Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Electronic Communication and Environmental Policy in Russia and Estonia

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Electronic Communication and Environmental Policy in Russia and Estonia

Article excerpt

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 rally and be heard. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.