Dr Gabor Mesaros is the Chairman of the Board of Protego, an NGO from Serbia. After teaching at the college, Dr. Mesaros moved to the non-profit sector. We are interested to hear his experience.
You have experienced both sides. Where is more interesting?
I have experienced both state and private sector, and now I'm in the NGO sector. It is safest in the state sector, but NGOs give you greater freedom. The big advantage of the NGO sector is the fact that you plan your activities alone. There are no outside influences, at least not direct.
What do you do at the moment?
Generally we are oriented towards water and the stagnant waters in Vojvodina. This is a continuation of research and protection programs for the terrapin that we expanded on its habitat. We are working on inventories of those waters, a rapid environmental assessment and an attempt to include some of those waters in the ecological network. There are a perhaps tens of hectares of water area. We have established contacts with government institutions; we exchanged our database so that we work together, although it can’t be called a partnership. They have to complete the ecological network, all in the context of the Emerald, Natura 2000 and the Decree, so the information they get from us is quite welcome.
I have come from a state and professional academic structure so I know these people and there are no difficulties.
Being a scientist with a Ph D who is coming from their “environment”, is your data automatically credible?
They are loaded with their tasks, given by somebody who is in a higher position… So they look only at the resources around them. The NGO sector is not considered to be a resource, although the situation has changed in the last few years. With the Institute we have good cooperation, but with the Ministry, there is no cooperation.
NGO Protego is a part of the “Natura 2000 Resource Center of Serbia” network. What is your opinion on the networking?
Networking is a great idea…
What about the implementation?
Well, it’s good. I don’t know what to expect. Protego has been part of the network since January 2010 and when I look back, I've got all sorts of useful information which I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t a member: information about meetings, some travelling, contacts with people ... There is much to be done, we often mention working within thematic units that is really necessary. There is also our joint approach, where we gave remarks on some regulations and rules, the changes in the law. That didn’t change excessively the attitude of decision makers at the republic level but there is awareness that we are here and we can coordinate some things.
How will Serbia react to the Natura 2000 network? Do you expect some problems?
Some difficulties, yes. We need to work a lot on education, not only with citizens, but also with the decision makers at all levels. People in Serbia think that protection means being deprived of something, so they are desperately struggling not to give their property. I was assured on several meetings that this needs to be changed. Protection isn’t primarily conservation but sustainable management, use of resources in a way that does not jeopardize its long-term natural values. We need to continue working on this, especially with those who work with water management and forests. It seems to me that this is the result of performance of the Institute for Nature Protection, because they think that the protection is only what the law defines. We saw some space there and we are working to point out that there is a way that the resource is used but still preserved. This is protection. Natura 2000 has a lot of examples on the development of management plans... It's not just setting up tables, but it’s more about the managing. It’s hard to determine what progress the process will make in Serbia. I guess slow, but constant.
Petra Boic Petrac, WWF