Chapter 6: Country Reports
The tradition of an active environmental movement in the former Czechoslovakia dates back to several years before the Velvet Revolution occurred in 1989. The struggle for a healthy environment was an integral part of the struggle for liberty and human rights, and the green movement was one of the important powers attempting to accomplish revolutionary political change in Czechoslovak society.
Before 1989, people supported the environmental movement because they were willing to think in the long term; at the same time, this support was a symbolic protest against an unpopular political regime. The environmental movement was among the few activities that were both meaningful and tolerated by the authorities; it was a shelter where talented people could make themselves useful in an environment of relative freedom.
When the political system was transformed into a democracy, the environmental movement in the Czech Republic was in a favorable position; because the public attached a high priority to environmental problems, there was a reasonable chance of influencing social progress toward permanently sustainable development. Later, however, public concern dropped off, and many skilled and competent people left the environmental movement and found positions in other areas, a situation largely due to the existing political and economic situation in the Czech Republic, and to a low level of environmental awareness.
Before the revolution, most greens worked within one of two structures: either in an organization characterized by dissent, or in one that had been officially recognized. After the political changes, dissidents attempted to maintain their radical environmental and political positions. This approach helped to create the foundation on which democratic society is based. People who were active within official structures and organizations were in a better position to exert their influence. They assisted in the shaping of (limited) public environmental awareness; frequently they also succeeded in mitigating negative environmental impacts brought on by totalitarian policies. As activity increased before 1990, the two groups tried to cooperate in an effort to reach common goals and to struggle against their common enemy: the totalitarian political regime whose policies created environmental problems instead of addressing and solving them.
Only two major environmental NGOs existed before 1990, the Czech Union for Nature Protection (Cesky svaz ochrancu prirody), which developed its activities under governmental supervision, and the Brontosaurus Movement, which was a part of the Socialist Youth Organization (SSM). Since January 1990, however, over 300 independent NGOs intent on addressing environmental problems and protecting the environment have formed. Most emerged in the post-revolutionary euphoria without setting clear goals, and many have ceased to exist, either because of a lack of interest or the absence of concrete goals. However, several dozen organizations and groups have persisted, and they are now working hard to improve the health of the environment in the Czech Republic.
Most NGOs in the Czech Republic (75 percent) are located in small towns, and only 15 percent are located in Prague, the Czech capital. More than half of the groups (55 percent) are a specialized branch of a larger organization. Most of the NGOs surveyed for this study claimed that environmental work makes up all of their activity (47 percent) or at least half of their activity (43 percent). The vast majority (82 percent) have less than 25 active members, and less than half (40 percent) were officially registered in the 1980s. Only 39 percent of the groups consider themselves grassroots organizations. Most NGOs operate at the local level (56 percent) or within a particular region of the country (28 percent), and only 1.3 percent operate internationally.
Education and training (66 percent) and environmental fieldwork (62 percent) are the most common activities.
Most NGOs consider themselves successful, either partially (46 percent) or moderately (36 percent).
Czech NGOs are (relatively) financially stable: thirty-nine percent of the groups claimed to be in a good enough financial situation. Annual budgets ranged from USD 0 to over USD 100,000, but the most common budgetary category is less than USD 500 (39 percent). Most income derives from fees for services, making Czech NGOs much more independent than NGOs in other countries.
Needs and Problems
The most onerous problems faced by Czech NGOs include insufficient funding, difficulties with official registration, general legal problems and lack of volunteers. Support for implementing local environmental projects and building organizational capacity were the most popular types of support requested. As for training needs, Czech NGOs perceive fund raising, managing volunteers and finances, writing proposals, and project management and presentation skills as important.
Czech NGOs do not show much willingness to work together. Consistent with the results of the entire CEE region, NGOs in the Czech Republic tend to cooperate more with other NGOs from their local area and less with NGOs from other countries. The same generalization is true with respect to cooperation with local governments versus the national government. NGOs see working with other Czech NGOs and government agencies as critically important to solving environmental problems.
Experience with the Regional Environmental Center
The vast majority of Czech NGOs have never heard of REC Head Office (30 percent) or have heard of it but never used it (51 percent). The numbers are similar regarding their experiences with the REC Local Office in Prague (25 percent and 48 percent, respectively). The relative anonymity of the REC in the Czech Republic means that the number of NGOs that have received REC grants is relatively low: only eight percent have received an Earmarked Grant, and 16 percent a Local Grant. However, 44 percent have at least some REC publications in their libraries, and 11 percent have occasionally or regularly participated in REC programs. Many NGOs indicated that they plan to work closer with the REC in the future. Other than the REC, the most frequently mentioned international support organizations include WWF, EPCE, PHARE, Nadale Ros, and GreenPeace.
The REC Local Office in the Czech Republic has not been officially registered yet; however, it is fully equipped and operational with three staff members. The REC Local Office in Bratislava, Slovakia currently manages more than 50 percent of Czech grants, and the two countries share a common Local Advisory Board.
REC * PUBLICATIONS * PROBLEMS, PROGRESS AND POSSIBILITIES * COUNTRY REPORTS