An open letter to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the President of the Republic of Belarus, and Nikolai Domashkevich, Head of the Administration of Affairs of the President
In 2009 under the aegis of UNESCO and under personal patronage of the President of the Republic of Belarus, our country will celebrate the 600th anniversary since the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha got the first status of nature protection. For this purpose the celebration committee has been established, the celebration plan has been approved, more than USD 30 million will be allocated in the state budget, and a package of grandiose activities aimed at building and reconstruction of the National Park’ s infrastructure has been designed.
According to its organizers, the celebration is supposed to attract attention of the world community to the issue of preservation of this unique forest, and to promote development of cooperation in the sphere of ecology, science and tourism. In one word, the event is supposed to bring benefits to and to further improve image of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
Well, let’s leave the scientific validity of this issue to historians and say just - “wonderful”! I don’t think that someone will oppose to these noble goals set by the Belarusian authorities.
After all, the big scandals and disclosures of the National Park's administration which violated the National environmental legislation, wild nature conservation science and the Park's management policy, are still fresh in the public memory. At the end of 2007 Belarus was ashamed at the fact that the Council of Europe suspended the prestigious European Diploma because the Park's administration had not followed the Council’s nature protection recommendations and had not developed the management plan for the National Park. What to expect this time? The authors of these misdeeds, that discredited the interNational environmental prestige of Belarus, are still involved in management of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
As I wrote in my article “Depredators in Belovezhskaya Pushcha: ignominious end?” published in the Narodnaya Volya (No. 3,4 dated 11 Jan 2008), “the executioner won’t turn the just, one born to crawl will never fly. It means the history will be repeated again and instead of the worthy celebration in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Belarus will face another loud scandal, which will bring its government to shame”. And the recent events in Belovezhskaya Pushcha evidence that everything will happen as described above.
On that day, representatives of the Academy of Sciences, governmental officials and other participants gathered to discuss the Belovezhskaya Pushcha's management plan for the next 10 years. The development of such plan is the Council of Europe’s condition for prolongation of the European Diploma. Let me remind you that in accordance with the Diploma rules and with the Aarhus Convention signed by Belarus it’s obligatory to ensure public access to information and public participation in the decision-making regarding environmental matters.
Last spring a special letter was sent to the President Administration, the Ministry of Environment and the National Park's administration. The letter (signed also by me) expressed the public’s willingness to take an active part in the discussion and development of the Park's management plan. We got either formal replies or nothing at all. Thus, the interested public and local residents were not invited in the discussion of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha's management plan and informed about it, they were simply ignored. There was no access to the information related to this meeting.
However, in the century of information technologies and communications one cannot make such information clandestine. The day before the meeting I was informed about the planned discussion and in the morning called to the National Park's administration to ask whether I could take part in it as an ecologist, holding PhD degree in biology and a specialist in the area of nature conservation, who lives and works in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. I was told that the meeting organizer is the Academy of Science. I called to the Academy and was given kind permission to attend the meeting. It was quite logical, polite and business-like! I came to the meeting by the appointed time having informational materials and proposals with me, talked with the meeting participants, proceeded with them to the meeting room and got ready to the discussion and …then everything began!
Shortly the chief of the Park's guard approached me and ordered me to leave the meeting. I was told that it was the Park director’s ultimatum that either he or I would be present at the meeting. The situation was quite idiotic. In order not to make a fuss, I obeyed the order, said goodbye to everyone, presented them my colorfully designed book about Belovezhskaya Pushcha and left the meeting room under the being escort of guards. While I was leaving, I saw confused faces of Belarusian scientists and experts present …
That was it… In the 21th century, in the center of Europe, a scientist who came with constructive proposals concerning the management of his homeland - which means management of his and his children’s life - was made to leave the meeting room under escort in the presence of the Belarusian scientific elite. Once again the petty official confused the respectable state institution with his private estate. Once again his mean whims, fears and ambitions typical of a petty officer became above the common cause. Once again the public image of Belovezhskaya Pushcha was damaged and the Park became a hostage of barbarity and savagery of its present managers. The officials’ inability to learn lessons from their mistakes, their stubbornness in repeating these mistakes proves that instead of a worthy celebration there will be another juicy scandal, but this time in the presence of international official delegations which will discredit the nature protection image of Belarus ever greater. After all, the celebration will be attended not only by European officials but also by Greenpeace members and other green activists.
Moreover, the general situation with basic human rights, social issues and adherence to the legislation in Belovezhskaya Pushcha not only has come to a deadlock but acquired a kind of perverted form. An impression is being made that instead of establishing order and adherence to the law, the entire state system has been set to cover, guard from the law, service and shield local officials guilty of breaking the law.
In particular, early this year legal proceedings were carried out devoted to restoration on work of V.V. Karpovich, a former Park watchman who was unlawfully dismissed. These legal proceedings showed that many of the law provisions were violated in respect to the dismissal. Even the labor contracts allegedly signed by V.V. Karpovich and some orders pertaining to his employment turned to be forged. In fact he never signed any contracts; his signature was forged as was lately established by criminology experts. A criminal case was initiated with respect to National Park's officials on the basis of his accusations. The case was not handled properly: at the local level every effort was made to defer the investigation, and finally the case was closed. Nevertheless V.V. Karpovich did not stop: he sent his well-founded complaints to higher state institutions, including the General Prosecution Office and the President Administration, asking to investigate the law violations in the National Park management, to detect those who are guilty and to punish them. For example, one of his allegations was that several thousands of spoilt timber were removed from a saw-mill and then either buried or burnt. In this connection, the state suffered great economic loss. However, instead of proper investigation of these and other facts mentioned by Karpovich, officials were determined to stop investigation and to cover local chiefs in any ways possible. A year has passed since then but the investigation is still at the dead point.
One more fact. The following information has been published recently in a state newspaper: “The transformation of the river of Lesnaya (Forest River) originating within the protected forest is planned. In the place where the river is running through the village of Kamenyuki, the river bed shall be cleared and deepened. The purpose is to restore the drying up parts of the river's old bed to the good environmental conditions of the past. This work will allow getting the Lesnaya River back like it was approximately three hundred years ago. This, undoubtedly, will have a positive effect on the river's health and on the external shape of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The design work pertaining to this alteration project is about to be completed”.
And below is what was published in the regional newspaper “Vecherny Brest” in its article “Alexander Lukashenko: Gilded people are here”: “… Belovezhskaya Pushcha lacks proper watering. Nikolai Bambiza, the National Park's director, suggests that the problem should be solved through construction of a dam on the river of Lesnaya in the village of Kameniuki. The project will cost BYR 6 billion (~ 3 million US $) . The amount didn’t seem to be considerable to the President. His answer was short:”That’s nothing. Go ahead with the project draft, we’ll consider it”. The President underlined that the Park’s water reserve occupying 765 hectares should be protected well”.
This case evidences that the really serious ecological problem, articulated by the local official, turns absurd and upside-down.. This is about how the President is being misinformed, un-professionalism is being demonstrated and huge amount of budget money is being wheedled, not to brake through the problem. On the contrary, the wilderness and the eco-system of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is going to be damaged once again and that will aggravate the general ecological situation. As always, all decisions are being made in secrecy without the public involvement. Such actions towards Belovezhskaya Pushcha, as a UNECSO World Heritage site, should be considered as a deliberate large-scale damage. But in our country one is granted honours for such actions.
Yes, indeed, the Bialowieza relic forest is suffering and withering because of water shortage. It happened due to land-improvement which was carried out here in the 50-70s of the last century. As a result marshes were drained, rivers were straightened, water went away, springs and streams disappeared. Before there was perfect circulatory water system that nourished Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It was disrupted, destroyed, emptied. Today we reap the fruits of that labour. What we should do? The answer is simple – this complex and interrelated water system should be restored. The first step is to restore marshes. The melioration systems should be blocked so that water might be kept in the forest. The restored marshes will bring to life to springs and streams, which in turn will water rivers. This is how the natural water system functions.
However, the Park's administration suggests just the opposite: they’re going to proceed in reverse order – to extend, deepen the river Lesnaya and build a dam, which means to turn the river into storage pond and implies grave ecological after-effects well-known to hydrologists. As a result the National Park’s fragile eco-system will be damaged. It’s also common knowledge, even accessible for kids, that water flows down (in this case from Pushcha to the river) and not the reverse. Besides, it’s against the law which forbids implementation of the projects in Belovezhskaya Pushcha that threaten to change or destroy the Park’s eco-system.
Last year I managed to prevent the Park administration’s adventurous and harmful idea from launching this project by means of public campaign. This year Nikolai Bambiza took an opportunity to promote this project again during the President’s visit to the National Park. Should a new international protest campaign be initiated as it was in 2003 and 2005, when ecologists from different countries demanded to stop illegal deforestation in Belovezhskaya Pushcha?!
From my point of view, unfortunately, the Park’s present administration lacks competency to deal with such complicated ecological issues in a professional manner. We should restore marshes and springs that watered Pushcha for thousand years, rather than tormenting and transferring the river by construction of new water reservoirs. The public shouldn’t be misinformed about the after-effects of the river’s alteration to return its status like being 300 years ago. In those times timber has been floated from Belovezhskaya Pushcha because the river was so much deep and full-flowing. However, those conditions has fallen into oblivion being impossible to get back!
I thought and think it’s time to cease foul practices that damage the wild nature of Belovezhskaya Pushcha under the pretext of its “transfiguration” initiated by the present ecologically incompetent administration of the National Park. The former heads did not venture adventurism and vandalism like this towards the sacred wild nature of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, towards the World Heritage Site.
That is such abnormal atmosphere in which officials are preparing for celebrating the 600th anniversary since first nature protection in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It is not hard to make prognosis of the end as being the next grandiose scandal on the eve of celebrating the 600th anniversary. ×åì âñå ýòî êîí÷èòñÿ, êàêèì ãðàíäèîçíûì ñêàíäàëîì â êàíóí ïðàçäíîâàíèÿ 600-ëåòèÿ, ïðåäïîëîæèòü íåòðóäíî.
Think of it, Alexander Grigorievich! Think of it, Nikolai Fedorovich! If the prestige of the country and Belovezhskaya Pushcha, of course, is more important to you than narrow departmental interests of the group of some persons in attendance. Belovezhskaya Pushcha together with you has already held as a hostage of the petty officials and their adventurous and incompetent management line for a long time. And because of this, it has turned to the object of criticism and shame, instead of honour. Maybe, this time, on the threshold of the holiday of the 600th anniversary, you will have political will and wisdom to stop the international shame of Belovezhskaya Pushcha?
Heorhi KAZULKA, PgD of biology
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