Miroslav Janik

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Czech Republic
Fellow since 1996
This description of Miroslav Janik's work was prepared when Miroslav Janik was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996 .

Introduction

In the White Carpathian region of the Czech Republic, Miroslav Janík is helping to preserve the unique way of life of a micro-ethnic group and their historic positive interaction with the environment. His work is applicable to many areas in Central and Eastern Europe, where there are numerous small micro-ethnic groups who are in danger of disappearing.

The New Idea

The mountainous White Carpathian area is home to a population of Moravian Czechs who have lived there for centuries and have such a distinctive culture that they constitute a micro-ethnic group among themselves. Miroslav Janík, who is a White Carpathian, has founded a grass-roots organization to maintain their way of life and the agricultural environment in which it is set. Though he sees himself as an environmentalist, his work differs from his peers in the Czech Republic in that he makes no distinction between protecting the Carpathian place and the human settlements there; he sees their fates asintertwined. He promotes stewardship of the cultural diversity that the region represents in an increasingly homogeneous world, both as an end in itself and as the most effective means for maintaining its bio-diversity. A key part of his work is to give support to the White Carpathians who are being forced by the changing economy to abandon their traditional livelihoods. Miroslav realizes that the needs of these people are as varied as they are many. Accordingly, he has established a comprehensive support center, which provides a range of services to enable them to remain in their historical communities and work out the economic adjustments that make that possible.

The Problem

The Czech government established a protected region in Bile-Karpaty, or the White Carpathians, in 1980. The principal reason for this action was to preserve its unique diversity and historic ecosystem. The region is famous for its outstanding orchards and beautiful meadows, which create a uniquely beautiful landscape. This landscape is mainly due to the traditional agricultural activities of the peasants who have lived in the region for centuries.

However, as the Czech Republic moves into the twenty-first century, the traditional way of life and agricultural production of this region is in serious decline. Many of the once-thriving farming communities have been abandoned by their residents who have moved to larger urban areas in search of greater economic opportunity. Those few individuals who have stayed in the region and continued to farm are faced with a great deal of instability. State subsidies for agriculture have all but disappeared. Cooperatives have been disbanded, property rights are unclear and many of the local economies are now in a shambles. Together these factors pose a serious threat to the traditional balance in the ecosystem in a pattern all too familiar around the world: forests sold for revenue, for example, or high-yield agricultural practices. Already unique botanical species are disappearing.

Economic reforms have brought new hardship to the region and a great deal of instability. Traditional handicrafts and arts are vanishing as people have been forced to seek new ways to earn money and support their families. Many are moving to the larger cities in search of work.

The Strategy

In 1988, Miroslav managed to purchase a neglected wooden farmhouse built in a traditional White Carpathian architectural style and he has recently completed the process required for its designation as a historic monument. He has completely restored the house, and it is now the home of the organization he founded and through which he works, known by its acronym, KOSENKA. The farmhouse and the adjacent property serves as the nerve center for the entire region's nongovernmental organizational movement and provides local citizens with print and video libraries and information archives.

Through KOSENKA, Miroslav is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy. He is working to create a network of citizens' organizations, schools, local authorities, land owners and farmers all interested in preserving the White Carpathians. Working together, network instruments are concentrating efforts on attaining grants and other sources of funds to help invigorate the depressed region. With Miroslav's guidance, they are developing a project they call "Considerate Tourism," which identifies camp sites for groups of hikers and other tourists and helps promote eco-tourism in the region. They have established an environmentally friendly hiking trail, which identifies monuments and natural history highlights in the region. In addition, working together through KOSENKA, they organize and support traditional handicrafts and folk ensembles. For example, they have been able to restore and begin operating a traditional weaving business. Every year, they organize Wallachian Fairs where local creativity is illustrated in the products that are sold, and they have also organized an international conference on the economy of the sub-mountainous region of the White Carpathians.

A critical program of Miroslav's work is the network's bio-diversity protection program, which brings environmentalists and farmers together to work in close cooperation to protect the region's delicate ecosystem. They focus on the complex care of the many meadows which require hand mowing to ensure the protection and collection of seed material. They also work to restore abandoned meadows to their former state by carefully clearing the fields and sewing seeds. In addition, they provide training and seminars for farmers on environmentally responsible farming techniques.

KOSENKA focuses special efforts on educating children. The motto for that endeavor is "from the benches to nature," and its activities include summer camps, school debates and the distribution of environmental education materials. The goal is to instill environmentally considerate behavior within the young on a wide scale.

Once Miroslav has perfected his techniques and solidified his organization in the White Carpathians, he plans to use KOSENKA as model to spread his ideas on how to protect the rich micro-cultures that abound throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

The Person

Miroslav is a founding member of the local Czech Union for the Protection of Nature. This organization survived harassment from the former regime and was an active member of the opposition prior to the 1989 revolution. It continues to bring people together to learn about nature and how to protect the environment.

Miroslav is a former mathematics professor and painting teacher, but he sees his work with the environment as his "true calling."