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145 seven The Chemical Model It was 1988, and I felt weird. Here I was, at my second demonstration against the construction of a dam on the riparian border of Hungary and Czechoslovakia,1 feeling righteous and, since I was surrounded by hundreds of others, quite strong as well. Yet, when I looked around, all I saw were women and children. As this was a women’s march, men were only encouraging us from the sidelines. We were also chanting slogans about the future of humans and nature, and we were carrying symbolic representations of human victims and the threatened body of the nation. In one of the posters, a huge dredger was menacingly extending its arm toward the beautiful Danube bend; another featured the dam as a vampire. Victimhood was the primary mode of subjectivity in various Hungarian environmental protests of the 1980s. Indeed, the political symbolism of the protests could not have been more different from that of early state socialism. In the 1950s, political posters featured humans as masculine workers with hard, fit, metallic bodies; by contrast, the 1980s movements, which hovered in the ever-shifting border zone between the official and the illegal, displayed images of mothers and children and sick, mutilated, or dead human bodies . While the athletic bodies of socialist realism sported unisex overalls and proudly wore the soot on their faces, the human images of the fledgling privatize and incinerate (1985 – present) 146 environmental movements draped themselves in black and wore dust or gas masks. The proletarian and peasant heroes of Stalinism assumed active poses and looked into the future with great anticipation; the costumed figures at environmental protests were passive, silent, and pretended to be sick, disabled, or dead (Harper 1999; Lipschutz and Mayer 1996). Such were the images of a new discourse of the body at the end of state socialism. By the 1980s, we knew there were enough things to fear in our air, water, and soil. And we felt scientists, who could tell us what those things were, were our natural allies. These experts, for their part, grew increasingly bold and loud in demanding the legalization of toxic waste dumps and incinerators . For them, waste surely held no positive meaning; rather, it was inherently useless and harmful. By the mid-eighties, the previously latent and suppressed chemical model of waste had replaced the efficiency model and the residual metallic model. The ascendance of the chemical model to hegemony was rooted in two key phenomena: first, in the increasing professionalization of economic management and the significance of knowledge-based industries in keeping the economy afloat; and second, in the increasing politicization of environmental issues. As the professional intelligentsia increased its importance in economic management, its cry for a way to deal with nonrecyclable and nonreusable wastes became louder and less suppressed. At a 1981 conference on the liquidation of hazardous wastes, a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Industry, a chemical engineer himself, posed the question: ‘‘Why is it that the Budapest chemical plants and the world-famous Hungarian pharmaceutical industry still do not have a modern incinerator that could guarantee the legal air quality standards?’’ (Szász 1981, 6). In his narrative, the chemical and especially the pharmaceutical industries appeared as pioneers that already in the seventies strove to establish safe incineration practices, but whose requests for permits for a safe incinerator in Budapest were repeatedly turned down by one authority or another. The reasons usually had to do with the local councils’ contrary interest in a certain path of economic development for the proposed location. He criticized the 1981 hazardous waste decree for only punishing the enterprises but not establishing the technical conditions to comply with the law, a theme repeated in my interviews with engineers and managers. This way, the blame for illegal dumping was pushed back to the state: One thing is certain: until the chemical plants and plants applying chemical technologies have no possibility to have their wastes incinerated or them- The Chemical Model 147 selves incinerate them in modern facilities, the danger will always remain that they will choose an undesirable way of making materials disappear. (Szász 1981, 6) Experts at this conference called for a compromise to replace the simple prohibition of dumping or storage, including the prohibition by the county councils. We had to choose between two bads: we either incinerate or contaminate the water, because it was impossible to choose ‘‘neither this, nor that...


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