Pal Gera

Ashoka Fellow
Budapest, Hungary
Fellow Since 1999

Citation

This profile was prepared when Pal Gera was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Pal and his Foundation for Otters are fighting to raise awareness of environmental protection through his work with otters and wetlands. His foundation is the only one in Hungary which concerns itself with otters and their habitats. Pal has discovered that the endangered otters are an effective symbol of environmental degradation throughout Europe, and can be used to mobilize public support for wetlands conservation, the maintenance of "green corridors," and the fight against illegal poaching. Pal also focuses on otters because they sit at the top of the food chain and are therefore important indicators of environmental health.

To achieve his objectives, Pal has created a comprehensive program and the first national network based on the involvement of volunteers, children, university students, experts and environmentalists, landowners, fishing and hunting organizations, and politicians. His network is uniquely successful in attracting cross-sectoral partnerships and making creative use of volunteer resources, and can provide a blueprint for successful social change movements in Central Europe. His program also features several unique components for wetland and otter protection including legal reform providing compensation for landowners, national surveys methods, an Otter Park and Ambulance, conference series, a strong and successful lobby, and youth education programs.

In Hungary, the environment is still neglected by government and civil society alike. The communist regime was opposed in principle to environmental protection because it seemed to detract from their philosophy of aggressive industrial development. Environmental protection was equated with general opposition to economic progress. In the 1980s, as the regime began to collapse and a more open political situation evolved, the government prepared an Environmental Law which did not specify punishments for violations and legalized higher pollution levels than in Western countries. This Law was not changed until 1997. From 1989 to 1997, there was no substantive control over the destructiveness of privatization.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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