Positive and negative effects of cultural tourism development: changes and dynamics in the Polish region of Podlasie

Katarzyna Plebanczyk

Understanding heritage as the legacy of previous generations points to the role of heritage itself — it is a testimony to the lives of our ancestors, it teaches us about our roots, it helps us understand our past as well as contemporary systems of values and ways of interpreting reality, and it shapes our individual and group identity. The developmental potential of heritage stems from its historical, scientific, artistic, aesthetic, social, and economic values. Cultural heritage is considered one of the key factors in the attractiveness of European countries (especially in the context of tourism development), which tends to be tangibly expressed in the commodification of heritage resources through creating tourist products, which, paradoxically, can be both a stimulant and an impediment to culturally sensitive local development. In addition, heritage is increasingly recognized as important to cultural cohesion and identity of local communities (Harrison, 2002), hinged on the premise that these phenomena are more regional and local than nation-wide (Harvey, 2001; Graham and Howard, 2008; Waterton and Smith, 2010).

This chapter focuses on the tension between tourism development based on the commercialization of cultural heritage and that based on community well-being, cohesion, and cultural identity, which is an ongoing topic of debate in many regions. The case chosen for this chapter, Podlasie, is a largely rural and agricultural region of Poland. For decades, this region (Figure 7.1) remained on the periphery not only geographically but also in terms of the politics of national development, all the while preserving vast resources of cultural and natural heritage that had been conserved in the borderland for centuries. Polands accession to the European Union and the implementation of the EU cohesion policy led the authorities to take more interest in this region and to actively promote it for the sake of tourism development, consequently leading to Podlasie s accelerated development. At the same time, the local community’s high level of self-awareness led to the implementation of countless grassroots initiatives for the development of slow tourism, forcing regional authorities to accommodate their needs and desires. The very rapid changes in this region, structured within this tension between top-down development policy and bottom-up initiatives, have brought both positive and negative consequences.

Map of the Podlasie region, Poland

Figure 7.1 Map of the Podlasie region, Poland.

Source: Map data from Google Maps, ©2020 Google.

The dynamics of these changes and their effects have been observed over the last dozen years, mainly from the residents’ perspective or in regards to local development policy, while tourists’ perspectives and views have been largely omitted in these studies. This situation inspired the research presented here, which is based on a combination of analysis of secondary sources (including both scientific and popular literature), participant observation, and interviews with local community members. In the secondary sources, tourists’ opinions are expressed through quoted fragments of press articles and radio broadcasts, and are noticed through participant observation. To best illustrate the issues involved, the chapter has been organized as follows: first, it considers the context of cultural tourism; second, it presents the history and cultural heritage of the Polish region of; and third, it discusses the changes and dynamics in the Podlasie region resulting from cultural tourism development. It concludes by reflecting on the key challenges facing future tourism-based development in this region.

Cultural tourism

Cultural tourism is practiced by motivated and culturally oriented individuals, regarded by McKercher and Du Cros (2002) as cultural tourists in the strict sense, as well as tourists drawn by various one-off offers and impulses at the destination and by ‘post factum’ cultural tourists whose behaviours and encounters during the trip, for a variety of reasons, make up the consumption of experiences and services with a predominantly ‘cultural’ content (Mikos von Rohrscheidt, 2008). The traditional approach to cultural tourism has been to build integrated tourism products around key tourist assets such as buildings and places of cultural heritage or a specific intangible cultural heritage. Such a tourism product is the source of an entrepreneur’s income, directly affecting the development of their business and contributing to the economic advancement of their region. For this reason, it has long been supported by local and regional authorities, who create conditions conducive to the development of local tourism-oriented entrepreneurship and actively support promotional activities.

In recent years, as tourists seek new experiences and locales to visit, places and events that were primarily local destinations are now gaining more and more publicity in the mass media and at fairs and conferences. In situations where the influx of tourists has positive effects on cultural tourism, such as when tourists are attracted by local traditions and seen by locals as a source of income, residents may revive their interest in cultivating local traditions, folk costumes, regional cuisine, and so forth not only in order to lure tourists but also to explore their own roots and build their own identity. However, as destinations reach a level of high-popularity, the issue of overtourism can arise, with its associated concerns of crossing the thresholds of tourism capacity, in which case facilities become saturated and crowded, the environment becomes degraded, and guest satisfaction is reduced. Although overtourism is most often studied in the context of urban areas, it is also a phenomenon found in more rural locations on a seasonal basis. Overall, excessive tourist traffic tends to be analyzed as a clash of the interests represented by the following three parties: (1) entrepreneurs, whose goal is to maximize profits; (2) local residents, who want the places frequented by the crowds of tourists to remain their own and who do not want tourists to disrupt the comfort of their lives; and (3) tourists, who want to see places and make the most of their time there but also unwind (Mikos von Kohrscheidt, 2008; Walas et al., 2018).

Traditional discussions about tourism tended to overlook the needs of local communities, which started to be deemed important only after the emergence of the concept of sustainable development (WCED, 1987). However, with contemporary perspectives on tourism increasingly factoring in the role of local residents (Mowforth and Munt, 2003), promoting a participatory approach to tourism development (Postma, 2013), and focusing on the interests and quality of life of residents, local residents have strengthened their influence. Making use of their local empowerment and new means of communication, they speak loudly about mistakes such as a lack of awareness of tourism’s ‘dark sides’ for local communities, such as environmental degradation, disruptions in everyday social life, and commodification of living cultures.

The dissatisfaction of residents (not only in the context of tourism) has led to the reinforcement of the policy of good governance, promoted in public administration, to implement the principles of sustainable development and to attend

Effects of cultural tourism development 113 to the needs of local residents. In parallel, the centre of gravity in the policy of economic and social development has shifted to the ‘social’. This approach has been presented in such European conventions as the “Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society” (the “Faro Convention”; Council of Europe, 2005) and the “European Landscape Convention” (Council of Europe, 2000), which both emphasize the participation of local residents in heritage-related activities and decision-making, and where new social and economic conditions make it necessary to focus on social cohesion (Jeannotte, 2003), the well-being of local communities, and improving the quality of life in all areas (Oakley, O’Brien, and Lee, 2013).

Returning to the context of rural cultural tourism, it is important to acknowledge that rural cultural heritage widely encompasses customs, rituals, and all manifestations of human creativity such as objects of everyday use, crafts, farming methods, acquired skills, and landscape. Cultural heritage also includes protected and preserved folk culture resources such as open-air and indoor ethnographic museums, folklore events, religious sanctuaries, dialects (languages), folk holidays with associated rituals and customs, culinary traditions, rural theme trails, folk artists with their workshops, and folk art galleries - without any interest from the outside, the traditions of many places would be now long forgotten.

According to the UNWTO (2004), “the concept of rural tourism embraces a number of constituent elements, at the heart of which lie the rural tourism community. Rural tourism is dependent on the countryside which an area has to offer, its heritage and culture, rural activities and rural life” (p. 13). With rural environments undergoing constant change, the old folk culture is adopting a commercialized form, turning into an element of the regional tourist offer. On one hand, as cultural resources are filtered and tailored to cater for the needs and tastes of customers, they can become the victims of their own popularity, causing environmental degradation and contributing to the disruption of both environmental and socio-cultural ecosystems. On the other hand, rural tourism is predominantly based on local initiatives and local management, it is rooted in the local scenery and landscape, and uses local culture. Altogether, this emphasis on locality can contribute to place-specific and culturally sensitive regional development.

Each place has its own story to tell: the Polish Podlasie region as a borderland

Poland B - this is the colloquial term used to describe the part of Poland located east of the Vistula River. The division dates back to over 200 years ago, 1795 — the year of the last partition of Poland, which was followed by the 123-year-long apportionment of the country between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The Russian Partition, constituting the western frontiers of the then-Russia, had been a borderland area since the Middle Ages. It was thickly wooded, had low industrial potential, and meagre agricultural lands. It also recorded the slowestdevelopment. During the interwar period (1918—1939), the better-industrialized Poland A provided around 85 percent of electricity and 100 percent of steel production nationwide, whereas the economy of Poland B was much more agriculturally oriented (Maroszek, 1997; Dobronski, 2010). The governments Fifteen Year Plan (1939—1954), which involved such measures as bridging the gaps in the standard of living in Polands regions, was never implemented. The authorities gave priority to the formation of the Central Industrial District, especially in the face of the exacerbating international political situation, because it was an opportunity' to boost Polands economic potential by expanding its heavy and arms industries and reducing unemployment brought about by the Great Depression. After the Second World War, the Polish communist state continued to develop industry, while marginalizing the countryside, and particularly the rural areas which were to become the border between Poland and U.S.S.R. for the next 45 years to come. The number of industrial projects in the years 1950—1985 on the so-called “Eastern Wall” amounted to 0.1 percent of all investment projects of that period (Maroszek, 1997), which effectively' deprived the region of the capital required for its development. The historical problems and the resultant economic structure continue to influence contemporary' inequalities.

Following the collapse of the communist regime and the 1989 transformation, all the efforts and resources of the country were again directed towards industrial regions. As a result of these decisions, the transformation period led to disproportions in the country’s development so wide that the Council of Ministers, when adopting the “National Strategy' of Regional Development 2001—2006,” described Eastern Poland as the weakest region in terms of development effectiveness, infrastructure, and standard of living and in need of deep transformations and structural investments. It was only after 2004 (when Poland became a member of the European Union) that the cohesion strategy' brought about increased investment and proportional development of all regions of Poland. Even today, when compared with the rest of the country', the Eastern Wall is still marked by lower economic potential, dispersed agriculture, poor transport infrastructure, and long distances from urban centres. However, it also has great natural values as well as cultural heritage that is typical of the borderland region. Contemporary development is closely' linked with the share of agriculture in a communes (gmina’s) income, and hence with a difficult labour market and observed processes of depopulation (Rosner and Stanny, 2016).

Podlasie (Figure 7.1) occupies the greater part of the Eastern Wall, usually considered as an area on both sides of the middle Bug and the upper Narew Rivers. Due to its geography; it was a century-long backdrop for constant military battles and attempts to incorporate various nascent states, including Poland. Podlasie has always been a political, national, religious, social, and cultural borderland. It was formed by a number of mutually' penetrating and interacting ethnic and religious communities living there for centuries. In the early' Middle Ages, it was already under the influence of Mazovian dukes, whose legacy today includes fortresses and castles. The settlement processes initiated at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and lasting until the end of the eighteenth

Effects of cultural tourism development 115 century led to the formation of four main ethnic areas in the Podlasie region: Polish, Russian (Ukrainian), Belarusian, and Lithuanian-Yotvingian. In addition, the ethnic structure was enriched by the Tatar settlement and the intense Jewish settlement (especially in the seventeenth century; Wyrobisz, 1981).

The name Podlasie appeared as early as the thirteenth century in the works of Polish chroniclers and papal bulls (Plit, 2008), and its etymology has been explained in several ways: (a) it denotes the land located at the foot of the forests (which is still the regions unique feature today); (b) it is derived from the Russian language and stems from Podlasze or pod Lachami, which suggests that these lands once belonged to the Polish ethnic area; and (c) the name is derived from the Latin spelling of the word Pollexiami or Polesitae, which used to mean in Polish the Yotvingians who lived in these territories, an explanation that comes from the fifteenth-century chronicle by Jan Dlugosz (Darmochwal, 2003). The main cities of the region include Bialystok (with approximately 300,000 inhabitants), Suwalki (with approximately 70,000 inhabitants), and Lomza (with approximately 64,000 inhabitants). Overall, Podlasie is inhabited by about 1.2 million people, which constitutes 3.1 percent of the national population, with a population density only half of the national average (GUS, 2011a).

The cultural heritage of Podlasie is a testimony to how previous generations used to live: build churches, houses, and farmsteads; mark out and pave paths and roads; and cultivate the land. This heritage includes local customs, rituals, and all manifestations of human creativity, including craft products and everyday objects. Here, heritage also means landscape. Podlasie is one of the best-preserved natural areas in the country. Its unspoiled condition is maintained by a large number of areas recognized as naturally active, including meadows, pastures, woodlands, waters, and marsh wastelands. Some of them are part of the European System of Protected Areas, including Bialowieza Forest (also added in 1979 to the UNESCO World Heritage List, to this day as the only natural area in Poland), Knyszyn Forest, Augustow Forest, Narew Valley, Bug Valley, and Suwalki and Lithuanian Lake Districts. In addition, Podlasie boasts four national parks: Bialowieza National Park, Wigry National Park, Biebrza National Park, and Narew National Park.

Podlasie is the most ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse region of Poland. Sadly, the communist authorities that ruled Poland from the end of the Second World War up to 1989 made many generations believe that Poland is monocultural and mono-religious, thereby ostracizing the entire heritage of the eastern borderlands. The multiculturalism of the region is evidenced by:

Not only the unique architecture, encompassing Catholic temples, Orthodox churches [Figures 7.2 and 7.3], and mosques, but also languages and dialects we can hear in many villages and towns of Podlasie, traditional customs and rituals, schools with minority languages as languages of instruction, but also organisations and institutions working to preserve the culture and cultural heritage of ethnic minorities.

(Rusaczyk, 2014, no page, translated by author)

An orthodox church in Koterka (1912), a natural boundary at the border with Belarus

Figure 7.2 An orthodox church in Koterka (1912), a natural boundary at the border with Belarus.

Source: Photo by author.

Swieta Gora Grabarka (Holy Mountain Grabarka) from the thirteenth century, one of the most important places of religious worship for the orthodox believers in east Europe

Figure 7.3 Swieta Gora Grabarka (Holy Mountain Grabarka) from the thirteenth century, one of the most important places of religious worship for the orthodox believers in east Europe.

Source: Photo by author.

In the borderland area, various cultural elements mutually penetrate, clash with one another, undergo changes, and contribute to the differentiation of the local communities (Awramiuk, 2011) — and this is how ‘borderland culture’ is formed. The Tatars in Podlasie are the best example of this. The Tatars are Polish Muslims who, although they appeared on the Polish territory during the reign of the medieval Jagiellonian dynasty (as emigrants or fugitives from the areas of the then Golden Horde and the Crimea), did not gain importance until the seventeenth century. It was a difficult time for Poland then; the entire century was filled with fights for power, territories, and social order. Due to the wars of the Polish Kingdom with Turkey, the situation of the Tatars in the Polish lands was quite complicated in the seventeenth century. Furthermore, the Muslims were not tolerated by the gentry. The nobility forbade them to build new mosques and renovate the old ones and also kept imposing various taxes on them. Therefore, despite the 200-year-old settlement and service in the Polish army, many Tatars rebelled and moved to the Ottoman Empire, leaving the Polish territories. It was only Kingjohn III Sobieski who accepted them again to serve in the Polish army and partly compensated them for their long-term losses. As part of a peace treaty with Turkey, in 1677 he proposed an amnesty for those who served the Sultan during the war with the Turks, and granted lands and numerous privileges to those who remained faithful to him in recognition of their bravery and loyalty. The population that settled in the area of todays Podlasie region ranged between 6,000 and 13,000 people (sources do not agree on this matter). They were allowed to build mosques, enter into mixed marriages, and raise their offspring in the Muslim faith. Over time, they began to speak Polish and Belarusian, adopting all the local customs from the local population. They lost their native language but remained faithful to the Muslim religion, so they began to be called the Polish Tatars (Orlowski and Wozniczko, 2016). In numerous villages, there are still well-preserved wooden mosques (from the eighteenth or nineteenth century in Kruszyniany — the exact date of construction is unknown [Figure 7.4] and from the nineteenth century in Bohoniki) and the remains of Muslim cemeteries — the most important traces of the tangible culture of this minority' in Poland. Nowadays, about 1,828 Tatars live in Poland permanently, including 539 Tatars in the Podlasie Province in the Indigenous colonies in the region surrounding Bialystok (Bohoniki and Kruszyniany) and the cities of Bialystok, Sokolka, and Dqbrowa Bialostocka (GUS, 2011a). Many urban legends have been forming around this community for decades, which has triggered the emergence of a massive Tatar-related tourist industry.

Another example is the Jews, although their presence in Podlasie is not so unique, because they used to inhabit the majority of cities and towns in Poland up until the Second World War. The Middle Ages was a period of a mass European migration ofjews, accused in many countries of causing the Black Death, also known as the Great Plague, which killed 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe at that time (Alchon, 2003). In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when Jews were definitely expelled from Spain, Portugal, and Sicily, the Jewish

The oldest preserved Tatar mosque in Poland, from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, located in Kruszyniany

Figure 7.4 The oldest preserved Tatar mosque in Poland, from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, located in Kruszyniany.

Source: Photo by author.

settlement centre began to shift towards Central and Eastern Europe. A Jewish population appeared in the town ofBielsk Podlaski in Podlasie. In 1522, the first Jewish community, or qahal, consisting of nine families, was set up in Tykocin (Barwinski, 2014; Figure 7.5).

The town quickly became a booming Jewish centre, and tangible traces of this can still observed today, including the seventeenth-century Great Synagogue, which was expanded in the following century; the Talmudic House with the Museum of Jewish Culture; and the remains of the Jewish cemetery. Moreover, the surrounding areas of the buildings are what used to be a shtetl, with a preserved urban layout. The second wave of Jewish settlement came to these areas in the late nineteenth century with the Russified Jewish population called li intakes. It drove the development of other locations with Jewish settlers, including Drohiczyn and Siemiatycze. Bialystok (today’s capital of the region) became the most important hub of Jewish cultural life in Podlasie and remained so up until the Second World War. In 1941, 2,000 Jews were murdered in nearby forests. Only a few survived the massacre, causing the city to lose almost all of its Jewish population (Durydiwka and Kociszewski, 2013; Barwinski, 2014).

There is one more vital ethnic minority in the context of Podlasie — Karaims (or Karaites). Although only one Karaim lives here today, there are only 314 Karaims in Poland in total and about 120 people are registered in the Karaim

The Great Synagogue in Tykocin from 1642, a branch of the Podlasie Museum in Bialystok

Figure 7.5 The Great Synagogue in Tykocin from 1642, a branch of the Podlasie Museum in Bialystok.

Source: Photo by author.

Religious Association (GUS, 201 la, 201 lb). Having migrated from the Crimea area in the fourteenth century, they describe themselves as the smallest cultural (Turkish origin) and religious community that has blended into the landscape of Podlasie, and continue to constitute a piece of the Orient that tourists find appealing.

Karaimism is a branch ofjudaism that separated from it in the eighth century, creating a separate religion. This happened because the Karaites did not accept the Talmud, the book explaining the Torah. Karaimism took some habits from Judaism, some from Islam, and the rest from other religions, or created them itself. Polish Karaites combine the features of an ethnic and religious minority. They are characterized by heterogeneity (Turkish-Crimean-Hebrew mix) with their own language (derived from Turkish but where, however, Hebrew letters are used; Karaim is spoken and spelled) and customs. The Karaims mainly inhabited lands that after the Second World War were on the other side of the border. The memory of them has survived, however, in the collective memory, numerous souvenirs, and the activities of the Polish Karaim Association and the Borderland Foundation.

National and especially ethnic minorities brought with them not only their own culture but also religion. The Southeastern part of Podlasie is today the only region in Poland where Catholics are a minority, dominated by followers of the Orthodox Church, with Muslims, Protestants, and Old Believers next in line. Apart from Poles, Podlasie is inhabited by such national minorities as Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians, and such ethnic minorities as Tatars, the Romani, Armenians, and Karaites. In addition, the archaeological findings (burial mounds and burial grounds) prove that the area of Podlasie was populated as early as the third to sixth centuries AD, and in the sixth century the territory was dominated by the Slavic population (Darmochwal, 2003).

Historical multi-ethnicity is the most distinctive feature of the Podlasie borderland. During the 2011 census, out of 1,730 Podlasie Province residents who declared that they spoke in a dialect “at home,” 669 respondents described the dialect as the language of the Polish and Belarusian borderland, 549 people mentioned the Belarusian dialect (“simple language”), and 512 people stated the Belarusian and Ukrainian dialect. In addition, the languages reported to be spoken at home included Belarussian (25,549 speakers), Lithuanian (4,859 speakers), English (2,765 speakers), Ukrainian (2,052 speakers), Russian (1,524 speakers), and Romani (420 speakers) (GUS, 2011a). Such diversity and a strong sense of belonging to a place — the borderland - is truly unique in Poland.

The ethnic and religious diversity of Podlasie is reflected in numerous architectural monuments, including sacred and folk architecture, and in places of great historical prominence. The value of monuments is determined not only by their external tangible form but also by the entire context that led to their creation. Hence, the historical monuments in Podlasie are often extremely valuable and interesting, not only due to their majesty but also because they are the outcomes of the richness of various cultures, religions, and civilizations. In addition, the Podlasie Province is famous for its lavish rituals, typical of the folklore of the cultural borderland (Regionalny Program . . . , 2011).

Effects of tourism development in contemporary Podlasie

In general, the contemporary development of rural areas is complex, covering many aspects of social and economic life. As agriculture is slowly being superseded by many new forms of economic activity, other elements of the countryside are becoming increasingly appreciated. Beyond well-preserved natural environments, landscape, and cultural heritage, rural areas are recognized as offering unique ways to spend free time or be a tourist, or a picturesque place to live (Kobylinska, 2010). Tourism provides opportunities for the economic growth of these rural areas. Although tourism can lead to the commercialization of rural culture, it also contributes to cultural preservation and reconstruction.

The marginality of Podlasie stems from its geopolitical location but also from historical and cultural problems and long-term underfunding. All this has resulted in Podlasie being pushed away from the main decisions related to

Effects of cultural tourism development 121 state affairs and has led to delayed actions for the regions economic and social development. The literature on the regions progress focuses on such issues and identifies the basic impediments that derail its growth as technical infrastructure (or the lack of it), understood mostly as poor access to water supply and sewage networks (Kobylinska, 2010) as well as the poor condition of transport routes, even though Podlasie is intersected by routes from Helsinki via the Baltic countries to Warsaw and from Berlin via Warsaw, Grodno, and Minsk to Moscow, and has nine border crossings, including five road and four rail. Despite all of this, in recent years Podlasie has become a very trendy Polish region for several reasons: it is a backdrop for numerous novels, movies, and television shows popular with Poles; it only takes two or three hours to travel there from the capital city of Warsaw; and the peculiar wildness of the place along with the local cultural heritage act as a magnet for tourists. The effects of tourism development in the region can be divided into three categories: environmental, economic, and socio-cultural.

Environmental impacts result from the increased use of resources, infrastructure, tourist facilities, and tourist destinations. In a rural area such as Podlasie, this use is mostly seasonal. Most tourists arrive here in the summer, seeking respite from the heat and from the city in the Augustow Forest and also in the town of Augustow itself, dubbed the summer capital of the region. The town attracts aficionados of water sports and active tourism, but also lovers of silence and nature (Szymanska, 2015; Panfiluk, 2015). The next most visited area is the Biebrza Valley — the land of swamps and wetlands, with the largest Polish national park, referred to as a paradise for ornithologists and rafting lovers. The ten most popular destinations in the region include only two cities: Bialystok, with numerous historical sites and cultural events, and Ciechanowiec, which lies on the route taken by tourists travelling to rest in the bosom of nature.

The Bialowieza Forest, another beloved locale in the region, is the only natural site in Poland inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List (in 1979) due to the value of its natural woods, well-preserved biodiversity, and the largest free-ranging population of European bison, unique from the perspective of science and environmental protection. Since 2010, it has also been included in the list of IBA bird reserves maintained by BirdLife International. The Bialowieza Forest became a hot topic during the protests of ecologists against logging in 2018 and 2019. As a consequence, one of the decisions adopted during the 2019 UNESCO Summit in Baku was that all activities in this area are to be aimed at the protection of its unique condition; otherwise, the Forest may be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Negative environmental impacts in the Bialowieza Forest can also be observed in the context of mass tourism. The European Bison Show Reserve alone was visited in 2017 by 149,000 tourists, and in the period from January to November 2018 the number grew to more than 160,000. The park managers estimate that the number of tourists in the entire forest could have been even three times higher (Janczewski, 2018).

The natural values of the region are some of its greatest assets, with economic consequences. The high demand to visit is satisfied by increasingly wideaccommodation options and extensive tourist infrastructure in top destinations. As a result, buildings are constructed on even the smallest patches of land in the vicinity of Bialowieza, where a vacancy is hard to come by in the summer season, countless parking spaces are scattered around the entrances to tourist trails, and there is a general employment boost in tourism. This growing tourism focus has led to excessive economic dependence and the degradation of other places and sectors of the economy, and has also exacerbated the sense of disruption with seasonal overcrowding and congestion. Similar problems can be observed in many locations of the region, for example, Suprasl, a town that is home to the famous Museum of Icons and the Wierszalin Theatre, with a well-preserved historic urban layout and local cuisine promoted by a popular television show. Just like in big cities, tourists have to wait in long queues for a restaurant table or to enter a museum. The same is true in Tykocin, formerly a large centre ofjewish culture, and in Kruszyniany and Bohoniki, where people can still admire the Tatar mosques. The Tatarska Jurta restaurant in Kruszyniany managed to expand and boost its prices several times within only a couple of years. Mass tourism has not only made prices skyrocket but also, unfortunately, caused a decrease in quality, especially in terms of the quality of service and long waiting times. Undoubtedly, the economic growth has boosted local entrepreneurship, although this mainly concerns places visited by tourists, breeding glaring discrepancies in the development of individual locations. The strong aspects of this local entrepreneurship include attracting customers who visit because of a local product or business; involving a wide range of enterprises, including small and informal businesses; and basing initiatives on tapping into local resources, for example, farm stays and local food.

For years, local cultural heritage, including not only historical monuments but also, for example, the performances of folklore groups or folk handicrafts has been a tool used to promote the region. A wide variety of different cultural, sports, and recreational tourist events are produced — in the summer season, visitors can move from one local event to another day after day simply by travelling to an adjacent town or village. Presentations of local traditional gastronomy add to this scene. The region puts a strong emphasis on its local potato-and-cabbage-based cuisine, quite peculiar due to several hundred years of neglect, poor agricultural areas, and the resulting zones of poverty. Tourists also have an opportunity to taste the traditional food of Polish Tatars (e.g., in the above-mentioned Tatarska Jurta, one of the most famous restaurants of the region). Numerous festivals and fairs offer a variety of regional products, including those inscribed on European lists such as Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication, and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed.

The increased number of tourist visits also has a series of socio-cultural consequences, including the spread of tourists into former residential districts and the marginalization of local inhabitants, modification of all kinds of traditions, and reduced authenticity and loss of cultural identity, which is quite clearly observable, despite the various historical and cultural influences. The characteristics of

Effects of cultural tourism development 123 being at the border creates a unique and very characteristic mixture in Podlasie which cannot be observed in any other region of Poland. Like other regions, the commercialization of folk culture (folklorism) in also evident in Podlasie. In recent years, all folk culture organizations have begun to function on a commercial and profit-oriented basis.

This type of phenomenon seems to be inevitable and is becoming ‘naturalized’ in the course of tourism development. These developments are framed not only economically but also politically. The theme of cultural tourism that runs through local development strategies and the ad hoc initiatives of local governments mainly views culture as a stimulant to tourism and therefore to economic growth, and to a much lesser extent as a factor that unifies and consolidates the local community.

However, tourism’s rapid development in the region also seems to have inspired and propelled a community-driven counter-force to protect community interests, foster local social connectedness, and preserve cultural traditions. For instance, from June to August, Suprasl hosts the SlowFest festival, primarily addressed to the local community. The festival director describes it as “calm, stretched in time, not full of events. A place friendly to the public, encouraging meetings and conversations - often lasting until late in the evening — with other participants and invited artists. It is a holiday of participation and contemplation, wasting time in interesting company in the spirit of slow words” (“Niespieszny festiwal . . .,” 2018, no page).’ The festival includes walking and cycling tours, day and night nature-peeping trips (guided by naturalists), small ‘slow’ concerts by Polish and foreign musicians that include meetings with traditional singers from the town of Dobrowoda, slow movie screenings, radio dramas, exhibitions, and, above all, meetings, debates, and a lot of leisurely get-togethers. Another initiative was the establishment of the Nadbuzatiski Folk University in Husinka in 2013, which is aimed at cultivating, developing, and promoting the region’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Practical activities involve training projects in the domain of artisanal handicraft and teaching the old professions, which are now experiencing a revival as unique and in short supply. For example, one activity was to develop documentation on perebora2 weaving skills and submit it to the National Cultural Institute in 2016 in order to enter perebora on the national list of intangible cultural heritage? As one of the workshop participants said, “We hope that weaving will not disappear thanks to such workshops. We have young participants at the workshops and we are proud that we can pass on our knowledge to future generations” (Jaroszewska, 2018, no page).

In addition to SlowFest, Podlasie is now organizing a whole series of events targeted at both residents and potential tourists. The most important ones awarded by the voivodship authorities include: 500 Kayak Rafting, the Polish Nordic Walking Cup in Hajnówka, the Wertep Theater Festival, Podlaski Culinary Trails, the Sabantuj — Tatar Plow Festival in Kruszyniany, canoeing and rafting in the Augustów Lakeland, The Great Guest Trail of the Lithuanian, and the Jagiellonian Fair.


One of the most frequently discussed issues of sustainable development (both urban and rural) in recent years is the pursuit of a balance among building local social capital, improving the quality of life of local residents (economically and in areas other than financial), and the temptation to excessively explore heritage and use it to propel only economic growth. The long-term prevention of conflicts potentially triggered by tourism is the essence of sustainable development.

The case study of the Polish region of Podlasie shows how important it is to look at tourism development from a broad point of view considering multifaceted dimensions and potential impacts. The main problem associated with tourism in this region seems to be the difficulty in reconciling the needs of all the stakeholders: tourists, who want to see places and make the most of their time there but also unwind; residents, who want all the places frequented by the crowds of tourists to remain their own; entrepreneurs, whose goal is to maximize profits; and regional authorities, whose task it is to ensure that the region develops in all of these aspects.

The impacts of overtourism are core to the main challenges the rural region now faces. There is always a risk that initiatives conducive to rural development might also impede it, for example, when they are too burdensome organizationally and financially for the residents. Moreover, when the local community does not share the same values and traditions, it is reluctant to work for the benefit of all, and sometimes even makes it difficult or impossible to take collective action. An example of this type of situation is an attempt to develop tourism around the Tatar heritage in Kruszyniany, which has made a small, quiet village a product of mass tourism and divided the local community. Even the events mentioned above that have been awarded by the voivodship authorities are often perceived by residents as attracting more tourists but not addressed to the local community.

However, the story is not all negative. The rise of tourism in the region has inspired new nature- and culture-based businesses and initiatives that have injected a new vibrancy into local cultural traditions and gastronomy and raised awareness of the importance of safeguarding and providing training about the region s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The contemporary community has also been inspired to create events primarily focused on local residents like the festival “I tarn ‘zywuc’ ludzie” (“And there ‘zywuc’ people,” where the word zywuc is used in the dialect sense and means “live”), an attempt to reach the inhabitants of the depopulating villages of Podlasie with Belarusian culture (with performances of bands with Belarusian-lan-guage repertoires, presentation of folk handicrafts, and literature). Although the allure of ‘authentic’ experiences and ‘living like a local’ means that the events are inevitably part of the tourism attractions in the region (for some visitors), its focus on fostering local connections — socially and with the natural environment - is a positive sign.


  • 1 All translations from Polish to English have been made by the author.
  • 2 Perebora is a weaving pattern made with an alternating technique, with patterned stripes, in which patterns are woven together with a smooth fabric, making them convex. The technique is not used on an entire linen fabric, but only in the striped ornament. Pereboras were used to decorate tablecloths, shirts, skirts, and towels - they are woven together with a fabric for a specific thing. The word perebor refers to moving the warp threads with a small flat plank. This laborious activity must be repeated again and again. This technique is extremely time-consuming and difficult, which is why pereboras were treated as something extremely valuable.
  • 3 The national list of intangible cultural heritage is the outcome of Polands ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which demands that the Member States register and record the manifestations of that heritage in their territories.


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