In Europe's last primeval forest, at Poland's easternmost border with Belarus, the deep past of ancient oaks, woodland bison, and thousands of species of insects and fungi collides with authoritarian and communist histories.
Foresters, biologists, environmentalists, and locals project the ancient Białowieża Forest as a series of competing icons in struggles over memory, land, and economy, which are also struggles about whether to log or preserve the woodland; whether and how to celebrate the mixed ethnic Polish/Belarusian peasant past; and whether to align this eastern outpost with ultraright Polish political parties, neighboring Belarus, or the European Union. Eunice Blavascunas provides an intimate ethnographic account, gathered in more than 20 years of research, to untangle complex forest conflicts between protection and use. She looks at which pasts are celebrated, which fester, and which are altered in the tumultuous decades following the collapse of communism.
Foresters, Borders, and Bark Beetles is a timely and fascinating work of cultural analysis and storytelling that textures its ethnographic reading of people with the agency of the forest itself and its bark beetle outbreaks, which threaten to alter the very composition of the forest in the age of the Anthropocene.
1. Puszcza: Of Forests and Time
2. The Forester
3. Scientists and the Communist Past: Syndromes, Disorders, and a Proper Elite
4. Post-peasant Cosmopolitics: Man of the Forest
5. Borderline Engagements: Relict Forest, Relict Communism
6. Resurgence: Outbreaks of Bark Beetle and Right-wing Nationalism
7. Temporal Dimensions: The Past is not Safe at all
Eunice Blavascunas is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
"Through vivid storytelling, Eunice Blavascunas illuminates the durability of struggles around national identity and history – and the ways those struggles shape debates over ecology and nature conservation – in one of eastern Europe's quintessential borderlands. In the iconic Białowieża Forest, thirty years into Poland's post-socialist transition, the question of how to respond to a beetle infestation is inextricably intertwined with questions about who is a "local" or a "foreigner", about "Polishness" and Europeanization, and about shifting interpretations of the Communist and pre-Communist past. This richly detailed book will be of value for environmental historians, political ecologists, and many others in fields beyond anthropology and area studies."
– Katrina Schwartz, author of Nature and National Identity after Communism
"A compelling investigation of the pasts and possible futures of a critical ecosystem in an era of globalization and rising nationalism."
– Andrew Mathews, author of Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests