Field of activity: environmental problems, Belarusian wetlands and wildlife protection.
Foundation date: Green Network – 2007, bezbolot.net – 2012; Bahna – 2014.
Structure: Green Network – 12 partnerships and 32 individuals; bezbolot.net – 150 people, Bahna – 8 people.
Facts: Green Network has educated 780 activists who has launched about 40 ecological startups since it was founded. The work of Bahna resulted in saving 7 reserves and valuable areas. Thanks to the efforts of the organization 1950 hectares of wetlands avoided getting drained; this territory is equivalent in its size to 121 Minsk-Arena complexes. The activists of the movement held the first Art Festival on wetlands and made a documentary "Breath of Wetlands".
Talked to: Volha Kaskevich, 28. Her first higher education is that of a German language teacher. She earned her second degree in Theory and Practice of Contemporary Arts at the European Humanities University. Volha is the founder of the organization Bahna, bezbolot.net project leader and public enterprise department manager of the partnership Green Network.
– When I came back from Vilnius after finishing my studies at EHU I was thinking what I was going to do. At first I tried to do business and translate but I missed spirituality in these kind of activities. Later my friends introduced me to Iryna Suhiy and I started to integrate myself into the ecology movement. I liked these people and what they were doing very much as I share common values with them, for instance, we have identical points of view on the principles of sustainable development. I like it when I live and I know that there is a unity of people who supports me.
We were greatly encouraged by this success as earlier it seemed to us that it was impossible to achieve victory over the state
Those who belong to social organizations rarely work full-time; they either balance it with their job or coordinate several projects. Actually, social activity is based not on making money but on resolving socially significant problems; it's the same in the whole world. Quite another thing is that the state doesn't support us financially at all while in Europe all civil organizations are sponsored by official authorities.
To implement a number of projects we look for grants and get financial support. For most part it is destined to finance low budget companies or the projects whose implementation doesn't require much money, for instance, Bahna Art Festival or the documentary "Breathing of Wetlands". Now we are elaborating a joint project on eight reserves and on sustainable development of Belarusian territories. According to this initiative there will be eight protected areas where wetlands are situated. Now this project is under discussion.
What is Green Network?
– Green Network is a partnership of organizations and individuals. It can be called a union of friends and partners who share viewpoints on many ecological issues in our country. One of the main environmental problems of Belarus is destruction of natural resources. Our economy is state-planned so, for example, peat is constantly being dug up from wetlands. It is presented like a norm but actually there are alternative ways of using wetlands.
Wildlife is not only what we have to preserve, but also what we can rationally and sustainably manage: develop rural tourism and conduct research. German scientists and students come to Belarus to explore wetlands as in Europe in the 20th century all the natural wetlands were destructed and no natural environment has been preserved there.
Green Network also founded the Environmental Activist School which offers a long-term educational program which is carried out every year. For most part young people aged 20-30 come to us; they are those who still haven't made up their mind about what they are going to do in life. Usually people turn to us when they want to solve their personal ecological problems in their proper environment. The first stage of the program is aimed at giving basic knowledge on ecology. During the second phase we take our students to the forest for eight days so that they elaborate their ideas and develop them into a startup or a mini-project. At this stage we also try to introduce our students to the Belarusian ecology movement and to the experts from neighboring countries.
At the third stage of the program students put their ideas into practice. Bahna itself grew out of one of such ideas. Among other successful projects are children's environmental workshops in “Y” Gallery, free bicycle rentals, and Slow Glow project. What's more, within the work of our school we organize visits to Czech Republic so that our students can see what Western countries does in this direction. After finishing the course people normally stay within the ecology movement either further developing their startups or joining similar projects. In any case our students start thinking in an ecologically friendly way.
What is Bahna?
– Already for four years the team of a civil organization Bahna have been working on creating the image of Belarusian wetlands as a valuable and unique phenomenon. The result is notable: wetlands theme is exploited by artists and can be found in Mass Media and in the projects of government structures. In 2014 the first Art Festival on wetlands Bahna was held where 12 zero-waste objects were created. Other achievements include Bahna's making the first documentary on Belarusian wetlands, "Breathing of Wetlands", which has already taken part in Fabiofest Festival in Bratislava.
Keeping intact the borders of the Vetsyarvitski reserve against the will of local authorities is our first success in the field of wetland protection. While reorganizing these territories the law was violated as this activity hadn't been scientifically and technically justified. We filed a complaint to court and the prosecutor agreed that local authorities' actions had been lawless. We were greatly encouraged by this success as earlier it seemed to us that it was impossible to achieve victory over the state.
Someone dropped a cigarette stub, the bog caught fire – and many animals got surrounded by fire and didn't manage to get out
Another great initiative involves Azyory reserve on Svyatoye wetland in Hrodna district. A local peat plant intended to use this wetland to make a profit. Together with the Ministry of Natural Resources we helped to conduct successful public hearings. These meetings were assisted by more than 300 people: there were academicians, scientists and locals as well as representatives of different organizations. Local businessmen presented their plans for the development of these territories. Even fishermen and ninety-year-old grandfathers voiced their opinions; there was such a cordial atmosphere! The locals told their stories so passionately that the employees of the plant couldn't say a single word. Now the further fate of the reserve is being decided upon.
Another our projects embraces protection of eight unique wetlands, one of them being Marochna on Palesye territory. What amazing grannies live there! They told how they used to go to the forest to pick berries and were singing loudly to hear one another in order not to get lost. They also remembered when the wetlands were burning. Someone dropped a cigarette stub, the bog caught fire – and many animals got surrounded by fire and didn't manage to get out of the fire circle. It was such a terrible sight that the men greatly impressed by this just got drunk that evening. When we were making the documentary "Breathing of Wetlands" we wanted to film the oldest women who used to pick up berries. Unfortunately, many of them suffer from the pain in their legs so that they can't visit one another as their villages lie within a distance of several kilometers one from the other. We managed to organize the meeting of two women who hadn't seen each other for twenty years – and they were again singing their songs together.
A story about (or no) cooperation between government representatives, NGOs and ordinary people that care.
Joris Hanse, Dutch activist from the Doorbraak, speaks about the Netherlands not matching the stereotypes.