Heorhi Kazulka «We need to speak openly and honestly today about the necessity of revival of science in Belovezhskaya Pushcha»

In March 2003 the book «Belovezhskaya Pushcha in the Third Millennium» has been appeared. It is devoted to problems of preservation of this renown reserved forest. One of the authors is Heorhi Kazulka, the former deputy director of the National park. Today he is imparting impressions of his past practice: an international project collapsed, the book was not issued and he has been dismissed… Scientist Kazulka answers questions of journalist Valentina Kozlovich and discusses scientific matters related to Belovezhskaya Pushcha and her prospects…

Information: Heorhi Kazulka was an employee of the scientific department of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha for 16 years. He defended his thesis on the theme of preservation of invertebrate animal communities in the forests of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. He has the scientific degree of Philosophy Doctor of biology. He is the author of over one hundred scientific and popular publications in national and foreign periodicals. He is known as the expert on wild nature protection, ecology and invertebrate zoology in Belarus and abroad. He repeatedly presented reports at international conferences where he represented the Republic of Belarus. These conferences included meetings organized by the UNESCO. He was fired from the post of deputy director on science of «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park in 2001. It was because he did not support the policy of large-scale fellings in the protected forest by principle. This policy was adopted by the new administration of the National Park. He is currently employed at the secondary ecological school of Kamenyuki. The school is located in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha and Mr. Kazulka teaches biological and ecological matters.

— In recent times it is not easy to buy a decent publication about Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The publication of this book is a true event, but it is a pity that its circulation is very limited.

— According to the Belarusian legislation «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National park is a research institute as well. Since the end of the 1960's regular proceedings «Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Researches» were published in the Pushcha. This issue has been renamed «Reserves of Byelorussia» in 1977 since scientific articles from other Byelorussian reserves were embodied as well. During the first five years of the 1990's no more publications were issued resulting the financial crisis in the country. We decided to search new ways to publishing books. In 1996 a publishing group was created in the scientific department of the National Park. In this frame we started publishing plain, primary books. This method allowed a significant reduction of the price of our editions. This way three books were published in 1996, 1998 and 1999 and the present book is our fourth. This book is about the history, role and preservation of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It is a result of a unique tripartite cooperation between Belarus, Poland and the Netherlands. It is the first issue of its kind for Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

— Can you tell about this book in more detail?

— In 1998 the Dutch scientist and naturalist Onno de Bruijn visited the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. He works for a non-governmental organization «Natuurmonumenten», which numbers one million members. He got a strong impression of the uniqueness of the natural and cultural heritage of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. He offered financial and practical aid of his organization to save the Belarusian and Polish parts of the Pushcha as one vast area. For this purpose an integral plan of transboundary cooperation in both the Polish and Belarusian part of the Pushcha was made. The main idea of this plan was to strengthen international cooperation (study and management) of Belovezhskaya Pushcha as one forest, despite of the political border which shares two parts of the forest between the two countries involved. The international conference was the first stage of this plan. The second stage involved producing an integrated transboundary development plan for the whole Pushcha. It included cultural, ecological and socio-economic aspects. At the third stage definite pilot projects would be identified in the fields of water management, forest and bog conservation, ecological agriculture, ecotourism and conservation of cultural values.

— Was the book based on reports by scientists who participated in the conferences mentioned?

— Exactly. In June 2000 the first transboundary scientific conference was held in both parts of Belovezhskaya Pushcha; first in Belarus, then in Poland. About 40 people participated in the conference. These were managers, scientists and representatives of local authorities in Poland, Belarus and the Netherlands. A great number of current problems connected with Belovezhskaya Pushcha were discussed during the conference. The problems discussed were related to park management strategies, nature conservation, forestry, water management, ecological agriculture, the cultural heritage and tourism. All participants of the conference produced a Declaration entitled the «Bialowieza-Kamenyuki Appeal 2000». They all approved their common appeal. The reports of scientists who submitted to the conference were published in the issued book in a simplified, popular form. The book is illustrated with a large number of colour photos of which many are unique. This makes the book once more popular among ordinary readers. Two fine maps were added to the book. They show the Polish and Belarusian part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Together with the text of the book and the photos these maps give a great impression about the extensiveness of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its natural riches and ecological links. This forest is of extraordinary importance in Europe.

It is a very valuable book because it comprises the most important results of research concerning Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its surrounding territories, both in Poland and in Belarus. Both the conference and the book are of great importance for science and nature protection; not only for Poland and Belarus but also for other European countries. According to Onno de Bruijn Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a refuge of biological diversity and genes for many species of living organisms (insects, mushrooms, lichens and others) which have often disappeared in Europe a long time ago already. Many European countries are now restoring their destroyed natural environment and they attempt to create landscapes which are similar to primary and primordial ones. In the future these landscapes will «grow» and their environmental conditions will «ripen». Then it will be possible to settle out species from Belovezhskaya Pushcha to Europe in order to restore the biological richness of European landscapes. Besides of this the relic, primeval and only modestly destroyed forests of Belovezhskaya Pushcha represent a model for wild nature in the lowland of Europe. The composition of species and the structure of these forests are a standard for reviving European lowland landscapes. When restored European forests are compared with the woods of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, we may make conclusions in the future about how well or apt the task of restoring self-regulated sustainable ecosystems was done.

— We will now return to the story about the creation of the book. We remember that you told there were many problems?

— In the beginning everything was normal. A contract was signed between Belarussian, Polish and Dutch partners, we received funds from the Dutch side, we invited the participants and we carried out the conference. Then abnormal things started. Since we dealt with a civilized partner the conference had to be carried out in accordance with civilized rules. But, our National Park did not execute obligations mentioned in the contract. An adventurous sawmill-processing project was already finished in the park at that time and a powerful timber mill had been constructed. For this purpose a loan of over 1.5 millions Dollars had to be paid. The entire staff of the Park wished to clear off this debt and therefore money granted because of the conference «was put into the timber mill». It resulted in discomfort. The Dutch partner did not expect this cavalier infringement of the agreements at all. Fortunately we were able to reconcile the conflict, but the reputation of the National park got «stained».

The Dutch partner donated a further 3,000 German marks to the Park as payment in advance for the publication of the conference book. They planned to transfer the rest of the sum later. But, at that time Nickolai Bambiza had been nominated director of the National Park. He began to destroy all positive matters made by his predecessors. The director had blocked publication of his book immediately since he noticed intrigues… of the «insidious NATO» in the frame of this project. Speeking about my proposal to intensify close cooperation with the Polish and Dutch partners, in the framework of this project and on creation of the transboundary «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» Reserve as a future perspective, he openly told me: «What kind of cooperation and transboundary reserve are you talking about? These partners are situated in the NATO-area. I see you forgot how they crushed us in 1941, while you live in the forest». Once again Dutch money was lost in a way unknown; publication of the book was cancelled by the National Park. The unequivocal «We will not publish if Mr. Kazulka is an author» was declared to me.

— Did Dutch partners part since they lost their money and trust?

— No, they didn't! Onno de Bruijn was a fan of his business. Despite of consideration of the primary decision of the involved Dutch party to cancel any serious business with the National park because of these bad things, Mr. De Bruijn had success in convincing the management of «Natuurmonumenten» to continue the project, since Belovezhskaya Pushcha is extremely important for Europe! These are words of Onno de Bruijn from the book which testify the importance of our forest: «FOR ALL OF US WORKING IN NATURE CONSERVATION IN WESTERN EUROPE, »BIALOWIEZA FOREST« HAS A MAGIC SOUND AS AN OUTSTANDING REFERENCE AREA OF NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS (ESPECIALLY FORESTS, NATURAL RIVERS, AND BOG AND FEN SYSTEMS) WHICH IN OUR COUNTRIES HAVE TOTALLY, OR FOR THE GREATER PART, BEEN LOST EITHER LONG AGO OR IN MORE RECENT CENTURIES…. THIS AREA MAY WELL BE THE MOST IMPORTANT NATURE RESERVE IN EUROPE. IT IS UNIQUE BECAUSE OF THE NATURAL CHARACTER AND THE EXTENSIVENESS OF ITS FORESTS, AND BECAUSE OF THE COMPLETENESS OF ITS ECOSYSTEMS WITH VITAL POPULATIONS OF RARE AND THREATENED ANIMALS». Another reason to continue the project was the fact that the Polish party Bialowieza National Park was involved in the business and the Dutch party did not wish to let them down.

— You were fired from the Park already. How did you continue preparation of the book?

— At that time the book was not ready yet; its text was filed on the hard disk of a computer in the National Park. Since the administration of the National Park had «blocked» publication of the book, I had to penetrate secretly into the laboratory of my former employer in order to complete the book.

— It is a highly original way of preparing a book. Did the employees of the Park, your former colleagues, help you?

— All of them helped me, depending on their possibilities. Excepting one scientific employee. It was a Philosophy Doctor. It informed the administration about the people who helped and sympathized my work, thus this employee uses this way to make own job carrier. After this happened some people were punished, while some former colleagues were even dismissed. I want to take the opportunity to thank all my colleagues for the help. Unfortunately I cannot call their surnames now, since I am afraid that they would be dismissed then.

In spite of the presence of large problems which were created artificially by the administration of the National Park we were successful in issuing the book. The UN Office in Belarus contributed much in the frame of their Development Program; it has undertaken legal and financial responsibility to issue the book. Thanks go out to them. I want to thank Mr. Victor Fenchuk personally. He is the manager of the project «Pushcha without borders» and a member of the non-governmental organization «Belarus Bird Life». He has actively solved many pertinent problems related to publication of the book.

— You are speaking about details which discredit the administration of the National Park…

— This does not only discredit Belovezhskaya Pushcha, but also the Republic of Belarus and its leaders and government. You should see that the National Park is subordinating directly to the President's Property Management Department of the Republic of Belarus. But in my opinion the administration of the Park is not really worried about it all. And the officials from the Belarusian Property Management Department do not worry that much either…

— What are results of project initiated by the Dutch organisation?

— After the book was issued the project is considered to be stopped. Nobody of civilized people will deal with that organization, especially regarding investing in the future, which outlines a practice of arbitrariness and obscurantism.

— Still people are saying that science developed successfully in the Park, even without the help of foreigners…

— It is possible to say what people like. But facts are persistent and obstinate. Analyze it yourself. The first contribution of Nickolai Bambiza to science after he came to Belovezhskaya Pushcha was an order to move the best, most powerful and newest computers from the scientific department to the commercial departments. But such powerful hardware was absolutely unnecessary there. At that time I still worked in the park. Then again no-purpose use of the National Parks« budget was made, although money had been targeted for scientific purposes. Approximately 15 million Rubles were handed over by the scientific department in the last quarter of 2001. It amounted to the equivalent of 15,000 Dollars at that time. This is a direct infringement of our legislation. This money was part of a financing plan to fund scientific goals, but I know exactly that no single high-priced purchase was made by the scientific department during that quarter. Regarding the difficult times the volume of money supplied by the state to the scientific department was huge. In order to settle personal scores the director fired a scientific employee who was working on the establishment of a chemical-analytical laboratory, of which the costs of the equipment were estimated to sum over 100,000 Dollars. The major part of the equipment was bought in the mid 1990's with liquids from the Global Ecological Funds (GEF-project). You may remember that in 1992 to 1996 the project »Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest Biodiversity Protection« was carried out. In this framework GEF granted 1,000,000 Dollars to Belovezhskaya Pushcha as well as, partially, to other National Parks and Reserves in the Republic of Belarus. At the same time the post of programmer was cut down. Without any reason an employee was dismissed who was responsible for computer engineering services. Half a year later fellings of trees on scientific permanent plots in the forest started. Foresters used these plots in order to execute scientific monitoring on forest growth and development since the 1960's and 1970's. These plots are very valuable for science. As they are part of the Biosphere Reserve »Belovezhskaya Pushcha« they have a protected status recognized by UNESCO. Poles archived the results of global importance on these small areas whereas our director Nickolai Bambiza has ordered to serve the trees and poles concerned by axe.

In 1999 an automatic meteorological station, a computer system, was established in «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park. It had coasted about 10,000 Dollars and was purchased in Germany in the framework of the granted GEF-fund, which I mentioned before. There was no station in Belarus analogue of it. Although its computer technology is complicated we were successful in understanding its functions and to start up the station. We obtained meteorological data periodically from the station and the computer allowed to store all parameters in memory some time. We had attracted a graduate from Brest University. He would be responsible to process the information saved in the database of the station, after he would get employed by the Park. Although there were some temporary technical malfunctions with the portable computer which served in reading meteorological data the technical equipment functioned as a whole.

Initially director Nickolai Bambiza provoked the station to function, but then the experts which were able to lead the work in meteorological technology were fired from the Park. The service of the station was stopped. I do not exclude that the meteorological computer has just been put out of action, since employers could not use it resulting a lack of service for prolonged periods. According to relevant information the station was simply dismantled and delivered to a storehouse. The relevant, accurate computer based technology was handed in for «ancient» instruments like thermometers and flight recorders. Once they were established this was adverted all over the country. It is like handing in a «Mercedes» for a cart and to advertise this event. In earlier times these events were classified as wrecked, but today they were announced to be «achievements of world importance». This is another fact which testifies «successful development» of science in Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

— All of this is very sad to hear. So, it turns out that science in its traditional understanding is already lacking in Belovezhskaya Pushcha?

— The scientific department still exists, whereas science is absent by now. Science is, first of all, results but no process. Scientific research results in serious, practical achievements and scientific publications, which includes publications issued in prestigious international magazines. Have you heard much about such scientific results in Belovezhskaya Pushcha over recent years?

— Recently only «black» information about the Pushcha is published, usually connected with the name of the director…

— Let me continue. 25 years ago the scientific department of Belovezhskaya Pushcha was one of the strongest in the Reserves in the former Soviet Union; both in respect of size of the staff (52 employees) and in the volume of its works. Let me mention work on restoring the European bison, investigation of old-age forests and of wild ungulates. These and other works gave international fame to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Since the middle of the 1970's a big building was constructed specially for the planned research institute in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. But over the last twenty years this potential was lost because of the lack of a competent and consecutive long-term scientific policy. Already ten years ago now, when the GEF-project was finished, there was a chance to restore science. As a part of this project computers and other expensive equipment and technology were purchased. It included the GIS-technology for creating electronic maps, a Japanese chemical-analytical station and an automatic meteorological station for scientific purposes. The idea to set up a modern ecological educational center on the basis of the National Park was supported at that time. For this purpose the building of the office was reconstructed and it was enlarged. It improved the conditions of labour at the scientific department as well.

But still a great chance was missed. First of all we note an absence of strategic and long-term thinking about the development of science in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. We also experience a substitution of priorities in the National Park as well as the fact that goals and objectives of the Park are covered by large-scale economic activities. As a result science has become unclaimed in the National Park. The scientific department consists literally of several skilled employees, who live out their last years today. In a few years about half of the scientific staff — senior employees — will definitively reach their age of retirement. The others — young employees — will leave the park because of absence of prospects and habitation, low salaries and abnormal treatments. Scientific continuity will finally be lost. Therefore it is not good to show off today about «successful development» and «achievements», like the National Park does. Today we should speak openly and honestly about the necessity to let science revive in the Pushcha. However, under the current conditions and the adventurous politics and conditions which the staff and nature protection faces a revival is not realistic.

— Heorhi Alexeevich, I get the impression that you are the only scientist who is not afraid to speak about what happens in the Pushcha regarding science. Is there really nobody more who will speak about it? Where are the other scientists of the Pushcha and why don't we hear their voice?

— There are several reasons. First of all the scientific staff of «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park is completely financially dependent. There are no other positions in the village, while grants for specific projects are not expected for some reasons.

A second reason is the fact that an abnormal contract system was recently adopted in the National Park. Can you imagine a situation in which an employer has to accept a contract of one year if the specific person has thirty years of experience in performing his job for the National Park? It relates to people who have never incurred a discipline penalty during such a long period. Moreover, the duration of the contract is not connected to actual results from work.

What kind of results can be achieved in general in science, specifically in ecology, if you are free to work for one year? Years of years of consecutive continuous labour is necessary in this field, but the employees have a contract with a duration of one year. As a result scientists behave like mice under a broom, carrying out any whim of their heads. If not, any employee will find himself on the street after kind words saying «connected to ending the contract». Such researchers do not think about long-term results. Under such conditions they are aware of survival.

The third reason, nobody is to be raised already. Number of researchers amounts less than ten people. In Poland, for instance, about 100 scientific employees are the staff from different institutions which permanently works in the area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Among them some persons are well-known scientists with a name of the world importance. Translating to our classification, only the number of professors who permanently work in the Polish Pushcha is about ten.

There is a fourth reason, which may be even the most important reason. It relates to moral features of scientists employed by «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park. It may sound amazing, but it is a clear fact. People with a scientific degree, who dealt with science tens of years and who constantly spoke about love towards Belovezhskaya Pushcha have actually betrayed the Pushcha herself, the science of wildness protection, their colleagues and their disciples. Instead of uniting their voice and of concerted raising of their activity in order to protect the Pushcha at times when the situation required them to do so, they pursued their own mercantile goals and they rushed to serve their interests. They faithfully assisted those who came to the Pushcha with tasks which are far of its preservation. For one of them a salary as an addition of his pension proved to be more important than the destiny of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. For others it was an opportunity to make a quick career under present conditions. For third men it meant satisfaction of their own ambitions. It is impossible to imagine that something similar would take place in the Polish part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Once upon a time, approximately ten years ago, the idea to expand the Polish National Park to cover the entire Polish «Puszcza Bialowieska» was spoken about. Hundreds of scientists expressed their support to this idea and they joined a powerful campaign for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. First of all those scientists who reside in the Polish part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha supported the idea. We have a situation with an opposite character. Of its own accord and its private desire, without compulsion, the scientific «elite» started to assist annihilation onto the Belovezhskaya relic forest. It started to persecute local inhabitants by covering ecological and social evil deeds with cheap publications in press and by signing projects incorporating various fellings. It is desirable to remind anyone that similar times were present very frequently in the history of biology and ecology. At those time incompetent and immoral people, which had great ambitions simultaneously, destroyed genetic science, they liquidated reserves and they put world famous scientists into prisons and special camps. Everybody knows very well what happened concerning these people later.

— Well, it seems impossible to be so pessimistic… Don't you believe that science can revive in Belovezhskaya Pushcha?

— It would be desirable to believe so, but I know the local situation and realities too well. This is why I say that I do not believe in bright prospects of the scientific department of the National Park anymore. Any prospect is absent. To revive science «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park must invest considerable means, employ skilled staff and, what is most important, adopt sustainable perspective politics. At this moment is it necessary to invite scientists from other research institutes to practice research in the Pushcha as much as possible, which is common practice all over the world. But our validity shows simply that managers of Belovezhskaya Pushcha have no interest to do so. For what purpose would the administration invite extraneous people to the territory of the National Park? To let them walk on places of special interest and to let them see forbidden things what the world may not see. Here even locals are under pressure already, since these people may become witnesses of infringements and evil deeds. Therefore there can only be sense in speaking about science in Belovezhskaya Pushcha after it is no longer lead by chairmen of collective farms, specialists of timber processing and other people who casually pass by. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a leading and world famous reserve! The most important aspect for them is to make their own financial problems as quick as possible. They leave the park without impunity as far as possible. Change will show up after the National Park will be transformed from a «secret zone» or a park which is only of interest for the administration of the National Park itself to an institute and a forest with interest and importance for the nation. Therefore I regard the prospect of scientific development in Belovezhskaya Pushcha in coming years as very sad.