Changing people's relationship to their environment

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Moravian-Silesian Beskids - location map in Moravian-Silesian Region

Introduction and general events

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a large part of geographically bounded places have been remarked by human activity. From some of them people disappeared long time ago and archaeological finds are the only trace left after ancient residents. At present, the majority of these places is being directly affected by people, whether their homes or various spheres of human interests are located there. While in certain areas, people will appear only in the future, for example, the Arctic Circle territories can be presented.[1] People are equally affected by the environment where they live and which surrounds them. Predominantly they are in contact with their home country. It provides them livelihoods, inspiration, shelter, work, etc. It is linked with their lives.

People can sometimes lose their natural ties to the environment. Since the industrial revolution, a great fading away of nature, often replaced by functionally built urban structures, has occurred in a lot of places. The feeling of emptiness, cause of which can be seen in the loss of natural links with the country, is then characteristic for inhabitants of these areas. Arts, culture, literature and all diverse specific aspects of democratic human society can well replace the open landscape. But people here see the world created by them solely, stars and nature are too remote for them.[2]

Besides the urban cites, globalisation also brings a great change with lots of specifics to human relationships to the home environment. In general, we could say that human attention focuses more on remote sites and glaring colourful things. Already for a long period of time, travelling, work, electronic background, imported products, etc. affect the human relationship to their environment, which is well illustrated on the captured experience by the 19th century German-Jewish poet Schivelbusch. "I feel as if the mountains and forests of all countries were advancing on Paris. Even now, I can smell the German linden trees; the North Sea's breakers are rolling against my door."[3] Offered outlines largely shift out natural connections between people and their surroundings. During the conversation with the Finnish maritime engineer Allister I realized that deteritorialisation, links with distant places, remote people and different cultures, can also bring awareness of the significance of own environment.

Following parts of the case study will be devoted to the interrelationship of people and landscape associated with Beskydy Protected Landscape Area - Beskids. I tried to offer a general view of the current situation by comparing long prevailing natural human approach to landscape in Beskids and other, predominantly European, regions. For a detailed specification and illustration, I also draw from my own surveys and interviews with local residents.


Gruss aus Beskiden

History and culture

The area of the Beskids has been inhabited for a very long time. Approximately at the time of 4500 BC man already settled down there - during the geological periods of Epiatlantic and Atlantic.[4] In the Beskids region, a lot of historical sites and preserved ancient wooden houses can be seen. For example the Roznov castle from the early 14th century,[5] or Wallachian Open Air Museum, beautifully displaying the wooden houses and the unique culture of the Beskids dwellers.[6] Prevailing part of the current inhabitants can be identified by the word "Wallachians" associated with the area Wallachia overlapping the Beskydy mountains. The ancient culture of local people had preserved in the Beskids for a long time up to the first half of the 20th century, but during the socialistic era from the 1940s it was largely and forcibly suppressed. Wooden houses, folk customs, handicrafts and traditional farming are characteristic for original culture of the Beskids. Thanks to the effort of local dwellers, this unique culture can still be seen in a few places like Velke Karlovice or Velka Lhota villages.[7]

Beskydy Protected Landscape Area and natural environment of this area

Beskydy Protected Landscape Area - Beskydy PLA - is a protected landscape located over a large part of Outer Western Carpathians - thereinafter Beskids. It was created in 1973 and today protects over 1160 km2 of diverse landscape. Its priority is to protect the unique flora and fauna typical for Western Carpathians. To a certain extent, Beskydy PLA participates in the area development. By the means of various projects, it endeavours to support traditional crafts, which include carpentry of wood, blacksmithing, weaving, glass industry, etc. and renaissance of natural land management. [8] Overall, Beskydy PLA helps to preserve and inspirit the culture of its ancient inhabitants. Predominantly strict architectural forms of allowed buildings, which help to design the picture of the Beskids, can be seen in protected landscape as essential. Still, Beskydy PLA has a long road ahead in certain fields like forestry with restoration of devastated forests and future perspective linked with support of the sustainable development of the Beskids.

Beautiful diverse nature, typical for the Beskids, is very essential for its people; whether pure, or through human interference saved in good form, preserved only in certain places, largely geographically difficult to access. Primaeval forests largely composed of deciduous trees were characteristic for the original environment, providing a suitable home for colourful and rare animals from owls to lynx. [9] Coexistence between man and nature enabled a long-term interplay between organisms and created unique and precious landscape. Due to the human presence since the 12th century, especially during the time of large-scale industrialization of the area in the 19th and 20th century, original nature of the Beskids changed and edged away.

Current situation and the people's relationship to the Beskids environment

Today's picture of the Beskids is diverse and colourful. Very diverse locations are separated from each other only by short distances. Wallachian Open Air Museum is just a few steps away from strictly protected beech forests, but also as close as about two kilometres from the industrial site in Roznov pod Radhostem. Primaeval nature in the Beskids mostly preserved in geographically isolated parts. At present, people are not merely inhabitants of the environment but became its architects as well. The relationship between man and landscape has changed. With their today abilities, people can reshape the whole picture of landscape in a far greater extent than ever before. This ability is linked with a considerable duty to the environment. For example, by planting of Sessile Oak they would be able to shift the Beskids’ lowlands back to the balance; or people can reinvigorate a large number of animals and help with the restoration of the original environment by returning of extinct wolves back to nature.

During the period of last twenty years, people's relationship to the landscape as well as their way of life has greatly changed for better in the Beskids. Democratization allowed for a remarkable "all-round development" and "opening" of the ordinary people to extraordinary things previously forbidden. It may be considered as the main cause of this great change. For variously important reasons, this transformation passes in the spirit of "convergence" of the Czech Republic to Western European countries, in personal as well as in regional development, etc. Better access to education, art, essential projects, and even to own family, are well-visible changes. All these things blend together and create everyday life texture with globalisation in the background, bringing along ever-present extensions and remote images, which seem to be far closer than they truly are. Scheuerman very well describes connection of globalisation with geographical distances in the general discourse on globalisation. "Geographical distance is typically measured in time. As the time necessary to connect distinct geographical locations is reduced, distance or space undergoes compression or “annihilation”."[10] Further, globalisation has brought inherent changes in travelling. Quickly increasing possibilities of travel directly affected people in Central Europe. In the past twenty years, geographically distant sites drew closer and linked to each other. Similar situations occurred nearly all over the world - very advanced in certain places, elsewhere they will occur in the future. Difference can be seen in the comparison of long democratic countries with post-communist or post-totalitarian countries.[11] The travelling well illustrates one of globalisation specifics, which can very well bring the prosperity or harm to a certain area.

At present, it could not be said that prevailing part of Beskids inhabitants feels a warm relationship to its environment. People often keep a particular distance from nature and landscape, and rather take it as something traditional and not very interesting. But surely, the best part of people would not wish to harm the Beskids environment. The present situation may seem unsatisfactory, but compared to the Beskids appearance in the 1990, a great progress towards the sustainable development of the Beskids region and the restoration of disrupted nature can be seen in certain parts. Globalisation can help to create a mutually beneficial link between human and the land, as well as to break it. This difficulty can be well presented by social networks or websites, such as Facebook, Flickr, etc., which are able to detach the user from the outside world, or to bring him a requisite inspiration for the solution of problems occurring in his home. All depends on people, whether they can walk up by themselves and perceive the future by heart.[12]

Period of the mid-20th century

People were far more linked with the Beskids in the period of the mid-20th century, than they are today. The reason lies in traditional ties to land as a provider of livelihood to ordinary people; employments were often linked with the Beskids region and more people worked in their surroundings. The absence of elements of today's globalisation is also significant. The Beskids with its inhabitants are still deeply affected by the forty-year period of socialism and unitary planning. The traces can be well seen in the remaining caginess of inhabitants, and in necessary restoration of the environmentally friendly way of obtaining the raw materials from the earth.[13]

The 1940s and 1950s might be considered as a time, before which broader intact biotopes retained and globalisation was before its abrupt diffusion. In the second half of the twentieth century the large devastation of nature in Wallachia and Beskids occurred. This was not caused by globalisation as such, rather by socialist planning and insensitive development of industry, improper agriculture, as well as by a lack of care for the countryside. Although certain damages to the Beskids landscape are older. Spruce trees planting began in the 17th century; regulations of river Bečva and its tributaries, unsuitable by its substance and architecturally wrong performed, largely started in the 19th century. It is also essential to mention the long-term discharge of predators as well as other native animals in Beskids.

Similar regions in Europe

The change of people's relationship to their environment is largely caused by globalisation and occurs in prevailing part of the world. People from the African Tuareg culture, affected by a wide spectrum of intruding "western world", to the French part of Quebec, where residents argue about the question of own identity due to changing economic-cultural links with other Canadian territories, come together with changes brought about by globalisation.

The Beskids are very similar to many European regions. Equal issues often occur in local regions of post-communist, as well as of long democratic, European countries. The province of Cantabria in northern Spain along the Atlantic coast and certain parts of the neighbouring province of Asturias are, with their past development, very similar to Beskids region. Despite the rich historical and cultural heritage, they are facing the long promoted centralized development and artificial links with the rest of Spain.[14] In these regions was the time of Franco regime directly followed by the period of extensive globalisation changes. Lot of problems are, as well as in the Beskids, still waiting to be solved. The economic development, not very sensitive to their environment and to the historical character of regions, and the required restoration of traditional connection of people to the landscape are one of them.

Globalisation brings along not only problems for local regions. In the Hohe Tauern were people partially successful in linking the traditional background of the region with the developing winter ski tourism.[15] Globalisation brings to certain places a lot of sources. If people are able to use them for their true benefit, it will help their own culture as well as their environment.

Possible alternative for the “general approach” is the solution originated from south-eastern Austrian border region Styrian Vulkanland.[16] For a long time, this area was tainted the border location. Residents however succeedibly established long-life sustainable projects ^- for example culinary, handicraft and culture tourism - which supports fields specific for the region. Styrian Vulkanland concentrates on the sustainable development and the creation of local dwellers uniqueness recognition. People were able to economically and culturally develop the declined boarder region, without the reliance on foreign investors and financial supply from remote locations.

Beskids inhabitants

I decided to picture the current inhabitants’ view of Beskids to capture the ordinary people's relationship to their environment. Following parts generally describe their links with the Beskids. The survey was performed in the form of interviews with Beskids inhabitants and took place in February 2011.

Julie Vlckova

Year of Birth: 1937

Current home: Valasske Mezirici

Julie Vlckova was born in Novosedly, a village near the Czech-Austrian border. Her parents were from geographically and culturally different territories - Prerov and South Moravian Czech-Austrian border. During childhood her parents moved very often up to 1956. At that time, when she was finishing her studies at school, Mrs. Vlckova moved to Valasske Mezirici, where she still lives. Part of her family was shifted to Austria and Germany in 1945 and 1946. Because of political situation in post-war Czechoslovakia, meetings of each other were disallowed. Having found home and work in the economic sector in the Beskids were therefore for Mrs. Vlckova especially important. With her husband Mr. Vlcek they successfully passed the difficult communistic period of Czechoslovakia. Mrs. Julie Vlckova has been for a long time interested in nature, biology, literature and she often travels across foreign countries after the democratization of Czechoslovakia.

For the Beskids, traditional ties of their dwellers to natural environment are essential. For Mrs. Vlckova, these are care for her garden and cultivation of her own fruit and vegetables, trees planting and herbs gathering. Through these small things, people get connected to the landscape.

Relation to the Beskids: Feeling of home, their environment provides her a rest and is unique by the beautiful nature. Preservation of the traditional picture of the Beskids through the cultivation of her own products, tree planting and adherence to cultural practices.

Ladislav Vlcek

Year of Birth: 1929

Current home: Valasske Mezirici

During his childhood, Ladislav Vlcek lived in the village of Podlesi located near Valasske Mezirici. He moved to Valasske Mezirici in 1947 with his parents, who originate from the Beskids - the village of Hukvaldy and the village of Jarcova, and he still lives there. Despite the difficult post-war period, he successfully learned the confectionery in 1949. Mr. Vlcek self-built a cottage near the village of Bystricka in 1970s. Despite the situation and the position with the building at that time, the cottage was constructed in accordance with basic principles of sustainable architecture, using primarily local resources and respecting natural landscape character. Mr. Vlcek artistically carved wood and piloted a sail plane aircraft – glider – in the local aero club.

Connection with the Beskids: Ladislav Vlcek has lived in the Beskydy region a lifetime. At a time, when almost no person talked about a “green building”, he succeeded in building a cottage according to its fundamental principles. By artistic wood carving, sail plane aviation and through a lot of other colourful activities, he has promoted the cultural and social side of the Beskids.

Martina Novosadova

Year of Birth: 1991

Current home: Mala Bystrice

Martina Novosadova was born in the village of Valasska Bystrice and lives in the village of Mala Bystrice, both villages are located in Vsetinske vrchy mountains. Her parents are originally from the Beskids. She likes travelling and finds the environment around her home in the PLA Beskydy important for her. She collects forest berries and herbs there, grows fruit and in the winter cares for forest animals. At present, Martina Novosadova studies at university in Prague, where she stays most of her time. She would like to go back to Wallachia after the graduation.

Looking at the Beskydy region and Prague, we can compare the various effects of globalisation on different places. People have been leaving "peripheral" and in a globalized world "less attractive" regions, to large urban cities for a long period of time. Between the Beskids and Prague, similar ties can be seen.

Relation to the Beskids: Versatile links with nature around her home. Despite her current studies in Prague and her favour in travelling and distant lands exploring, she would like to return to the Beskids.

Danek Cab

Year of Birth: 1989

Current home: Velka Lhota

Danek Cab has lived in Velka Lhota – a village in the upland near Valasske Mezirici – since he was born. His parents originate from the Beskids. He studies a technically-oriented field and is a member of the association of volunteer firemen. Due to all-round tourism, he very well orientates in primarily wooded terrain in geographically and culturally bounded local region of Velka Lhota. Danek Cab cares about events in the village of Velka Lhota and the area surrounding Valasske Mezirici. He considers difficult access to the European or state subsidies for the village, and the need of restoration of natural appearance of land associated with the traditional architecture appropriate to Wallachia as long prevailing problems.

Relation to the Beskids: Good orientation in the landscape around his home and effort to its restoration. Appreciates Velka Lhota local region for its unique environment and considers it his home.


After the mid-20th century, people's relationship to their environment has changed in the best part of the world. Originally intact people's relationship to landscape nearly disappeared in certain places. At most "territories of the northern hemisphere" it is still maintained solely due to a foreseeing people and ancient culture. Although it is possible to encounter a surprisingly deep bilateral connection of people and their environment from time to time – situation of the Austrian border region Styrian Vulkanland. Human activities could be of high significance for nature. People's relationship to the environment determines their effect on it. Possible change of this relationship will inevitably affect the landscape and its inhabitants. Virtually, it does not matter too much, whether globalisation is in the background of a change, even though that carries with it countless diverse specificities as loss of biodiversity, deteritorialisation, human time blur and suppression of geographically separated field's exceptionalities. It is us who literally decide about the future. Like an architect who indeed designs the appearance of proposed house, not a software programme.

The Beskids are specific by well visible difference between the 1940s and current period. People were far more linked with their environment in the first half of the 20th century. At present, links are for the best part of dwellers rather subconscious and often viewed as "antiquated". But in a picture of today’s Beskids inhabitants, good and so needed links to nature and culture of Wallachia also appear, delivering a promising way forward due to remarkable and well educated people. Light at times shines in a direction where we would expect it least. In the case of areas like the Beskids, it is necessary to go back to ancient culture, nature, history and its own uniqueness in certain aspects. After that, people will be supported by local regions, which will deliver better, sensitive future.


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