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  • Environmental Radicalism and Extremism in Postcommunist Europe
  • Miroslav Mareš


Environmental radicalism and extremism grew out of the social protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Western Europe and North America. Today this phenomenon has spread all over the world. In postcommunist Europe the development of environmental radicalism took place in a manner specific to the region, influenced by various historical processes—including the existence and fall of the communist regimes, the postcommunist political and economic transformation, and the Westernization of postcommunist societies.

Here I will analyze the main trends and characteristics of environmental radicalism in the European postcommunist environment, and explain its contemporary influence and potential future development in Central and Eastern European societies. In what follows, I compare the development of environmental radicalism in the postcommunist area with the phenomenon as it exists in the traditional Western democracies. As an area-oriented case study, this article contributes to the understanding of environmental radicalism as a global phenomenon.

Data for this analysis have been taken from:

  • • International media of environmental radicals and extremists from postcommunist Europe (Animal Liberation Front websites, Journal Abolishing the Borders from Below, and others)

  • • Secondary sources about the whole environmental movement in Eastern and Central Europe1 [End Page 91]

  • • Various case studies on topics related to the main issue

  • • Personal monitoring of radicalism.

Definitions of Environmental Radicalism, Extremism, and Terrorism

Researchers with comparative goals in social science need to work with exact definitions. However, the term "environmental radicalism" has been used for the description and analysis of a very wide range of activities and subjects. The term covers a lot of ground in the world, and is often used synonymously with other terms such as "environmental extremism," "environmental terrorism," and "eco-warriors." The terms "ecological" and "green" are often used interchangeably with the term "environmental."

There exists no clear and generally accepted definition and delimitation of these terms in Europe, North America, or elsewhere. In this paper I prefer the term "environmental" because it is related to the subjective interest of people in protecting the environment, whereas the term "ecological" is connected with ecology as a scientific discipline (even though the short "eco" is connected with radicalism, extremism, or terrorism). The term "green" could be used synonymously with both terms; however, it is more journalistic and could lead to various confusions.2

The distinction between extremism and radicalism is also difficult. In some political science communities, mostly in Europe, a general concept of the terms "extremism" and "radicalism" is accepted, according to the terminology used in relatively homogenous research on extremism encouraged mainly at a number of German institutes. (This conceptualization is sometimes not very correctly designated as a theory of extremism.) In connection with environmental issues, however, the use of these terms is usually confused even within this specialized branch of research.

Despite these difficulties, it is possible to use the terminology of extremism for research purposes to arrive at a definition of environmental extremism and radicalism. However, the traditional research on extremism is aimed at right-wing extremism, left-wing extremism, or religious extremism, and in such cases, many researchers use the term "environmental extremism" relatively rarely and not very precisely.

Political extremism is defined as an antithesis of the democratic constitutional state in the context of this research, which is based on the work of German political scientists Uwe Backes and Eckhard Jesse.3 The term "political radicalism" is used for activities that are within the constitutional [End Page 92] democratic area, however close to the boundary; on one hand, these could represent a positive contribution to the regeneration of the regime, on the other hand, they might destabilize the existing democratic order.

This conceptualization is primarily focused on extremist and radical goals, not methods. However, radical or extreme methods of representing political interests (such as nonviolent direct action or various violent activities) are very often connected with radical and extremist thinking, and the goal of all extremists is violent dictatorship, even if gained by democratic instruments in elections. Of course, moderate democratic ends (such as resisting dictatorship) may also be pursued through nontraditional methods, including militant ones.



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pp. 91-107
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