing the old power structure than the agenda of reform. With the outcomes of the first free elections in March 1990, the path to German unity was paved. All major projects of reform were focussed on adapting the Eastern institutional system to that of the FRG. In this process of rapprochement to the West, the opposition movement became torn between the two opposing options of either supporting the quest for unification, or clinging to the idea of a separate GDR that after thoroughgoing reforms should resemble a model of democratic socialism. Although there was a respectable minority pleading for unification, the East German electorate that with a vast majority would vote for unification punished its liberators and denied them solid parliamentary representation (Wielgohs/Wiesenthal 1993). The cumulated voter turnout of the Alliance of several opposition groups called Bündnis90 and the combined Grüne Partei and the Independent Women's Association UFV amounted to less than 5%. An identical outcome occurred in the first All-German elections in December 1990 when the West German Green Party failed to achieve the minimum of 5% of the votes for returning to the national parliament.(24)

Regarding the collapse of the GDR's socialist regime as only one case in a series of implosions, East German environmentalism reveals itself as having been extremely influential. Having gained force through the mass exodus of GDR citizens via the Hungarian-Austrian border, East Germany's opposition movement had a strong impact on the subsequent revolutions in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania as well as in the now autonomous Baltic states. After working as a sort of "ideological explosive" in the GDR, environmentalism doubtlessly served as a "bridge" to pluralist democracy and market economy. It did so on two levels. On the one hand, enabling the East German opposition to upset the most rigid socialist regime, the threshold against change in other socialist countries was significantly lowered. On the other hand, with its close ties to the declared value of the communist value system, a broad caucus of environmentalism in the opposition movement helped to raise the threshold beyond which the old regimes could legitimately have recourse to violent means of defence. Though having been extremely successful in delegitimizing the old system, the political opposition of the GDR failed to consolidate itself under the circumstances in which it had originated. Thus, its fate in no way differs from that of political environmentalism in other post-socialist countries.

Among the former communist countries, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) appears extremely privileged. Through its unification with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) the implementation of a pluralist democratic system and the market economy was smooth and safeguarded in many ways. East Germany benefits from the FRG's well-proven and full-fledged institutional system that immediately took effect during the second half of 1990. The citizens of the former GDR did not have to create a complete system of legal institutions, administrative agencies and representational bodies of their own. The framework of market economy, the organizations of territorial administration and local self-government, civil and commercial law, penal and public law, the social security system, antitrust and collective bargaining law, as well as the instruments of labor administration and industrial policy -- none of these had to be invented in East Germany. Second, East Germany enjoyed the privilege of large financial transfers without any obligation of repayment. Annual transfers in the order of $100 billion have effected a rapid improvement of the public infrastructure, as do they back the funds of the social insurance system. Third, being subjected to the political system -- and the political elite -- of West Germany, East Germany's process of transition is obviously the least likely to be endangered by the ambiguities of an overburdened agenda or the opportunistic and rent-seeking behavior of new political elites.

However, after only two years of transformation, some less favorable conditions and outcomes became apparent. Exactly like the other central European countries, the East German economy was hit by a transformation crisis. Its depth follows from measures that -- at least in the short run -- had an even more disastrous effect than the shock therapy employed in other countries, namely the complete integration in the West German economy with its entirely liberalized trade relations with the rest of the world. Domestic production declined by about 40% from 1989 to the end of 1991. However, recovery took place with more speed than anywhere else, with the exception of Poland where economic transformation had already started in 1989. Looking at unemployment rates and inflation rates of transition economies, we find further indicators of a certain uniqueness of East Germany. Only in 1992 did its inflation rate exceed the 10% mark, for the period after 1994 an inflation rate as low as 2% has been measured or predicted. On the other hand, East Germany's unemployment rate, after it passed the 15% mark in 1992, appears to have gotten stuck at this level. From 1991 until 1993, and again since 1995, it has led in unemployment rates among the "better-off" ECE countries. There was a largely uncompensated loss of 37% of all jobs until 1993. This sets East Germany apart from the others, but can, however, be easily explained by the subordination of East Germany's economy to the Bonn government's preferred macroeconomic policy. As the latter is explicitly directed at minimizing inflation, even at the price of increased unemployment, the economy under transition is confronted with rather unfavorable conditions for recovery. Being strongly committed to approach the Maastricht criteria of joining the European monetary union, the government had little at hand to compensate for the decline of GDP growth in East Germany.

Although massive financial aid from West Germany compensated for the distributional impact of the transition crisis, thus relieving the people from burdens common to the peoples of other post-socialist countries, the crisis became the dominant theme of all unification-related policies. Since East Germany represents a rather disadvantaged investment site due to a high wage level (approaching West German wage rates as close as 85%) but a low level of labor productivity, the prospects for economic recovery are grim. Even eight years after unification, there is a considerable degree of popular frustration and dissatisfaction resulting from the package of drawbacks including mass unemployment, the massive devaluation of skills, the loss of property rights resulting from the restitution policy and, last but not least, the high degree of personnel turnover even beyond the upper echelons of political and managerial hierarchies. As an unexpected and intriguing outcome, the most "comfortable" way of departure from socialism appears to trigger serious political dissatisfaction.

As the only case of an externally guided (and sponsored) transformation, East Germany became the subject of a clause in the constitution of West Germany. Through this clause, the FRG government is obliged to ensure -- as soon as possible -- "the equality of living conditions" (Article 106 (3) 2, Basic Law). As it is widely considered, the obligation goes far beyond a binding definition of the long-term effects of policies; it also determines the ways and means of achieving the goal: by introducing the exact institutions and standards of performance and service provision as are valid in the West. For this reason, political scientists declared East Germany a "ready-made state" (Rose/Haerpfer 1996). Of course, West German environmental standards are part and parcel of the institutional system extended to the East.

With tremendous efforts to approach West German standards, the environmental situation in East Germany has in recent years improved significantly. In 1991, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, the Protection of Nature and Reactor Safety proclaimed to aim at East Germany being on par with West Germany as early as the year 2000. Although this might not be the case for all aspects of pollution control, the improvements already achieved look impressing. Whereas per capita emmissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and dust were about 20 times the Western figures,(25) from 1990-1992 a reduction of 45% was achieved. Improvements on a similar scale are reported for waste water and treatment and the decontamination of poisened soil areas ("Altlastensanierung"). However, upon closer look the situation seems more ambiguous.

On the one hand, huge investments still need to be made in oder to catch up with the West. In order to have proper waste water treatment in all municipalities, about US$ 70 billion will be needed. For sufficient sewage disposal according to FRG standards, another US$ 20 billion has to be invested. The decontamination of poisened soil is said to cost about US$ 30 billion alone for civil industrial sites.(26) The poisened sites that were formerly used by the Soviet army demand additional funds.

On the other hand, recent years not only saw environmental improvements but changes for the worse as well. Huge increases in car purchases and car use counteracted declining industrial emissions. This is particularly the case for carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Instead of reductions further increases are expected to follow from car use which is estimated to grow by 30% until the year 2010 (Horbach/Komar 1994: 139). Similarly, as a consequence of catching up with Western patterns of consumption, per capita figures of sewage doubled after 1989 and, in 1990, was 27% above Western figures.

Given that household consumption in East Germany as well as in other former socialist countries is still lagging behind Western levels, much of the positive picture of reduced pollution after the regime change becomes obscured. By catching up in economic output and individual consumption, pollution threatens to rise again. Much of the future situation seems to depend on the budgetary decisions made to date where public and international funds are directed at either stimulating production or reducing the level of ongoing pollution.

6. Tentative Conclusions

Political environmentalism was a major force in the concert of opposition movements. Whenever and wherever individuals formed informal or formal groups that raised demands to stop pollution and respect nature in its own right, environmental concern undermined the legitimacy of the system. Given the overarching significance of environmental concern in general, in East Germany its role was even more articulate than elsewhere. Given the strong ideological separation from the West, there was literally no other issue that could serve more efficiently as a focus of popular protest. With its implications for other socialist regimes, the impact of East German environmentalism obviously has historic dimensions.

What happened to political environmentalism after the turmoil in the process of transition and restructuration is less impressive. The manifold observations can be resumed as follows:
- Although constitutional liberties are quite similar in post-socialist countries, there are enormous differences relative to the presence and the impact of environmental parties (or groups).
- In most countries, environmental concern has been on the decline since 1990. It proved extremely difficult for the activist core of the respective movements to "install" an ecological agenda. However, there are exceptions such as Bulgaria, where an annual "Human Development Report" (UNDP 1997) is published for the United Nations Development Programme. Among other topics, this report provides information about environmental policies and their social context.
- Benefitting from a decline in pollution as a consequence of partial deindustrialization and import substitution for industrial goods, the necessary changes in the regulatory framework are still lagging behind Western standards. Industrial decline resulted in a certain "relaxation" of environmental concern, while more pressing issues attracted the attention of government, administrators and voters. Although thoroughgoing reforms are common place in post-socialist states, environmental planning and institution building appears to be in a "transformation trap" (Lütteken/Hagedorn 1998).
- Due to low population density and unequal industrialization, there are large areas in East and Central Europe where environmental quality is far above the average levels found in densely populated Western Europe. Though not all of these nature reserves are formerly protected as reservations, their existence seems to contribute to an overall positive, however misleading picture. In the near future, an environmental downturn is most likely because of unregulated growth and a lack of concern for the sectors of environment and nature still intact (cf. Tang 1993).
- There are apparent differences between environmental policies in former Soviet states and those in the smaller ECE countries. Advances in institution building and the reallocation of property rights allow the latter to be more effective in controlling and reducing pollution. Russia, in particular, demonstrates the general paradox of system change: While the entire concept of institutional change falls under the heading of "destatization", i.e. the down-grading and abolition of state functions, the period of transition calls for the opposite: first, avoiding that state power becomes illegally appropriated by private agents; and second, incorporating new functions and tasks such as an institutional framework of environmental protection.
- Given that major improvements became visible in countries with obvious progress in introducing markets and redefining property rights (such as Poland), there appears to be sufficient ground for concluding that market capitalism and environmental protection may well go together. Or as it is put by a group of insiders: "much of what is needed for a properly functioning liberal market-based society may also be good for environmental protection" (Kotov et al. 1997:105). Given that legal responsibilities are defined with the same precision -- and visibility! -- as property rights, there is a clear "advantage of market over planning" as Tang (1993: 102) puts it with reference to energy efficiency.
- Finally, the decline in popular preferences for enforced pollution control is nothing special for post-socialist countries. It resembles what has happened in Western Europe with its declining GDP and rising unemployment. All major successes of pollution control that have been achieved to date can be traced back to the period of strong environmental concern and political mobilization. This period ended in 1990. Since then, further progess seems to have become dependent upon both the regulatory power of domestic institutions and international regulations, in particular if the latter are supported by coordinated action of NGOs.


1 Predominantly working on nonrelated subjects, I could not have written this paper without drawing on the experience of some colleagues with more intimate knowledge of East European environmentalism. I am seriously indebted to Olga Tsepilova, St. Petersburg Centre of Independent Social Studies, from whose case study about a particular environmental movement in Russia I benefitted more than it is possible to document through explicit reference. I also would like to express my thanks to Antonia Lütteken, Andrea Goymann und Jan Wielgohs (all of them of the Humboldt University at Berlin) who provided me with extremely valuable bibliographical and factual information I would otherwise have missed. Last but not least, I am indebted to Lora Renz-Moritz for a lot of invaluable suggestions improving style and clarity of the text. [Back]

2 The plurality of social functions performed by large Russian enterprises appears to be another example of the "socialist forms of indivisibility" (Hausner et al. 1995: 388). In Marxist social philosophy this topic is reflected in notions of an assumed "inseparability of the economic domain from other social domains" (Tsoukas 1994: 27).  [Back]

3 A strong preference for present over future utility among ECE socialist workers may also be identified if one looks at the large share of people who smoked and/or were addicted to alcohol. One might remember that Gorbachev as the chairman of the Communist party frustrated a majority of followers with his crusade against public drinking.  [Back]

4 The region around the East German town of Bitterfeld with its highly concentrated chemical plants was regarded as the most heavily poisened place in Europe.  [Back]

5 For more comparative statistical information about pollution and other environmental problems see Förster (1991), Matthes (1992), Carter/Turnock (1993) and Nissen (1992a, 1993). Country-specific data are provided for Albania by Hall (1993), for Bulgaria by Baumgartl (1992) and Carter (1993a), for the Czech Republic (and partly for Slovakia) by Carter (1993b), Cerna et al. (1994) and Huba (1996), for Hungary by Hinrichsen/Láng (1993), for Poland by Kramer (1989), Welfens (1992), Carter (1993c), Sleszynski (1995) and Lütteken (1998), for Romania by Turnock (1993), for the Soviet Union and Russia by several authors in Schreiber (1989) and by Jancar-Webster (1994), and for the former Yugoslavia by Singleton (1989) and Jancar-Webster (1993).  [Back]

6 This case, by the way, demonstrates that, contrarily to a wide-spread opinion (see e.g. Goldman 1989), environmental movements did in fact occur before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  [Back]

7 For a discussion of the value structure of Russian environmentalists see Yanitsky (1991) and Tsepilova (1996).  [Back]

8 According to Nohlen/Kasapovic (1996).  [Back]

9 According to Gabanyi (1997).  [Back]

10 According to Nohlen/Kasapovic (1996).  [Back]

11 According to Schliewenz (1997).  [Back]

12 According to Gabanyi (1997).  [Back]

13 According to Vodicka (1997).  [Back]

14 According to Szomolányi/Meseznikow (1997).  [Back]

15 Among the partners forming the "CDR" is another environmentalist group, the "FER" (Environmental Federation of Romania).  [Back]

16 West European Green Parties and NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth provided both technical assistance for the establishment of local chapters and helped to organize international fora attracting broad publicity.  [Back]

17 See Bartel (1994), Kotov et al. (1997).  [Back]

18 In the case of the highly profitable Nickel plant of Norilsk near the Finnish border, fines are said to have a significant effect only if raised 1000 times the actual rate (Kotov et al. 1997: 112).  [Back]

19 However, with 26.7% of total employment in 1993, the 10 East and Central European countries, except for Russia, still have a disproportionate share of their working population employed in agriculture.  [Back]

20 For the "conference approach" to the organization of close cooperation between West and East European states see Gneveckow (1996).  [Back]

21 For documents of the early environmentalist groups see Wensierski/Büscher (1981). A closer look at their ideological and organizational features as well as their relationship with the Protestant church is provided in several books and papers by Detlef Pollack (1994, 1996; Pollack/Rink 1997).  [Back]

22 For an account of the prominent role of associations in the corporatist institutional settings of continental Europe see Streeck/Schmitter (1985).  [Back]

23 See e.g. Glaessner (1992, 1994), Maier (1996) and Pickel/Wiesenthal (1997).  [Back]

24 However, because the 5% threshold had been suspended for regional East German parties, Bündnis90 won a couple of seats in the first All-German Bundestag.  [Back]

25 Measured relative to the level of GDP, SO2 emmissions were even 65 times higher than in West Germany (Horbach/Komar 1994: 137).  [Back]

26 All these data are from Horbach/Kramer (1994) and refer to the first years after unification. Actual data may have changed due to improved information.  [Back]


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From "Prime Mover" to "Victim of Change":
Political Environmentalism and its Effects in Central and Eastern Europe
Environmental protest and environmental movements constituted a genuine force among the opposition movements that pushed the socialist regimes aside in Eastern and Central Europe. After discussing the precarious relationship between socialism and environmental protection, the paper throws some light on the "revolutionary" impact of environmental groups in 1989-90 and assesses what happened with the environment in the process of wholesale societal reform. Special attention is paid to the situation in East Germany, before the major traits of political environmentalism in the new democracies are summarized.

Personal information:
Helmut Wiesenthal, born 1938, since 1994 professor for political science at Humboldt University, Berlin. Studied (after a period of industrial and managerial work) economics, sociology and political science in Muenster and Bielefeld. Doctorate in 1987 with a thesis on the West German system of industrial relations. Habilitation in political science with a thesis about collective political actors. From 1980-91 research fellow at Bielefeld University, the Centre for Social Policy in Bremen and the Max Planck Institute for Social Research in Cologne. From 1992-96 director of the Max Planck research unit "Institutional transformation in the new German laender". Actual fields of research: institutional change in post-communist societies, institutional adaptation to globalization. General fields of interest: collective political actors, institutions for social choice, political theory , "green" politics and policy.
© Helmut Wiesenthal 1998
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