Biodiversity, Climate Change, Environment, Europe, Headlines

Q&A: Bulgarian Greens Go Political

Interview with Petko Kovatchev, chairman of the Bulgarian Greens Party.

Sofia, Jun 4 2008 (IPS) - Members of a group of environmental NGOs have announced the formation of green party, Zelenite. Among the founders are activists who have been engaged for two years in a campaign to prevent large-scale tourism development in protected natural sites in the Rila Mountains and the Black Sea shore (the NATURA 2000 campaign).

Petko Kovatchev Credit:

Petko Kovatchev Credit:

The environmentalists involved in NATURA 2000 enjoy high visibility in Bulgaria because of their weekly protests in capital Sofia, often involving street theatre.

Civil society groups participating in the creation of Zelenite include To Sustain the Nature in Bulgaria coalition, Balkani Wildlife Society, UNECO University Club for Environment, Green Policy Institute, the Centre for Environmental Information and Education, Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, Cooperation for Voluntary Service Bulgaria,, Borrowed Nature, and Za Zemiata (For the Earth).

Criticised by some for turning to party politics, the activists say this was a necessary step after years of work in the NGO sector brought only minor changes in the way authorities deal with environmental problems and in adopting legislation on biodiversity and nature preservation.

Petko Kovatchev, chairman of the new party, spoke with IPS correspondent Claudia Ciobanu.

IPS: Can we talk about a green social movement in Bulgaria, or is this an overstatement?

Petko Kovatchev: Yes, we can talk about a green social movement in Bulgaria that also incorporates other values. And, this is a second wave of such a movement after 1988-1991. There was a long period when people were depressed by the economic disaster, lack of reforms, no jobs, mafia, bastardising of political life by ex-communists (in various facets), etc. Young people emigrated, leaving the political life to their parents and grandparents.

But now there is a new generation that has no memory of the totalitarian regime. They learned a lot about the world, many live and work practically in the 'global village'. And they started to associate with new values, among which are the principles for nature protection, sustainable life, and social rights. Such people represented the core of the protests for NATURA 2000 over the last two years. Gradually, the idea grew that this movement is responsible for its future and the future of its children.

IPS: Who are the Bulgarians who support the greens?

PK: The greens find support and activists among urban youth, people from the middle class, small entrepreneurs, students, Bulgarians who live abroad.

IPS: How is a party more effective than NGOs and their grassroots support?

PK: The effectiveness of the NGOs has reached a ceiling. And we still have not made enough progress in shifting Bulgaria's development towards sustainability. Many activists from NGOs spent years working in an aggressive and many times hostile political environment. Even new parties did not take environmental and social issues seriously, only selected politicians helped, rarely. When problems started skyrocketing and no political structure took serious steps, people came to the conclusion that a new tool was needed. A green party is meant to be such a tool.

IPS: What is the main practical utility of this party?

PK: There is a possibility that the greens might receive enough votes in the upcoming elections (2009) to be invited to join the government. In general, we are looking to have more control over the administration, to block problematic proposals, to introduce legislative and institutional changes in the parliament and, in case of achieving representation in the European Parliament, to influence European Union politics. We also hope to attract people who have environmental expertise but either withdrew or were pushed out of the public space to the point of not even voting any more.

IPS: Given the bad reputation of political parties in Bulgaria, will you not antagonise some of your allies with this move of setting up a party?

PK: Of course there were some voices amongst us in the NGOs who did not want to turn to conventional politics. But this is not a problem as long as we share the same values and goals. Many people will remain in the NGOs and probably help with their expertise from the outside. Others will not. I believe the party will have close relationships with civil organisations, because we share the same fight. Certainly, if the party members end up being like all other politicians, it would be natural that NGOs criticise and even seriously oppose the party.

IPS: Apart from the green message, what will the profile of Zelenite be? Will it simply pick up the causes of the founding NGOs?

PK: We will build on the work of NGOs to come up with legislative and administrative solutions. The profile of the party will be based on promotion of the environmental issues and sustainable development, protection and extension of democratic values, and pushing for deep institutional reform.

IPS: What do you make of this idea that Eastern European countries "cannot afford the luxury" to pay attention to the environment because they need to develop first?

PK: Climate change and loss of biodiversity, creating both local and global insecurity, are pressing for quick action. We need to inform people about the upcoming bad times and to show ways to mitigate problems, some of which have never been in place so far. People should understand that fighting climate and protecting ecosystems is not a luxury but a matter of surviving.

Participation in international activities is also crucial for every country. It doesn't matter how small Bulgaria is, all voices should be there when the global strategies are discussed.

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