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Environmental NGOs in the Balkans ready to cooperate online

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in South-Eastern Europe (SEE) have reached the point of starting electronic networks in their countries, and linking them regionally. This was the conclusion drawn by the First Meeting of Regional SEE NGO Electronic Networks held on 28-29 March 2002 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The meeting brought together nascent environmental NGO networks in the Balkans region for the first time to meet face-to-face, share experiences and find solutions to the challenges of working together online. BlueLink, Bulgaria's APC member network, another APC member, StrawberryNet of Romania and the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) co-hosted the meeting.

The event opened in Sofia with a ceremony attended by ambassadors, a representative from the Bulgarian Ministry for the Environment, cooperating agencies, and local press. Plamen Dimitrov of the USAID-funded Institute for Sustainable Communities praised the work of BlueLink in Bulgaria and the region. "Despite the fact that the funding we gave to Bluelink was half that granted to similar initiatives, BlueLink has proved to be the bench-mark for our work - a brilliant example of the potential and dynamism of environmental civil society in Bulgaria", Dimitorv said. The Bulgarian Minister for the Environment and Water sent a special greeting to the participants and to BlueLink in particular as they celebrated four years since their founding.

During the working part of the meeting in Bistrica - an area close to the oldest national park in the Balkans - the participants from the regional networks discussed the challenges and difficulties they encounter in setting up electronic networks and looked for solutions. The meeting organisers, BlueLink and Strawberry Net, networks with experience stretching over various years, shared lessons learned to the fledgling networks from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia and Moldova.

The only missing link was Kosovar network, SharriNet. Sharrinet's representative had not been allowed to cross the Bulgarian border, despite the fact that event organizers had received a prior confirmation from the Visa Centre of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that the Kosovar UNMIK passport is recognised in Bulgaria. This incident reminded all those present that Balkan nations have a lot of work to do in order to improve relations and promote regional cooperation. The First Regional SEE NGO Electronic Networks Meeting showed that regional cooperation is possible, most participants agreed.

Host organization BlueLink is one the pioneer networks of the Balkan region. Reflecting on BlueLink's beginnings and the challenges and successes faced, acting Chair, Vassil Beyazov emphasised that "BlueLink's vision for the future is still to respond to the information needs of environmental NGOs. And we'll carry on connecting Bulgarian environmental NGOs with the communities in the neighbour countries of Central, Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as with the global civil society movement through APC".

The First Regional SEE NGO Electronic Networks meeting was made possible thanks to the project for electronic environmental NGOs networking in Southern and Eastern Europe (SEE) - a part of the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme (REReP) for the Balkans Stability Pact. The event was supported by the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) and Milieukontakt Oost-Europa, the Netherlands based foundation that pioneered supporting BlueLink since 1998.

BlueLink: http://www.bluelink.net
StrawberryNet: http://www.sbn.ro

Originator: --- (BlueLink)
Date: 04/09/2002
Location: SOFIA, Bulgaria
Category: Mobilising Participation
Source: BlueLink

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