GB No. 12, winter 1994


Wojciech Byrcyn: "Our Tatra Mountains cover such a small area that we cannot allow them to be destroyed. . . . It is a great honour for me that some important people bother about such a little Byrcyn like me I forgive those who spread false information about me, because they are mine -- they come from the same beloved country as I."

Andrzej Karpiel: "I dream about an exclusive ski resort in the area of Kasprowy Wierch. Of course, it would not be able to compete with the Alps, but it would be large enough to make the tourist business prosper."


This is the only place in Poland where chamois and marmots live, and the only place in Poland where typical alpine vegetation can be found. But the entire Tatra Mountain range is very small -- the distance from Hucianska Pass to Zdziar Pass is only 51.5 km, and the distance from south to north slopes is only 17 km. The area of the Tatra Mountains is 740 times smaller than the area of the Alps.


At the turn of the century, the village of Zakopane started to grow and change into a tourist resort. In the year 1954, the Tatra National Park was established, comprising 20972 hectares in the Polish part of the Tatra Mountains.

Three years ago Wojciech G1sienica Byrcyn became the director of the Tatra National Park. Wojciech Byrcyn is a forester and a researcher (he wrote a Ph.D. dissertation about the biology and ecology of marmots), as well as a born highlander. His family is proud of the fact that their roots in the area can be traced back to the year 1513.

"I collected garbage in the National Park, I installed litter bins, I followed all the steps in a career in the National Park, from ordinary worker to manager," says Byrcyn. For ten years was a park ranger in the Hala G1sienicowa area. He wrote scientific papers about the chamois and folk-tales in the local dialect about the Tatra Mountains.

In Zakopane he was called "Wojtek the Kind Heart," because people used to like him very much. He was kind and good tempered. When he applied for the position of director of the national park, everyone supported him: the ordinary highlanders, the Citizen Committees -- often the same people who now demand his dismissal.

"They thought that they could pat him on the shoulder and tell him what to do. But once Wojtek became the park director, he realized what a big responsibility he had -- not only to the local people, but to the whole country and to future generations. So, instead of following the local lobbies, he chose the well-being of the Tatra Mountains. This is the reason for the whole power struggle," says one of the employees of the national park.

Byrcyn guides me in the mountains. He behaves like an Indian: "Deer were here yesterday evening. . . . This small plant is eaten by chamois when they are feeding their babies, and this other plant is eaten by brown bear."


In April of this year, the dismissal of the director of the Tatra National Park was demanded by the Council of the Tatra Commune, the Zakopane chapter of the Democratic Union, the Tatra Chamber of Commerce, and the Solidarity trade union from Zakopane.

Two main accusations were presented. First, Byrcyn is blocking the modernization of the cable car on Kasprowy Wierch as well as the construction of two or three new ski-lifts. He is, therefore, obstructing the development of Zakopane as a ski resort. At the same time, the unemployment rate in the town is rising, and the inhabitants of Zakopane go skiing in the Alps. The members of the Town Council of Zakopane want to host a Winter Olympics in Zakopane and in the neighbouring regions of Slovakia. There is even an appropriate resolution of the Council.

The Scientific Council of the Tatra National Park tentatively accepted the plan to build ski lifts in the area of Kasprowy Wierch, but demanded a so-called "landscape study" to prevent the landscape from being spoiled by ski lifts. Byrcyn has demanded an additional study of the snow cover in the area, and he insists that, according to the Nature Conservation Act, the ski lifts existing in the National Park and the newly built ones shall become the property of the National Park. "This is a matter of big money," he says, "whether it is to be earned by someone, or used for the purposes of nature conservation in the Tatra Mountains." Here the attack on Byrcyn is not so overt. The local authorities are also afraid of the highlanders dividing the Tatra Mountains into small pieces of private land.

Byrcyn agrees that the highlanders were harmed at that time, but he stresses that the boundaries of the national park can be changed only by the government, and only in such a way as to avoid doing harm to the mountains.


There is a famous cable car on Kasprowy Wierch. At the upper station, on the summit of Kasprowy Wierch, there are heaps of coal and cinder, and also some trash. The vegetation cover is destroyed almost everywhere. After the last Universiade winter games, remnants of plastic fences and pieces of cable remained.

It was only recently that the Polish Cable Railways started to reclaim a small part of the mountain. This year, for the first time, they paid 300 million z3otys to the National Park for the use of the land. Previously, their unwritten rule was that "we transport the tourists, and the National Park will worry about everything else." In 1991 Byrcyn demanded that the cable car be given to the national park. His attitude was supported by the Commission of Nature Conservation in the Polish Parliament.

The management of the Polish Cable Railways refused, "because the national park has no experience managing the cable car." Ryszard Antoszyk, who for 15 years has been the director of the cable car, feels that the transportation capacity of the cable car should be increased from 180 people per hour to 860 people per hour, because "people cannot wait so long to be transported up the mountain." But the national park rangers are unable to cope with the large number of tourists already being transported by the cable car. The people and the machines destroy the unique mountain soil. It takes a thousand years for one centimeter of soil to develop at an elevation like that on top of Kasprowy Wierch.

When I told Director Antoszyk about the garbage around the cable car station on Kasprowy Wierch, he apologized and promised that something would be done about it.

I went back to the lower cable car station. On the wall I saw pictures showing President Lech Wałęsa's winter visit to Zakopane. In one of these pictures, a smiling Director Antoszyk stands beside Minister Wachowski, whose face is partly hidden by his hood. When the president visited Kasprowy Wierch, all the garbage was covered with snow.


Franciszek Bachleda Księdzulorz, a candidate for senator from the Zakopane chapter of the BBWR, considers Wojciech Byrcyn a poor manager. He points out that two-year talks about changing the borders of the Tatra National Park have brought no results. "The guy is inefficient," he says. "He needs to be dismissed."

While talking with strangers, Księdzulorz controls every single word. During the highlanders' meetings, he is very open. Wearing the local outfit, he speaks the purest highlander dialect. The chairman of the Highlanders' Union for many years, he is considered almost a king of the highlanders. He says that here in the Podhale region, only the highlanders matter. This is not accepted by everyone, and even some born highlanders accuse Księdzulorz of ethnic chauvinism.

During the meeting in Sosnowiec on June 18, when President Wałęsa proposed the idea of establishing the BBWR, Księdzulorz called for reactivating the companies of village administrators, unions of the owners of mountain pastures in the Tatra mountains, some of whom have deeds granted by Polish kings. The highlanders applauded.

"It is true that after the Second World War our property was taken in a Bolchevik-type way, but we can not divide the Tatra National Park into pieces," says Maciej Krupa, the mayor of Zakopane.

What does Księdzulorz see in the BBWR? He says he admires Lech Wałęsa, a strong man, the only one who can push Poland in the right direction. At the local scale, this means supporting the organization of a winter Olympics in Zakopane, the utilization of geothermal water (Księdzulorz himself is the president of the Geoterma Company), and the development of tourism infrastructure in Zakopane.

"We cannot allow Smokowiec (Slovakia) to become the capital of the Tatra Mountains. After eliminating coal heating from Zakopane, and after reducing the air pollution here, we will win."


In Zakopane I am visited by an acquaintance of mine. She is a Chinese woman from Malaysia, and she studies in London. Tomorrow we are going to the mountains. Today I shall find a room for her.

"Over there, over there," says the lady in the first hotel as she shows us the exit. There are no free rooms in this hotel.

At the reception desk in the next hotel we find a note that says, "I am eating supper." I explain to my friend that we should wait for a moment. After a while the receptionist arrives, with a roll still in her mouth. There is no vacancy, she says.

We visit the most expensive hotels. At each place the receptionist says that right now they have more visitors than rooms. The eyes of my Chinese friend get wide, because the prices in these hotels are as high as in London or in the U.S. -- but there are no free rooms here.

We have been wandering for four hours. We walk along Krupówki Street, which has a lot of garbage on it. "Zakopane, Zakopane, sun, mountains and highlanders," sing a few young fellows drinking cheap wine.

The next day I go to the Tatra Chamber of Commerce. "Do you have any idea what to do with Zakopane?" I ask them.

"Oh, yes. We need to bring tourists to Zakopane. We will build new ski lifts in the Tatra Mountains, and we will modernize the old ones."

I cannot agree with them. "But there is no room to sleep here."

"The ski lifts must go up first -- they will bring tourists to us. Then we will build hotels," explains the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Andrzej Karpiel. "Thanks to the new ski lifts, the tourist season in Zakopane will be prolonged to ten months per year."


In the Ministry of Nature Conservation, the officers talk about the situation of Byrcyn very reluctantly, "because some very important people are intervening in this case." It is hard to guess who is intervening. No names.

In a letter to the Ministry dated January 30, 1993, the Tatra Chamber of Commerce asked that the director of the Tatra National Park be changed. The list of addressees is noteworthy. The letter was sent to the Office of the President of Poland, to the members of Parliament, to the "Polish Tatra Company," to the Tourist Cooperative "Gromada," and -- separately -- to Minister M. Wachowski, with the remark that "we ask you to support our efforts." There are no other remarks on the letter.

When asked about the unusual specification of Minister Wachowski, Chairman Karpiel answered, "if nothing gives the results we want, we need to involve the higher representatives." Asked whether Minister Wachowski is in charge of national parks, Andrzej Karpiel responded, "Minister Wachowski has visited Zakopane many times, and he feels the same way we do about the problems of this region."

I wanted to ask Minister Wachowski for a comment, but he was quite elusive and did not want to see anyone from the Gazeta.

The Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, and the Main Nature Conservationist, Professor Andrzej Grzywacz, responded to the letter of the Chairman of the Tatra Chamber of Commerce, saying: "You asked that the director of the Tatra National Park be changed, and this was your entire idea about how to solve all the difficult problems. You did not present any specific objections." And then, with an irony quite rare in official letters: "You would be very surprised if the Ministry of Environmental Protection were to ask the Tatra Chamber of Commerce to change its chairman. However, you consider the opposite situation acceptable, and you inform 17 different institutions and persons about that."

The Vice Minister reminded the Chairman that the director of a national park is appointed and dismissed by the Minister of Environmental Protection, after asking the State Council of Nature Protection for its opinion. The Minister takes into account the opinions of the State Council of Nature Protection, the local commissions of nature protection, the scientific council of the national park, and the supervisory offices of the state headquarters of national parks. "I have no information from these instutions about any faults in the management of the National Park. The park management complies with the regulations of the Nature Protection Act, it fulfills its duties properly, and it has made substantial achievements in this field."

The report of the Commission of National Parks and Nature Reserves of the State Council of Nature Protection says that "the tendency of smart individuals, who like to call themselves 'businessman,' to achieve financial advantages is recently taking very aggressive forms. A good example is Zakopane, one of the richest places in Poland, where by unfair manipulation some are trying to dismiss the director of the National Park in order to profit from the Tatra Mountains' nature, which is the property of the whole nation."


"The law can be changed, because the law is for people," says Andrzej Karpiel. The local activist of the Democratic Union agrees with him.

Karpiel came back to Podhale after spending more than ten years in the United States. He did not start out very typically for a highlander; he went not to Chicago, but to Los Angeles. At first he worked at a filling station. Then he lived in Colorado, and even in Alaska. Finally he started his own business.

"When I went to America, I swore an oath that I would come back. I brought money. I cannot tell how much."

He owns a construction firm in Zakopane. He built a large house, which he then sold for 500 dollars per square meter. Now he is trying new investments. He says that he knows how to attract money from abroad to Podhale, how to animate Zakopane.

"I dream about an exclusive ski resort in the area of Kasprowy Wierch. Of course, it would not be able to compete with the Alps, but it would be large enough to make the tourist business prosper."

Karpiel says he does not understand why the managers of the National Park are opposed to the idea.

"The mountains are being damaged not by the skiers, but by air pollution coming from Zakopane," he says.

The houses Karpiel builds will be heated by oil or gas, to eliminate the poisonous coal. Karpiel feels that Byrcyn caused the delay in granting money for building gas installations in Zakopane because he had not prepared the appropriate opinion.


I walk with Director Byrcyn through Zakopane. He says that Zakopane's largest problem is coal heating. In 1991 he supported the efforts of the town to get funds for building gas installations.

"Don't you care about the whole campaign against you? Aren't you afraid that the 'important people' may finally dismiss you?"

"I have been appointed the head of the National Park to take care of it. For generations, my ancestors have been farmers, taking care of their land. I must defend what I have been given -- this is my duty. My duty is to preserve the Tatra Mountains for you, for my children, for the entire country. Our Tatra Mountains cover such a small area that we cannot allow them to be destroyed."


Three activists, from the Democratic Union, the Tatra chapter of the Podhale Union, and the Tatra Chamber of Commerce, all say with one voice: "Byrcyn behaves like Rejtan. We want someone else, someone with an open mind."

In the July 11 issue of Echo Krakowa, journalist Jan Frenkiel wrote: "I have heard that in Zakopane now -- and for at least the past five months -- if you want to insult someone, . . . you say to him, 'YOU BYRCYN!'"

(in this text, fragments of the report by Paweł Smoleński have been used)


The construction of the cable car on Kasprowy Wierch (the first one in the Polish part of the Tatra Mountains) was started on July 28, 1935. "The forests were cut, and the area was recklessly and ruthlessly devastated," wrote Walery Goetel in November, 1936. The grand opening of the cable car took place on February 26, 1936.

The work was initiated without asking the owners of the land for permission. This was possible due to the support of the Vice Minister of Transportation, Aleksander Bobkowski, who was a son-in-law of President Ignacy Moocicki.

Apart from the cable car on Kasprowy Wierch, there are now five chair lifts and five other ski lifts within the boundaries of the Tatra National Park. The Tatra National Park has tentatively accepted a tourist management plan for the Ku?nice - Kasprowy Wierch area which proposes modernizing the cable-car and increasing its transportation capacity by 100% -- from 180 people per hour to 360 people per hour. The plan also includes modernizing the chair lifts in the Goryczkowa and G1sienicowa valleys, building another chair lift in the G1sienicowa valley on the slopes of Beskid (provided that the landscape study is accepted), building a new ski lift in the upper part of the Goryczkowa valley, and building a portable ski lift for sport skiers in the lower part of the Owinska valley.

In October of this year, the Scientific Council of the Tatra National Park shall present its opinion concerning the landscape study and shall evaluate the new plan to rebuild the cable car on Kasprowy Wierch. This plan includes changing the cable car route, dismantling the middle station on the top of Myolenickie Turnie, and increasing the transportation capacity of the cable car to more than 800 people per hour. If the opinion of the Scientific Council of the Tatra National Park is accepted by the skiers' lobby, the mayor of Zakopane should commission the preparation of the management plan for the KuYnice - Kasprowy Wierch area before the end of this year.


The Tatra Mountains and their foothills were originally owned by Polish kings. In the sixteenth century, the administrators of different villages located in the Podhale area were given meadows in the Tatra foothills and mountain pastures deep in the mountains. Just before World War II, the majority of the forest in the Tatra Mountains was owned by the state -- 6600 hectares. 2200 hectares belonged (and still do) to the Witów forestry cooperative, and 2000 hectares belonged to Jerzy Uznanski. The meadows were owned by many different highlanders. Some of the mountain pastures were the common property of different villages around the Tatra Mountains, but some of them were owned by the Polish Tatra Society and by the State.

The Uznański lands were nationalized in 1945, while the property of the Polish Tatra Society was taken by PTTK in 1949. Now in the Tatra National Park (21400 hectares), private property amounts to 2600 hectares. 2200 belong to the Witów cooperative. The rest consists of small patches of forest and single meadows, owned by different highlanders or by the village.

Adam Wajrak
translated from Gazeta Wyborcza nr 218 17.9.93

GB No. 12, winter 1994 | Contents