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ALTAI: CULTURE AND ECOLOGY UNITED

ALTAI: CULTURE AND ECOLOGY UNITED

Tatyana Gigel is a member of Committee of the Federation Council for Agrarian and Food Policy and Environmental Management. 

News agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community keeps on providing you with information about women senators. Tatyana Gigel is the person with whom we spoke about the Altai Republic, natural products and folk culture. 

– Tatyana, tell us please, what is Altai famous for? 

– Firstly, it is famous for its unique and extraordinarily beautiful nature. We have five conservation areas that are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. We are proud of this fact. Our water is so clean that one can drink from any river or stream. Our republic has a leading number of Specially Protected Nature Areas in Russia. They include two largest biosphere reserves, Altai and Katun Natural Reserves. Moreover, law protects a quarter of our territory, this is a unique case for Russia and other countries of the world. We do not build large factories. All this gives us the right to say that civilization has not touched us much.

On the one hand, it's fine. On the other hand, it's really difficult for us to plan economic activities. Our region always faces a dilemma, either to continue preserving the uniqueness of nature or to develop production.

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As I think, the government of the Altai Republic made the only correct decision, having chosen the development of agriculture and tourism. Vladimir Putin's visit to our region confirmed the correctness of the chosen path, as he declared that such a unique nature must be protected and preserved. 

– So, the region doesn’t build new factories. All its programs are focused on nature protection. How do then its citizens live? 

 At the end of the previous century, the government of our republic took the liberty of conducting a bold experiment. We have created the first in Russia environmental and economic region called Altai (EER Altai). Thanks to offshore, we managed to relatively comfortably survive the first post-Soviet decade. As a result, we have accumulated a huge experience to use when creating a new model of the green economy. This way is aimed at using the available natural potential. Today this way is referred to the so-called noospheric development.

On the basis of the selected priorities, we adhere to the concept of development of alternative energy, agriculture and tourism. Those directions of the economy do not harm nature much and thus allow us to preserve it. We achieved success in this area. We have three solar power stations with the capacity of 5 MW each. Now, within the framework of the green economy concept, we work on restoring EER Altai. Our developments have already received support in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. Moreover, a bill is being prepared for discussion first in the State Duma, and then in the Federation Council. On behalf of Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, we prepared project on the prevention of pollution and preservation of lake Teletskoye. This lake is the second most important reservoir of fresh water in Russia after lake Baikal. 

– If we talk about the development of tourism, how encouraging are the prospects for the development of this industry, in your opinion? 

– Every year about 2 million tourists visit the Altai Republic including Russians and foreigners. Many people are attracted by Mount Belukha, which is known worldwide. The Katun valley, lake Teletskoye and the Ukok Plateau also became important attractions for tourists. As I think, the experience of EER Altai of cooperation with nature protection organizations and structures helped us turn those territories most attractive for tourists into those of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Today their special status contributes to us in all environmental activities.

Altai is famous for its hospitality. Tourists sincerely tell us that they are surprised by the landscapes of the republic, the kindness of local residents, and natural food products including meat, cottage cheese, cheese, milk, and honey. Often we are told that they did not even imagine that food could have such an amazing taste. I am always glad because of this as a native resident of the Altai Republic, because I grew up in Gorny Altai and worked here all my life. 

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– What support do farmers get from regional authorities? 

 Our farms are basically small enterprises, we can even say family enterprises. They get support from federal and regional programs for farmers. Their peculiarity is that their production changes for the better not so much quantitatively as qualitatively. Everyone noticed that recent years, our farmers have become more likely to purchase the finest breeds of cows, horses, sheep, and so on. By the way, our farmers do not use chemical fertilizers and growth enhancers. It can be certainly said that in Gorny Altai we have a real subsistence farming.

Six years ago, I was in Moscow on a business trip and felt a bit sick. I had herbal Altai tea with me but had no honey. I went to the market, and bought there honeycomb honey, so as to be sure that that was natural honey. I was extremely surprised when this honey turned out to be sugar syrup. Outwardly it was indistinguishable from real honey. And the most insulting was that the label pointed to the Altai Mountains. But it was not our honey! That is why in recent years we are talking more and more about international quality standards, about production of all environmentally friendly products of Altai under a special brand. 

– Now everyone speaks a lot about ecology, but how do you maintain it in your region? 

 The main our people do is that they try not to violate environmental laws, carefully preserving the natural purity that has been created for centuries and even millennia. Our farmers adhere to the principles of traditional agriculture and long traditions of transhumance. The Altai Republic does not have chemical plants or large enterprises. You will not find industrial sewage in rivers and lakes of our region.

In the traditional Altai worldview, the nature management culture and the laws of ecology have never been divided. Our society considers culture and ecology as integrated whole. Many ethnographers notice this feature of the Altai tradition. In the current conditions, when our region accepts the growing flows of tourists, nature experiences a tremendous anthropogenic load. If everyone leaves trash, picks flowers, gets the car washed by the river, then of course such a unique region will not be able to save its nature. And we came to the conclusion that careful treatment of the environment should be brought up in people since childhood. That's why we joined the projects Ecolyata and Young Nature Protectors.

Through promoting those projects I understood that we are on the right way. We have no chance in saving nature without teaching our children in kindergartens the careful attitude to nature. Valentina Matvienko strongly supported us in this activity. This year, the environmental movement will include 85 regions of the Russian Federation. Now we are trying to reach the international level. In my opinion, it is very important that on our web-portal the children participate in contests for the best poem, song, composition, together hold environmental actions, and in every way contribute to the preservation of nature. One can only wonder how much children can influence the worldview of adults. In my understanding, on the basis of the original traditions of nature management and new approaches to environmental education, we will get a brilliant combination that in the future will contribute to the development of not only our region as a noospheric-type territory, but to the development of the entire planet as well. 

 Altai adopted a regional law on intangible cultural heritage, and it was supported in the Federation Council. Tell us more about this, please. 

– I am glad that the Altai Republic became the first region that issued such a bill. Valentina Matvienko said that it was time to support the regions, and proposed to adopt the law at the federal level. I am sure that if we preserve the culture, language, and traditions of our peoples, which may be compared to genuine diamonds in the crown of the Russian Federation, we will forever retain our identity and uniqueness. Russia is a peoples-rich country. Without the law on the intangible cultural heritage, it is very difficult to preserve the ethnic diversity of our country. In general, culture needs constant financial support. Material support is necessary for writers, directors, masters creating folk costumes and instruments, musicians and artists as well. I strongly believe that the laws on culture and ecology are of the same order.

Recently I participated in the preparation for the publication of fairy tales in the Altai language. Children had so much joy while reading about birds, squirrels, and bear cubs in their native language! In fact, this is also the part of teaching love for the homeland, the animal world, and care for the environment. 

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 How would you describe women of Altai? 

 These are amazing women, among whom there are many wonderful mothers having many children. Perhaps, from the point of view of modern citizens, they are not rich materially, but they are rich spiritually. All our women are convinced of the need to preserve their families, to increase the happiness of family and children.

In the Chemalsky district, we have a Museum of Altai culture, founded by Alexander Bardin. Recently, a delegation of foreigners came there. They admired the exhibits presented, the beauties of our nature, and at the same time our international guests could not understand why people in Altai pay so little attention to external wealth. It is difficult to explain them that we have natural meat and our own dairy products all year round, that we heat our homes with fire, not electricity, that we have clean water in rivers and springs, and that we can use all the ‘gifts of nature’ for free. They did not understand the wife of the founder of the museum when she told them that everyone had their own ideas about wealth and prosperity, we just needed to know the measure. Yes, it is also very beautiful abroad. Everyone has spacious houses. But why are those houses empty? Why are there no children laughing? Why does a person need so much to be happy? Maybe it is time for Europeans to think, who will inherit their property?

While thinking properly about it, it turns out that all these questions are about the true meaning of the present life and about our future. 

Agata Korovina, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


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