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Title: Electronic communication and environmental policy in Russia...
Subject(s): EMAIL -- Political aspects; POLITICAL activists; ENVIRONMENTAL policy; ESTONIA -- Foreign relations -- Russia (Federation); RUSSIA (Federation) -- Foreign relations -- Estonia
Source: Geographical Review, Apr97, Vol. 87 Issue 2, p275, 16p, 1 map
Author(s): O'Lear, Shannon
Abstract: Discusses how e-mail communication has enabled Peipsi Lake Project (PLP), an international group of activists to extent their social geography across an established Estonian-Russian political boundary. Influence of e-mail communication on environmental policy in Estonia and Russia; Post-Soviet ecology; Information on PLP.
AN: 800349
ISSN: 0016-7428
Full Text Word Count: 7327
Database: Academic Search Elite
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ABSTRACT. The use of e-mail by a grassroots activist group that straddles the Estonian-Russian border transcends political boundaries and provides ready connections to people in distant places. Activists create a perceived space of resistance in a supportive network that is stretched across space. This network of concern, defined by the physical space in which these activists work and by the strong communicative connections among them, was created to overcome continued environmental mismanagement and remove cultural barriers to cooperation. E-mail communication has enabled an ongoing influence on environmental policy in Estonia and Russia. This circumstance of a collaborative e-mail network created by grassroots activists to aid political work is a testament to how communication technology has expanded for the purpose of strengthening previously silenced voices in a regional and political context. Keywords: e-mail, environmental policy, Estonia, former Soviet Union, Internet.

On 11 January 1996 Russia and Estonia signed a policy agreement that expresses commitment to improved joint management of Peipsi-Chudskoye Lake, a water body that constitutes a substantial portion of the boundary between these two countries (Trumbull 1996). This is the first environmental agreement between Estonia and Russia, a significant accomplishment considering that border disputes remain between these former Soviet republics. Equally significant is the function of grassroots activism, aided by e-mail communication, that was instrumental in bringing about this policy agreement.

In this article I examine how electronic communication has enabled an international group of activists, the Peipsi Lake Project (PLP), to extend their social geography across an established political boundary in pursuit of an agenda at once political and environmental. This case demonstrates how communication technologies may create perceived spaces of resistance, as grassroots groups strengthen previously silenced voices in society. At a time when grassroots political activism is increasing around the world, it is useful to attempt to understand how grassroots groups and organizations can use advanced communication technology to gain a stronger presence. The reach of global computer networks continues to expand at the grassroots level and in less developed regions through the Internet, FidoNet, local area networks (LANS), and various private networks such as America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe. Around the world, activists are using computer linkages to support nontraditional agendas, such as human rights, labor rights, and women's rights, and to take decisive stances on ecological issues (Young 1994). The activity demonstrates long-distance political linkages that help to overcome place-specific constraints.

The newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union present a striking practice in the use of Internet communication. Under the Soviet regime, communication among citizens was restricted, and nontraditional political views circulated primarily underground. Now that the Soviet era has ended, unprecedented opportunities exist for citizens in the former republics to promote alternative ideas and to approach new social strategies. Activity once conducted underground emerges to gather more public support and exposure. With the use of e-mail increasing, activists in former Soviet republics have contact with more people in distant places with greater ease than ever before. A high-speed, long-distance communication, e-mail differs from telephone communication in its capacity to reach multiple people at one time. As Nigel Swain argues for Eastern Europe, the introduction of such technologies is most valued because it enables social changes at a more rapid pace (1992). An interesting question is how people utilize e-mail along with other forms of communication to develop alternative forms of social structures. Jurgen Habermas stated that one aim of social movements is to develop communication structures to support their struggle and to try "new forms of cooperation and community" (1981,35). Grassroots organizations turn to innovative communication structures that suit their particular organizational forms and informational needs. E-mail provides one Such structure.

I adopt a structurationist perspective of collective action similar to that of other geographers (Pred 1982, 1984; Thrift and Forbes 1983; Thrift 1985, 1986; Jackson 1988; Smith 1993; Staeheli 1994; Adams 1995, 1996). Spaces of resistance are created to challenge social structures that provide little or no room for alternative viewpoints and values (Steinberg 1994). The structuration of spaces of resistance is a factor of political change, insofar as it allows the support and development of minority or nondominant voices. If we view politics as a struggle of multiple voices to be heard (Gaston and Kennedy 1987; Brunn and Jones 1994; Mitchell 1995,1996), then spaces of resistance allow previously silenced voices to rally and be heard. Such mobilization and activity is closely related to, but not necessarily determined by, its place-specific context.

Illustrating this view of the political process are "spaces of resistance" used in support of activism, affected by the context of place. A sociospatial dialectic (Soja 1990, 1989; Wolch and Dear 1989) may be useful in understanding the relationship between place and activity. I treat e-mail communication as it extends a space of resistance beyond the local, supporting organization through the exchange of information and ideas, specifically with regard to the PLP. Finally, I conclude that e-mail communication, has proved to be both a vital and an effective means by which to maintain a transboundary ecological organization, and I argue that this case is indicative of how other grassroots organizations around the world may be able to take advantage of advances in communication technology.


Nigel Thrift and Dean Forbes have argued that "[a]ny satisfactory account of politics and the political must contain the element of human conflict; of groups of human beings in constant struggle with each other over resources and ideas about the distribution of resources" (Thrift and Forbes 1983, 247). They emphasize the importance of political struggle in the context of place and point out that "[c] onflict always takes place in determinate spatial settings; indeed it is moulded by it" (P. 247). Vaclav Havel (1988) lends depth to this model by calling activism "anti-political politics," a phenomenon of politics "from below" and a politics of people, not the apparatus. Politics is a way to seek and achieve meaningful lives and to protect them.

Philip Steinberg defines margins as "places which, while within the territory of the world-economy, are not fully integrated within its constitutive organizations of power" (1994,462). He explains that from these margins "`new' social movements are seen as struggling for `de-centered' power or for `identity-oriented' empowerment" (p. 462). Political struggle aims not to gain power directly but to promote alternative values, ideas, and social structures. The same phenomenon has been described as the creation of "spaces of resistance" with which alternative values, lifestyles, and ways of thinking may be developed (Harvey 1989, 213; Staeheli 1994). Local opportunity structures shape mobilization and can limit effectiveness from place to place (Kirby 1989; Miller 1994).

Don Mitchell demonstrates that public spaces may serve as representational spaces for struggles that may then be expanded beyond local confines (1995). Interaction and. collective action often transcend bounded areas, forcing either a redefining of place or acknowledgment that place is only one arena for collective action. An illustration of this is found in Peter Jackson's work on Carnival. Although Carnival as observed in London's Notting Hill is shown to be an "intensely spatial event " this form of resistance and celebration is without spatial boundaries (Jackson 1988, 225). It draws identities of the West Indies into confrontation with identities of London, reflecting freedom and mobility beyond the constraints of racism, as sometimes experienced in a particular place.


Space and social systems have interreactive and place-specific characteristics, including location, scale, and locale, that make for transcendent social action, defined by Jennifer Wolch and Michael Dear as "a purposeful change in the structure of social relations, sufficient to alter the practices of reproduction" (Wolch and Dear 1989, 8). This change creates a new space that is dependent not only on local opportunity structures and historical circumstance but also on media that physically transcend borders (Thrift 1986).

Mitchell presents an example in his work on agricultural labor resistance in California in the 1930s (1996). He describes how migratory farmworkers successfully organized campaigns protesting regional power structures by linking local events together as a visible result of larger-scale issues. This took place simultaneously with widespread propaganda promoting local communities and discouraging migratory "outsiders." Mitchell elaborates on how this collective action operated: "The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), for example, connected various place-based struggles together by making the union local itself migratory. Organizers `carried the local under their hats,' setting up shop wherever migratory workers could be found, assuring [that] the riots in the northern part of the state were understood to be connected to protests in the southern--and to events in the Northwest, South, Midwest, and Northwest" (Mitchell 1996, 29). Rather than limiting themselves to local identities, these migratory workers linked struggles in several locations and created a new scale on which their struggle against regional structures could be expressed. In so doing, they transcended local scale and social structures to develop new symbolic and spatial phenomena, in effect constructing geographical scales in ways conducive to their struggle.

Electronic linkages represent intersections between individual daily lives and shared projects (Pred 1982). They take place in a particular time but not in a single, physical place, as would face-to-face interactions. In his work on grassroots communities and communication technology, Paul Adams demonstrates how, through the use of electronic communication, various organizations have managed to create networks stretched out over space (1996). These communities are able to develop extended networks of support beyond any one particular location. By exchanging information and ideas electronically, organizations maintain a communication flow that gives them influence on a particular, place-specific issue.

Advances in communication technology affect the "geography of knowledge" on which collective action operates (Thrift 1985). Political struggles proactively use communication technology to develop an electronically mediated space of resistance. Such connections are not necessarily described by preexisting boundaries but can amount to a new form of socially produced spatial structure. Social relations formed through e-mail can enable the creation and reproduction of extended spaces of resistance.


In his work on virtual communities, Howard Rheingold notes that "politics is always a combination of communications and physical power, and the role of communications media among the citizenry is particularly important in the politics of democratic societies. The idea of modern representative democracy as it was first conceived by Enlightenment philosophers included a recognition of a living web of citizen-to-citizen communication known as civil society or the public sphere" (Rheingold 1994,13). Beyond the reigning model of politics as struggle, politics also requires communication. If grassroots, activists can develop electronic linkages to other organizations or sources of support and information, they develop support for their political agenda. Although a focus of activism maybe place-specific, networks built through electronic communication allow development of extended spaces of resistance in which they may ground and inform their struggle. Timothy Luke states that "[w] ithin the [information] flow ... there are new particulars being created by the networks ... of exchange ... fresh identities, unities and values emerge" (Luke 1993, 240). Such linkages and communicative networks foster spaces of resistance wherein alternative, or nondominant, values and ideas may be explored at the margins of society. In less sophisticated terms, Rheingold recognizes that "[g]rassroots groupminds and their impact on the material world could grow into one of the surprise technological issues of the coming decade" (Rheingold 1994, 111).

Amid speculations of the impact of advanced telecommunications technology, John Gold remarks:

If we are to make better sense of the patterns that are arising, however, it is essential to move beyond simply looking for the impacts of technology and start showing the role of human agency in the process: why people choose technology and how they choose to use it. Only by doing so will it be possible to move beyond seductive utopian images of social redemption through technology towards an understanding that reflects the true complexity of the relationship between technology and society. (Gold 1991, 339)

Activism is shaped, constrained, and encouraged by its place-specific context. Yet the notion of place as a bounded area formed on face-to-face interaction can be called into question, as the remainder of this article demonstrates through an empirical case study of the PLP in Estonia. Motivated by an ecological concern in a boundary area, this grassroots organization has used e-mail as a tool directed at social and political change.

The technology of e-mail itself allows text-based messages to be exchanged between two computers via modems and compatible software, or messages may be "broadcast" from one person to many computer addresses. Unlike electronic media such as radio and television, e-mail enables two-way (or more) interaction like a telephone. However, e-mail communication may also be asynchronous, allowing people to read a message and respond at their convenience.(n1)

In former Soviet republics, e-mail access is not universal and may be costly unless it is obtained as an employment benefit. Like grassroots groups in many places, the group I examine pays for much of its own e-mail communication, including the cost of the telephone line and the computer equipment. Growing access to computers, modems, software, and so forth are rendering e-mail communication less difficult in Estonia and Russia, but problems with connectivity and compatibility remain (O'Lear 1996).


A major factor in the environmental legacy of the former Soviet republics was an environmental policy that might best be described as anthropocentric and functionalist. Nature was viewed as a stockpile of resources, and ecological balance and preservation were unvalued in themselves (DeBardeleben 1985). Marxism's declining to acknowledge any determinisms except those of mode of production made environmental concerns appear politically regressive. Leninist philosophy legitimized various environmentally devastating actions taken in the interest of economics and politics.

Recent years have seen increasing acknowledgment of the extent and degree of environmental damage wrought on the vast territory of the former Soviet Union in the pursuit of industrialization (Ziegler 1987; Pryde 1991, 1995; Feshbach and Friendly 1992; Peterson 1993; UNECE 1993; Wolfson 1994). For decades environmental problems were explained away but not taken seriously. Not until the Gorbachev and Yeltsin administrations was concern for more sustainable use of natural resources addressed (Green 1989; USSR State Committee for the Protection of Nature 1989; Bond and Sagers 1992). Limited financial and technical resources are available to the national and local governments to implement measures to slow or even halt the industrial and infrastructural processes that are taking a toll on the environment.

Government sources of environmental data in the former Soviet territoriesoften unsystematically collected and stored-continue to reflect the legacy of centralized secrecy and bureaucratic inadequacies (Mikhova and Pickles 1-994). This renders current issues of environmental quality and security in the newly independent states all the more pressing. Environmental conditions are still poorly understood and continue to be neglected at a time of political and economic flux (DeBardeleben and Hannigan 1995). In this vacuum of effective policymaking and implementation, ecological grassroots activism has emerged as a channel for voicing; a nontraditional perspective on human-environment relations. In response to this situation, the environmental movement in the former Soviet republics is growing in both size and diversity (Yanitsky 1993).

Western experts view the severe ecological situation of the former Soviet republics as a multifaceted challenge that will require immediate and extensive attention if the newly independent states are to be brought into the world economy (Pryde 1995). Observers have suggested that massive environmental cleanups and technology transfers are necessary first steps in overcoming the economic deficiencies of the former Soviet Union (French 1991). Circumventing past practices and shaping new trends--economic as much as environmental-may well begin at this, the grass roots, in an ecological domain. For example, if a multinational or governmentbased corporation proposes to establish a branch in a Russian city, the citizens there may, with the use of e-mail and international contacts, check the environmental record of the business before agreeing to allow the business to proceed with its plans. No longer must citizen groups rely on the information provided to them by a single party, either government or industry. They search for relevant information that they cart use to their own advantage (Szasz 1994). Although this type of activity at the grass roots parallels similar action in the United States and elsewhere, it is close to unprecedented in former Soviet republics, with their history of government control of information.

In recent years higher numbers of people in Russia and the other former Soviet republics have become involved in grassroots activism (Hahn 1988). Issues were increasingly being addressed with citizen participation at the local level even before the Soviet Union collapsed. The percentage of the population that is politically involved is probably comparable between the former Soviet republics and the West (Yanitsky 1993, 31), and much activism focuses on issues of environmental safety and preservation. Ecological activism in the former Soviet republics does not seek territorial control as much as alternative viewpoints that challenge the status quo. These spaces for alternatives are not necessarily contiguous regions on the earth's surface; they may be social contexts "built" in electronic media. Response to environmental threats and challenges provides an opportunity for involved citizens to reconsider their role in the decision-making processes that influence daily life. The creation of new (virtual) places allows a reconstitution of social processes. A structurationist premise of a sociospatial dialectic is borne out, but in a way that challenges extant notions of space and place.

The history of ecological neglect and damage in the former Soviet republics contributes to a shared sense of place among activists. In the former Soviet Union there is little tradition for including citizens in decision-making processes, and this lack restrains people who are interested in changing a pattern. It also contributes to a larger shared sense of identity, if people in any given republic are aware that others in the former Soviet republics face similar difficulties. The Soviet environmental legacy can motivate if activists in one area realize that they are not alone in trying to influence local or regional environmental decisions.


On the border between Estonia and Russia lies a water body known formally as Peipsi-Chudskoye Lake. Its watershed and the villages that surround it are the focus of the PLP (Figure 1). Working for improved environmental management is difficult anywhere in. the former Soviet Union, but working on a boundary poses particular challenges. Tension between Estonians and Russians continues to render relations between these two countries unstable. Social and cultural differences in this border area were a significant obstacle to environmental work, especially at first.

Yet the differences between Estonian and Russian management of the watershed motivated the founders of the PLP to encourage communication between the two sides. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, proposed foreign investment in development of both sides of the lake has arisen as another potential factor in the management of the watershed. This area may indeed be attractive to foreign industrial interests if they assume there are only limited environmental standards and poor enforcement, whereas it may attract a rather different type of investment if international cooperation appears to create a stable political environment.

The PLP founders-both Russians and Estonians-anticipated such developments and wanted to bring local opinion and input into decision-making processes. A boundary region is an especially difficult setting for environmental activism, but in this case the ability to choose national affiliation and garner international grant funds worked as enabling forces. As one of the organization's founders put it:

We registered the organization in Estonia because in Russia it is just too much of a headache to register, especially to register an international organization. There is a lot of bureaucracy connected to it, especially with the political problems between Estonia and Russia. So we started as an Estonian organization, and we are also registered with people on the Russian side of the organization. Foundations fund separately, but MacArthur is one of the very few organizations who give to boundary projects, (Ishkuzhina 1995)

Although the PLP does extensive work at the local level in villages near the lakeshore, its focus is regional, and it collaborates with groups on both sides of the lake. PLP staff members are distributed mainly in four cities: Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia; and Pskov and Saint Petersburg, Russia. The distribution of the staff helps the organization coordinate transborder activities and maintains a more regional vision of lake-management issues.

E-mail, which was introduced into the region just as the PLP was being organized, is critical to communication among the staff members, who often work in different cities from one another. E-mail makes this work practical in a fluctuating political environment, because it facilitates the free exchange of information among the staff and keeps them abreast of local and national situations. Exchange of information increases the PLP'S potential for effective action by allowing the organization's staff to take advantage of positive political situations or to lie low when political tensions are high. Between ten and fifteen e-mail accounts connect active PLP staff members and supporters, including outlying limnological stations in Tallinn, Estonia. Face-to-face staff meetings, telephone conversations (considerably more expensive than e-mail), and faxes are also utilized, depending on the audience or purpose.

Because the PLP includes people in both Estonia and Russia, e-mail messages are written in either language or in both English and Russian (using a Cyrillic keyboard map), because these are the languages most commonly used by PLP staff and supporters. Within the PLP, e-mail is used to keep disparate staff members updated on activities, to solicit suggestions and ideas within the group, as a format for ongoing discussions of project development, to follow up on previous conversations or staff meetings, to discuss and coordinate responsibilities of various staff and supporters, and to circulate pertinent information to all staff members. It does not replace activities such as work with lakeshore village residents and appeals to government offices, which are conducted in person.

Developing an effective organizational structure for this activist group is a particular concern to the founder of the PLP, Gulya Ishkuzhina. A native Russian now living with her Estonian husband in Tartu, Ishkuzhina had the opportunity to participate in a conference on the Great Lakes in the United States. There she learned about transboundary (United States-Canada) organizations working on lake-management issues similar to the issues surrounding Peipsi-Chudskoye Lake. She returned to Estonia with this information and was eager to implement what she had learned, but she soon discovered that the U.S. model of activist organizations could not be transferred to the Estonian-Russian organization she was trying to establish. She explained:

I tried to organize a retreat like the kind that I saw when I was at Lake Michigan, but it doesn't. work this way here. We have this history of communist youth organization meetings or collective farm meetings, but the States doesn't have this. Here we have only one pattern of meetings, and people think I'm trying to replicate this. This is why it doesn't work. They feel like they're going off to pioneer camp or something. I want to have a retreat in three or four months, but I really don't know what to do because the ways I saw in the States won't work here. I need to find another way. (Ishkuzhina 1995)

The development of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the former Soviet republics is a slow process that must take into account local and regional particularities. Borrowing models directly from other situations neglects the importance of hard-won local experience. Nevertheless, using e-mail to coordinate the PLP staff is an example of a productive adaptation of a recently introduced technology to address the challenge of spatial fragmentation within an interest group. E-mail communication helps to overcome the distances among staff members in different cities, to bring all participants to the same "place" to discuss their work, and to strengthen interdependence and political power. Additionally, e-mail link ages within the group and with other organizations help PLP members extend their "geography of knowledge" (Thrift 1985,367). Although knowledge tends to be geographically specific, the high-speed, long-distance reach and rapid turnaround of e-mail communication enable these environmentalists to develop their "stocks of knowledge" (P. 367) and respond appropriately within their specific political, social., and cultural contexts. This sensitization to current events and shifting structural conditions in itself demonstrates an interpretation of knowledge as being political and as being used for political purposes.

E-mail is most important for the PLP for internal organizational use, but it is by no means the only form of communication this group employs. The nature of the PLP'S work requires several forms of communication. As Ishkuzhina described it:

We work with environmental education, we work with environmental decision issues, we do some sustainable development work. Sustainable development is a very local thing. You have to work on the local level and know what people think about a situation. We are sending students into the field this year because we hope they will become acquainted with local communities, with people, and they will see what the local problems are. Then we will bring some of these students in to work with the organization in organizing a community development project. Actually, we're making a small grant program, but it depends on whether we will be able to raise funds. ... We want to give small grants to local people to make progress in [solving] their own problems. The students who work in these communities will be able to work as community organizers. (Ishkuzhina 1995)

Working on the local level in both Estonia and Russia depends on face-to-face interaction with people living in the lakeshore villages. The PLP'S current work brings in students from Tartu and Pskov Universities to work intensively with village communities to familiarize themselves with the lifestyles, attitudes, and concerns of villagers. The students are trained before entering the field in how to work and conduct themselves while living as a: village guest for a month. Face-to-face communication facilitates not only direct work with the village residents but also occasional gatherings of PLP staff for planning meetings. Stable e-mail communication among staff members between meetings is necessary to coordinate all PLP activities, generate ideas, and keep up-to-date on political situations that might help or hinder PLP work.

This level of the PLP'S work has two major aims: to learn, firsthand, about life in lakeshore villages in order to understand residents' preferences for development, and. to involve younger people in cross-cultural environmental work to nurture skills and attitudes separate from Soviet-era cynicism. Interpersonal communication is the only way this work can be done, especially because people living in villages have limited or no access to other forms of communication, such as telephones or e-mail. Additionally, working closely with these people minimizes misunderstandings and operates at a level that is meaningful to them. Ishkuzhina shared her view on the importance of this kind of work:

The problem with environmental studies right now is that--and this is a general crisis around the world--when you speak about the environment, you speak about grams per millimeter or cubic millimeters. You speak about chemistry or hydrobiology. You can monitor, but it doesn't help. For me, environmental problems are problems of the quality of life of people--concrete people living in the concrete community. The problem is specific to the point of view of the people. We should get them to bring their opinions to the regional government, to the state government. (Ishkuzhina 1995)

The PLP aims to bring the peoples' opinions to official decision makers in proactive opposition to faceless government standards for environmental quality. Once people are educated about aspects of their environmental situation or learn of potential development projects, then they can discuss them and decide what they want to happen in their village.

Generalizations cannot fairly be made about what rural residents want, and intensive, interpersonal communication is vital to understanding local situations. I spent a day--5 July 1995--with two PLP staff members and a visiting academic at Tartu University who was helping the PLP organize its field programs. We visited several Estonian villages that were to be invited to participate in PLPS sustainable-development project. The goal of our outing was to describe the project to local officials and obtain approval for the inclusion of the members' village in the project. From our meetings we grew aware of significant differences among the villages.

One village had thrived since Estonia's independence from Soviet rule. A horticulture school was doing well, and a pre-Soviet grain mill, out of operation since Soviet rule was imposed, was back in business under new ownership. Starkly evident on the landscape were a souvenir shop and a Western-style pizza restaurant. This village was taking advantage of Estonia's economic liberation and was doing well. Foreign investment to develop the lakeshore in the area, proposed and under negotiation at the time--the summer Of 1995--might threaten entrepreneurial activity in this small town. The mayor expressed a hope that the town population become as economically self-sufficient as possible.

Another village, celebrating its three-hundredth anniversary, was not as economically strong. Finnish plans to develop the lakeshore were welcomed by the mayor, who saw external investment as a necessary stimulus to local growth. Visiting each town and speaking with an elected representative gave one a sense of difference among village communities and an understanding of the influence that foreign investment and development might render. Such are not easy matters to capture in e-mail. Yet e-mail has been instrumental in orchestrating policy recommendations.

Village residents are only one population included by the PLP in its sustainable-development work. Ishkuzhina described other factions involved:

I see that some NGOs which do not bring in experts but just know the local situation cannot really address the problems. We are trying to bring to our meetings and to our work, on one hand, scientists and researchers who do very high level science, but to the same meeting we also bring community organizers, fishermen ... so that they will be able to speak all together about the problems. Certainly, sometimes, then, we have to bring to these meetings mediators who are able to work with all the different kinds of people. I think it's very important for what we are trying to do to include people from different sectors in the same discussion. (Ishkuzhina 1995)

Incorporating different views and professions, the PLP strives to produce a well-rounded understanding of issues that surround current and future management of the watershed. A loose organizational structure demonstrates the nonhierarchical and participatory nature of the PLP. Although the core staff works to manage and organize projects, the sustainable-development work of the PLP is inclusive and open ended. This is due not so much to the use of e-mail as to the nature of grassroots activist work (Scott 1990, Eyerman and Jamison 1991).

At first, PLP meetings focused on arguments about differences among various views and cultures brought to the table, and language was a problem. Everyone, Russians and Estonians, was able to speak Russian, but the newly independent Estonians considered this rude. "First thing we had to do," said Ishkuzhina, "was to create a little community--Estonians and Russians-which all trust each other." Once that was accomplished, the atmosphere of the meetings changed:

[W]hen we bring hydrochemists together with hydrochemists [from different countries], they forget they have all those political problems with language and they just speak in whatever language they can. They don't care about Russian, but they care about hydrochemistry. Or fishermen care about fish and they forget about what language they speak. It's a very effective way to bring people together. As a result, they started to communicate. They started to visit each other. They started to do some joint work. They see that they already have some personal connections. (Ishkuzhina 1995)

By providing a cultural and institutional space in which people can explore shared concerns and differing viewpoints, the PLP is enabling a collaborative spirit where there might otherwise be cultural and economic tension. Although e-mail is not used in these meetings, it is vital to organizing and including participants from both Russia and Estonia.

In addition to using e-mail communication among staff members and dispersed organization members to coordinate transboundary activities, the PLP uses it to develop an external network of support that is also critical. Ishkuzhina said:

We are also trying to get involved with the Baltic Sea network. We are trying to get more connections with Baltic organizations and groups ... to be a part of different networks, regional networks with the Baltic Sea and global networks because this is also a form of support.... From time to time we send our information to SEU [Socio-Ecological Union of the former Soviet republics] and they send it to different environmental groups in the former Soviet Union. On e-mail we now have contacts in Northern Europe. They are interested in this project because it is part of the Baltic Sea region. So now we are sending e-mail to Finland, Norway, Sweden and some conferences on e-mail.... In the U.S., we are in contact with groups who are working on similar projects with the Great Lakes [region], for example, [and] Lake Champlain. (Ishkuzhina 1995)

Through e-mail, the PLP is working to maintain and participate in a network of supportive contacts with similar values. In short, e-mail helps to support the PLP on a macroscale so that it can work more effectively on a microscale. Long-distance, international e-mail contacts help the PLP to move forward with its transboundary, rural projects.

There are two main contexts of place in which the PLP is active. One is the smaller-scale context of rural development along both sides of the lakeshore. The smaller-scale context of place is a motivating factor in the work of the PLP because two of its main objectives are education and the solicitation of local opinions regarding development, lake management, and water use. Taking the unique locale and sense of place of each village into consideration is a complex process. A constraining factor to the PLP'S work, it also mediates their work, for they must filter their efforts through each village setting as necessary.

A second context for the PLPS work is the transboundary region delineated by the Peipsi-Chudskoye Lake watershed and the government bodies that have power to dictate its management. Because parts of this region were not as damaged by Soviet mismanagement as other areas were, a motivating factor for the PLP at this larger scale is limiting future damage and promoting responsible management by international standards of human and ecosystem requirements. This transboundary context is a constraining factor for the PLP'S work due to political tensions between Estonia and Russia: Unsettled boundary disputes do not favor transboundary cooperation. Fluctuations in the political climate between Estonia and Russia and the requirements of official institutions in each country (having to register as an NGO in order to operate) are location-related facets of the PLP'S transboundary difficulties.

One of the PLP'S major efforts has been to make policy recommendations to both the Russian government and the Estonian government. A need to coordinate lake and watershed management between the two countries was emphasized by the PLP as it approached government bodies. The transboundary location of this lake and its watershed require management efforts by both sides. The recent policy agreement I mentioned at the beginning of this article demonstrates the PLP'S success in bringing official recognition to an ecological concern. In the political context of rapid change, environmental degradation, and concern on both sides of the lake, e-mail communication has come to be a valuable means of coordinating efforts to make a unified stand.


The PLP has developed a "place" of activism with activists in four cities and several rural villages on both sides of the lake. This is a physical place--nearly a bioregion--in the sense of ecological interest in the lake environment, including lakeshore development, watershed management, and the watershed's transboundary geographical location. It is also a space of resistance. This transboundary operational space is not supported primarily by physical propinquity and frequent face-to-face interaction. Instead, periodic gatherings, e-mail, and other long-distance media linkages support the continued operation of the PLP at a transboundary scale. We can say that this represents an extended space of resistance, because it consists of a web of electronic communication and collaboration surrounding an issue- and place-specific concern.

As a space of resistance, the PLP is resisting a persistent pattern of resource use and development that does not include citizen/resident input in the decision-making process. The PLP is also resisting uneven development and depletion of resources due to a lack of communication between Russia and Estonia. It is striving for an appropriate recognition of ecological issues as embodied in coherent, natural systems. Finally, the PLP is working to encourage environmental education and public input into decision-making processes and multicultural, transboundary cooperation. Its network-literal and figurative-helps it address ecological and development issues around Peipsi-Chudskoye Lake in a comprehensive, rather than incremental or elitist, fashion. Electronic linkages support this space of resistance and have made possible the success of the PLP as a grassroots-level factor in transboundary environmental policy development.

(*) I wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.


(n1.)In some settings, technology similar to e-mail may be used to provide chat rooms that allow several people to carry on a text-based conversation at the same time. This use of technology, as well as use of the World Wide Web, are not addressed in this article because they were not pursued by the case-study group at the time of the fieldwork.

MAP: FIG. 1--The Peipsi-Chudskoye Lake region and e-mail nodes involved in the Peipsi Lake Project. (Cartography by the University of Nevada Cartography Laboratory)


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DR. O'LEAR is an instructor of geography at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Denver, Colorado 80210.

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Source: Geographical Review, Apr97, Vol. 87 Issue 2, p275, 16p
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