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Politicisation of Ecology in Europe: Incorporating the Central and Eastern European Experience

Pepijn van Eeden

This article advances a 'pluriversal' viewpoint on the political ecology in Europe by tracing its history in Romania and Poland. From the 1960s onwards, all socialist states in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) had enacted large and highly ambitious packages of environmental legislation - which remained notoriously ineffective in terms of implementation. Hence, in the 1980s, ecological issues turned into symbols of the moral bankruptcy of the socialist regimes, and played an important role in the protests that ended CEEs communist experiment in 1989 (Rupnik 1990; Pavlínek and Pickles, 2000; Kenney 2001; 2002). At the start of the 1990s, therefore, political ecology seemed to have a bright future in the region. In a few years' time, however, all green parties founded in 1989/1990 had virtually disappeared. The movements themselves professionalized, became grant-dependent, and depoliticized. This paper investigates this process anew through the lens of 'the political' as conceived by Carl Schmitt (1931/1964), complemented by Latour (2004; 2005; 2014). This enables an empirically oriented reassembling of environmental de/politicisation through the narrated experience of two key actors from Poland and Romania. Both developed their ecological engagement during socialism, became founding members green parties, and then shortly served as Ministers of Environment before their subsequent movements imploded.Crucially, the historical picture that so emerges partly conflicts with both of the two narratives that dominate the academic literature on the post-socialist European divergence in environmental politicization: the 'transitional/developmentalist' and the 'critical/postcolonial' one. We return to our Schmittian-Latourian lens to provide for a fresh understanding of (de-)politicization of ecology, which turns out to be surprisingly coherent with the western European experience: neither blocked by invisible 'neo-imperialism' nor dependent on positive economic circumstances, but resulting from the degree to which 'established truths' or 'foundations' are in place to shortcut the experiential, environmental and political.

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