Appeal of Belarusian public to the Council of Europe regarding the threatened perseverance of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha

Official letter to:
Mrs. Francoise Bauer,
Natural and Cultural Heritage, Council of Europe

Copy to:
Mr. Charles Zimmer,
Expert of the Council of Europe

February 14, 2002
Dear Mrs Bauer,
Dear Experts,

Democratic and scientific public of Belarus is deeply concerned about the possibility of prolongation of the validity of the European Diploma' for the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha".

The case is very particular, as none of us would ever put in question the great natural and cultural significance of this unique part of our world. The European Diploma has been valid for the last five years, and the degree of implementation of corresponding conditions and recommendations proposed by the Council of Europe has been an important control element in evaluating the adherence of an awarded party to the principles of nature conservation. However, the most crucial question in today's situation is: What will be the result of prolongation of this highly prestigious, at the same time binding and encouraging award for the next five years?

We signed below, guided by a principle First, do no harm -Primum non nocere, want to preclude a possibility of an erroneous decision of the Council of Europe that is supposedly ready to prolong the term of the validity of the prestigious Diploma. We are not sure that such decision will be wise and based on objective realities. We think that it hardly could promote activities to the good of this unique object of natural heritage, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest.

We are openly declaring: We believe that the next prolongation of the international award will only encourage established vicious practices of ecological devastation - and not of protection in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest. This award will give plenty of rope to Belarusian industrial and economical complex regarding its activities on the territory of the reserved areas- so nothing will stand in a way of realization of currently most serious threats to the main National Park of Belarus, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

We hope that the Council of Europe will first of all take into consideration facts that confirm that the state of the Pushcha has been significantly deteriorating; that not all rules and recommendations of the Diploma have been implemented to a due extent; that basic principles of nature conservation have been violated; that the discussion of the problems of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha has been persistently avoided and the public was not presented the information on the activities in the Pushcha. A certain tension existed around the problematic issues on protection and conservation of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the authorities have been constantly resorting to various tricks, demonstrating their adherence to deception and insincerity and avoiding a honest and open dialogue. The public interference and presence was, to put it mildly, neither encouraged not welcomed. For example, the direction refused a permission to visit the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park for activists of the Green Peace Action "Press-tours for support of Aarhus convention" that was supposed to allow them gathering undistorted information.

The situation deteriorated particularly in 2001 when cuttings achieved a more aggressive character on the reserved area and plans appeared on sanitary clear cutting of the reserved area. It is a revealing fact that both activities have been decided upon immediately after the Expert of the Council of Europe left the Belovezhskaya Pushcha in May 2001. After that, an economical and social crises started to aggravate in the National Park. Numerous workers of the National Park, including scientists, who could not consent to infringements of basic principles of nature protection were dismissed. In the situation of dominance of Industrial and Harvesting Departments even tiny efforts on protection, conservation and saving the biological diversity of the great forest were suppressed. Efforts in the field of ecological education were so unimportant that they can be hardly called "minimal".

Most influential independent mass-media in Belarus and the CIS raised several important and topical problems on the occasion of the European Natural Heritage day. Among them there were tens of sympathetic publications that prove the fact that the authorities in Belarus are indeed applying immoral, scientifically unjustified principles of management in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Also, a concern is expressed of the possibility of Belarusian authorities using the international recognition of European Diploma in achieving their speculative purposes, such as activities disguising real plans that are in contradiction with both the Spirit of the European Diploma as well as the protection of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In our view, these publications as well as the opinion of numerous scientists, public leaders, inhabitants of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, as well patriot citizens must be considered when deciding about the prolongation of the European Diploma's validity.

We are insisting and asking not to hasten. We are proposing to postpone the decision of prolongation of the European Diploma's validity to a later term. Before this decision is taken, we are proposing you to undertake a control mission of the National Park with participation of experts and the democratic press. Only under consideration of opinions expressed in a direct dialogue with the public as well as a deeper expertise, we suggest to make a final objective decision.

Radzim Garetzki, National Academy of sciences of Belarus, Member of Russian Academy of sciences, Professor
Nil Gilevich, People's Poet of Belarus, Professor
Yuriy Hadyka, Professor
Svetlana Alexeevich, Writer
Valeriy Dranchuk, Belarussian Green Piece Association, Editor-in-Chief of "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" Newspaper
Vladimir Dackevich, Scientist-Ornithologist, the inhabitant of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha
Alexey Mikulich, Member of International Academy of Ecology
Nikolay Kartash, Green Piece Party, Chairman of the Council
Inna Zenina, Pripyatski National Park, research worker
Zdislav Muravyev, Nature Protection Society, Veteran of Nature Protection
Andrey Sannikov, Hartiya-97, International Co-ordinator
Tatyana Prot'ka, Belarussian Helsinki Committee
Ales Belyacki, Belarussian Centre of human-right protection «Vesna»