Remodeling of the Tourist Center Entrance as a Departure from the Pushcha Traditions, 2002 - 2009

Events, facts, documents and evidences: As the current management of Belovezhskaya Pushcha took office in 2001, it was announced that almost all of the national park's tourist facilities were subject to improvement, modification and remodeling. Belovezhskaya Pushcha indeed was facing a lot of problems, which were primarily related to a lack of funds for developing its tourist business, improving its tourist infrastructure and raising the standard of service. It was around that time that the park began to receive large budgetary allocations and low-rate loans – something it could thitherto only dream of. And so the process began… However the new management failed to come up with any long-term, comprehensive program for developing tourism based on research, other than the administrative directions that it issued. The park's managers made their decisions in the back room without consulting the general public. Many environmental concerns were either ignored or unknown altogether to these "professionals".

What is the bottom line? Now that the decade is gone, we are witnessing enormous changes in the national park's tourist complex. The most extensive change occurred in connection with the 600th anniversary of nature protection in Belovezhskaya Pushcha in 2009. Almost everything in the park's administrative and tourist center changed, many things beyond recognition. The center was transformed, refreshed and grew prettier in a lot of ways. Significant change occurred in some of the communities, too. In a word, some serious work has been done, and change for the better is apparent.

But you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, as the popular saying goes. Unfortunately, not everything about these transformations is as rosy and beautiful as it might look to a man in the street unfamiliar with the practice of wild nature reserve management or ecotourism. All this huge transformation activity was essentially reminiscent of the Bolshevik era with its slogan, borrowed from the Internationale, "Of the past let us wipe the slate clean and create the absolutely new world." Something like that happened in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In particular, that all-important local spiritual tradition was again ignored or discarded as unnecessary in many cases.

The Pushcha Tradition is an unwritten code of rules and customs of nature protection and management and environmental planning in Belovezhskaya Pushcha made by past generations. The traditions were primarily created and maintained thanks to the People with a capital "p" who were employees or managers here at various times. The rules were more or less closely followed, helping preserve Belovezhskaya Pushcha relatively intact (in comparison with other territories). The Pushcha Traditions were expressed in the local architecture, the local culture, in the approach to work and nature, and behavior while within the forest. Each new manager, as a rule, absorbed the traditions and generally followed, maintained and developed them.

Alas, 2001 saw a drastic change of course, as a group of people, unfamiliar with either nature reserve management or moral and culture in their true meaning, became the managers of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The staff of the national park faced mass dismissals, with the carriers and keepers of the tradition the first to be sacked. The dismissals were followed by an "environmental pogrom" in the protected primeval forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and measures that aimed to modify the landscape and environmental structure of the tourist center. Read about the latter in detail in "The Tourist Complex and the Ruining of the Pushcha Traditions, 2001-2003".

Thus the current management of the national park, strangers to both Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its land, in fact has been waging war on the Pushcha reserve management and environmental traditions since 2001 up to now, to eradicate them and replace with something alien to this land.

The pictures below show an episode of the war – the drastic and repeated remodeling of the main entrance to the administrative and tourist center to lend it a completely different appearance.

Until 2002, the entrance to the national park's administrative center had been marked with two old logs in the form of trees and an iron gate with bison depicted on it. The trees stood near the checkpoint gate as a symbol of the old forest. Decorated with carving and wooden figures of beasts and birds, the trees greeted newly arriving tourists, an indication that they were entering Europe's oldest wild forest reserve. In 2002 the logs were replaced with huge carved columns with a sign on top, reportedly modeled after the Pripyatskiy National Park. The natural and architectural wooden symbol of the ancient forest, a trademark of Belovezhskaya Pushcha for many generations of tourists, was obliterated and displaced by something more monumental but alien.

The photographs below show the entrance to the national park in the way it looked for many decades.

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(The entrance to the national park's tourist and administrative center until 2002:
1 and 2 – archive pictures, 3 – taken from the Internet)

These photographs show the appearance of the entrance to the national park from 2002 to 2009. The monumental wooden arch is likely a symbol of not just an obsession with grand projects but the management's major achievement in "preserving" the primeval forest over the last decade.

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(The entrance to the administrative and tourist center from 2002 to 2009:
1, 2 and 3 – June 11, 2005; 4 – May 3, 2009)
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(1 – the checkpoint, 2 – the museum ticket office,
July 11, 2006)

Yet another remodeling of the entrance began in the summer of 2009. The external wooden plain structures of the checkpoint and the museum ticket office were replaced with carved wood making them look prettier and more distinctive.

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(1 – the checkpoint, 2 – the museum ticket office,
August 9, 2009)

What followed was totally confusing and inexplicable in terms of preserving the Pushcha Tradition and heritage. The rest of the entrance to the administrative and tourist center was removed, to be replaced by something monumentally bloated and unlike anything seen there before. The construction of a yet another entrance began literally a month before the official celebration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha's 600th anniversary.

The commencement of the project is shown in the photographs below.

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(The construction of a new entrance to the administrative and tourist center,
September 9, 2009)

Some shots of the new entrance nearing completion can be seen below.

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(The near-complete new entrance: 1, 2 and 3 – September 15, 2009, 4 – September 20, 2009)

The shots below show the new entrance as seen by visitors on the eve of, and after, the festivities connected with the 600th anniversary of nature protection in Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

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(The new entrance to the administrative and tourist center:
1 – November 14, 2009)
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(The new entrance to the administrative and tourist center: 1, 2 and 3 – a front view, 4 – a rear view, January, 2, 2010)
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(The new entrance to the administrative and tourist center:
1, 2 and 3 – a front view; 4 – a rear view, January 2, 2010)
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(The new entrance to the administrative and tourist center: April 3 and 4, 2010)
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(The "Host" and "Hostess" of the front gate, September 20, 2009)

Conclusion. This page shows just one episode, or example, of the drastic and rapid change in the national park's architectural image in the recent years. Note the pace: the entrance to the administrative and tourist center has been remodeled twice within a decade! The same sort of drastic changes and transformations occurred to the landscape design of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and to the forest itself!

In this case, the design of the entrance in the form of old logs decorated with carvings and animal and bird figures, until removed in 2002, served as a symbol of the old forest helping tourists form an initial impression of a journey to a fairytale, a feeling of unity with wilderness and the protected forest. The current huge structure consisting of brick columns and a metallic roof causes some to feel oppressed and small, a feeling like that purposely induced by Stalin-era architectural designs, and others, mystified and curious as to what the castle-like gate could conceal. A Disneyland? Bingo! As one enters the newly built gate today, it is not wilderness or a protected forest one immediately sees, but a nicely-landscaped, modified, urban park-like area with tourist service facilities. Both nature protection and reserve management values and efforts to promote these have been pushed to the back, with the visitors' initial emotional response suppressed by the artificial landscape they are accustomed to. This is the underlying psychology, hidden from the superficial glance, of what has happened over the last decade.

Those of us with a poor knowledge of history and a week grasp of the laws of social evolution might perceive these changes in the National {ark "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" as good. But remember the growth of a tree lies in its branches – not in its roots which nourish the branches. Cut the roots and watch the tree become withered and die. Long-standing local traditions, especially those that secure the conservation of wildlife and do not contradict it, are the spiritual roots of the people inhabiting the land. Ruining of traditions and displacing of these by new and alien things, as a rule, makes people disoriented, destroys the local culture and weakens links first on an individual level, and then between the people and their land. What follows is a cultural decline which brings its negative consequences for the people and the land. This is exactly how all aggressors and invaders throughout human history have acted – by suppressing the local culture and propagating alien traditions. And this is what has been happening in Belovezhskaya Pushcha for the last decade...