Duna Kör - Danube Circle
Budapest, 20 December 1995
- Vadász u. 29
- H 1054 Budapest
- Phone: 36 1 132 3321
- Fax: 36 1 135 8366
The person and his function in the NGO
- Mr. György Droppa - Manager of the Danube Circle, Director
of the connected ISTER foundation and co-chairman of Zöld
Alternativa, the Hungarian Green Party.
The NGO itself
The Danube Circle is an expert group of scientists that was established
in 1984 under the former communist government. In the beginning
it wasn't allowed be an environmental NGO separate from the young
communist group of the time. But in spite of all the obsticals,
the Danube Circle managed to survive. The main reason for its
establishment was the secrecy surrounding the water barrage system
that was planned for the Danube. The Danube Circle's first priority
was to get access to information about the secretly planned dams.
The Danube Circle is a national organization with three regional
sub organizations. The head office in Budapest has a staff and
the whole organization relies on the scientific members who are
organized into 9 different interest groups, each with its own
specific topic. Besides this the Danube Circle has a Board, which
makes decisions on policy and strategy of the NGO, whereby it
should be mentioned that they limit fund-raising to certain funds
and the amount of time spent on it. The majority of NGOs are
only busy with fund-raising and that is a waste of time for environmental
Objective(s) / Goal(s)
The main goal of the Danube Circle is improving the environment
in and around the Danube. Their main emphasis is to influence
the planning of the water barrage system, but besides Danube
issues, other environmental topics like transportation and the
environmental situation in Budapest are studied.
Main areas of activity of the Danube Circle
The Danube Circle is an expert group, researching environmental
topics mostly related to the Danube river. They disseminate the
collected information, lobby in parliament and try to influence
the Ministry of Environment and other governmental bodies. The
organization also plans protest actions, meetings and demonstrations
when governmental plans are against the best interests of the
Danube. Scientific environmental monitoring and looking after
developments in the field of environmental technology and design
is done by the scientist themselves, in their daily jobs.
- The office of the Danube Circle has a 2,5 person paid staff (
the half is a volunteer). The number of registered scientists
(members) connected to the Danube Circle is 327.
- The budget of 1995 was 4 million HUF, about 30,000 USD. The money
is comes from restricted sources, the Hungarian Parliament and
the Ministry of Environment. Because they are paying for research
that the Danube Circle is doing for them, the Danube Circle never
asks for grants. They do not accept money from businesses or for
example the REC. Free personal contributions are accepted and
are a small percentage of the available funds.
- The expertise on environmental issues is very high, because of
the academic input of the connected scientists. At the organizational
and strategic level the knowledge is considered high as well.
- Access to information
- Available communication means are phone (including two portable
phones), fax and e-mail. The contacts with key persons in policy
making, like the Minister of Environment, or eventually the prime
minister, are very good. The Danube Circle is able to speak with
the policy makers almost immediately. They are so to say 'infected
by politics' and more or less accepted as experts on environmental
issues, especially on Danube topics. Contacts with press and of
course universities are also regular and good.
External Relations and intensity of the contact
The Danube Circle has a very intensive cooperative contact with
the Ministry of Environment and Western environmental NGOs; less
intensive cooperative contact with other national environmental
NGOs and a low intensive cooperative contact with Eastern environmental
NGOs. The contacts with the Slovak environmental NGOs used to
be more intensive in the past. The Danube Circle doesn't have
contacts with environmental businesses.
Since 1987 the Danube Circle has been cooperating with several
Slovakian environmental NGOs. Greenpeace Slovakia, the SZOPK and
the Slovak River Network were partners in protest activities on
both sides of the Danube. The cooperation was stronger in the
past, unfortunately the environmental NGOs in the Slovak Republic
are going through some hard times now and have become weaker.
In some cases, they don't even exist any more.
Advantages / Motivation
The biggest motivation for cooperation in this case is the fact
that the Danube's environmental problems are international, so
the solution must be international as well. International cooperation
has always been important in the environmental field, since the
nature of the problem is transboundary. Pollution doesn't stop
at a border. Another benefit is the possibility to learn from
each other; for example from strategical point of view: 'How to
lobby the most effectively'. In the case of the Danube Circle
this is not really a motivation for East-East cooperation, since
they are one of the most developed groups in this respect.
The advantage of forming stronger coalitions isn't as important
for the Danube Circle since they are considered experts on environmental
issues and have close access to policy makers. Their reputation
as objective scientific researchers and experts could be damaged
by working together with 'empty shouting' environmental NGOs.
Problems / Obstacles
For the Danube Circle one of the main obstacles would be tainting
their reputation if they worked together with weaker organizations.
Another big problem in East-East cooperation with Slovak NGOs
is the political situation in that country right now. The NGO
people in the Slovak Republic have been frightened by their government
for fighting against Danube dams. The Danube dams are considered
a case of national interest and people fighting against them are
in this respect anti-Slovaks, that have to be suppressed. Of course
there are practical problems too, especially lack of time, the
language barriers between the Hungarians and the Slovaks and the
high expenses of phone calls and traveling.
Surplus Value / Results of East-East cooperation
A big result of East-East cooperation was the united and simultaneous
protest demonstrations against the water barrage system plans
for the Danube on both sides of the border. The first protest
walk against Danube dams in 1985 attracted not only supporters
from Czecho-Slovakia, but also Westerners. The first protesters
were brutally beaten up by the police, which brought about an
unexpected benefit of future inter cooperation between the groups.
Slovak, Hungarian and Austrian activists that were beaten up
together had confidence in each other, which created ongoing
Necessary features of a NGO for East-East cooperation
First of all they have to know each other. Then a lot of practical
tools should be available, especially for communication. Financial
problems exist, and some money at least is needed, but NGOs shouldn't
think that money solves everything.
Useful cooperation is only possible when you have a common topic
and when the level of development is attuned to each other.
Finally the cooperation should be equal cooperation, not like
in the Danube Basin Project where they decide what the urgent
topics are. Actually this whole project needs to be criticized,
because they don't discuss the really important topics, like damming
or not, using the water for electricity generation or for drinking
water or not and so on. These topics really influence the environmental
situation of the Danube, so these should be the discussed topics.
Possible reasons for others not to start East-East cooperation
We had no time left for this question.
Future of East-East cooperative behavior of the NGO
In the future East-East cooperation has to become stronger. And
even equal East-West cooperation should be developed more. An
activist shouldn't be restricted to ones own country. Coalitions
between countries should be developed that specialize on the commonalties
of problems between them.
REC and East-East cooperation
The REC is well known since the history of the REC is more or
less based in the history of the Danube Circle. The members of
the Danube Circle were one of the first ones who started to develop
a NGO movement. The development of a civil society started in
Hungary some years before the really big political changes of
1989. The idea of the United States and the European Union to
help to develop civil society in Hungary was basically the founding
idea for the REC. The first big project the REC sponsored was
EASTER research. The EASTER Foundation is the research institute
of the Danube Circle. This 2,5 year project was stopped after
the first year, just after the process of data collection, because
of internal problems and personal changes in the REC. The most
important reason however was that the REC considered the Gabcikovo
dam as a dam in existence, forgetting that the two countries are
in front of the international court of The Hague. Since then the
relationship between the Danube Circle and the REC has not been
It is difficult to say if the REC needs to play a role in East-East
cooperation. It is impossible to force cooperation, but maybe
the REC can help activists to meet each other, especially in an
informal way. Organizing conferences between NGOs would be a good
way. It is also our view that the internal organization of the
REC is deplorable and needs to be changed as soon as possible.
REC * PUBLICATIONS * BEYOND BORDERS - SIDE REPORT * HUNGARY