Juraj Zamkovský is a leading figure in the growing Slovak environmental movement. He founded the Center for Environmental Public Advocacy, which has become a major catalyst and resource for other social change organizations in Slovakia.
The New Idea
Juraj has been on the cutting edge of grassroots activism within the Slovak environmental movement for some time. As a leader of several organizations, including a citizen's initiative in a rural community which was affected by a toxic dump, he recognized the need for an organization designed to assist other people interested in organizing their own community organizations and action groups. Therefore, he started the Center for Environmental Public Advocacy (CEPA). This organization is designed to serve as a resource center for individuals and organizations, who wish to achieve public reform but lack the experience in organizing such efforts.
The center provides legal consultation services as well as workshops and seminars on topics of interest to new organizations, including: leadership and management; fundraising and development; and public relations and outreach campaigns. In addition, Juraj and the center teach people how to use the legal system to expedite social change in such areas as human rights and environmental protection. This work is particularly significant because in the past, the use of the legal system to fight the government was strictly forbidden in Slovakia.
The Center is more than a legal clinic and training facility. It is a nerve center, which provides a forum for debate and exchange of ideas among socially minded organizations. It provides an opportunity for like-minded organizations to gather and coordinate their activities for more effective campaigns and public outreach activities.
Apart from the extensive environmental damage caused by the former totalitarian regime, perhaps the most dangerous legacy of Slovakia's totalitarian past is the resulting mass social irresponsibility, resignation, and apathy, found at all levels of society. Furthermore, despite the socio-political changes, the environmental destruction of the country continues. The weak civil society and dysfunctional government is unable to withstand the pressures of developers and commercial interests. Thus, the crisis continues to grow in magnitude.
Although the environmental movement was a focal point for dissident activity prior to the revolution, it disintegrated soon afterward. Its leadership did not have the experience to successfully navigate the transition to a more open society. Unfortunately, the need for a strong and vocal movement has never been greater. Economic reforms have only increased the potential for irresponsible exploitation of the environment in the name of economic growth and prosperity.
A number of new organizations have begun to lead the fight for environmental responsibility. They are led by young, enthusiastic, creative, and dedicated individuals. However, they find themselves without sufficient human and financial capital to succeed. They often feel too weak and alone to continue the struggle for change.
Juraj's goal is to strengthen Slovak citizens' organizations and to and foster alliances among these groups, so that their campaigns will succeed. Furthermore, he wants to build a coalition of environment nongovernmental organzations in Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The combined resources of these regional organizations will make it possible for them to campaign for large scale change in business practices and for legislative reform, thus ensuring the ecological stability of the region.
However, because of limited resources, he has decided to focus only on environmental organizations, which are fighting for systemic change and whose campaigns require strong local, regional, and national support (e.g. anti-nuclear organizations, ozone protection groups, organizations fighting for sustainable land use and transportation practices).
To achieve his goal, Juraj founded the Center for Environmental Public Advocacy. The Center has three major programs: (1) a nongovernmental organization support program; (2) a program of assistance to endangered communities; and (3) the global political economy program. The first program provides legal assistance to nongovernmental organizations. It also maintains a library of information, including several hundred publications on grassroots development, and a comprehensive training program of workshops and seminars on various topics important for citizens' groups. Participating organizations are required to send three to four individuals to each training session to ensure a critical mass of members, who will be able to properly reform their organizations, upon completion of the training. In addition, Juraj uses strategically placed "trainers" within the audience to help facilitate the learning process. This is also furthered by several participatory events that require the participants to apply their new skills. Juraj calls upon members of other organizations to help him plan the curriculum of the workshops/seminars. This also helps to build the human capacity of their organizations and helps ensure a high quality program.
The goal of the program to help endangered communities is to assist those villages which are being relocated and adversely affected by large development projects (e.g. dams) and to stop the waste of large amounts of government funds on projects which harm the environment. The purpose of the global political economy program is to monitor and analyze the activities of multinational corporations, multilateral development institutions and international organizations; and to determine their impact on the culture, economy, social sector and environment of Slovakia.
Juraj joined the environmental movement in 1987, when he was a university student. He was a member of a core group of politically active environmentalists, who played a key role in fighting the Communist government during 1989. After the "velvet" revolution, he became the head of the environmental section of the Public Against Violence, a civic anti-Communist political movement.
In 1990, he was elected to a deputy position in the local government of his village, Budmerice. It is there that he lead the fight to close a toxic waste dump that had polluted the area for years. Although this campaign was not completely successful, it served as a great learning experience for Juraj.
In 1991, he came to the United States and studied organizational techniques applicable to citizen groups and nongovernmental organizations. Many of these techniques have been incorporated into the seminars and workshops conducted at Juraj's Center.