Accepted Paper:

Nurturing ores, atomic testing pollution, and buried occult histories: competing interpretations of the subsurface as part of nature conservation in the Russian North  


Vladislava Vladimirova (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

How competing interpretations of the subsurface shape nature conservation in Russia? In the context of a National Park project, I look into diverse ideas about the subsurface, ranging from profitable apatite and nepheline ores, to underground atomic testing pollution, to buried traces of occult histories.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation explores how competing interpretations of the subsurface are shaping nature conservation in the Russian North. I draw examples from the long struggle of environmentalists to establish a national park in the Hibiny Mountains in order to assure its preservation as a nature tourism site and as indigenous heritage. The vortex of interests in relation to the park is analyzed through narratives about the subsoils and underground. For example, environmentalists present the park as a response to increasing destruction of the area through the expanding extraction licenses that the government grants to companies that cannot prove the economic efficiency of the planned production. The companies emphasize that they are not only the main employer in the region but the apatite and nepheline ores are vital components for mineral fertilizers to help Russian agriculture stand on its feet, and thus conceal the fact that most of this production goes for export. One company director points out that it is hardly possible to market nature tourism in an area where the ground is polluted by secret Soviet nuclear weapon testing. Seidozero Lake, an indigenous sacred cite and a part of the future park, has captured the imagination of pilgrims with its occult fame, build on underground cave formations, and 'proved' by the unburied remains of older explorations. This presentation accords with the panel's call to highlight people's lived experiences of subsurface resources and analyze the complex relationship among people's beliefs and environmental politics.

Panel P050
Engaging with treasures of the subsurface between extractivism and spiritualism