By Tibor Hartel
Many rural communities in Romania are still tightly connected to landscapes, e.g. a great percentage of their basic food (egg, milk and milk products, fruits, vegetables, water, meat etc.) comes directly from nature.
Small scale agriculture as practiced by these people is the key driver of the species rich and unique landscapes of Eastern Europe. Small scale farming is more than a human activity generating basic resources: it is an ecological function in these landscapes. A number of organisms which are dependent on these agricultural activities are still abundant in these landscapes (such as the corncrake, cotton grass, many orchids, amphibians like the yellow-bellied toad, which inhabit temporary ponds, but also symbols of wilderness like the brown bear and wolf), yet endangered in many countries of Western Europe due to land use intensification, infrastructural and other developments.
And the good things don’t end here. Natural elements remain a key part of the diversity of traditions, folklores, traditional ecological knowledge, and many other aspects of a rural life (from stork to plants, sun, rain etc.).
Yet it seems that subsistence farmers – the people who maintain these rich landscapes – don’t feel well in these times. Many have told me that life was much better before 1989 (during communism) than after the revolution, in the democracy. Why? Because life after `89 is much more unstable, and harder than before. And that ‘you can get 300 euro per month much more easily from a nearby factory than from working the land’. Money was the core of the problem: there is an increased need for money in everyday life.
During his recent visit, my colleague and friend Ioan Fazey asked me: ‘Are you sure that life after `89 is really harder or it is just the perception of people about the past?’
With this, he opened the box for a number of questions and issues.
If people’s perception of life changed, what might be the reason for that? Is it possible that the quick release from a socialist-communist world (and isolation) and the accessibility of Western Europe (its wealth and lifestyle – how people look, their behavior, the possibilities for children etc.) hit these people in a way that they suddenly feel poor and lost?
Aside from perception, there is no doubt that life is increasingly dependent on money. And things tend to be expensive. For example if parents want to educate their children — in 2011 this is more important than it was 50-60 years ago and the financial constraints are very real.
Perception about ‘reality’ is an important driver of people’s lives. The social-economic surroundings (i.e. the European Union) are important in shaping the perceptions of people about their own reality.
To meet the type of expectations which are induced by the ‘western lifestyle’ money is needed.
Sometimes I call the very biodiverse landscapes of the Saxon area ‘dead landscapes’. Because it seems that people don’t feel comfortable with their life (anymore), and they dream about a different lifestyle – and they have the right to do this. They continue to do traditional farming but most of them dream about something else. And part of that something else is land use intensification, infrastructure development and other changes associated with a more modern life. Through such changes, however, the days of the wolves, bears, corncrakes and yellow bellied toads might be counted. The same is true for the knowledge and lifestyle which created and shaped these landscapes for centuries.
If we use the ‘sustainable development’ concept as ‘normative’ (to cite Joern Fischer), what can be done?
Thanks to Joern Fischer, Ioan Fazey and Jacqueline Loos the inspiring talks about this subject.