Environmental and Social Justice in Central and Eastern Europe

One focus of the Environmental and Social Justice Action Research Group is to explore linkages between social and environmental justice issues in the new EU Member states of Central and Eastern Europe and the former socialist bloc countries.   The understanding of “environmental justice” differs greatly by geographic region and cultural, historical, and ecological context.  In many places in the world, the meaning tends to diverge from the traditional definition of environmental justice that emerged in US in the 1990s, of environmental discrimination against existing minority groups, sometimes also referred to as “environmental racism.” Rather than attempting to simply ‘apply’ existing environmental justice discourse to a new region, we seek to explore though dialogue and participatory research how environmental and social issues in Central and Eastern Europe have become inextricably linked, and how new social movements are responding to them. 

In the Central and East European region, the confluence of environmental and social justice issues have stemmed from a prolonged "transition" from state socialist economies to market-based economies.  What was assumed by analysts that would be a seamless transition from an “old system” to an imagined new and better one, has revealed itself to be a far more complex process.  Many social sectors in Central and East European countries have been left particularly vulnerable as former state support systems were eroded through an emphasis on neoliberal market-based policies, while a small minority profited from these changes.  These social inequalities also translate to differential access to environmental resources and environmental quality and exposure to environmental pollution. The recent global economic crisis has exacerbated these problems, and global climate change is likely to deepen them further still.  Rather than taking growing social inequality in the region to be simply a necessary but unfortunate byproduct of the transition to a capitalist system, we seek to understand the processes through which these changes have occurred and how various groups are responding to them. Recently, new social movements are emerging on both urban and rural social justice issues in the region. We seek to explore and facilitate global connections among regions, and similarities across difference.