Chair: Sayana Namsaraeva (MIASU, University of Cambridge)

Caroline Humphrey (MIASU, University of Cambridge)

Bad cannabis, good cannabis: Contradictions of a plant ́s social life in Buryatia

In this paper I am going to share some reflections based on ethnographic field-work conducted in a Hungarian village between 2014 and 2020, during the rule of a populist regime. I will show how transformations of a welfare system as well as the development of populist propaganda in various spheres have created specific standpoints and lifestyles for villagers. In the case of attempts to protect rare species by bringing them home and growing them in the garden, I will show how the logic of a populist state is reiterated by citizens and how environmental thinking becomes a form of simultaneous acceptance and resistance to this stateGreat perspectives for the Buryat Republic were anticipated with the announcement by Russian Prime-Minister Mishustin in February 2020 that cannabis (konoplya) production is to be legalised. Previously cultivation was only permitted for medicinal purposes, but now huge federal-level invest-ments could be expected for commercial production of useful biodegradable objects in a region with plenty of land and a suitable climate. Such joyful announcements omitted to mention that southern Buryatia was already covered with thousands of hectares of wild cannabis that was widely used to make illegal narcotics, and that the local authorities had been battling for years to eliminate the plants. But the wild cannabis resists annihilation. And it has its own out-of-sight economy. This paper will explore the contradictory capital-isms in which cannabis is meshed in a region where people are desperate for income.

Tatiana Chudakova (Department of Anthropology, Tufts University, USA)

Artemesian Dreams: Cultivating Weeds in Russian Pharmacology

This presentation examines Artemesia (wormwood) and its histories of use, both within the realm of medicine and outside of it, focusing on its deployment and early cultivation experiments in Soviet pharmacology. While wormwood ́s most typical associations in the public eye recall the cultural mythos of absinthe, some species of Artemesia have been valued, in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Tibetan Medicine, as an important component in a variety of pharmaceutical formulae, and, relatively recently, as an essential source of Artemisinin for the prevention and treatment of malaria. This paper focuses on a different history of the plant’s polyphonic efficacies by tracing efforts to domesticate and cultivate it as an industrial resource in the Soviet Union, where it was reimagined as a potential precursor to camphor, needed for both medicine and early celluloid production. By following agricultural and pharma-cological experiments with transforming Artemesia into a cultivar, I argue that the different, often competing, imaginaries of plants ́ utilities, both pharmaceu-tical and industrial, are predicated on processes of scale-making that material-ize the state ́s infrastructural relationships as much as they reflect shifting ideas about what constitutes a plant ́s “active ingredients.

Olga Belichenko & Victoria Kolosova (Ca ́ Foscari University of Venice)

Tradition without Roots: History and modern use of the Russian Ivan-chai (Epilobium Angustifolium)

The first food use of rosebay willow herb (E. angustifolium) on the territory of the Russian Empire was mentioned by Stepan Krasheninnikov in the 18th century: the inner pith of its stalks was consumed by the Tungus people. However, the modern use of this plant in widely available infusions marketed as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’ Ivan-chai is most likely dates back to adulteration of Kyakhta Chinese tea in Russia. Throughout the 19th century it was sold locally as well as transported to the West. The leaves of the plant were burnt and mixed with clay in order to resemble the highly valued Chinese drink. After the ban on the use of E.angustifolium in tea mixtures, it transformed in a cheap tea surrogate, the only drink available to the poorest tea consumers. In our presentation we will describe the radical transformation of the image of Ivan-chai in Russia in recent years, as well as the geography and the role of Chinese technologies its production.

Tatiana Safonova (Central European University, Austria)

Bringing Protected Plants Home to Protect Them: Populist Environmentalism in a Hungarian Village

In this paper I am going to share some reflections based on ethnographic field-work conducted in a Hungarian village between 2014 and 2020, during the rule of a populist regime. I will show how transformations of a welfare system as well as the development of populist propaganda in various spheres have created specific standpoints and lifestyles for villagers. In the case of attempts to protect rare species by bringing them home and growing them in the garden, I will show how the logic of a populist state is reiterated by citizens and how environmental thinking becomes a form of simultaneous acceptance and resistance to this state.