Croatia: Focus on Zelena akcija
Interview with Tomislav Tomasevic, executive board member and coordinator for the international co-operation program
Green Action/ Friends of the Earth Croatia was established in Zagreb in 1990 amidst the political vacuum during the transition to democratic society, following the breakdown of Communism. Now one of the strongest NGOs in this part of Europe, our aim is the protection of the environment and nature, as well as the promotion of sustainable development, achieved by strengthening the role of public realization of the constitutional right on healthy environment on local, governmental and international level. FoE Croatia is based on a volunteer work of 30-40 people and supported by a professional team of 8 people. Our activities are framed in 7 programs that are long-term and constituted of several projects and campaigns, including: The Green Phone, Bljak – campaign against the GMOs, Nature protection, Energy and climate program, Activist group and education, Bicycle section, S.O.S. for Adriatic, ECO-Development of islands, and International co-operation.
We joined Friends of the Earth network in 2000. International networking is a necessity as environmental problems go beyond state borders and global problems are increasing. Information exchange, mutual support and best model practice exchange is also very important in our “global village”.
I’m a 21 year old law student, and became involved in FoE Croatia when I was 16, after searching for an environmental NGO which engages in activism. I wanted to get involved in something useful, I wanted to change something in the society in which I live, to make some positive impact.
During the past 5 years I’ve been through all the stages on the route: from member to activist, to leader of actions, to leader of activist group, to project leader, to program leader.
I’m the youngest member of the Executive Board (main decision-making body). As a volunteer, I’m the co-ordinator for the international co-operation program and I’m mostly involved in issues of sustainable development with special emphasis on youth. In this framework I co-operate and co-ordinate with numerous international networks that FoE Croatia is a member of besides Friends of the Earth, such as: MedNet (environmental network of Mediterranean FoE groups), South East European Environmental NGO Network (SEEENN), Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED), South East European Youth Network (SEEYN), Danube Environmental Forum, Climate Action Network and some others.
Currently I’m also one of twelve members of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Youth Advisory Council as an adviser for Europe.
What I especially like about FoE Croatia is the unique combination of direct activism with the involvement of many of our young members, and the professional programs requiring highly skilled and educated staff. I also like the combination of actions related to both the social aspect of environment and sustainable development, and nature protection projects.
For several years we have campaigned against the GMOs, currently a hot pre-election issue. However, 2002 was characterized by the scandal of the rejection of the American donation to Green Action, due to our campaign against genetically modified organisms. USAID (United States Agency for International Development), an American foundation which started the program of finance and development in Croatia with the aim of supporting democracy, wrote: "...We are all, including me and the Ambassador personally, impressed by the exceptional work of Green Action, as one of the leading Croatian associations for the environmental protection, in raising public conscience about the environment and including the public in this important sphere of action.... Green Action is just the type of energetic organization that we would like to support. We wish you all the best in your work... nevertheless, we have concluded that, in spite of the many positive activities of Green Action, because of your Anti-GMO campaign and the way in which it was conducted, we consider that you are not suitable for the obtaining of USA Government financial aid..."
It’s not new for funders to put pressure on NGOs over a particular campaign, however, it is rare that NGOs receive such statements in writing and even rarer are those who lose half their year’s budget in the process!
special focus on the energy programme
The energy and climate program of ZA, coordinated by Toni Vidan, also a Board member of global Climate Action Network, promotes renewables and energy efficiency by educational actions, bulletins and exhibitions.
The program team is coordinating an effort of the national environmental NGOs network, "Green Forum", to stop a project "Druzba Adria": an insane plan to transport Russian oil (up to 15 million tons per year), via the existing oil pipeline from the Hungarian border and oil terminal Omisalj on Krk island in the north Adriatic, to a US market.
The oil terminal and pipeline are designed and used for the import of oil for domestic needs, and to Serbia and Bosnia (about 5-6 mil tons per year). The proposed change in direction and volume of oil transport would impose an unacceptable risk on Croatia's most valuable natural resource: the still relatively clean Adriatic Sea.
The project will have a total annual income of up to 80 million US$, compared with the potential loss of income from tourism, more than $2 billion.
In addition to collecting around 15 000 signatures in Zagreb alone, for a national petition against the Druzba Adria project, the campaign team organized 5 actions in Zagreb and Rijeka, the largest of which was the Earth Day event on mail square in Zagreb, including building a 15 metre long oil tanker made of cardboard boxes, and a performance by a choir of several hundred children singing a specially composed song against oil pollution of the Adriatic.
The most important project of the energy and climate program is the "Solar Academy for south eastern Europe", the development of an educational center in abandoned military barracks on island of Solta, donated to us by Croatian government. The project has been developed in cooperation with Climate Action Network Central and Eastern Europe, SEEENN (South East European Environmental NGO Network), INforSE and International Energy Brigades networks.