|MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIR OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS|
Bridges, and their builders, have always been essential to humankind. When one thinks of a bridge, the immediate image is usually that of a magnificent structure spanning a lengthy divide between two isolated landmasses over a raging, or perhaps tranquil, but always majestic, river below.
The world is full of such bridges, built in different places, built at different times. Central and Eastern Europe has been home to many. From the Chain Bridge in Budapest to the Charles Bridge in Prague to the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, all were built to connect and bring together. Some were destroyed in order to separate.
There is something about bridges that demand our awe and admiration. We defend them against attack. We grieve at their loss. But where a bridge was once built, the void calls out to be filled once again, so we rebuild them.
Bridges have evolved to mean far more than structures crossing rivers. They have come to symbolise new connections not just between landmasses, but also between peoples, races, countries, and regions ... often where those connections did not exist before. And like physical bridges, these "political" and "social" bridges are themselves often tested, destroyed, fall and are built anew.
Relations among the countries and peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, and between them and other regions of the world, have constantly been influenced by the winds of human change. Before and during communism, the bridge between east and west was essentially closed. Transition and accession to the European Union is the renewal of these past fallen bridges.
Political and social bridges between different groups may rise and fall in CEE, but the natural environment does not share the same borders. They are only on maps or in the minds of people. To protect the environment, the boundaries of map and mind must be eliminated, or at least bridged, finding common objectives and solutions through mutual trust and cooperation.
In 1997, after seven years of existence and work in the region, the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) evolved into a bridge builder, connecting and supporting political and social groups so that they achieve common goals of environmental protection and long-term sustainable development.
It is true that the efforts and actions of diverse groups in the different countries of the region, and those of foreign origin, are accomplishing great environmental feats - from NGOs in Albania, to businesses in Romania, to governments in Estonia to foreign donors in the West. It has never been the goal of the REC to compete with these efforts. Again, the objective of bridge building lies elsewhere.
Be it the river's roar, the creek's gracious fall, or the silence of the valley, the bridge crosses and connects while that which lies underneath remains unharmed and preserved - in other words, sustainable connections are developed as is the creation of a common and united effort that is greater than the sum of all of the efforts working separately.
And so, in 1997, new bridges built with the help of the REC continued to ensure the long-term protection of the natural environment in Central and Eastern Europe.
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