Forest Entanglements in Communist and Authoritarian Pasts

Why the Future of Poland's Białowieża Primeval Forest Rests on its Interpretation

Eunice Blavascunas in conversation with Patrice M. Dabrowski and Markus Krzoska

Monday, 1 November, 2021 5.30 pm CET

Zoom link:

In the monthly online PoSoCoMeS seminar, historians Patrice Dabrowski and Markus Krzoska will launch a discussion on anthropologist Eunice Blavascunas's recent book on ethnography and cultural analysis of Puszcza Białowieska, titled Foresters, Borders, and Bark Beetles. The Future of Europe's Last Primeval Forest (Indiana University Press, 2020). In conversation between the discussants, the author and the audience, the participants will comment on the book's pursuit to untangle complex forest conflicts between protection and use.

The book is a 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. Blavascunas provides an intimate ethnographic account, gathered in more than 20 years of research, that unmasks struggles over memory, land, and economy at Poland's easternmost border with Belarus. The author looks at which pasts are celebrated, which fester, and which are altered in the tumultuous decades following the collapse of communism. These pasts, in the context of Puszcza Białowieska, Blavascunas argues, influence the 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, neighbouring Belarus or the European Union.

Eunice Blavascunas is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, USA, with degrees from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of Texas at Austin. For more than 25 years she has been researching and writing about conservation politics in Europe. She studies how humans recover ecologies, use forests, and conserve nature with a focus on nationalism, posthumanism, and postsocialism. The abiding concern of her scholarship and activism has been cultural change: how do people shift identities, especially where borders crossed people and ghosts from the past trouble the way forests are used and protected.

Patrice M. Dabrowski is a historian with degrees from Harvard University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her research interests include Polish and Central/East European history; nation-building and nationalism; festivals and commemorations; urban history; environmental history; and the intersection of politics and culture. Dabrowski is the author of three books. The first two tackle the convoluted history of Poland: Poland: The First Thousand Years (2014/2016) and Commemorations and the Shaping of Modern Poland (2004). Her most recent book The Carpathians. Discovering the Highlands of Poland and Ukraine (Cornell University Press 2021) was published recently in the NIU Series in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (Cornell University Press 2021).

Markus Krzoska is a historian and translator with degrees from the Free University of Berlin and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. He is Lecturer at the Department of History with specialization in East European Studies at Justus Liebig University Gießen. His research interests include the contemporary history of Poland, the history of former Eastern German territories, especially the history of relations to Greater Poland in the 19th and 20th century, and the history of historiography. In recent years, Krzoska has also published prolifically on human-animal studies and cultural studies. He has discussed, among other topics, the history of nature conservation in Poland using the example of the Białowieża forest (Yearbook of the German Institute of Polish Studies, issue on the environment in Poland, 2015) and the collective biography of the European Bison (in a volume titled Animal Biography: Re-Framing Animal Lives, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature, 2018). Dr Krzoska also co-edited (together with Thomas M. Bohn and Aliaksandr Dalhouski) a volume on the Białowieża forest, titled Wisent-Wildnis und Welterbe. Geschichte des polnisch-weißrussischen Nationalparks von Bialowieza (Böhlau Verlag, 2017). In 2019, together with Aniceta Turkowska, he co-organized a conference at the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe – Institute of the Leibniz Association in Marburg entitled Reimagining Polish Worldwideness: Cross-Local Encounters and Global Arrangements.