GRIMACES OF WILDERNESS PROTECTION IN MODERN-DAY BELARUS

The article by Inna Zenina, Turov village,
Published in "Zapovestnik" (The Reserve Bulletin) Newspaper (Russia), #1(82),
January - February 2003

"Here is not clear where is the face and where the snout,
And it is not clear where gingerbread is and where the lash.
Here pitchforks are not stuck in hay,
And fish pass through a net».
Victor Tzoy (singer)

A year ago, at the end of January 2002, the Belarusian public took an unprecedented stand: it addressed the Council of Europe. "Members of Belarusian public, deeply concerned with democracy and science, discuss prolongation of the European Diploma's validity for the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Most likely, the next prolongation of the international award will come as a stimulation of stable vicious practices of nature use — instead of nature conservation — going on in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. This award will allow the administration to carry on with the economic activity on the territory of the Protected Forest…. Situation has changed to the worse particularly in 2001 when the forest cutting intensified and sanitary fellings of living old-age forest were undertaken within the protected area. The economic and social crises have aggravated in the National Park. Numerous employees have been dismissed, including scientists who did not consent to violations of basic nature protection principles. Timber harvesting and other industrial activities have superseded even tiny efforts for protection and conservation of biological diversity of the Great Forest". This is what was the appeal contained.

Although many Belarusian scientists, working in different fields of nature protection, agreed with the position described in the appeal, only few people had the courage to sign it. Scientists cannot express their position and stay out of politics with impunity, in a country where academicians and directors of institutes have to be nominated in order to receive posts. Among the people signing the appeal, the majority of them chose their civic position already a long time ago and they, so to say, have nothing to lose. They are Nil Gilevich, People's Poet of Belarus; Radzim Garetzki, Professor at the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Professor Yuriy Hadyka; Andrey Sannikov, Charter'97 International Coordinator; Ales" Belyacki, from the "Vesna« Centre for human-rights protection, and others.

At the time the appeal was signed, I worked as a researcher in Pripyatski National Park. Half a year later I was unemployed. Before this, Heorhi Kazulka, Philosophy Doctor in Biology, was fired from the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. He held the position of deputy director on science in the scientific department of this world famous reserve, and he has not agreed with the technocrats and adventurers that came to power.

But before all these, there were the…

STEPS of the GREAT PATH*

(* this section was prepared using materials of Mikhail Kozel)

In 1969, in Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Pripyatski Landscape and Hydrological State Reserve was created. This was part of the official policy concerning nature-use in USSR, in the "60's.  The state policy of that time considered natural landscapes as a potential source of raw materials, while environmental (ecological) aspects were not taken into account. At that time, many highly-industrialized countries all over the world went through ecological crises, therefore characteristic for this period was the boom of international initiatives directed to overcome such problems. The participation at international nature protection actions required USSR to make some correctives of the national ecological policy. The combination of these two factors explains the inconsistent character of actions taken to develop the Pripyatski Reserve.

Alongside the decision to create the Pripyatski Reserve, industrial timber harvesting and clearings of living forest were permitted on its territory till 1975. Owing to this removals of timber from economic activity destined areas the territory covered with forest shrunk from 9.1 % to 2.9 %. A drainage system surrounded by the protected forest was constructed in 1973, and two more drainage systems were dug up along the borders of the Reserve. Up to 1979, the scheduled exploitation of medicinal and technical raw materials, mushrooms and berries was conducted within the reserve, and wild ungulates and predatory animals were hunted. In the northern part of the Reserve, along the Pripyat floodplain the oil pipeline «Friendship» was laid.

Despite of the listed negative events, the nomination of Pripyatski as a Reserve has saved the integrity of unique landscapes of one of the largest forested territories and slowed down on-going degradation of ecosystems. Since 1975 discontinuity of industrial timber harvesting promoted the decrease of anthropogenic influence on protected forests, while the "originals" rests« had the opportunity to renew naturally.

Furthermore, the establishment of the Reserve has stimulated development of researches on both its territory and the whole Polessje region. Due to the work of experts in various fields, the base for effective development of information resources for this special protected natural territory (SPNT) was created at the end of 1980.

During "Perestroika" the Pripyatski Reserve changed jurisdiction and become a subject of the BSSR State Committee on Nature Protection. As a consequence, the timber processing facility of the Reserve was transferred to another organization, the strictly protected zone was enlarged (reaching the greatest size), and scientific and eco-educational functions were activated. It's possible to say, that Perestroika had been the most favorable period for development of Pripyatski as a SPNT in the whole history of the reserve. One of the reasons was a burst of public interest in ecological issues. That was the so-called original Soviet ecological revolution.

After the disintegration of the USSR the situation was radically changed. November 20th 1991 is the date when Pripyatski Reserve was subordinated to the Council of Ministers of BSSR. At the meeting of the work force preceding this event, the new director of the Reserve Nickolai N. Bambiza brought arguments for his offer to subordinate the Reserve to the Council of Ministers, arguments like absence of financial resources from the State Nature Committee for purchasing of saw spares. Other SPNT's of Belarus have been subordinated to the Council of Ministers as well.

From 1992, economic activity on the territory of the Pripyatski Reserve begins to intensify. The administration of the Reserve was constantly lobbying for receiving an approval from the State Nature Committee to start hunting the animals under the guise of scientific purposes and regulation of wild ungulate numbers. For hunting trips, foreign citizens are invited using Ministerial Council's channels. At first, hunted animals were subjects for morphological and biological studies. Subsequently the regulation of population densities turned into pure tourist hunting, with support coming from governmental level.

For this kind of activity credits are given, sites for artificial feeding and fodder fields equipped with hunting towers are created within the forests. Construction of a hotel and enlargement of the auto park has begun.

Meanwhile, volumes of "sanitary" fellings increase. Timber is now exported abroad. Payments of contracts are sometimes settled by barter with agricultural products and consumer goods. Harvesting cranberries and mushrooms in the Reserve again got started. Nature conservation and ecological education lost importance and became secondary objectives. Protection of the territory against the local population is tough methods orientated.

Labour flow in the scientific department increased. Rooms and laboratories of the scientific staff are withdrawn for growing administrative and economic needs. In 1993, publication of the national scientific collection "Reserves of Byelorussia", issued regularly since 1977, has been stopped.

After Alexander Lukashenko became President of the Republic of Belarus in 1994, the Pripyatski Reserve, like others SNPT's, has been subordinated to the Property Management Department of the President (PMDP). Some reason that a grant of the World Bank promoted this subordination of SNPT's of Belarus to PMDP.

In 1992, Global Ecological Fund organization granted 1 million dollars to Belarus for implementation of the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest Biodiversity Protection" Project. A Management Bureau of the Project was created. From the beginning to the end of 1994, the Council of Ministers led this Bureau, and then to the end of the Project, the Property Management Department of the President took over. The finances for the Project were used to keep the Project staff, to pay wages for employees and experts carrying out researches (including directors of SPNT's), to cover operational costs, to purchase equipment and vehicles, to organize seminars, training sessions and educational trips. Employees of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, Berezinski and Pripyatski Biosphere Reserve, several institutes, universities and the Central Botanical Garden of the Academy of Science of the Republic of Belarus were involved in the implementation of the Project. Researches that were carried out have played a certain positive role in the development of wilderness protection in Belarus, while extra wages for scientists, as a payment for participation in the Project, have had beneficial effect in those hard economic times.

There were also less desirable results. An example is the creation of the pedigree hunting dogs training and breeding centre in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. There was hope that after the end of the Project in 1997, the second financing would be granted to other SPNT's. But for some reasons, this did not happen. After the subordination of SPNT's to the administrative and economic structure called Presidential Property Management Department, economic activity in Pripyatski Reserve, as well as in other SPNT's, has constantly increased. In 1995, the Reserve has already joined two collective farms and the experimental hunting ground (EHG) "Lyaskovichi". According to the official version, the creation of an EHG pursued the purpose of «decreasing the anthropogenic effect on the protected territory». But in fact, a quick expansion of monopoly proceeded.

Gradually all SPNTs, being under jurisdiction of the Presidential Property Management Department, have created EHG's. The first Manager of the Presidential Property Management Department Ivan I. Titenkov has announced a requirement to subordinated SPNT's: "Reserves and national parks have to earn not only for their own purposes, but they have to obtain income for the Management Department too". «You are walking on gold», Ivan Titenkov said, when he saw trees laying in a forest. Gradually, timber harvesting and hard-currency hunts got the plan-directive character. In the opinion of the first President of the Republic of Belarus, the felling of protected forests was not a problem; the problem was that timber was being sold as a raw material, without any processing, and consequently too cheap. A recommendation was given to administrations of SPNT's to organize advanced timber processing in the parks. In 1997, the construction of a large timber processing facility near the borders of the Pripyatski National Park started. In1998, a similar enterprise underwent construction in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. In order to construct sawmills the national parks have taken huge loans. The 'gift« for the 60 years celebration since Belovezhskaya Pushcha was declared a Reserve resembled cynicism: timber processing started on its territory in 1999. Intensification of the economic activity on special protected natural territories for the purpose of obtaining profit for the political regime has greatly displeased a part of the public. In contradiction with previous actions, in 1996 Alexander Lukashenko signed an order regarding reorganization of the Pripyatski Reserve into the Pripyatski National Park. Despite the legal inconsistency at that time, this document came into force.

New credits are given to the Pripyatski National Park. The number of affiliated enterprises is increasing. There is a bread-baking plant, sausage shop, tailoring shop, a network of stores and cafes. The President's Property Management Department considers "ecological tourism" as an important direction for the efforts of the National Park administration. But the majority of foreign tourists coming to Pripyatski National Park are hunters targeting trophies. For the purpose of increasing the offer for hunters, reintroduction of the European red deer on the territory of the experimental hunting ground started. Soon the EHG surface exceeded the area of the National Park. At the same time, discontent of the local population was growing. President's Property Management Department and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, trying to bring down the wave of discontent, organized special advertising campaigns in state controlled mass-media. They attempted to justify the existing state ecological policy and to stop nonconformity.

National parks gradually lose prestige as nature protection organizations, and are being transformed into economic structures. The scientific activity is reduced. Both researchers and research projects are connected with the necessity of solving economic problems. Research employees halting projects, are sent to perform agricultural field works. The hope that a meteorological station will be created in the Pripyatski National Park was finally interred, although the necessity for this station has been discussed since the first years of existence of the Reserve located near the Pripyat River. But till 1999, in the same nature protection organization, thirteen small and medium trade enterprises, including cafes and bars, butcher shops, textiles, bread and macaroni producers, started to operate. Other SPNT's too, tried as much as possible to be multi-economical. In the Braslav Lakes National Park, for instance, canned fish was being produced.

When the Narochanski National Park was created in 1999, the Experimental Hunting Ground "Myadel" already existed. This is a quotation from the interview given by the new director of the Narochanski National Park, an answer to the question regarding money making for SPNT's: «It is necessary to develop infrastructure thoroughly. We plan to extract mineral water, to open beer and wine factories, to produce macaroni». Regarding the celebration of 4 years since the creation of Braslav Lakes National Park it's director has informed with pride 'After creating the National Park's structure, we have put the animal and fish densities under state regulation, and began to fight off poachers of all kinds by applying rather tough methods … Today our Park received the approval for hunting wild ungulates; their number has increased, so the approval for whole region has been obtained«.

In March 1999, an Edict of the President was issued, prescribing the ecological fare-tax for transports going through a SPNT. Since May the 1st "eco-points" were set up on roads of general use. Foreign citizens had to pay 5 $ per passage, while the tax for Belarusian nationals was less. It is interesting that consequently, the Pripyatski National Park managed to block a road of international importance. This road crossed the territory of the Experimental Hunting Ground, which is not a special protected natural territory. Consequences were so significant, that, despite of obtaining considerable sums of «air money» from 'eco-points«, they ceased these road extortions already at the end of 1999. National parks of Belarus have entered the new century with cumbersome administration, expensive resource usage, and economically unstable structures. The general orientation was towards credit protectionism and preferential treatment. For example, in order to perform the auditing in a national park, a tax inspection team and other supervising bodies must get every time an approval from the President's Property Management Department.

To the present times, in most cases, the anthropogenic influence affected territories of national parks as a result of economic activity which repeatedly exceeded external impacts. But the administration is not interested in arguing on protection of a territory against external anthropogenic influences (drainage, road construction etc.) and prefers to ignore them.

ON WHETHER OUR SCIENTIFIC DEPARTMENTS SHOULD BE A «PIKE»

Traditionally, scientific departments are considered the responsible bodies for the preservation of nature in reserves and national parks. The dear professor A. Nicol'skiy has compared scientific departments with a «pike», which does not allow the administration to slip through.

With regard to wild nature protection in Belarus it has been shown, that the administration can «neutralize» scientific departments, without liquidating them. Considering the fact that work contracts are concluded only for one year with every employee, it is very simple to reduce personnel and to carry out «cleaning». An Edict of the President issued in 1999 facilitates implementation of this procedure. Present «assiduous owners» of Belarusian SPNT's consider scientific departments as sometimes useful structures. They can «smooth over and substantiate» an «order from above».

The modern Belarusian reality has given science only civil servants who, in contrast with the true scientists, do not have a scientific stand, and for whom truth is only an empty word. There is no need for professionalism, but for skill and desire to carry out any orders of heads. Protectionism reigns if there are no job opportunities. Casual people occupy seats in nature protection organizations. Being incompetent and dealing with a profession they know nothing about, they carry out any orders of the chief that arranged for them to get the job. Due to lack of opportunity to accomplish themselves, young scientific employees go to academic institutes or high schools, but some simply lose heart and begin to simulate the scientific activity, gradually spending for nothing their intellectual potential. That's because it is easy to explain minimal results by the absence of equipment and means for work. It is more convenient to sit in a comfortable laboratory getting the same salary, than to collect materials in the field, for the next scientific publication. It is difficult to be a modern professional, if a scientist does not receive elementary equipment and doesn't even see scientific magazines issued in neighboring countries over the years.

Working in conditions of permissiveness, with lack of objective criticism, and with the petty tyranny of administrations, scientific employees often cannot stand up for themselves. Events, which occurred in the Pripyatski National Park after appearance in 2002 of the above mentioned appeal to the Council of Europe, are relevant in this respect.

Immediately after the appeal became known, the Deputy Manager of the Presidential Property Management Department V.N Sudas personally called me at Pripyatski National Park and promised to arrive for talks. One month later, the head of the Protected Natural Territories Department of the Presidential Property Management Department, A.I.  Luchkov came to meet the scientists of Pripyatski National Park and talk about the problems. Probably, since my «penitence» and the «censure» of my colleagues who dared to appeal to the Council of Europe was not mentioned during this meeting, they have decided «to put aside» the scientific employees in another way.

At the end of March 2002, the director of Pripyatski National Park Stepan N. Bambiza together with his deputy on science Anatoly V. Uglyanets made an attempt to fire my colleagues, two zoologists, employees of the science department. They gave them an illegal reprimand and created psychological pressure. Because they were successful in sending off one employee, they tried to exclude the second employee from the staff as well, despite the fact that an annual contract had already been signed a month before. A court was authorized to restore lawfulness. But till summer 2002, the personnel list of the scientific department was reduced with two members. As for me, an easy solution was found; the director of the Pripyatski National Park did not prolong the labour contract for the next one year period.

The functionaries of the Presidential Property Management Department, made it loud and clear for all that they have the greatest support for research activity in the subordinated protected natural territories entrusted to their care, and without even explaining the scientific personnel lay offs. Certainly, it wasn't possible to give reasons, since experts of the President's Property Management Department, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and scientists of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus have carried out a complex inspection of the Pripyatski National Park in June 1999 and made suggestions. Among the Commission's suggestions for improvement of the activity of the Pripyatski National Park there was one indicating: «from 2001 measures should be taken to increase scientific staff to 15 –18 employees». Measures «were taken"… Moreover, not the worst employees have been dismissed. Now there are only four employees in the scientific department of the Pripyatski National Park, one of them is working according to his contract till March 2003, and another is employed at the Nature Museum and does not conduct scientific projects independently. During 2002, in Pripyatski National Park researches on two scientific themes, previously accepted and authorized by the Scientific and Technical Council, have been interrupted, whereas the bison re-acclimatization project remained without operator. Both programs that proved to be unnecessary for the administration of the Pripyatski National Park, actually provided a study of predatory animal species, the majority of which are rare and disappearing. Stepan Bambiza and Anatoly Uglyanets did not have doubts about the suspended themes of predatory mammals» research being connected to the performance of the State «Plan of actions on preservation and sustainable use of biodiversity of the Republic of Belarus». As a matter of fact, present managers of national parks need the scientific employees only to ground «scientifically» next plans on the «rational» use of natural resources on protected territories, in order to make profit for the group of adventurers and technocrats in power now. The concept of expansion of economic activity in state nature protection organizations to provide financing for researches and ecological education, proclaimed by the President's Property Management Department, has proved to be insolvent. Practice has shown that for scientific researches there is not a sufficient increase in finances obtained from this expansion. There was a need for sponsors even to finish construction of the Nature Museum of Pripyatski National Park. Despite activity of the Experimental Hunting Ground as well as of all the commercial, industrial and agrarian enterprises, which «occupied» the former Pripyatski Reserve, the exhibition of the museum has not been completed to this day.

ETHICS and HUMANISM

The Kasya bear (female) was delivered to Pripyatski National Park from Vitebsk city. In the Pripyatski Park managers did not want to deal too much with a zoo: superfluous costs and additional problems. But they received instructions «from above»: entertainment for tourists should be supplied. Before an enclosure was built, the delivered bear remained in the small transport cage for weeks, where she could hardly move. When the enclosure was finished and the cage-box opened, she just couldn't walk. We are still far from giving humane treatment to animals even in a nature protection organization. But, everything is going in a wrong way. Kasya has probably forgotten her torments when she soon moved. In 2002, the bear disappeared from the enclosure and resettled in the woods. People say she found another residence for her. But I have doubts about whether she is still alive now, because there have been some «wolf hunts».

In Pripyatski National Park hunting for wolf is guaranteed for tourist-hunters. A special invention is put into practice here: local organizers of hunts place a bred animal under the shots of non suspecting foreigners coming to hunt wild predators. Small wolf cubs are taken from a den in the forest and brought up in an enclosure for autumn-winter hunts. Some very careful hunters are surprised that wild wolves have such dog-like eyes. This is great fun for the present directors of national parks «Pripyatski» and «Belovezhskaya Pushcha», brothers Nickolai and Stepan Bambiza, the co-developers of such «know-how» in national hunting.

Probably similar examples of «ethics and humanism» are unfortunately known to occur on other specially protected natural territories of Belarus. In Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in 1999, I saw wolves crowding in a cage. Animals were walking on a layer of excrements of impressive thickness. The appropriate smell was spreading around. Fortunately, since I was visiting in winter everything was frozen. What should we teach our children when we show them animals in such conditions? And what should I have answered when children, visiting my ecological study group, asked if it was true that hunters visiting the National Park shot those wolves, which they saw as small and amusing cubs?

ABOUT A ROLE OF THE PERSONS IN THIS HISTORY

The newest Belarusian wild nature protection history has its heroes too. The «Zapovestnik» (The Reserve Bulletin) newspaper already published (No35 and 50) a material about one of the «engines» of the industrial — economic development in specially protected areas, the former director of Pripyatski Reserve Nickolai Nikolai Bambiza. As an active man, Nickolai N. Bambiza could not have found anything to do in the Committee of Fish Protection within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, where he was transferred with honors as chairman at the end of 1999. In 2000, he proposed himself as deputy candidate to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus. Here are some quotations from the pre-election program of deputy candidate Nickolai N. Bambiza. (Promising) «- to fish for the locals that use industrial fishing instruments by approving fish-protection inspections;
free-of-charge housing to young families at the birth of the third child;
— creation of small-scale private business enterprises should be very simple, if you want to create your own business — come and create it;
— a family — for women, a salary — for men«.

How many things can be promised in the heat of pre-election struggle! But the grateful local inhabitants, for some reason, «have not moved» Nickolai N. Bambiza in the Chamber of Representatives.

In 2001, Nickolai Bambiza was nominated Director of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Nomination of the new «owner» of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha has caused his predecessor Evgeny Smoktunovich to resign. The native inhabitant of the Pushcha, forester in the third generation, E. Smoktunovich worked in the scientific department and as general forest warden in the past, but held the director's post for less than half a year. During this period E. Smoktunovich offered to remove the sawmill from the National Park's structure. Probably, this was the main reason of his so hasty resignation. N. Bambiza arrived at the new work place with his characteristic boorishness and impudence, which he showed not only to people. He ordered the cut of 15 living trees at the entrance of the National Park without bothering with papers and arrangements. Benefiting from close support of the Presidential Property Management Department, N. Bambiza began with to apply on a great scale the experience obtained in Pripyatski National Park. So we can say these two national parks «twinned», because each of them has been managed by a Bambiza, namely, Pripyatski National Park by Stepan N. Bambiza and the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park by Nikolai N. Bambiza. At the beginning, timber for the sawmill in Belovezhskaya Pushcha was partly delivered from Pripyatski National Park. Then the bark beetle appeared and a windstorm occurred in the Pushcha, so timber processing went in full swing. In a country with an authoritarian management system, a director of a national park cannot take the responsibility to initiate a great economic activity without approval «from above». For many years such a personification of the «top» is the Philosophy Doctor in Biology Alexander I. Luchkov, the «gold fund keeper», as he was named in one of the Belarusian newspapers.

In 1992, A.I.  Luchkov headed the Management Bureau of the «Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest Biodiversity Protection» Project. After the Project came to an end, he remained in the President's Property Management Department, where he's currently heading the Department of Protected Natural Territories and Nature Use. In the past he was quite a good scientist, but the many years on the job in the presidential administration turned him into an exemplary Belarusian functionary of modern times. He quotes the President, he reasons about achievements and prospects of SPNT's activity and about the large contribution brought by the Department to the development of nature protection's science. He always has advanced positions in the leadership line. But behind all these there is only demagogy and hypocrisy.

The system always finds people such as Philosophy Doctor in Agriculture Anatoly V. Uglyanets and from this fact results hope that «pike-like» scientific departments are a utopian idea. Due to the lack of scruples, cowardice and a lack of professionalism of this man, the scientific department managed by him has not used its potential and, eventually got in a pitiful condition. A.V.  Uglyanets was not ashamed to send the «Green Peace» militants out of the administrative office of the nature protection organization, or to throw the telephone after hearing the voice of a journalist that had asked inconvenient questions. He has openly declared that his criterion for evaluating employees is their participation in agricultural field works, and that one chair is sufficient for his job: «it's possible to write on one's lap».

Desire to remain within state institutions by any means, demagogy, pretence, lies and hypocrisy make up the style of current officials. They have reasons to be afraid: one well known politician of Belarus has said once that it is more difficult for him to find a milkmaid for a collective farm than a minister. And he does find. Specialists working in the management department of special protected natural territories of Belarus, frequently lack biological, forestry, or even agricultural studies. Sometimes they tell absolute nonsense; they can discuss about commercial cuttings within reasonable limits, about ill and mature trees, about protected forests becoming wild if there are no fellings, about harmful animals, about ecological saws etc, just as a casual, incompetent in regard to nature protection matters, and ecologically illiterate person would. But not everything is so hopeless, because public opinion is still strong.

THE PUBLIC

In April 1995, 18 public organizations of Belarus have addressed the President of the country. «The Public is extremely concerned with heartless consumer attitude towards nature, and especially of inadmissible violations of the law of protected areas. Dear Alexander Grigor'evich! We cannot admit the idea that the above mentioned »initiative« of »industry men« has come into the world without Your acknowledgement or, especially, without Your approval. We appeal to you, as to a man which always felt connected to the land, who understands it is impossible only to take from a nature. In February 1995, the Manager of the Property Management Department of the President approved a plan of harvesting the »miner prop« in »Belovezhskaya Pushcha«, »Berezinski« and »Pripyatski« Reserves… We require that the employees of the Presidential Affairs Management Department strictly follow the legislation and we ask your assistance to support real actions of environmental protection». After sending the appeal, the public has not received answers from the President neither in 1995, nor 5 years later.

14th of April 2000, a «green» picketing for protection of nature reserves, the first in the history of Belarus, was held in the city of Minsk. Participants at the picketing brought in requirements «To restore the Pripyatski Reserve! To stop the felling of forests!». The well-known Belarusian journalist and ecologist, constant supporter of wild nature protectionism, founder and editor of the «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» newspaper Valery Dranchuk was one of the organizers of the picketing. Both Belarusian ecologists and activists of the nongovernmental organization «Keepers of the rainbow» participated at the picketing.

In December 2000, in the House of Writers in Minsk, the national scientific conference devoted to problems of specially protected natural territories was held. Famous Belarusian scientists and experts from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, some of which often visit territories of national parks and reserves and are members of scientific and technical councils of these organizations, have signed the resolution of this conference. This resolution was submitted to the main holders of the protected nature of Belarus — the Property Management Department of the President. In the beginning of April 2001, an answer signed by the Manager of the President's Property Management Department, Mrs. Galina A. Zhuravkova was received. «The Property Management Department of the President of the Republic of Belarus has considered the resolution of the conference on reserves and national parks» situation, and has drawn the conclusion that the resolution is a testimony of the insufficient knowledge of its authors in regard to the nature protection work conducted in the reserve and national parks«. This is how the answer received from the Property Management Department of the President started. Madam Zhuravkova has neither the studies, nor the previous professional experience in biological sciences and ecological problems. But she has accused scientists, including those who have a science degree in biology, and experts from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, who deal with wild nature protection problems for many years, of insufficient knowledge! In the same year, the presidential administration refused to give permission to journalists, public figures and organizers of the »Press-tour for support of the Aarhus convention«, to visit the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, and to allow them to obtain information on its situation. Consequently, including the need to guarantee public access to information on the situation of natural territories as a condition for maintenance of a protection regime, into the »Sustainable development of Belarus: the role of non governmental organizations« resolution of the national meeting of ecological organizations of Belarus (Raubichi — April 2002), was a very important and logical step. Requests to remove the Berezinski Biosphere Reserve from the jurisdiction of the President's Property Management Department and to restore Belovezhskaya Pushcha and Pripyatski national parks to the status of reserves, have been included into the resolution as well.

Scientists and public understand well, that «higher» bodies, which are formally responsible for the preservation of protected territories in our country, are incompetent and are really too little concerned with ecological problems. The confrontation between authorities and public continues.

EPILOGUE

At last it's time for all of us to refuse the idea of subordinating wild nature to technocrats, ecological nihilists, or any sort of «assiduous owners», to tempt them with utilitarian advantages of SPNT's like the breeding of rare species, ecological tourism or scientific investigations. It is time to recognize, at last, that wild nature is valuable in itself. It is important for us just because it creates the environment we live in. Unfortunately, in Belarus as in the majority of our «sister» republics of the former USSR, we cannot be proud yet that the state authorized bodies perceive the concerns of the public with appropriate attention and as a basis for real dialogue in the country. For the present, the society is not insured against the next «courageous» initiatives of authorities and «industry men» that can develop uncontrolled activities in accordance with their concepts. So our nature's future is under the «sword of Damocles», under the threat of human greediness, cowardice and foolishness.