Wasted Eastern promise: The sustainability lessons the West ignores

Dr. Petr Jehlicka presentation at the 57th International University Week ‘The Protection of Nature and the Environment in Southeast Europe: Players, Discourses, Strategies of Action’

Southeast Europe Association and Academy for Civic Education

Tutzing, Germany, 1 – 5 October 2018



Despite diversification and shifts in focus in studies of post-1989 Central and East European (CEE) environmentalism, what has remained largely intact is the perspective from which it has been studied. Most researchers on both sides of the former Iron Curtain have read the developments in CEE environmentalism from a ‘Western perspective’. Analyses of CEE environmentalism have relied on theories and concepts generated by research on environmental activism and politics conducted in Western contexts and thus the vitality and efficacy of CEE environmentalism have been assessed according to Western criteria. The resulting negative assessments have described CEE as lacking environmental engagement. CEE environmentalism should be studied from a more positive perspective that takes into account the various CEE traditional practices and informal outdoor and nature-based educational activities that promote everyday pro-environmental behaviours that are motivated by a desire for authenticity, ethical living and personal integrity. While often overlooked by both Western and CEE observers, these forms of CEE environmentalism are strikingly compatible with the everyday material and ‘post post-material’ environmentalism promoted by Western-based political theorists. By highlighting these opportunities for advancing research in the CEE region, this paper seeks to encourage a more inclusive, comprehensive, and equal exchange along both the centre-periphery and periphery-periphery axes of knowledge production on environmentalism.