Does Everyone Suffer Alike?
Race, Class, and Place in Hungarian Environmentalism
While doing research on environmental politics and activism in Hungary, I
interviewed an environmental lawyer in Budapest. We talked at length about
how the sweeping legal and economic changes of the post-socialist transformation
affected the environment. Referring to the broad array of environmental
problems left in the wake of the transition from state socialism to the first stage
of Eastern Europe's presumed inclusion in global capitalist markets, he said,
"Environmental issues don't discriminate because everyone is so vulnerable."
The statement "everyone is so vulnerable" illustrates a widely held belief
among Hungarian environmentalists. Activists frequently present the environment
as a consensus politics: everyone benefits from clean air, water, and green
spaces. The 1980s movement against the damming of the Danube River mobilized
broad support, drawing on the significance of the river as a national symbol,
historic site, natural monument, wildlife habitat, and drinking water source
(Harper 2005). Danube activists presented environmentalism as a force for
democratizing state socialist central planning, and in the late 1980s, the Danube
movement was an important factor in the development of an organized political
opposition. Its role in the expanding venues for public participation contributed
to the democratic reputation of the environmental movement since 1989, reinforcing
the notion that environmental politics cuts across class divisions and provides
a "commons" for democratic participation because no one can ultimately
escape the effects of environmental degradation of the natural commons.