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"Talibs" are sole managers of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha

This way local people call one-time workers who were hired by the administration to cut living primeval forest - an operation which local people themselves refused to do

Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a talisman of Belarus which survived through many of the sufferings of this land. It reflects the fate of Belarusians. Pushcha was cut by those who managed to occupy these lands. But just like the Belarusian people, it stood in all and survived. Occupants did not manage to destroy it, but this time we ourselves can destroy the forest. Although in the rest of the world national the areas of this kind are under the management of environmental ministries or departments, Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is under the management of the President Affairs Department, which automatically makes the territory of the park a hands-off zone, a taboo for any controller.

As a start, here is an tragic anecdote: "A local from Kamenyuki village got lost in Belovezhskaya Pushcha". The anecdotal element in this story is that this can never happen. It is equivalent to Maugli lost in the Jungle.

Then, what is the tragedy? It is that this DID happen! A person who got grown up in Kamenyuki - the capital of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha - and who worked there for about 20 years, got lost in his native land. Over the last one and a half years the National Park changed dramatically, the pace of this change being so fast that the local people who has been working in it can hardly manage to recognize the forest of their childhood and early adult life. It has lost its "secular sadness" and it has turned into the cubic meters of log-wood you find every meter whatever direction you go.

They called me an idiot in the rooms of the Pushcha administrative buidling

I am in the reception of the Director General of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Nikolai Nikolaevich Bambiza. Before that, I kept calling him the whole week, but his secretary would only reply: he is not in, he is not in, he is not in… Waiting for an "abstract" director was so depressing, that I decided to walk through the rooms of the Pushcha associates.

"Can you say, - I was asking the chief accountant, - Is the National Park still being subsidized by the state or are all of its expenditure being covered by the profit from commercial activities?"

They did not hear me.

"Hello-o-o, are you paying back the loans you took for the German wood-cutting machine?"

A woman raised up her head with a traditional question stuck in the corner of her lips: "You are an idiot, right?"

"Can you show at least one figure?"

"Only by Director's order" - she underlined every word.

I leave her and enter the room of the Forest Department, which is in charge of preserving the key value of the Park - its forest. To my surprise, people there were waiting for me. The strung atmosphere made me recall a story by an old-timer of Kamenyuki who told me that once in the Soviet times the director ordered cutting two (!) broken trees, and was called on to report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party for that.

"Is that true, that clear sanitary felling is being carried out in Pushcha" - I asked blankly as if we were in the Central Committee.

"You see, a tree which got used to being surrounded by other trees, - once it remains alone, it just falls down. So we cut it…"

… I felt like an idiot in fact once I got out into the Forest

"Can I as a tourist now go to the forest, - I asked this question in the Tourism department."

"No. First we need to find a car for you. This will take two hours. Then you need to identify three more passengers - or you will have to pay for the whole 'set' yourself. Multiply 8,000 Belarusian rubles by 4. Would you still like to go?"

"What if I go by my own car"

"In the winter you can, on an exceptional basis, but you need to go with a guide. In the summer you can't do that. Tourists use to divert from trails."

"In which case they see the mayhem going on out there?"


"Did the amount of tourism increase or decrease last year?"

"Decreased by 3,000 people. But this is not an indication of our bad job, rather of the poverty of our people."

I managed to talk a local from Kamenyuki into taking me to Pushcha forest. We took bicycles and started off. Before that he made me change clothing since my orange jacket would have immediately give me away as a stranger. I had to take on a working robe of a forest cutter. I was going into the forest without a permit, knowing they would not give it to me now after such a "reception". The only thing which made me easy was that my guide was a resident of Kamenyuki who was allowed to go to the Strictly Protected Area.

We want past a borderguard checkpoint: they saw us and did not stop us - we were following a tourism trail.

"Look", my guide suddenly stopped me. The scenery which opened to us was fantastic. The smell of freshly cut trees got deep into my smoked nostrils; the pines were still bleeding with life. We went on. We went over the bodies of the cut trees up to the horizon. The trees were still alive and it almost made you cry. The cut trees there, were they should not touch a single (!) tree.

In the meanwhile , the jeep of the director passed by u s. Nikolai Nikolaevich was driving himself.

"Where is he heading?", I asked.

"Maybe to fetch the woodcutters".

"First time in my life I see a director taking his workers personally to and from home."

"These are not common woodcutters. Locals call them 'talibs'."

"What does that mean?"

"They are aliens, one-time workers. Locals would never agree to cut living forest. These agree to anything, they don't care."

Intuitively, I felt a creeping on my back. We looked each other in the eyes and felt danger.

"Does the Director know you in your face?"

"Oh he can not stand my face any more".

But it was too late. On the road were "clutched" in between two UAZ cars. Several border-guards got out of one of them and with a "Stop here!" cry pointed their machine-guns on us. The chief of Pushcha guard squad got out of the other car. Now it was all clear: Nikolai Nikolaevich used by a walky-talky raised up everyone. He had many things to hide, but he was late. I had my camera in the pocket with dozens of photos already taken.

My way to the sawmill was even more secretive, since everyone in the Pushcha knew I was there.

"People, you have so much of it stocked here," were my only words to a man who was loitering nearby.

"Oh yeah, no one knows how much of wood is here. Mountains of it, there is no room left to stock it," was his reply.

Another interesting thing: it turned out that not all of the pine and oak trees cut in Pushcha end up on this sawmill. Some meters back, there is another sawmill, which belongs to a private entrepreneur from Poland. This is where trucks with most valuable wood go. No one knows at what price the Belovezha red pine wood is being sold to the Pole. Redwood, - where does it end up?

Five troubles of Belovezhskaya Pushcha

Trouble one. The sawmill

It was bought in Germany in 1998. A huge foreign and Belarusian currency loan was taken to buy it: more than 1.5 million dollars. The sawmill was "fed" only on freshly cut wood. Once they started using it for dry timber, it would break. To feed the sawmill and pay back the loan, they had to start cutting living forest. The very juxtaposition of the two words "Pushcha" and "sawmill" was absurd.

Trouble tow. The bark beetle.

It eats a part of the tree which is between the bark and the trunk. The tree is green, but it is already dead. So they cut it. After these cuttings, some plots of Belovezhskaya Pushcha reimd better of horror movies. The trick is - the bark beetle does not touch pine, oak, birch, alder, and asp - which are being clear-cut alongside with dry spruces, under the label of "fighting the bark beetle".

Trouble three. The hurricane.

In February 2002 a terrible hurricane affected the Pushcha, falling hundred-year trees at 180 hectares. Not all trees within the affected zone fell. Some stood by. According to Pushcha laws, they should have been retained that way, giving life to other trees. But they were cut: these are genetically the most valuable trees, elite, old tallest spruce trees, oaks and two-hundred year old pines. Using the shield of the hurricane they have "rectified" the uneven border of the affected zone. In some places they voluntarily have enlarged the affected zone. Tens of hectares of absolutely healthy forests got impacted by this "rectification."

Trouble four. Hectares of fallen trees.

As you look around, you see hectares of unmoved felled wood. They decompose on the territory of the National Park, contributing to the spread of a parasite which destroys their value - the value of the redwood timber. This shade or the colour of the pine tree can not be found anywhere else, but Pushcha. Additionally, such areas further feed the bark beetle. On the 5 of July 2001 there were 1,019 cubic meters of timber, whereas on the 1 January 2002 the stock of wood lying unmoved was 15,608 cubic meters. Today, there are up to 80,000 comic meters of wood accumulated in the Pushcha (!)

Trouble five. Loss of memory

The Status of the National Park makes it obligatory for scientists to carry out permanent monitoring of the natural processes occurring in Pushcha. For that purpose, in various parts of Pushcha they have established permanent monitoring plots. These are reference plots of Pushcha, untouched areas, where even collection of mushrooms and berries is prohibited. All trees there are numbers, this is the territory of science. Here scientists analyze how trees get born and how they die. There are no artificial plantations on such areas, all trees are of different age. Even grasses remain untouched, not to mention rotten trees turning into humus. Today, these areas get destroyed. Pines, which were born back in 1812 when Belarus was part of the Napoleon war, fall down cut today in 2003.

Our information reference:
Nikolai Bambiza was appointed Director General of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in May 2001. Officially, he is known to be a commercial type of director, rather than a forester. He was assigned the mission of paying back within a short period of time the dept of the Park to the amount of 1.5 million USD, which is a loan taken for the purchase of the German sawmill. Belarusian greens know him by the scandalous publications related to cutting down of the unique Pripyat floodplain oakwoods once he was director of the Pripyat National Park.

What can be done?
Belovezhskaya Pushcha today does not face a threat from the bark beetle. It faces a threat from a "two-leg beetle" who does not count with the conservation science, who does not know the laws of the environment. The unique and fragile in its balance Primeval Forest of Belovezha is now occupied by a wood-processing plant with very evident and clear objectives and tasks, which does not acknowledge the ideas of the National Park and the biosphere reserve. Every day the sacred treasure of Belarus gets destroyed and the World Heritage Site turns into a Zone.

Recently President has been visiting Pushcha more frequently. I can understand that they don't show everything to him.

Until it is too late, scientists in the area of forestry should be allowed here, to produce an independent assessment of the mayhem going on here. Parliamentarians would be also welcome to have a look at what is going on here: they should me let to see how the treasures of the country get completely destroyed. If this does not help, the only way out is drawing the attention of all environmental international organizations, and mainly of UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

Let this article become one of the co-reports to the session of the Commission of the Department of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Council of Europe on implementation by European parks and reserves of recommendations according to the Council of Europe's Diplomas they received. The session is going to take place end of January.

Not the bark beetles, nor hurricanes, nor tornadoes destroy the unique primeval forest. It deals with those phenomena by itself. People with a saw and a hatchet turn this forest into a wooden desert.

Article by Alexander Khilimon
Photo by the author and the guide: we are sure that these photos will serve an instrument to accuse the Administration of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in all the mismanagements happening on the territory of the primeval forest.

Save Belovezhskaya Pushcha - unique European fores