Outside Central Europe the Carpathian Mountains are not well known, but they make up one of the continent's longest and most unspoilt mountain ranges. They are usually associated with Romania, but they stretch to the north and west through Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. There is even a tiny outcrop of the Carpathians in Austria, just above Vienna. Altogether they constitute the largest area of virgin and mountain forest in Europe, and form the prime source of water for much of the region. So it was high time that leaders and environmentalists from the different countries gathered to exchange ideas and experiences. Vaclav Stetka from the Czech Environmental Partnership attended the meeting, and felt that among all the talk, there were real signs of a commitment to international cooperation.
"Among many speakers, including the presidents, there was a considerable effort to point to the Carpathians not just as a mountain area divided among many different countries, but as an eco-region, that means as a space defined by natural and cultural but not by political borders. For example, Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, stated that protection of such a region cannot be achieved on a national level, because meteorological, hydrological or other natural phenomena do not know such borders."
The concrete outcome of the conference was a joint declaration on the environment and sustainable development. It is only a first step, but it does lay the foundations for further and more specific international agreements. Here in the Czech Republic there have been several very successful environmental initiatives in the part of the Carpathian range that forms part of this country - the rolling White Carpathian Hills on the Slovak border, and the Beskyd and Javornik Mountains. An example is the village of Hostetin in the White Carpathians, where a small plant was recently opened to process fruit juice. With no great investment, this has helped both to create jobs in the region and to encourage people to preserve the unique network of orchards on the Carpathian hillsides. Given that the Czech Republic is one of the wealthier and more experienced countries in the region, one of the first small initiatives to emerge from the summit is likely to be a Czech financed trip to this country for Romanian environmentalists to see how some of these local initiatives have worked.
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