Will the Greens every make inroads in central and eastern Europe?

09-07-2004

In the recent European Parliament elections, only one Green Party MP - from Latvia - was elected out of all the ten new EU states. A fairly poor result, given the fact that improving the environment was once fairly high on the agenda for people in the former Soviet bloc. So why did green parties do so badly? That's a question Rob Cameron put to Jan Haverkamp, a Dutch environmentalist who's been working in the region for twenty years.

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission "In the 90s we had a very strong environmental movement with a lot of very strong personalities. And what we see is that in all the countries where the Greens have not been able to win seats, there was more than one Green Party competing for seats. We also see that it has not been possible for people with a focus on green issues to get on important places in the existing parties."

Nonetheless this region suffered terrible environmental damage at the hands of the Communists, and the effects of that damage are still with us today. Why aren't green parties more popular here?

"First of all because people have a lot more on their minds than only green issues. That has to be said up front. The second point is that there's a lot of apathy, people don't believe in politics anymore, they also don't believe that politics can change things for the better on ecological matters. We can see that very sharply here in the Czech Republic, where we have an environment minister from the Christian Democrats who got his position on a green ticket, but as environment minister has problems implementing his opinions because he is completely dependent on his not-so-environmentally-orientated party colleagues. And people have lost a little bit of hope on that issue."

Going back to your first point - you said you thought people had more important issues to worry about. Is it true that people only start voting for green parties when they can afford to, when they have less pressing things on their mind? Isn't voting green a middle-class luxury if you like?

"No I think people will vote for green agendas when these green agendas are also pushing the total political agenda. That's we saw in 1990 - 1992 in this region. It was that people had a holistic vision of the problems we were facing. We wanted to get rid of Communism, Communism was standing for environmental pollution, so the environmental issue was a critique of Communism. Those people were not middle class."

You're from the Netherlands - there's a huge gap in green awareness between your country and this country. Do you think that gap will ever become closer?

"In the Netherlands Greenpeace has 650,000 supporters. In the Czech Republic, 12,000. That's a very big gap. I don't think we can make that up very fast. But what I do see is that environmental issues are becoming more and more mainstream. There are more and more people saying 'yes of course we should think about the environment as a whole.' It's slowly becoming less of a polarised opinion thing. And what you see is that slowly the membership of environmental organisations is growing."

09-07-2004

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