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Legitimizing Militarization or Legitimate Conservation? Collateral Value and Landscapes of the Iron Curtain Borderlands

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Abstract

For most of the twentieth century, conservation efforts around the world were largely modeled after the pattern established in North America of protecting resource areas, such as forests and rangelands, or protecting wildlands that privileged rugged aesthetics and recreational opportunities. In recent decades, new forms of conservation have come into clearer focus, including the transition of militarized landscapes into new land uses dedicated to conservation. This chapter examines how changes along the Iron Curtain borderlands illustrate this type of conversion, as the region increasingly receives acclaim as the Green Belt of Europe. Examples here in central Europe, and others in North America and East Asia, challenge traditional notions of conservation in a variety of ways, but also contribute to new conservation strategies that may help reconnect people to places, even places long known for their contamination or danger. The mix of social and natural qualities at these militarized landscapes generates a diverse set of conservation practices that depend upon renegotiating ideas of public safety, beauty, restoration, and preservation. The recasting of such landscapes can be understood variably as a form of legitimating militarization or as a legitimate approach to conserving biodiversity. In either case, coming to terms with the particular contexts of politics, ecology, and history in these places proves essential if we are to adequately understand the collateral – and also conflicting – values generated by the relationship between conservation and militarization.

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