Grasshopper no 1, Winter '93
World War II and the subsequent deportations led to an almost complete depopulation of the region. Operation Wisla displaced the indigenous inhabitants to the Koszalin and Legnica (Western Poland) regions. The population density fell to 4 persons per square kilometer. In the burnt and empty villages, forest grew over the ruined houses. The plantations grew wild, the living stock died out. The most successful were the cats, mixing with the lynxes. The soil was not cultivated for ten years. Now, when the forest rate is 70%, it is very difficult to imagine that before the war it was only 30%.
In the 50's and 60's the newcomers were mainly season workers. The former Ukrainians' farms were taken over mainly by the repatriates who because of Operation HT (Hrubieszow-Tomaszow, the operation changed the borderline between Poland and the USSR) lost their properties on the lands handed over the Soviet Union. Slowly, the new settlers were coming. They were promised high wages.
The Russian Orthodox churches were turned into barns, border guard stations and warehouse were dismantled to get material to build the stoves and chimneys. This period is sometimes compared to conquest of the Wild West in America. The people who came here became legendary.
Some Ukrainians succeeded in coming back. To do that, lots of "dealing and wheeling" was necessary as their farms were taken over the state and owned now by someone else. The residence permits were granted only to those who had a roof over their head.
The no man's land was first a hunting zone for the elite. Numerous State Owned Agricultural Farms (PGRs) were created, but since the conditions were handed over to the Ministry of Justice jurisdiction and from 1963 on, the landscape was diversified by working prisoners. Besides, there were also military agricultural enterprises.
In the 70's, a wood basin was to be created in the Bieszczady area. People say the idea came to a decision-maker's mind when he was flying above the Bieszczady area and saw a lot of greenery below.
A constant recruitment of forest workers was conducted and logging proceeded mercilessly. Apart from the Rzepedz woodmill, the Kombinat Ustianowa wood processing plant was built. The production costs were said to be higher than the value of the sold wood.
In the 80's, the state owned Igloopol company monopolized the whole region. It owned fields, barns, sheep shelters and even houses, shops and soda water factory belonged to it. The giant took over PGRs one by one, then it took over the military farms and the Interior Ministry properties as the salaries were not bad and one could get a flat as a remuneration.
The extensive cattle, horse and sheep rearing induced irreversible damage to the local flora and fauna. The BPN environmentalists protested against this.
After the 1989 Solidarity breakthrough, the Igloopol managers were charged with fraud. The attempts to sell the giant failed. Although lots of money had been invested in the enterprise, all offers were priced at a ridiculously low level. Finally, Igloopol went bankrupt. It remnants even now haunt the Bieszczady forest - in Moczary, Czarna, Michniowiec, Skorodne, Lutowiska, Smolnik, Lutowiska, Smolnik, Krywe and Tarnawa Nizna.
The skilled experts and executive managers left. The Ustianowa woodmill complex, once employing 1,200 people, went bankrupt. Also the Forest Building Enterprise underwent bankruptcy procedures and 200 employers were sacked.
The unemployment in Bieszczady reached 20 percent.
The big economic experiments in Bieszczady resulted in significant financial losses. They also destroyed the environment. Now, the hot issue is tourism.
The present tourism infrastructure is very modest. Nevertheless, the Bieszczady mountains have invariably been very popular with the tourists. The visitors are mainly students and scouts. More and more people come for skiing. The Polish Tourist and Country seeing Association is constructing big hotels.
It seems that tourism is a good idea for the development of the Bieszczady region, provided that the tourist investments are accompanied by the environmental investments which would prevent the tourist industry from overexpanding.
transl. Marcin Chyla