Green bazaar,
Or why Belarusian ecologists did not support an action to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha

Heorhi Kazulka, Specially for the Website "Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21st Century", October 14, 2005

"The queen of tobacco, fish, confiscated wares, sugar and petroleum" and her retinue

The years 2001 to 2004 will go down in the history of wildlife protection in Belarus as the period of "the queen of tobacco, fish, confiscated wares, sugar and petroleum". This is the name journalists gave to Galina Zhuravkova, the infamous former Manager of the Property Management Department of the President of the Republic of Belarus. Despite public information of a criminal activity this person undertook in the past she was appointed for this high post in 2001. By the way, the “stormy” activities she developed under cover of the Property Management Department (PMD) were the best conformation of her preceding behaviour. Moreover, she was involved in such large criminal business, that a criminal case against Mrs Zhuravkova became one of the most scandalous over the last ten years. Because she was not to be an ordinary official judged, but a high-ranked person attending the President. She quickly seized and occupied more and more new spheres of business, she appointed her own people to hold leading posts and she was involved in a secret policy of the Department. Actually, she turned the PMD into a "state in the state". These matters caused fair indignation in business and governmental quarters in Belarus, as well as in Russia. As a result, she eventually had to pay for her mistakes. A sitting of the court of justice against her activities was held in spring 2005. Mrs Zhuravkova was charged with Clause 210, Part 4 of the Criminal Code, comprising theft by taking up too much administrative powers accomplished by an organized or especially large size team. The state lost over three billion US $ resulting her activities, according to the opinion of justice. Mrs Zhuravkova was sentenced by a court verdict to deprivation of freedom for four years. Taking into account the weight of charge, the lawyers considered the verdict to be rather soft. The Clause of the Criminal Code defines deprivation of freedom in terms from seven to fifteen years for similar criminal activities. In truth Mrs Zhuravkova was not imprisoned. She was not even present at the sitting of the court. Her current location is unknown. The Belarusian press has written much about this sensational "pardon", which possesses features and paradoxes of the national justice of Belarus. This however is a completely different story, which is out of the theme of our publication.

It is known that all Belarusian Reserves and National Parks have been subordinated to PMD since 1994. Only a naïve man would think that Galina Zhuravkova stood for a policy of conscience and fair nature preservation and respect for the laws on nature management at her high post. This was not at all true. Her "rapacious" commercial attitude reflexed itself in the protected areas as well. It must be stressed that such behavior is less common, since the use of natural resources in especially protected natural areas is out of the interest of large business. One could say such exploitation is on the periphery of business interest, owing to the essential restrictions which are imposed on the utilization of the natural resources of those areas. Besides of this, the level by which various reserved areas were struck by commercial activities, initiatied by Zhuravkova, varied for objective and subjective reasons. For example, the Berezinski Biosphere Reserve encountered "slight freight". While the "Braslav Lakes" National Park was struck with overwhelming power. Criminal cases against the former director and some leading experts of this National Park were recently instituted. The cases were related to affairs of taking up too much administrative power, the illegal construction of cottages in the protected zone and serious infringements of the rules on fishery and hunting. The inspectors paid attention to the fact that some workers of the National Park possessed expensive weapons and several cars. However, in several preceding years press brought nearly no negative news about the "Braslav Lakes" National Park. And all of a sudden criminal cases appeared like thunder from a clear sky!

What does this mean? First of all, a criminal organization, covered by high chief Mrs Zhuravkova, had been developed actively in this reserved area. After all, it is simply ridiculous to think that not even a single representative of the administrative powers in Minsk would see this illegal building. A cottage cannot be hidden in a shed to produce moonshine in the night. The chief of the Property Management Department was fired from her post and her power came to the hands of other people. The old "roof" was gone and the new one turned out to be unable to avoid criminal situations. This, secondly, means that there is no public movement at all, not even a weakly organized organ, in the Braslav region, which is able to premote preservation of this reserved area. That is why nobody deals with the press and nobody initiates public campaigns to protect nature. This means as well that the problem has existed before, but the public was not engaged with it.

In the light of the matter stated above, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, a leading organization in nature protection in Belarus, suffered, perhaps more than other natural areas. Galina Zhuravkova realized a policy which continues (!) to lead to extremely negative consequences for the reserved nature and the local population. Without any cause she dismissed Evgeniy Smoktunovich, a cultured, respectable and educated man, from his post of general director, as it fitted well in her deliberated policy. The former general director was taken from his post in a demonstrative and scornful way. Shortly after Mrs Zhuravkova was appointed to the post of Manager of the PMD they met at the entrance gate of the National Park, when Mrs Zhuravkova visited Belovezhskaya Pushcha for the first time. When he handed her over a bouquet of flowers all people present on the meeting saw that she replied this offer with a dissatisfied grimace. She refused to take the flowers and immediately forwarded them to a worker of the check post at the entrance gate. While she was not even introduced into the business of the National Park and while she did not even know the man her attitude was already prejudiced. Naturally, to reinforce her emotions Mrs Zhuravkova just paid attention to negative matters during her survey of the National Park. She even found dissatisfying situations in places where they were clearly absent.

Soon a new appointment was held. Her right hand position, general director of "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" National Park was taken by Nickolai Bambiza, whom was known before "thanks" to the scandalous activities he undertook in his position of director of "Pripyat" National Park. In that area he had organized the felling of unparalleled floodplain Oak woods for production of Oak parquet. This, as well as other activities, was described in detail by ecologists from the Pripyat region in due time, for example in the article Grimaces of wilderness protection in modern-day Belarus, "Zapovestnik" (Russia), No 1, 2003 by I. Zenina.

The Belovezhskaya Pushcha's syndrome

Since the first day of his appointment the new director of Belovezhskaya Pushcha fully confirmed his reputation as a man irreconcilable in his struggle against both reserved wild nature and against experts who aim to save the natural woodland. Both nature and scientists suffered from his measures. Mr Bambiza attempted to introduce the technologies of timber enterprises in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which had so far built old traditions to handle the reserved nature carefully. In particular, he tried to introduced sanitary clear cuttings. It turned out well to him that a next outbreak of mass multiplication of Bark beetles took place. It is necessary to underline that both the management style - which includes foul language, a boorish and scornful attitude to people and petty tyranny - as well as the plans of the new director diverged from the legislation defined in the aims and objectives of the National Park. What’s more, Mr Vasily Sudac, Deputy Manager of the PMD, presented the new director to the employees of the National Park in a direct and very open way with the words “It is necessary to strengthen our economic activities. The new director is an expert on timber processing”.

However, a great number of local people was not afraid to act against those far-reaching plans and against the methods of the new "reformer", in contradiction to public pressure in other especially protected areas in Belarus. A scandal was raised. This resulted in the formation of a state commission, which unequivocally forbade the conduction of sanitary clear cuttings, as this measure contradicted the aims and the tasks of National Park. Then the director began to "cut down" the number of experts. He succeeded very well in practicing this business. This resulted in a true staff pogrom in the National Park. Hundreds of employees were fired. They were replaced by temporary workers from other regions of the country. Locals nicknamed these employees "talibans".

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Illegal felling, 2002
Secretly the illegal felling of the best living forest generation, including Pines of old ages was started. This action was unprecedented in the post war period of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. This criminal act started in a way parallel to the just described scandal. Shortly after these facts of illegal activities employed by the administration of the National Park espoused and opened up a new scandal raised. This time the scandal reached an international public.

One may list many more facts and unlawful events which the director undertook during the last years. At the website "Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21 Century" the entire section "Photo-fact", called “The chronicle of destruction of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Relic Forest" ( /), has been devoted to these phenomena. Using a Russian proverb one could say that "the apple does not fall from the tree".

How did Galina Zhuravkova react? As a natural habit, the "queen of tobacco and other business" directed all her skills, energy and force to protecting and covering the protégé. The press tour, which was organized for journalists in 2003, serves as a clear example. The tour was initiated by the public and was supported by the UN Office in Belarus after the scandalous practice of the administration of the National Park, its initiation of the conduction of large scale illegal fellings of living, old aged wood in protected quarters of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, was opened up to the public. The ecologists and some of the journalists - the initiators of this tour who aimed to witness the situation in the sites where eco-crimes had been brought in practice - were deleted from the list of participators at the last moment. The remaining journalists were taken on an "exemplary show route" which was prepared beforehand. They were reported that there were no infringements on the laws and no contradictions with the opinion of the science of managing wild nature. Russian reporters wrote about a "press tour held under escort". The former administration was accused of all problems in the management of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It was nevertheless impossible to hide infringements. The press tour resulted in a barrage of critical publications.

I recollect the autumn of 2001. In that year the employees of the National Park addressed a collective letter to the President in which they described the critical situation in the Park and the abuse the administrative powers made of this. Galina Zhuravkova was mentioned in particular. It affected the celebration of her birthday in the governmental residence Viskuly, which actually masked a business seminar of top managers. The President charged this case to be investigated by… G. Zhuravkova herself (!). A major meeting of the management of the National Park was organized and about fifty employees participated. In the beginning the workers tried to explain about the infringements and problems, which appeared like a bolt from the blue when the new administration of the National Park was appointed. However, as the employees received an extremely negative reaction from Mrs Zhuravkova, who rushed herself to defend the director and did not even attempt to investigate the notions of her workers, they became hopeless quite soon. They accepted the "futility" of their complaints. The "controllers" rewrote the report of their "inspection" several times in order to present a rose-colored situation and to declare the infringements as "not proven true". Covering the facts certainly did not restrict the action of the administration; on the contrary, it just untied its hands and it stimulated further illegal actions. Using a Russian proverb one could say "A hand covers hand".

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Illegal felling,
Galina Zhuravkova was arrested in 2004. A new head without criminal links was appointed to the PMD. The new head was rigidly ordered "to burn out all dirt from this state body from top to bottom as a glowing iron". Nevertheless, no changes took place in the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" National Park, in contradistinction to, for example “Braslav Lakes". The infringements proceeded, but their execution became more the "qualified". While illegal cuttings were almost openly conducted and while illegally felled wood could remain to lay at cutting sites for a long term all recent traces are covered up immediately, according to information from locals. At the same time controllers and commissions try to avoid checking illegal practices in every way possible they can, as they did before.

The resistance

The "roof" which protects the administration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha proved to be much stronger and wider than the one in "Braslav Lakes" National Park. Therefore impunity and connivance can still proceed in this reserved area. The persisting dramatic crisis of Belovezhskaya Pushcha leads to apathy, feelings of hopelessness and indifference by the majority of the local population. However, a small group among the locals is rather "active" now as they seized upon the "feeding-rack", as they are on very well terms with the current heads, as they never before had comparable opportunities to take care of their own wealth. Initially many locals tried to protest and to struggle, but today the majority has given up their resistance and most of the locals have put their life in order according to the limits of the current conditions. They only complain at private moments, when they are sitting in their kitchen or when they are drinking vodka. They complain about being indignant with injustice and with the boorishness and the petty tyranny of their local chiefs.

Nevertheless, not all citizens from Belovezhskaya Pushcha have lost their courage and their hope for positive changes and for the triumph of truth. Not everybody has stopped to resist the problems which came to the land of the ancient Pushcha. The time of the "iron fence" of Stalin is over. Belarus is located in the heart of Europe. It is without any doubt impossible to set up a "paradise", protected with numerous barracks and isolated from the civilized world. Sooner or later the obsolete administrative system will be "washed away" by the power of European integration, and a period of absurdity in Belovezhskaya Pushcha will come to an end. This process depends in many respects on the awareness, the activity and the unity of the public. Judge for yourself. Consider that comparatively small forces were able to resist the rigid commands of the large administrative machine, which the administration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its high patrons had become, and as they were able to win several big battles for the benefit of Pushcha over the last four years. Please note that the military terminology used here reflects to the essence of the situation created in the National Park - "police regime". You can assume about what achievements would be if large public powers could be involved to struggle.

Here is a reminder for skeptics and pessimists:

In despite of the fact that the situation has not radically improved it remains incorrect to state that the public achieved little progress in the struggle to preserve Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Though those responsible for its ecological misery do still maintain their managing posts and they continue to lead their destructive policy. One should take note that the three last mentioned achievements in the struggle for Belovezhskaya Pushcha were reached with international support, notably from Russia, Ukraine and countries in Western Europe.

Weaknesses of the national ecological movement …

The last years have shown that the administration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha most of all fears international public campaigns. The major concessions to defend Belovezhskaya Pushcha were achieved thanks to their pressure. But why does the administration especially fear the international instead of the national society? As a matter of fact, the international contacts of the Belarusian state and the opportunities of the international community to influence internal matters in Belarus have been shown to be minimal. The question can be answered with a simple declaration: today, the national public on the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha does not matter.

Please, judge for yourself. In 2003 an international campaign for the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha was initiated by the Ukrainian Coalition "For Wild Nature" and the International Social-Ecological Union (Russia), after irregular facts had seen the light of day - the illegal felling of living wood within the protected area. Once these facts were opened up to the public about 200 letters and faxes, signed by individual ecologists and teams from many countries all over the world, were sent to the President of Belarus, Mr Alexander Lukashenko, as a protest against the illegal practices. Some of the letters were signed by hundreds of people. However, only five (!) persons from Belarus supported the campaign, while this case does not only concern the protection of the national natural property of the Belarusians, but a World Heritage Site!

During spring 2005 a next protest campaign was set up by international organizations once it was clear that the administration of the National Park had committed itself to passing the restrictions of the legislation on nature protection once again. This time, the campaign was supported by not a single Belarusian. It is like people saying "there is no way to go ahead". You can draw your own conclusions. If one has to give an opinion on ecological society in Belarus of today, one could say that it is a rather conditional and reserved circle of people.

It would obviously be incorrect to assert that an ecological "movement" is absent in Belarus. It exists in a certain form and it does "something". Sometimes the ecological society of Belarus tries to struggle or tries to simulate the struggle against something. But, in despite of the international universality of the ideas and the purposes of the ecological movement, many specific national features of the Belarusian eco-movement differ radically from the eco-movement in other countries. This situation is rather specific and quite difficult to analyze. Nonetheless, some people should engage in it. We will therefore do an attempt to analyze a number of features of the national ecological movement in this publication. Belovezhskaya Pushcha, as a unique natural monument, will serve as a starting point. It is certainly impossible to outline a fully detailed and sharply outlined picture, in the frame of the entire country, with this methodical approach. We do hope nevertheless that this kind of analysis will be useful to those who have not yet lost their ability to think, those who are able to grow on self-criticism for the sake of progress and business. The protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha would probably benefit as well from this attitude. Cleary, a better understanding allows a better way of doing.

In order to avoid the over accumulation of superfluous detailed data in this paper, I will not handle those numerous facts and proofs of postulates which can be submitted to the public. I will limit myself to saying that numerous actual data, obtained from practical work of various public organizations in Belarus, compared with those from foreign countries, and personal long-term observations, thoughts, discussions and feelings make up the base of all conclusions which I have drawn. I do not have the pretension to present an absolute truth and I warmly invite individuals and parties to discuss and analyze the matter in order to find new ways for the development of a public ecological movement in Belarus.


I will outline some events in order. If the international society worries about the future of Belovezhskaya Pushcha when it sends protest letters against the destruction of reserved nature, while the Belarusians are "sleeping" or when they are indifferent to this relic of primeval nature, the situation can be considered as a national disgrace. One may assume that, in the view of civilized countries, Belarusians will thereafter be presented in an unfavorable light. I would like to make clear that I have tried to influence this situation. I tried to change this impasse. I tried to improve the position of Belarus within the international "green" community. Since otherwise a paradox would show - the entire world, Russia, Ukraine, Europe, America… and even Bangladesh, would defend the Belarusian relic natural forest, whereas the Belarusians are "sleeping"! Therefore I wrote a letter and edited a text distributed by the initiators of the international campaign for the protection Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Then it was sent to the Belarusian ecological electronic email-box "Greenbel". I requested them to support the international initiative, to sign the letter and send it to the head of the country. This initiative was intended to "wake up" the Belarusian "sleeping" green community. In the same instance it would positively contribute to the preservation of the valuable reserved area.

The reaction from Belarusian ecologists on the letter was beyond expectations: many public activists, including those living in the countryside were enthusiastic to support the idea. A satisfactory energetic discussion started on the way to achieve the best possible result and on how to optimize the execution of the proposed action; this type of powerful cooperation rather rarely happens among Belarusian activists. Some valuable advises were expressed and the business generally advanced successfully. A meeting was appointed for the end of April, which would allow the involved "green" parties to discuss the details of the action and finally to sign the letter.

I was unfortunately unable to participate personally in the "round table meeting". When I informed myself of the results of the meeting I was astonished of affliction and disappointment. The basic conclusion drawn by the Belarusian public activists that attended the meeting was that "Kazulka’s letter is utterly poor due to absence of a purpose and even an idea what it is necessary for", "…it is necessary that we offer something concrete and that we take action to search an alternative…" and "…it is necessary to go somewhere ...just to reach another…". These were some quotes from emails which I received after the meeting. Basically, appeals were made to reach for something new, something grandiose and something unclear, while a proposed well-developed action by signing and sending the letter was rejected. One could resume the situation shortly with the proverb "swan, crawfish and pike" moving to different directions. The simple and exact idea of the letter had suddenly been rejected for some reason. No explanation was given for this change and nothing concrete or productive was offered instead. The initiators of "something different" made noise and fuss for a week, then sent a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection in which they requested a permit for a field inspection of public activists to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It was easy to predict that the ecologists did not receive a positive answer from the Ministry, and after that the "green" activists rested with content on the things which they had achieved …

An interesting matter to mention is the fact that attempts had yet been made to allow for a public inspection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha during the autumn of 2004. Also, a letter on the subject had been sent to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection. The attempt had a well-known outcome - the desired sanction was not given. In relation to this situation there was proposed to work out additional actions to get some benefit. However, the leaders of the contacted NGOs’ ignored these proposals and the achieved effect was zero: neither control, nor any other effect or advantage. The year passed by. And what’s further? We faced the same "agricultural rake"!

Thus, the action to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha has crashed before even having started! What can we say about this? In all, it is simply a sad situation. Failing action to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the best proof of the deep serious crisis in which the public ecological movement of Belarus finds itself today. And what is more, this it the third (!) initiative to fail during the last tree years*. The most important lesson is that both the wood and the people suffer, although these people are deprived of the support and they are not able to advance their ideas for the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

* (In 2003 a non political, noncommercial and unreligious coalition of civil organizations Belarusian Public Initiative "For preservation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha" was established. The Coalition included the public organizations "Ecodom", "Female Answer", Belarusian Social-Ecological Union "Chernobyl", Public Union "Parents and Children Rights’ Protection" and the Belarusian branch of the International Academy of Ecology. This Coalition of Belarusian NGOs appealed to save the Pushcha, with support of "For Wild Nature", a Ukrainian Coalition of NGOs, and the Wood Campaign of the International Social-Ecological Union in Russia. The alliance requested the attention of the ministers and public, participants of the Fifth European Conference "Environment for Europe" hold in Kiev, to help to save the unique primeval wood of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Further progress was not made. In 2004 an attempt was made to activate the Belarusian Coalition, alas, without any effect. A third attempt to set up action was undertaken in 2005, however, it did not have any result.)

… and the reasons

There are objective and subjective reasons to explain everything. The emphasis must be laid on the history of the public ecological movement in Belarus, the features of a social and political situation in our country and the specific mentality of the Belarusians. It is not possible to analyze the situation and to make the right conclusions without discerning these components.

Which are the roots of failure of actions to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha?

1. The collapse of the communist system, when Belarus was part of the USSR, brought independence to the countries of the former socialist camp. People, released from spiritual oppression, took their opportunities to realize their civic and personal objectives. One of the most widespread ways to reach such goals was to by setting up public organizations. This incorporation of new purposes and objectives in a uniform way facilitated maximized realization of personal interests and plans. Belarus did not become an exception in this process. After 1991 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), parties, societies and clubs began to grow as mushrooms. Initially initiatives in the fields of social and humanitarian programs, and politics and human rights were the most promising. Public activities encompassing nature protection and ecology were also developed, although more slowly. Historically, ecology had always played the role of a “backward child", compared to economy and sociology.

This trend lasted until 1996. Then, changes in the Constitution of the country - actually announced as a new Constitution - the executive authority, being the presidential authority, got the priority. In fact, was granted full power to control the other branches of authority, while democratic freedom gradually declined. The public institutes and the initiatives of the civic were put under pressure. When the official new state ideology became effective an integral prosecution of the expression of public political and public view of the people began. It was a mass infringement of civic rights and freedoms in the form of an interdiction on political actions. Physical power was enforced in order to break up public actions which are allowed according to the State Constitution. As a result the activities of the Belarusian NGOs were strongly narrowed and the conditions for their work have considerably worsened. Until today a true "cleaning up" is being carried out on organizations which are active in the public sphere. The purpose of the authority is to liquidate independently working NGOs, as their activities are being considered as to contradict the official state ideology or not to respond with its frames. This process is still going on. In short, the state used and uses its administrative power to liquidate many NGOs. A share of the NGOs was compelled to exist illegally. The present way of development of the Belarusian state completely hinders the presence of democratic institutes as well as the development of the civil society. The last remaining public groups are liquidated and they are submitted to the interest of the state - which actually match the top leaders of the state authority.

The serious crisis of the civic society and the conflict with the state system certainly does not pass by ecological organizations. Since these clubs are weak and small they are compelled to exist and to work in difficult legal, social and economic conditions. This blocks their normal development and it hinders their aim to perform specific functions targeted at solving certain ecological and social problems, for which the state lacks capacity. Many problems are ignored by public organizations. This especially relates to conflicts with the authorities. This field of activities threatens them with certain negative consequences or difficulties for themselves and for their leaders. Actually, a kind of adaptation of NGOs has taken place during many years of work under "Belarusian" conditions. In some cases this leads to a merger with the authorities. As NGOs work under the guise of a "public" organization, their actual status is only known to insiders. Basically, a wide net of non-conflicting NGOs, with lacking principles and weakly organized activities, exists. These are coordinated by governmental bodies or they function directly under their care and management. A metamorphosis has taken place in the evolution of the public movement. The development of NGOs has clearly not been for the better. They have been put into a so called "deadlock". On one hand NGOs exist and they are rather numerous, but they do not execute their functions on the other hand, as a result of the rigid legal framework which has been defined by the government.

2. Financial means are necessary to realize the activities of NGOs, especially they target serious purposes and important social projects. Financial flows from internal sources of the country to NGOs are nearly impossible due to nearly full governmental control of the economy and banks, a rather weak development private sector and some legal restrictions. Therefore NGOs are committed to obtain help and grants from abroad. However, the government has blocked and barred international financial flows over the last years as well. It is rather problematic to overcome these barriers or to pass them by. Financial flows and grants from humanitarian sources are running low as a result. The means which remained have been put under complete control of the government. All of this makes financing NGOs difficult, and this hinders their normal development and it limits their fields of activity.

On the other hand, NGOs which have merged with governmental bodies and which were implemented in governmental programs have certain advantages and privileges compared to other NGOs. This stimulates the establishment of fully authority controlled and managed - so-called "manual" or "pocket" - public organizations in the same instance. This type of NGOs do never truly defend anything, except for their own internal interests. To gain and to assimilate grants has become the main goal for such kind of Belarusian eco-NGOs. In this field of activity true "grant-consumers" have appeared, which have completely specialized themselves in acquiring funds and reached great achievements - actually these NGOs have transferred themselves into true "public" bureaucrats, which in specific aspects can hardly be distinguished from the state bureaucracy. This phenomena leads to competition for financial resources between NGOs, as well as to a juncture to the will of the "market", to a lack of publicity in the internal policy and to unwillingness to be friendly allied to or to cooperate with neighboring organizations. The quality of relationships with parties with similar interests is frequently poor.

Therefore true positive results in the field of nature protection have been and are substantially replaced by imitations of those. Frequently, major activities on "nature protection" are being carried out at offices. The actual situation in field is not or hardly of interest. However, the reports, written for donors who, as a rule, are trustful, are rather impressive and solid. This means that nature protection has become a kind of "ecological" business for some of the NGOs and some of their activists. They operate under the label of nature protection. In some situations this group of eco-activists - actually businessmen - will not even "raise their finger" if they are not paid a certain sum of money. This halts all or nearly all activities in the field of true protection of nature. Where were and where are the Belarusian NGOs when it was and when it is necessary to cease the ongoing fellings of the flood valley Oak stands of "Pripyat" National Park and those in the woods of Belovezhskaya Pushcha? Valeriy Dranchuk was fair in writing once that NGOs should "Stop eating grants in a hole": "the green front is closed, all its people have taken place in… a buffet" ("Green land", No 5, 2001).

"Virtual" NGOs are existing too. This refers to officially registered NGOs, which only exist on paper. As a matter of fact, their actual members and their duties are unknown. To my surprise I found out a few years ago that actually something similar to Greenpeace exists in Belarus. Who has seen this group sometime and somewhere active, chaining themselves to trees in order to save them from felling? Who has noticed them to protest against anti-ecological actions initiated by companies and governmental institutions? Exactly - nobody has ever seen them somewhere. Another type of NGOs can be classified as "clones" of famous Russian NGOs, which have a large number of members over there. An essential difference is that nearly no one knows about their existence in Belarus, as - judged by the results of their work - they are absent in the public life of the country.

3. The weak development of the democratic society in Belarus, the absence of democratic traditions - since we all "descended" from the totalitarian society controlled by the USSR - and extremely severe social and political conditions directly reflect the internal situation of our NGOs. This does not only lead to a falling democratic level, but it quite frequently shapes unequal conditions for ordinary members of some NGOs compared with top managers. To a certain extent one may observe that the governmental management system is being copied and transferred into the patterns by which NGOs operate. This results in possibilities of the managers of NGOs to adopt non-democratic management methods inside their own organization - thus to solve many problems in accordance to the vision and for the benefit of their manager - to the detriment of other members and the general aims of the NGOs in concern. I can discern this approach in several of our eco-NGOs, among which some of the leading organizations. This phenomenon does not a proper development of public initiatives, it does not promote people to join the activities of our NGOs and in some cases it brings harm to the protection of nature!

4. The main feature which distinguishes the citizens of Belarus from the rest of the world may be their so-called "non-reactive balance". This has been an actual theme in press over recent time, related to the political situation of our country. Some people interpret the situation as one of steadiness, a tolerant attitude, non-conflicting behavior and friendliness. Other people regard the people of Belarus as cowards with lacking behavior, people who lack scrupulous, who come short in taking up initiatives, who are indifferent to their own destiny and the future of their children, who are unable to maintain friendship and who are unable to unite and protest collectively in order to defend their own interests. But which approach characterizes the factual situation best? This generally depends on the situation. It is most probable that the second interpretation is more appropriate, regarding the present conditions in which civil rights, civil freedom and many aspects of the civil society are almost completely suppressed. Alas, the situation is also deeply rooted in the past. Belarus has not been free of pressure from strong external pressure or occupation for a period of over 300 years. The bloodiest wars in world history have partially taken place on the territory of Belarus. In order to survive the Belarusian society had accept the role of "slaves". The matter has yet in some way been incorporated in the genes of the Belarusians, since the most active and most courageous people have perished during wars and during periods of repression. Others, who lacked these specific qualities, have survived. One cannot reject the existence of this heritage. It takes several generations to reach a change in this process of evolution to give our future people the freedom to live in a society which has been released from genetically incorporated fear, slavery and lacking behavior.

I have observed the same aspects in many situations, when I was obligatory part of the army, as well as during training courses and expeditions in which representatives of different nationalities and nations were together. For instance, only Belarusian soldiers did not act as friends towards each other. They were turned "in themselves", while soldiers from other former USSR countries united themselves in national groups, bound by their motherland. Belarusian soldiers who had longer period scoffed at young fellow countrymen, while others, for example the Caucasians, would prevent their young fellows from being bullied. I recollect an abroad computer training course in which Russians and Ukrainians worked together as national groups in order to solve complex problems and to teach less talented pupils. The most skilled Belarusians arrogantly plumed on their knowledge. They did not want to assist less qualified compatriots - just in the evening they would allow them to unite to drink a next portion of recently purchased alcohol. Moreover, the talents made even more mockery on those who opposed to this training system. This kind of attitude finally resulted in complete failure of a specific project owing to the absence of an appropriate organization and the unprofessional attitude of some of the workers.

All this produces the next feature of Belarusian NGOs namely their fear "to show themselves", to take conflicts as a seduction and to assert both the rights of nature and their own rights, while they should limit their action to protection of nature. This can be explained by the fact that most NGOs consist of the same type of Belarusians, being those with "advanced" capacities. It is not possible to live in a society and to be free from that society in the same instance.

5. Some remarks should be made about individual features of leaders of our NGOs. We are all diverse and no one among us is sacred. This is clear and obvious. All human beings possess certain weaknesses and deficits. But they should not be to hinder us to live and to work. However, campaigns for the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha have partially failed due to specific characteristics of their leaders. In those cases their sacred activity to protect nature has been mixed or approached with personal ambitions, misinterpretations of the situation, unsuitable strategies and tactics, their interests to reach personal goals and benefits or - sometimes - a simply frivolous attitude towards problems.

One should pay attention to the problematic insufficient professional level of many members of our NGOs, when applied international standards or compared to those in Russia, Ukraine and Poland for example. In these countries a great number of publicly well known people have considerably contributed to the development of nature protection. It is doubtful if one could speak with these words about Belarus. The achievements of work - not beautiful words - are the best gauge to measure the skills experts. Leaders prove their knowledge with publications and with scientific and technical solutions and progress. Vladimir Boreiko, the leader of the Ukrainian movement "For Wild Nature" yearly issues several books for example, and apart from this he writes a great number of articles for magazines and newspapers. Also the publications of the Russian NGO-leaders Sviatoslav Zabelin (ISEU), Evgeniy Shvarts (WWF), Aleksei Zimenko (WNPC) are well known. One may wonder on which subjects the leaders of those few existing Belarusian NGOs could brag. One would have to look hard to find their books or their more basic publications on problems of nature protection, in which they should have been engaged for many years. And that’s it. Such quests cannot be solved. This is because some of our leaders and activists have no small sized publications in newspapers even. It turns out that some people consider themselves to be experts, while a true result is not made. In stead of true results these people thrive on "stormy" activities during "gatherings of young people" and by minor contributions, in the forms of abstracts of reports, at specialized regional conferences. The "experts" present the same data from year to year, by simply copying and little improving their material for a great number of years. Could we call these men experts in the true sense of the word?

I would like to note as well that it is unusual in most European countries to occupy both an armchair position in governmental bodies or in the management of a large company and to be a chief of an NGO simultaneously. These spheres are different there. As to Belarus, quite frequently high skilled chiefs of official bodies or leading experts of these institutions fulfill a position as head or activist of NGOs as well. If such cases should be eliminated, the professional image of public organizations in Belarus is rather dissatisfactory, compared with other European countries. This is clearly caused by the fact that the conditions for creative development of Belarusians are far from optimal in the public sector. One needs to have specific skills and reach for great efforts in order to realize intellectual and spiritual potentials. Not everybody is fit enough for such a test. Many enthusiasts cannot persist long. They leave their governmental positions and join the public movement. But it still is not possible to run away from oneself. The public sector presents other problems and difficulties and in this field it is not easy either to gain advantage from personal qualities; they only hinder the business. In the end wishful amateurs and enthusiasts turn out to be as numerous as "raindrops", while it takes sometimes impossible to trace a suitable person to work on business on a professional basis.

6. The self development of NGOs in Belarus is a problem, as well as their efficiency in solving environmental issues. Public groups are often unable to make simple decisions for important matters on nature protection, or they need to save enough intellectual, financial and other resources to solve them. A tradition to make decisions collectively, particularly via e-mail groups, does not exist in Belarus, in contradiction to Russia and Ukraine - not to mention some of the other European countries. The discussion group "Greenbel" has over 80 readers and it is basically boring and not interesting. "Hot" issues are nearly absent in this group. There is only general information at hand, distributed by a few enthusiasts. Attempts to stir the "sleeping" eco-community in Belarus do not lead to any positive result. Some young activists for example were unsatisfied with the situation of the national ecological community. They tried to start a discussion on this by e-mail several times. Their messages were answered with a deep silence - the ecologists pretended that they were not concerned. The same problems apply to the conservation of nature in Belarus. The impression exists that the situation is perfect: problems would not exist and there is nothing concerning green movement to be improved. However the actual situation is opposite. In Russia for example the "green" party, called "Russia Green Union" was lead by the outstanding scientist Alexei Yablokov from the beginning, whereas Belarusians are very far from to make this achievement.

It is desirable to make the following notice. While reading analytical papers about our political opposition and the mistakes which they make, I catch myself sometimes on having the idea to replace the word "opposition" with "NGO" and "politics" with "ecology", and to leave the rest of the text untouched. The paper will not lose its correctness this way, but the context of the analysis will come close to the situation of Belarusian NGOs. The mistakes, the weaknesses and the problems of our NGOs are the same as those of the political opposition.

Certainly, other countries also face these problems in their public sector. Nevertheless, problematic aspects of the public sector are on a lower level in Poland, and also in Russia and Ukraine, compared to Belarus. As I wrote in my analysis, the deep crisis in the national NGOs network is a consequence of the abnormal socio-political situation in our country and the specific mentality of the Belarusian nation.

The reasons to ruin the action to defend Belovezhskaya Pushcha

The failure of actions to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha was clearly caused by the set of factors of the Belarusian ecological sector which was described above. However, there are several particular circumstances which lead to this dissatisfactory situation. These will be described here.

1. The national movement for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a weak and powerless organization. Anatoliy Kozlovich, a famous Belarusian publicist on nature protection addressed the director of UNESCO with these words: "The Belovezhskaya Pushcha, included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1992, is not perceived as a unique place by Belarusians. The extraordinary monument Belovezhskaya Pushcha was separated from the state, the society and from the local inhabitants. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is only considered to be and perceived as a relatively large forest of which the economic potential is not fully used. Therefore it attracts burning interest. A link between the Pushcha and the emotional perception of the motherland does not exist in the heads of Belarusian citizens. They do not consider the Pushcha as a symbol of Belarus, for instance in the way the Japanese respect the sacred mountain of Fujiyama - the range is frequently depicted in traditional Japanese art, and it is a place of popular and patriotic pilgrimage. … I am informing you as a person and as representative of the UN and of UNESCO about the tragic situation in the center of Europe: Belovezhskaya Pushcha has not become the heroine of an endless number of national legends, it did not take a considerable place in the work of Byelorussian artists and it was not conferred with immortality by laws, verses or songs" (Anatolij KOZLOVICH, Belarusians between heaven and earth: Belovezhskaya Pushcha, «People’s Will» Newspaper, No 131, July 06, 2002).

The majority of the Belarusians - including those who live close to Belovezhskaya Pushcha - is indifferent towards the threats the woodland faces. It may be hard to imagine, but this is the actual situation in the center of Europe. However, the Belarusians have the same attitude towards their own future and the destiny of their children. At best, they perceive Belovezhskaya Pushcha as a place to have rest during rare visits or as a place to pick mushrooms and berries. Moreover, the mouth of many people "is simply watering" by realizing that the natural resources are exploited by some body while they have no right to do so. In the Polish district center Hajnowka tens, if not a hundred or some thousands of people are permanently engaged in the problems of the Polish part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its region. In the Belarusian district Kamenetz nobody is interested in the prospects of the forest. In the Polish cities Bialystok and Warsaw many people contribute to solving the quests of the Pushcha. In our regional city Brest, inhabited by over 350,000 people, nobody shows care about Belovezhskaya Pushcha. This may sound paradoxical, yet it is factual. The Polish part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the home base of three research institutes supported by close to one hundred scientists and technicians. In our part of the Pushcha only a small scientific department with only few scientific employees has remained - any prospects are lacking. The institute is turning dead. The employees are "cornered as a rat". Both the current scientific and public initiative - and more exactly, the absence of both - of the political policy which the State of Belarus is facing since the USSR collapsed. In political terms, Belovezhskaya Pushcha is considered to be a specific natural resource, a place to have rest and a place where high-placed officials may acquire "food". Therefore, the presence and the activities of "strangers", among which scientists and activists for nature protection, were not welcome. These were considered to be superfluous interferers of the "general line of the Party and of the government". The citizens of Belarus were not inculcated to love the Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest, since the governmental heads did not need it for their well being. In fact they adopted a contrary policy - they made their best efforts to separate Belovezhskaya Pushcha from the people, in other words to divide the Belarusians and the forest, and to exercise domination. These politics proceed until this day, even in a rigid and rough form.

As the civic feelings were repressed, there was no ground for the origin of public initiatives; therefore wide public support does not exist and therefore a public movement to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha is absent. For today the Project Initiative group "Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21st Century " ( and the Public Initiative "Terra-Convention", represented by the famous Belarusian publicist Valeriy Dranchuk, are permanently engaged in the problems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Furthermore, the national public organization "Belarus Birds’ Life" (BBL) is active. It periodically develops grants, for example for the preservation of the bog "Dikoye", for the protection of the cultural heritage and for the development of tourism in the area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. However, their activities are controlled by the government. They are limited to the frames of the grants mentioned above, resulting in negative consequences for the movement of protection of the Pushcha. To say the least, BBL has not yet shown interest in cooperation with the initiatives mentioned above, which are truly engaged in the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. There is no doubt that BBL contributes positively to the protection of the Pushcha. However, as a typical example, BBL has contributed to the elaboration of a tourist route, while an illegal felling of exceptionally valuable natural wood was conducted less than one hundred meter from the route. Is it acceptable that the organization does not make notion of this? What should they show the tourists on the route - stumps and lunar landscapes? Here is another example. Members of BBL are permanently working in the area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Would they not observe the negative effects of illegal fellings to the protected forest? It is absurd to deny that BBL is aware of all of this. What is the reason that they do not share such observations with other people who can use the information effectively for the sake of protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha? Why do they keep these observations inside their NGO? Would it be these facts to present the sponsors of BBP that the "energetic" approach to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha is truly effective?. I cannot find another explanation. However, if this is the actual case, would it not be more proper to speak about a virtual contribution to the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in stead of an actual contribution? A reserved forest can be saved by true actions - not just by words. Numerous nice words do not need to reduce the number of illegally felled trees. This is a dilemma.

Thus, the public movement for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its support by the people of Belarus finds itself in rudimentary conditions, compared to the situation in other European countries. Moreover, if the present governmental politics directed on suppression of civic and public initiatives will not be discontinued the future prospects for this movement are rather doubtful. The present authorities are not interested in transforming the National Park into a national property, the area for nation. Their interests are to save Belovezhskaya Pushcha for the departmental interests of Property Management Department of the President of the Republic of Belarus. In other words, to control the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park as the area for the administration.

2. Many ecologists and activists are not familiar with the actual situation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Therefore the protection of the Pushcha is a problematic matter proved to be for them. The following phrase from correspondence serves as an example: "…the necessity to offer something particular and to undertake initiative to search an alternative for simply felling trees was recognized [at a meeting, note of the editor] by the non-deprived expediency." A statement should be made here. First of all, alternatives to felling trees have been found a very long time ago; it is not necessary to research these possibilities anymore. Secondly, an alternative for felling trees has also been developed a long time ago, for example by adopting and developing eco-management, tourism and ecological education. The actual question is to apply these alternatives. More examples from correspondence can be found to describe the lack of knowledge on the situation and the problematic lack of decisiveness of involved parties.

Basically, the second point is that the activists of NGOs have decided that the campaign to protect the Pushcha has just started. They present themselves as the only current (or future) power involved. This does not at all correspond to reality. The contrary is true - the campaign to protect the Pushcha started four years ago, and much has been achieved in these years, while the participation of the Belarusian "green" movement was close to zero. Besides this, the Belarusian public is just one of five blocks which are active in the framework of the entire campaign for proper protection. Of these, the NGOs proved to be the weakest.

There is an obvious reason for this in my opinion: people were not engaged in the problems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and they had no sources to become familiar with them. In such cases experts are often called upon for help. To my impression it seems that this type of additional education caused irritation with some ecologists and some tore themselves away. We were not born yesterday and we, metropolitan coryphaeus, do not want to be taught by some "villagers". This position is clear to me. For men who work in an office in Minsk all of their years are known with nature mainly thanks to travels in the countryside, by picking mushrooms or by taking part in seminars in the open air. If men engaged in nature protection tear themselves off from nature they shape a concept about many matters at their desktops - a so called "virtual reality". If true matter is being stated, these men may react nervously. Otherwise, they should start to develop its philosophy from the beginning.

3. The leaders of Belarusian NGOs which support preservation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha have revealed a lack of knowledge on the essential strategy and the tactics to conduct campaigns and actions for nature protection. This is easy to explain. As noted in the second point, Belarusian NGOs do not practice to realize the type of action needed, since they chronically avoid conflicting situations. Also in such cases the assistance of experts is adopted. What is most amazing in relation to the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha however, is the fact that the experience of international experts from Russia and Ukraine has been ignored and has been considered superfluous by Belarusian NGOs. It is rather strange to think that anyone in Belarus still considers himself seriously as a coryphaeus on the protection of reserves. After all, the "green" movement failed on three occasions in three consecutive years, since they turned out to lack appropriate practice and knowledge.

On the other hand, the strategy and the tactics would seem to be very easy. Today five so-called blocks - or fronts, as you like it - exist within the frame of the international campaign for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. These are the inhabitants of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the national public (NGOs and citizens), the international public, scientists and journalists. Each of these parties fulfills a specific function, inherent to their own body, while they contribute all to the common business. In this scheme Belarusian NGOs form the second block. By principle functions should not only be provided qualitatively, they should also be integrated in the general scheme and in the strategy of the campaign, and they should supplement the actions of other blocks. So, the activities of Belarusian NGOs should be part of the general campaign to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha. They should also be coordinated in accordance with the general scheme of the campaign. Therefore this scheme must be understood and the possible results of actions must be foreseen. This is like in a military battle, where some fronts attack together and in close cooperation. It is not needed to prove the logic of this method to strategic experts. For some members of our NGOs this truism has appeared to be beyond their abilities of comprehension.

Unfortunately, the Belarusian NGOs have completely ignored these rules of strategy. I can still understand the activists who considered a letter addressed to the President as a senseless action and as a waste of time, owing to the disbelief in the issues of the letter. If an abstract should be made only within the frame of this action, sending the letter, this outcome is right. The President has been aware of the things which are going on in Belovezhskaya Pushcha for a long time. During the last years much information was addressed to him, both by press and through personal dispatching. The administrative resources of the President are sufficient as well. If there was a will, it would have been possible to check up facts objectively ten times during these years, as well as to investigate the situation and to stop mockery to the unique lands of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its population. However, this has not been done so far and therefore there is nobody in Belovezhskaya Pushcha who still doubt that someone prefers to maintain the abnormal situation. As to the President, the locals are convinced that he considers Belovezhskaya Pushcha simply as a summer residence to have a rest. Please note that he currently visits the Pushcha quite frequently compared to the first half of his presidency.

It should be very clear that the letter to the President should just be a first action for the protection of the Pushcha. It must be followed up by a next letter. And so on. The Pushcha needs a long term campaign, in stead of single acts. Moreover, the action should comprise legal tools and a civilized approach must be used; this will show a great contrast with the absence of civilized methods of those who manage Belovezhskaya Pushcha today. Being from this, the letter is an obligatory procedure in the given context in order to avoid any claims.

The lack of a clear strategy as well as shortcomings in the integrity of the objects for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha has resulted in a widespread desire among some of the members of our NGOs. They believe in gaining victory with one action, practiced for one day. If this method does not succeed, they are covered with apathy, disbelief in their own forces and in their own inconsistency. Alas, this is an annoying delusion, which lives a life completely separated from the real world. This is the same situation as at the start of World War II, when some soldiers dreamt of capturing Berlin’s Reichstag on the second day of the battle. Four long years and tens of large and thousands of small battles were needed to reach victory. Studies have been made on the most accurate strategy. The strategy was adapted then. The resisting power organized itself as well. They analyzed the situation too, in order to improve their strategy. The most important aspect was that all parties knew it was right to fight for victory. And victory came. In our case, our national activists want to reach for all successes at once, with quick and easy actions, and without personal involvement. Our problem is that not all of the ecologists are fully aware that our campaign to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha is one of long duration and one of integrity. This causes the disbelief, the indifference and the apathy of most of the members of our NGOs. As for me personally, these problems are not very serious. Our common business is simple - everyone should strive for the result we aim for. We may still have our own strategies. If we believe in victory, it will come. That is all.

For this reason the appeal expressed in the letter "to reach for something particular, simply for the alternative" can only be perceived with a smile. Especially since the letter action of the Belarusian NGOs did not only fail, but also the stated goal "to reach for something particular, simply for the alternative" was not reached. The leaders of the Belarusian NGOs turned out to lack clearness in the meaning of this "for something particular", or at least in how to reach this. All by all the action resulted in a single week with some noise and some fuzz, which has fully contented the activists.

4. The proposal to sign the letter to the president was addressed to all members of NGOs in Belarus. However, their voices were not heard and their rights were restrained. They were not allowed to refuse to sign the letter and to pass it to "for something particular" at democratic assemblies of NGOs. In stead, the letter was signed in a short cycle by the heads of several NGOs. Who authorized them to deprive their members from their rights? For example, the head of a Polish NGO does not have the right to sign any appeal before he is authorized to do so by the majority of the members of the organization. Our situation is contradictive. Is it a true reality that not a single person of over thousand members of BBL has signed the letter? And what about "Ecodom", which has more than fifty members? And in other NGOs? If leaders of NGOs consider such actions to be "radical", if they are afraid to lose their calmness and their well-being, this is their own problem. What kind of relations do the ordinary members have? Many of them do not obtain money from grant sources. Therefore it is necessary to ascertain that democracy in our NGOs is not more developed than in some governmental offices.


Thus, the recent failure of action for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha has revealed that Belarusian NGOs continue to make mistakes. Moreover, it concerns very basic, conceptual mistakes, to which either NGOs or businesses should be vulnerable to. After all, sirs, it should not be simplified bodies and accept a position on the extreme edge of the arena, if the need to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha is concerned. In this situation it is not necessary to take a flag and to put down ones’ breast. In contrary conditions, if the problems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha have become political issues, NGOs do not find a need to be active or to think that if a decision is made at a political level to solve the given problem, other problems will be solved as well, and then the NGOs will accept a last position.

Even if political aspects prevail in the context of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, this does not at all mean that it is a proper strategy to sit back with folded arms, doing nothing, or being engaged just in small acts, which lack actuality, and which do not concern important problems of the Pushcha. Politics is life. Someone said, that "if you do not wish to be engaged in politics, politics will constantly be engaged in you, and actually in a pose which is not most convenient for you". Therefore, I would not connect all points with politics. An active personal position and a professional attitude are of no less importance and - more often than not - this is the crux of the matter, while politics are mainly used to cover personal feeblenesses.

There are tens of ways and methods to achieve a purpose. Obviously, the safest and most effective ones should be found. To use them one should simply approach the decisions involved in the challenge in a creative and non-standardized way. Moreover, it is necessary to study and to adopt international achievements, in stead of isolating oneself and in stead of focusing on oneself. Probably the most effective way to solve the problems related to Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the political route. But, if it is impossible today, other methods must be chosen - no matter if they are less effective, as long as they are effective. But, what do the Belarusian NGOs do in practice? In some seminars and conferences the number of participants is very large, still no one seems at hand to take action on urgent business, or things end up in chaos in which the quest "to reach for something, simply for alternative" is begun. This concept shows a great parallel with a fairy tale which tells to "go there - not knowing where, bringing something - not knowing what". So, the situation resulted in a failed letter action. No progress was made.


This article will be incomplete if I limit myself to our weak and conflict avoiding NGOs - one party of the Belarusian public sector - since a second party is involved in this process. This party involves radical (active, highly principled and conflict oriented) initiatives. This concerns the Public Initiative "Terra-Convention" in particular. It is represented by Verliy Dranchuk, publicist and former editor of the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" newspaper. Mr Dranchuk works on the edge of journalism, ecology and politics. He occupies a niche in the general scheme of the campaign for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha where no other Belarusians work. His contribution over the last years has been essential. It consisted of publications (initially the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" newspaper, later critical and important articles è books and on the protection of the Pushcha), appeals to international organizations and committees (UN, the Council of the European Union, UNESCO) and assistance to local initiatives.

Nevertheless, the results of the declared one-man-fighter Dranchuk have recently decreased considerably. This was not the result of a lowered engagement in the problems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It was because the managers of Belovezhskaya Pushcha have adopted themselves to purely political campaigns. They have acquired some kind of "immunity". As a matter of fact, the administration of "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" has recently refused to react on various political appeals, declarations, protests and publications, under patronage of the powerful presidential Property Management Department. In spite of the activities to unmask their illegal businesses and in spite of protests, the board of the National Park proceeds to bring its politics in practice, which is ever destructive for the unique ecosystems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. This is a so called "dog barks, caravan moves" situation. Under these circumstances the tactics should accordingly be changed: from theoretical declaration to practical action to realize those declarations. This means that concrete projects in the fields of ecology, sociology and education concerning Belovezhskaya Pushcha should be developed and be brought into practice. In this way wide support for the campaign to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha can be built effectively.

In the winter of 2005, after some years of persisting allegations, it seemed that clearness in this question came, and the proper work to merge efforts began. But unfortunately, life has proved to be much more difficult. Alas, Valeriy Dranchuk could not refuse to deny taking part in inside teamwork. He wished not to cooperate with other NGOs. In addition, it turned out that many minor, but important practical goals, which have to be achieved within the frame of the campaign for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, have just been ignored. The achievement of large goals is not possible with keen attention for specific details. He stated that "a team does not let you go" and "does not let you be free". His principle to be alone, for the sake of preserving the illusion of realizing a personal and "clean idea" has not been able to stand up to criticism. As a result, a project in cooperation with others has failed, which may have been caused by unclearness of the importance of challenges, by conscious ignoring or by a lack in ability to work in a new fashion and under new conditions. This shaped the impression that the overall objective of Dranchuk’s efforts is to advertise his own abilities for the merits of his brand "Terra-Convention", in stead of the proper protection and the preservation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Saying "halva" a lot of times will not make a mouth sweet. In other words, one may say "hands off from Belovezhskaya Pushcha" numerous times, but the destruction of the woodland will not stop before the practical work on its preservation has actually begun.

Moreover, these misunderstandings in the necessity to reorganize work and to continue the old "politics only"-methods do even promote the destruction of Belovezhskaya Pushcha under the current conditions. This "political" noise is used in the country to visualize the "energetic" public activities to "protect" Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The administration of the National Park continues its black business to destroy the unique reserved forest, ignoring effective-nothing political "noise".

These situations are strange for a man who involved himself into protection of Belarusian nature for many years. This is especially true in the light of the events in Kiev during last spring. If the Ukrainian practice of "orange revolution" could not teach anything in respect to the importance of united efforts in order to achieve the main goal, what event could do so? Alas, I fear that this is simply a typical aspect of some leaders of the Belarusian opposition. Actually, those personal ambitions, the persecution of personal purposes to the detriment of the general business, the misunderstanding of basic truths and the lack of ability in working in friendly cooperation and to activate wide public support forced the movement in an impasse for many times. It has allowed its opponents to win the struggle against democracy.

Thus, the second (radical) party of the Belarusian public movement on protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha has also demonstrated that it is a weak party. It is characterized by clear problems, which cannot be overcome until the day it understands the necessity to work together and to adapt its own fashion.


Nevertheless, in spite of the dramatic character and a situation which is, in the view of some people, in general desperate, I do not see reasons for pessimism as a whole. If desired, much can be corrected. Humans possess a mind for the purpose of making appropriate decisions. Man can reach the end road if he keeps moving on, although not everybody is able to be objective and critical about personal weaknesses. Therefore it is necessary to advance and to promote new leaders and original programs, in my opinion, today, for the Belarusian "green" movement. This includes an adapted campaign for the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The activists need an impulse and the public process must be activated. Today’s "Green bazaar", in which chaos and profitable competition hold sway, must evolve into a civilized "Green market", into a community based upon civilized rules, friendship and mutual aid.

In regard to Belovezhskaya Pushcha, it must be stated openly that its statuses of both National Park and Biosphere Reserve are highly theoretical, since the basic principles of National Parks and Biosphere Reserves haven been substituted, and the legislation in their realization has permanently been broken. The basic task of today is to embody the meaning of the terms "National Park" and "Biosphere Reserve" in practice. This point must be emphasized. This should be the strategic direction of the campaign for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. All other actions should be subordinated to this overall objective. It is certainly necessary to bring productive and applied work into practice, in stead of "noise" and "simulations" of protective action. If not, Belovezhskaya Pushcha will not turn into a Belarusian sanctity. If not, Anatoliy Kozlovich has been right to appeal "Mister Macuura, (to) help the Belarusians to protect Belovezhskaya Pushcha from themselves" (Belarusians between heaven and earth: Belovezhskaya Pushcha, “People’s Will”, No 131, July 06, 2002).

Heorhi Kazulka
Philosophy Doctor of Biology
Kamenyuki village, Belovezhskaya Pushcha

PS. The author does not claim truth in last instance, nor does he insist that the postulates put forward in this publication are absolutely correct. This article can, on the contrary, be considered as an invitation to all interested people to start a dialogue and a discussion on the given problem at FORUM of the website.