INTO SOVIET NATURE: TOURISM, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, AND THE FORMATION OF SOVIET AND RUSSIAN NATIONAL PARKS, 1950s-1990s
Roe, Alan Daniel
From the 1950s to the 1980s, affordable tourism for the masses became one of the hallmarks of the “Soviet good life.” However, through the course of these decades, Soviet environmentalists increasingly viewed mass outdoor tourism as a serious threat to nature. They tried to address this problem in two ways. First, they sought to educate tourists on environmental protection and promoted tourist-led environmental protection initiatives. The promotion of national parks was the second means by which environmentalists addressed tourism’s environmental impact.Soviet environmentalists believed that national parks, in addition to tourism more environmentally sustainable, would help reorient regional economies towards tourism and away from environmentally destructive industries as well as bring international prestige to Soviet environmental protection efforts. From the 1960s through the 1980s, scientific and architectural institutes, civic organizations, professors, and private citizens envisioned, designed, and promoted national parks throughout the USSR. By the late 1980s, national parks had become rallying points for a widely expanded and more protest-oriented environmental community. Increasing environmental concern throughout the USSR dramatically increased the expectations of park founders and supporters. In many cases, they argued that national parks could serve as vehicles for sweeping regional economic and cultural transformation. The Soviet Union’s rapid decline and the economic chaos that followed its collapse made such transformative visions for national parks untenable. Few Russians wanted to travel domestically during the 1990s, and the state was unable to provide national parks with the finances to perform their most basic functions. By the late 1990s, Russian national parks served as a painful reminder of the failure of the USSR and then the Russian Federation to protect its scenic treasures as well as the dependence of Russian environmentalists on the international environmental community.
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