Aare Kasemets. Cultural and natural heritage of holy natural places: preconditions for sustainability


Recognising and preserving national cultural heritage for the future generations is one of the core issues of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, and it is one of the foundations of the cultural policy. Estonia has signed the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; legal acts provide for possibilities to legally protect the cultural heritage. Nevertheless, several natural sanctuaries have been damaged in the last five years, and common law that is essential for the native culture has been violated (e.g. the grove of Paluküla, cross-pines of Rosma, and the grove of Panga).

The article aims to find solutions to the situation where the existing law and the traditional native common law fail to grant the preservation of the native sanctuaries and maintaining the tradition. The author also tries to uncover the reasons for the situation. The starting point is that maintaining nature-related traditional culture should be related to nature protection. The diversity of ethnic cultures related to native areas is at least as important global issue as the diversity of plant, animal, or bird species. it is claimed that any responsible and nowledge-based policy or law-drafting has to consider in addition to the evaluation of the impact on the society, environment, economy, management, and budget, also the impact on the cultural influences.

The first part of the article explains how the author started to deal with the issue of natural sanctuaries. it is claimed that the native tradition of holy natural places has survived the 13th-century conquest, Middle Ages, destruction of groves in the 17th and 18th centuries, Russification of Estonia in the tsarist period, Communist revolution of 1917, Soviet occupation, scientific-technical revolution, and even the first invasion of the supremely liberal market economy.

The second part of the article discusses the relations of culture and law as a research topic of anthropology of law and sociology of law. Such issues will be addressed as the institutional preconditions for state development plans, sustainability of their application, and the self-regulating role of traditional culture and common law in society: fewer laws and institutions are needed in case of an efficient culture of nature conservation. The saving attitude towards nature, common for the old traditional culture, has close parallels to the ideas of public land access and sustainable development – common principles of contemporary environmental law. The synergy of native traditional culture and state law-drafting contributes to sustainable cultural and environmental policy. The conf lict between the native traditional culture and law-drafting reduces not only legal, but also social (incl. the behaviour of officials and entrepreneurs) and cultural (common values, attitudes, and behaviour of people) validity of laws passed by the parliament. The agreement between the state institutions and representatives of nongovernmental organisations of Estonia (2006) stresses particularly the need for the civic engagement of the native population who are the bearers of the local memory.

Legal culture is a part of the cultural history, language, and institutional network of a nation. Sociological investigations, involvement of the stakeholders, and collecting oral tradition give us information about the awareness and value systems of people, as well as their openness to changes. The author thinks that most politicians, jurists, and other participants in the law-making of present-day Estonia have begun to understand that laws and development plans are intertwined with the society – the effectiveness of their application depends also on their correspondence to traditions, shared values, and public opinion. Studies show that as an opposite trend to globalisation the Estonian local people value their native culture, and the majority of population has high expectation for politicians and officials in respect to protection of natural and cultural heritage.

The third part of the article analyses provisions related to holy natural places that can be found in the Heritage Conservation Act, Nature Conservation Act, Environmental impact Assessment and Environmental Management System Act, and Planning Act. The author also discusses instructions for the assessment of draft development plans, legal acts, and planning initiatives. Twelve preconditions for the sustainability of the planned development plan of natural sanctuaries will be presented. The article also stresses the need to study the reasons for intentional or unintentional damaging of groves and other natural sanctuaries. Starting from the assumption that social networks involve mostly shared responsibility, it is necessary to analyse the possibilities hidden in the cooperation of ministries, scientists, teachers, leaders of local communities, associations of landowners, and nongovernmental organisations engaged in natural and cultural heritage protection. Based on the institutional theory it is claimed that the validity of laws and development plans related to cultural heritage protection requires studying and shaping relations, norms, routines, artefacts, and other invisible regulations of institutions. Written political declarations or legal acts can impact institutions and culture only indirectly.

Part four discusses the possibilities of cooperation between different actors (incl. nongovernmental institutions) interested in the sustainability of holy natural places and natural and cultural heritage. The law offers enough possibilities for protecting natural sanctuaries, and there are comprehensive instructions, both at the national and regional level, for estimating environmental, social, and cultural impacts of draft development plans. Therefore, it is claimed that the problems arise from the administrative capacity of state and local authorities. Another problem is the limited knowledge of officials and specialists responsible for the assessment of environmental impact. The author expects a closer cooperation between cultural and environmental organizations in guarding the activities of public authorities and supporting the establishment of the planned inventory of holy natural places. An essential precondition is a more efficient use of the internet to intertwine the values of the native traditional culture and those based on modern European cultural traditions.

The old Estonian nature-related culture with its natural sanctuaries is a cultural treasure of the native populations of the contemporary world that has entered into a chain of ecological catastrophes. Nature-related culture needs to be thoroughly studied interdisciplinary and brought back to use. its basic principles are close to present-day deep ecological and ecosophic treatments of ecosystems and the relations between nature and culture. Launching a state development plan of holy natural places is a historical chance for achieving synergy and combined effect of the old nature-related traditional common law and the modern law based mainly on translated culture.

Aare Kasemets