Grasshopper no 7, Summer '95


from Ukraine and the Countries of the Former USSR
- EcoForum, 23-28th May 1995, Kiev, Ukraine

The EcoForum meeting was organised by the I.S.A.R. (at the beginning the name was an abbreviation for the Institute for Soviet-American Relations but the full name has not been in use since the Soviet Union ceased to exist). The ISAR is a non-governmental organisation with its offices in many newly created states of the former USSR (e.g. in Ukraine or in Russia). The organisation focuses mainly on supporting the development of non-governmental ecological organisations in these countries and facilitating their co-operation with similar bodies from other countries (mostly from the USA).

The meeting was attended by as many as two hundred participants most of whom were representatives of non-governmental organisations from the states of the former USSR and the United States. Also, environmentalists from Slovakia, Germany and Hungary took part in the EcoForum. I was the one and only Pole at the ecological meeting of the two "big brothers". My participation in the Forum was something like a split personality: on one hand I represented the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe from Wrocław, whose co-ordinator for Central Europe is Krystyna Woźniakowska. On the other hand I tried to speak for the organisation I work for, i.e. the Kraków Group of the Green Federation and the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives.

The first of the above mentioned organisations, the Partnership from Wrocław, is interested in coming into contact mainly with groups from Western Ukraine which can be backed up in the two following ways:

Speaking of the Kraków Group of the Green Federation and the Fund for Supporting Ecological Initiatives, their co-operation with the Ukrainian organisations is connected with our project related to the Carpathian Euro-region, embracing Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. The project is carried out together with the organisation Natuur en Milieu Overijsel from Holland, the ecological organisation Pola (The Bee) from Slovakia and the ecologists working at the Lwów University. Its primary goal is to strengthen the ecological organisations network in the Carpathian Euro-region acting in favour of sustainable development and democracy in the region.

The main aim of the meeting in Kiev was strengthening and developing the non-governmental organisation's network in the region of the whole former USSR as well as including the global network.

The program of the meeting was very intensive. Each day started early in the morning and ended late at night. In the course of the five day meeting, about fifty workshops took place in the holiday resort for communist big shots (!).The titles of workshops listed below indicates how varied the subjects discussed during the meeting were: organisation management, participation of women in the international environmentalist movement, deep ecology, monitoring of air and water quality, legal aspects of the functioning of ecological organisations, permaculture, financing of the organisations, bio-heterogenity, the World Bank, ecological education.

Each day culminated in a presentation of the culture of countries represented at the forum. The most touching one was on Friday, when Georgia celebrated her independence day. What was peculiar was that it was only the sixth year of its independence as the state was occupied firstly by Russia then by the USSR. I was quite amused that the American evening was called, by the Americans themselves, "EcoDisco"!

Getting back to the workshops: personally I took part only in a few. The most important problem that kept emerging were social, cultural and economical differences between America and the states of the former USSR. Both parts devoted a lot of time to getting acquainted with each other. possible. As a one-member Polish team I also tried to learn as much about environmentalists from the ex-USSR as I could. I would like to present my own perception of the countries "to the east of Poland", resulting from the few days of observations.

In each of those countries1) there exist non-governmental ecological organisations. Like in the countries with well-developed democratical systems, the organisations deal with a wide scope of problems although some of these issues are "untouchable" due to political reasons (especially those related to so-called "national security"). The most popular form of activity is education, the formal one in schools as well as informal. Other fields of interest are environment monitoring, nature conservation, development of non-governmental organisations and information-exchange systems.

The ecological groups very often act in favour of supporting/saving national cultural heritage, human rights, bettering of woman's or minorities' position in the society, etc.

In each of those countries the ecological organisations are backed up from abroad, and the help is often needed to achieve "critical mass" to start. functioning. Supported by the foreign resources, the organisations try to develop strategies of gathering "local" finances, e.g. government funds or earning money on their own. However, it seems that still too few organisations consider developing such strategies an important aspect of their work. In most cases they do it in haphazard, unorganised way.

All the activities are based on intensive information exchange. The primary medium is the electronic mail to which most of the groups have access.2) Additional sources of data are ecological information centres, emerging presently.

All the organisations use press, television, radio or reach the society by means of their own handbills, brochures, films, etc. During an all-day meeting the films were shown and our tables were flooded with handbills, periodicals and the like. What surprised me was that many of them were of a very radical character, I would even call them "eco-terrorist". Does this mean the end of the censorship?

In many cases the ecological organisations founded legal offices, offering legal counselling similar to our Office of Ecological Law Counsel in Wrocław. And at this point I would like to reflect on the legal situation of Polish ecological groups. My conclusion from the discussion that took place in Kiev is that the legal situation of ecological organisations and the relevant regulations in various countries is very different. I think that the Polish Office of Ecological Law Counsel could, with our help, collect all regulations related to non-governmental organisations in various countries and, on that basis, create a core law that would strengthen the non-governmental sector in Poland. We fight for clean air and water, for animals... let us not forget about ourselves.

To sum up, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the excellent organisation of the EcoForum, especially given that the situation in Ukraine is really difficult. I would also like to thank the people from the ISAR for inviting me and Krystyna Woźniakowska for making my presence there possible.

Darek Szwed
The Kraków Group of the Green Federation


1) I mean here all the countries represented at the EcoForum 95, i.e. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kirghizstan, Moldavia, Russia, Tadzhikstan, Turkestan, Uzbekstan and Ukraine.

2) There is a variety of e-mail use systems in he countries of the former USSR, e.g. in Ukraine there is several e-mail networks; in Tadzhikstan there is only one e-mail account used by all the local ecological organisations.

Grasshopper no 7, Summer '95 | Contents