Ivar Pavasars (University of Latvia)
Concerns about environmental problems within Latvia were central to that Former Soviet Republic’s late 1980s drive to restore its independence. In fact, the environmental “hot spots” that were caused by large-scale Soviet industrialization helped to support Latvians’ political demands and independence aspirations. Environmental NGOs were among the first elements of Latvia’s democratically based civil society that emerged during this period.
Following the collapse of many of the inefficient Soviet industries during the early 1990s, Latvia successively introduced EU environmental policies and norms into its legislation, and this legislation largely reflects the experiences and policies of the West’s democratically governed industrialized societies. Today global NGOs, such as the WWF, are active in Latvia with global environmental issues on their agenda. A broader type of western global environmentalism has replaced the environmentalism that was practiced years earlier by Latvia’s grassroots based independence movement.
However, case studies of different environmental planning procedures as well as interviews in the countryside indicate that the environmental aspects prioritized by official environmental policies (or global environmentalism) are not those of concern to local Latvian public. This parallels the overall environmental situation as being considerably more natural with less negative impacts as compared to industrially developed countries.
In such circumstances environmental planning procedures in Latvia do not reach the aims originally intended by these procedures. Interestingly, similar to the independence movement years, environmental arguments today are often used to achieve goals other than explicitly environmental ones. As such, a more critical and adaptive approach is required towards EU and global environmental policies, especially when introducing such policies locally.