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

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

Copy to: Professor Eckhart Kuijken
Expert of the Council of Europe

Dear Mrs Bauer, Dear Experts,

Environmentalists and democratic public of Belarus, as well as inhabitants of Belovezhskaya Pushcha are deeply concerned about discussion on expediency of prolongation of the validity of a European Diploma to the National park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" in connection with the situation which has arisen in the National park.

We fully realize all aspects of the dilemma of the utmost delicacy and complexity concerning the European Diploma. None of us would ever put in question of the great natural and cultural significance of this unique forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. None of us either doubts of necessity and importance of the European Diploma for Belovezhskaya Pushcha which is not only a prestigious award but also an important control mechanism in stimulating the adherence of an awarded party to principles of nature conservation and other activities in the territory awarded this Diploma. And we entirely stand up that Belovezhskaya Pushcha has to have such the award.

However, we are deeply concerned about the other fact, namely about the use of the prestigious Diploma for completely another, opposite purposes for covering activities which is against nature protection international and national legislation, against purposes of conservation of unique natural ecosystems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, against balanced use of natural resources and harmonious coexistence of people and nature, against sustainable development in the region of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, against democratic and humanitarian principles, and against profound respect for human rights and rights of nature.

The European Diploma which has been valid for the last ten years was an important control element in evaluating the management of the National park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" to the matter of being in compliance with special rules and recommendations directed to achievement of the purposes specified above. The Diploma was given to the National park rather in advance than well-earned as ten recommendations for reforming the management policy of the park and for improvement of nature protection were put at the same time. In fife years, in 2001, the number of recommendations not only has decreased but has increased up to eighteen.

However, instead of urgent measures on changing the existing negative situation concerning compliance with rules and recommendations of the Diploma, enormous economic activity was verily developed in the National park that, quite the contrary, was against these rules and recommendations. For the last fife years, many sorts of actions were conducted in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. They have caused damage to the wild protected nature of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, have negatively affected the ecological situation in the relic reserved forest, have worsened its integrity and have discredited both a nature protection image of Belarus and a status of the incentive Diploma. These actions are as the following:

A note: All these and many other violations and problems of the National park are described at the address on the website "Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21 Century"

The spheres of tourism and ecological education also suffer from serious gaps - almost total monopoly of the National park on realization of these kinds of activities, an insufficient level of ecological education of employees and guides of the National park, a partial substitution of ecological education by entertainments and a show called "a Belarusian Grandfather Frost" etc.

A note: One can read more detail about this at the address, and on the website "Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21 Century"

The situation in the spheres of social issues and human rights within the territory of the National park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha", as well as relations between the administration of the National park and the local population has got a serious deterioration for the last fife years.

Since 2001, a truly staff pogrom has occurred in the National park. Hundreds of local inhabitants including professional, high-educated, cultured and honest-minded employees who dedicated tens years of their life to Belovezhskaya Pushcha were fired from the park. This concerned, first of all, the people who have shown their difference of opinion or doubt in the management conducted in the National park.

The today's administration of the National park, outsiders to this district, has staked on casual and temporary workers, also alien to this area, who were employed instead of dismissed locals. Due to such the staff selection, the National park has actually turned to a sort of "yard with a through-passage". The criminality was sharply getting worse in the region. The local population and employees got to be infringed upon their interests and got to be oppressed upon their rights. The atmosphere of fear and indifference covering the overall population is created since short-term job contracts and mass dismissals are a common practice in the park. The cultural life in the administrative centre of Belovezhskaya Pushcha has become degraded. The park's administration has abandoned a local house of culture within fife years, and has then demolished it.

The public discussion, criticism and offers have been persistently avoided in every way possible. The local policy and management are carried out in the National park by pursuing purely departmental ends, as secretive discussing in close circles. A certain tension exists around the problematic issues on protection and conservation of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Public activists, independent ecologists and experts, even some local inhabitants are actually forbidden to enter the territory of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. There are cases of illegal, forced detention, deportation from the territory of the park and imposing fine on those who tried to provide independent control and observance. The administration of the National park either sends general answers written for form only or does not react at all as a response to inquiries of the public on important ecological issues in the frame of the Aarhus Conventions.

A note: These and many others of materials on social and legal problems in the National park are described at the address, and on the website "Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21 Century"

All stated above arguments testify that the today's administration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is not under control of the national legislation and also has no culture and responsibility towards the people and the Belarusian society. The National park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" is actually turned into an institution a level of restrictions and secrecy of which is close to an object of military service. Any attempts to change nature protection and social policy and management in the National Park and to establish a civilized public dialogue are coming across rigid resistance and aversion from the side of the administration of the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha".

In this connection we again raise a question what will be the result of prolongation of this highly prestigious, at the same time binding and encouraging award, such as the European Diploma, for Belovezhskaya Pushcha for the next five years? We do not doubt any more that the next international recognition of the Diploma will again be used by Belarusian authorities for speculative and immoral purposes, namely for covering activities which are contrary to spirit of the Diploma and to conservation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In our opinion, all what we write in this appeal and what is also described in numerous publications and appeals of public figures, scientists, ordinary people-patriots, inhabitants of Belovezhskaya Pushcha should be taken into consideration when making a decision about prolongation of the validity of the Diploma to the new term.

Of course, the government of Belarus and the administration of the National park undertook certain efforts for thee last years targeted to ecological, economic and social problems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Some of them, such as expansion of the strictly protected zone and a World Heritage Site in 2004 made under public pressure (, could be considered radical enough. Nevertheless, all of this is fed on the background of that negative what has been accumulating and continues to be accumulating in the National park.

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 which can cause damage to conservation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and to bridging civilized public relations in the National park.

We are proposing to suspend the validity of the European Diploma given to the National park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" for some period, from the point of view of the founders, which will be enough to execute all recommendation of the Diploma including the acceptance of a Management and Conservation Plan for Belovezhskaya Pushcha for the nest ten to twenty years. This plan should be elaborated with involvement of independent experts, including international ones. We especially want to note that the Management and Conservation Plan should be in compliance with international and national legislation and with last achievements of the ecological science and practice, should be given publicity when discussed and accepted, should provide observance of democratic procedures and involvement of stakeholders including representatives of the general public.

We are earnestly asking you to approach our proposal with weighed and comprehensive analyses and to accept a final objective decision.

Yours faithfully,

November 24, 2007, Belarus