14. 12. 2011.

Tanja Petrovic: Institutions work with us. However, more effort would be appreciated…

Tanja Petrović (c) MIS
The knowledge among NGOs in Serbia on Natura 2000 is respectable. A good part of the credit for that belongs to Young Researchers of Serbia, who were the first one in Serbia to organize workshops and trainings about the importance of Natura 2000. One of the projects that secured funds for such an education was “Partnership Actionsfor Biodiversity Protection in Western Balkans”. We spoke about it to Tanja Petrovic, executive director of Young Researchers of Serbia (YRS).

Young Researchers of Serbia have been working on the preparation of NGOs for Natura 2000 for more than 3 years already. How did you decide to take the initiative to support the creation of that ecological network in Serbia?
I must admit that dealing with Natura 2000 was one of the easiest decisions we have made in the last few years J. Dealing with Natura 2000 for us was entirely natural. Since our establishment (this year we celebrate our 35th anniversary), we have dealt with nature conservation and biodiversity.  Membership in international networks, such as CEEweb, has enabled us to understand the  importance of Natura 2000 considerably before it became a topic in Serbia. We understood the importance of establishing the network in Serbia, the benefits, the importance of implementation and, more important, the need for preparation and training for organizations dealing with nature protection in order to become an equal and respectable partner of state institutions for the establishment of Natura 2000 in Serbia.
The project “Partnership Actions for Biodiversity Protection in Western Balkans” is at the very end. Are you satisfied with its implementation? What could have been done better? What are the lessons learned? 
In general, we are satisfied. With our partners we have succeeded in gathering NGOs in two countries dealing with nature conservation, forming two informal but functional national networks. This is what I consider to be the biggest value of this project. Those organizations are now better trained, better prepared… With our study visits to Brussels and Croatia we gained significant experiences. Some prejudices about what is and what is not possible in Natura 2000 are outdated now and nothing is “mission impossible” anymore.
What could have been done better? There was a lack of concrete field work. Some things were done through local actions, but not enough. But two years are, in fact, not enough… So, this still remains for some future projects!
Will YRS work on Natura 2000 in the future? Do you have some new projects?
The fact that our project is at the end doesn’t mean we have finished our work. This project gave us an opportunity to learn. Now we need to implement the knowledge we have obtained. So yes, we will definitely continue working on Natura 2000. After the establishment of Natura 2000, which is a very complicated and complex process, a lot of work is still ahead for the civil sector. The establishment of the network is just the beginning.
Regarding our projects, we have just begun implementation of the project “Promoting socio-economic Benefits of Natura 2000”. We are still waiting to hear from our donors regarding a few more projects dealing with Natura 2000.
What is the future plan for the Natura 2000 Resource Center of Serbia, a network for which your organization is secretariat?
Our intention is, of course, to continue working with the network. There are 4 working groups within the network: communications, research, lobbying and education. Many activities have already started: promotion of Natura 2000, workshops, participation in biogeographical seminars for the Emerald network. This year we have secured funding for regular meetings. The projects we have developed in the meantime are to provide funds for such activities in the future.
What is the opinion of NGOs in Serbia regarding the political will for the implementation of EU acquis for nature protection? Is there such a will in Serbia?
Partly. As politicians would say, I doubt there is any consensus about it. There are institutions in Serbia that are, together with their leaders, ready and willing to implement EU acquis, but there are also the others that see the implementation of Natura 2000 only as an imposed obligation. This means that we, as civil society and as a sector, are facing a lot of work, education and capacity building for the establishment of an ecological network. Many people see only in-kind commitments in Natura 2000, they don’t see benefits… So far! 
Are you invited to the council or working group for the Natura 2000 network formed by the Government of the Republic of Serbia?
At this moment we have only informal information that the representative of the civil sector will be appointed to the working group on Natura 2000. Nothing official has happened yet, there is no decision on the appointment. However, I think that’s not enough – the civil sector should have a representative on the Council as well. This, of course, wouldn’t be a precedent. Three representatives of civil society are permanent members of the Council for Sustainable Development of the Republic of Serbia and it works just fine ... I suppose this is not the only example.         
In my opinion the cause of frequent misunderstandings and disputes among civil society and institutions involved in nature protection is the lack of information, lack of recognition of the potential that lies in the civil sector, misunderstanding of the nature of civil society on the one hand, and the way in which the state administration works on the other side... Membership on the Council and in the Working Group would probably contribute to resolving these problems. It would also contribute to the more efficient and safe establishment of Natura 2000 in Serbia.
In your opinion, is the Government of Republic of Serbia cooperating with NGOs?
This year we made important progress… the Government office for cooperation with the civil sector was formed and we already see the benefits of this institution. As for our relevant ministry (Environment, Mining and Spatial Planning), they are just designing some institutional mechanisms that should improve this cooperation.
Not to leave this question without a proper answer – yes, the RS government cooperates with the civil sector. However, it is necessary that they insert more effort and good will to make this cooperation more efficient.
Do you have a message for institutions working with nature conservation in Serbia?
“Together we can be stronger!”

Petra Boic Petrac, WWF

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