State Forestry is regarded by political ecologists as a coercive tool deployed by state authorities to nationalize, control and order the forest as a resource within the territory of a nation. The consequence of this is civilizing local people and subjecting them to the grip of the state. Much of this literature comes from the global South. However, in the iconic Białowieża Forest in eastern Poland, touted as Europe's last primeval forest for its old oaks and woodland bison, state foresters altered the prominence of their nationalistic and nationalizing history in three surprising ways: 1) they downplayed their historical role in nationalizing the periphery in the 1920s when the area was split between a national park and a forest belonging to the newly formed Polish state (the Second Polish Republic); 2) they created new allegiances with the Belarusian-identified local population, and 3) they referenced neighbouring Belarus' preferential management of forests within the adjacent Belovezshkaya National Park. This article weaves together insights from political ecology, post-socialist studies and environmental history in an ethnographic account of Polish state foresters in interaction with biologists, conservationists and "local" people in the fight to expand the Polish Białowieża National Park from 1990-2013. Foresters downplayed the forest's significance for the nation, at least rhetorically, because conservationists viewed and promoted the forest as having national, European and global heritage. Yet the globalized cosmopolitics of conservationists enabled, or perhaps even forced, foresters to frame their concerns in a language of local and ethnic minority rights and community participation. The transcendence of ethnic and cultural differences by foresters over nearly ninety years of existence marks an important and novel component of the post-socialist period.
Keywords: Post-socialist, political ecology, forests, environmental history, Poland, Belarus, foresters, ethnography, periphery
How to Cite:
Blavascunas, E., (2014) “When foresters reterritorialize the periphery: post-socialist forest politics in Białowieża, Poland”, Journal of Political Ecology 21(1), 475-492. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v21i1.21147