When I hear the word “peacebuilding”, the first thing that springs to mind are the UN troops in some bombed location somewhere in the world.
Yet this is not the only way, peacebuilding can also be done via nature conservation as I witnessed myself.
Recently I attended the Dinaric Arc project’s conference in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina). The conference brings together more than 150 people from 8 countries in Western Balkans: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.
Friends across the borders
The region is like a patchwork of different cultures, languages, religions and – not least – nature. The common denominator here is nature. The majority of participants are from protected areas across the region and they all face the same challenges – lack of funding, insufficient capacity, increasing human pressure on the ecosystems (hydropower development, uncontrolled tourism and other infrastructure development etc.). The list is long.
But what is more important is that they are all dedicated people who are combined by their love for all things natural and the common desire to save this natural heritage for the future generations. Therefore, conversations flow freely and discussion groups do not separate people by their country of origin. During coffee break I notice that guys from Kosovo, Serbia and Republika Srpska are sitting together engrossed in a discussion on nature conservation issues – something that would be unimaginable in a not so distant past.
The conference and the project itself is a very useful platform for people from all over the Western Balkans. They learn about protected area system in each of the countries, meet other international organisations that work in the region on environmental issues (IUCN, ECNC, UNEP, RAMSAR, Euronatur and many others), learn about adaptation to climate change from the Noble prize winner Dr. Lucka Kajfez Bogataj, find out more about the European Charter on Sustainable Tourism from Wilf Fenton from Eurnatur. The agenda is packed with events and information.
But the most important information exchange happens during the informal discussions like during the coffee breaks or the Protected Areas bazaar, when representatives of PAs present their territories and even some of the produce from their area. Dinners often end with music and singing and everybody join in. It’s an amazing atmosphere where one feels to be surrounded by friends.
This is peacebuilding in practice!