Professor Ivan Rynda
Former Chairman of the Environmental
Committee of the Czechoslovak Assembly
Charles University Centre for Environment
It is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to speak here in Athens, the cradle of Western civilisation. After a visit to the Acropolis, Mycenae, Corinth and Epidauros over the last three days, it seems to me that I can clearly feel the roots of our thinking and philosophy. At the end of my speech, I will try to demonstrate, why a return to these roots is more important now than at any other time in history.
My colleague, Jaroslav Stoklasa, has talked about the industrial and economic evolution in the former Czechoslovakia and the present Czech Republic, so we already have a basic data about the progress of economic restructuralisation. I would first like to speak about the same topic, from another point of view, and then about the restoration of traditional Czech democracy. My task will also be to provide some brief information about non-governmental organisations in the Czech Republic, about their history and variety, and about their quality and role in the new Czech Republic.
The two governments established after the democratic elections of 1990 and 1992, and the newly elected parliaments of the former Czechoslovakia and of the Czech Republic, have prepared extensive new legislation. This new legislation laid the basis for the current economic and social transformation. We currently have a system of liberal prices and a market economy free of strong state influences. We have very successfully completed a process of small privatisation and restitution. At the end of last year we completed the privatisation of large companies, factories and property, by the so called “coupon method”. The inflation of the Czech currency, the Czech crown, is less than 10% yearly. Unemployment is only about 3%.
As far as the system of organisation for the state and society is concerned, we have a new democratic constitution, a charter for human rights and freedoms, a freely elected assembly, a majority governmental coalition and government, a differentiated system of political parties, and, of course, free and independent mass media. All these changes are essentially irreversible and the Czech Republic is a legally supreme democratic state with a market economy. But, as nothing is ever so simple and optimistic, we still have not achieved the goal of an open liberal society.
In the sphere of economic development, we still need responsible owners of former state – owned property, a convertible currency, principal changes in the structure of industry (less heavy and more light industry), and a rapid decrease in industrial energy consumption and use of non-renewable natural resources. We must also re-build the tax system and agree upon a new system of economic policies, which would strictly support protection of the environment and nature.
Our government, unfortunately, has not yet passed the document on state environmental policy. This policy must be, in my opinion, be comprised of two basic parts:
- the improvement and amelioration of an extremely polluted environment and ecologically damaged areas;
- a system of values and rules to provide environmental protection and to prevent any future destruction.
Paradoxically, our government provides extensive financial support from the state budget for the former process, but is afraid to initiate the latter, which is relatively inexpensive in comparison. However, we have had some bad experiences with so- called social engineering, but this process is fundamentally different. State environmental policy should concentrate on the following:
- common state or governmental policy needs to be equally applicable to all ministries;
- structural changes in policy must be made in full consideration of their ramifications;
- state policy is like a triangle with equal sides, in which human societal needs in the broadest sense would be satisfied through the use of economic tools, which fully respect environmental limits.
I am also convinced, that each society needs “green” non-governmental organisations for promoting such principles and goals, through a system of values and state rules. But there is still another important reason why “green” and other NGOs are necessary. With regard to the political sphere or the sphere of organisation of society, the Czech Republic is established, at present, according to the so-called environmental limits neo-classic economic paradigm. It means that society on the one side is made up of the free and independent individual and, on the other side, of the state, its politicians, civil servants and officials. The connection between the individual citizens and the state is ensured by political parties, from which you can choose your favourite – once every four years. This neo-classic economic paradigm assumes that society is merely a file of individuals and supposes that the marketing of their individual interests, purposes, needs, but also abilities, wisdom, arts and crafts will create the most effective society, with the most prosperity and happiness. In fact there is a large gap between the individual and the politician or the state, and there is a big risk that connections will be made between property and capital, and politics and political power. Furthermore, decision-making processes must be decentralised: It is, maybe, one of the biggest paradoxes of the process of transition, that the decentralisation of society had to be co-ordinated and command-controlled from one centre – though it was probably necessary during the first phase.
However, at present, it is necessary to establish a real open liberal society, decentralised, and based on principles of subsidiary (lower-level) decision- making; a society composed not only of individuals and families, but of many non-governmental organisations, lobbies, interested groups, chambers, professional chambers, unions and trade-unions, scientific and cultural movements. Diversity in society is just as important as in nature.
“Green” non-governmental organisations thus have a doubly crucial role in this “societal structure”: they represent the public interest regarding nature and environmental protection, and they help create diversity in open an society. Such an effective structure has three functions:
- it is a perfect all-encompassing, all-seeing monitor of the state of the environment and of the negative anthropogenic influences on it;
- it can keep the balance and homeostasis of society and provide counter- weight against other social groups, or industrial and energy lobbies;
- if society has a reasonable government, NGOs can very usefully help in the legislative process. They can prepare drafts and proposals for the bills and acts, and evaluate the governmental ones in order to improve their quality. They can also very significantly contribute to the social consensus in complicated issues concerning public interests, and private property and rights at the same time.
For this to be possible, such a structure must be serious, fully expert, non- corrupted, enthusiastic, however, not too narrowly or singly oriented. Such a structure never represents any extreme in society, but on the contrary, is always very state-supportive and maintains the free, open, liberal society.
We had a very good tradition of “green” non-governmental organisations in the former Czechoslovakia. Some of them were official and were allowed even by the totalitarian regime. These included the Brontosaurus, the Czech Union of Nature Protection, and the Ecological Section of the Biological Society of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Other unofficial groups, or some of their members, worked partially, or fully, in dissent or in the underground. Examples of this group include: the Prague Mothers, the Children of the Earth, Duha – The Rainbow, and many others. This second group helped dissolve and destroy the former Czech totalitarianism, but both groups helped inform the general public, and helped in the development of their thinking, as well as raising awareness of the need to protect the environment. Thanks to the wisdom of my colleague and former Minister of Environment of the Czech Republic, Bedrich Moldan, all these activities had a truly open door to the Ministry of Environment, and helped it on an expert level. They were also subsidised when it was necessary. Unfortunately this collaboration has rather deteriorated since the autumn 1992 elections.
Soon after these elections, two important new non-governmental organisations were established. The first one was the Ecological Circle, which is something like an Academy or Council of top experts. The chairman is Bedrich Moldan. The second one, in my opinion, is presently the leading and dominating organisation among NGOs in the Czech Republic. I am not saying this because I happen to be a member of its Council. It is a strictly expert, objective, broadly oriented, quite respectable organisation, with a broader member basis than Ecological Circle, although membership is selective. It is very active and provides regular and occasional seminars, as well as publishing the principal expert memoranda to all important events or bill proposals in the environmental sphere. But its interests are not limited to environmental issues. It also plays a major role in the humanistic sphere. Its members are artists, sociologists and philosophers. I believe that the direction of my ideas in this presentation is in accordance with the principles and ideas of this group: the Society for Sustainable Living. The founding member, the chairman until recently, and one of its spiritual leaders was, Josef Vavrousek, to whose memory this Symposium is dedicated.
Although the basis of economic transformation in the Czech Republic has been completed, an efficient economy and prosperity are not the final goal or purpose. They are only two of the more important tools. We need only look at the state of the environment everywhere, to witness the results of one-sided economic quantitative growth.
We have completed the basis of democratic transformation, but democracy is only a tool, not a goal. One of the greatest Greeks, Aristotle, recognised that “Radical democracy is tyranny” (The Politics, Vol. VII, 10, 1312, 5-6) and he knew very well the weaknesses of democracy, which could even threaten freedom and, if society has no other power, lead to absolutism of the majority. Because democracy by itself is not the source of values, there must still be some other power protecting the rights of minorities. Democracy is a necessary condition, but not sufficient. I therefore argue, that there are not only two transformations in the process of transition, but three. In the first two, economic and political (or democratic) transformations, we are now hopefully almost on the same level as developed states, at least where basic principles are concerned; but these developed societies are almost on the same level as the Czech Republic with respect to the third transformation: the changing of the system of values and the search for new tools for its realisation. We seek the forces and values which can fill the vessel of an efficient market economy and plural democracy with new content. We have progressed relatively quickly on the economic and democratic paths, because we followed developed states, and we have returned to our former place in Western culture. On the third path we will, hopefully, walk together.
We are aiming for a particular kind, or way, of life which would be sustainably possible for ever. Sustainable living cannot be regarded as mere survival. This could not be satisfactory. It also cannot be regarded as sustainable growth. At present, we can witness the negative results that one-sided quantitative economic growth has had on nature and on our own feeling, thinking and behaviour. Our real aim is, therefore, development that is qualitative. The purpose is a higher and advanced quality of human life, in the sense of inner, subjective feelings and simple, archetypal values, such as friendship, love, love of children, parents, or nature. One of the necessary aspects is a chance to implement all of our positive inner abilities and potentials. This is why progress and development is undoubtedly one of the inherent features of humankind and the human being.
I am convinced that all this is not just an idealistic fantasy. Sustainable development could also be the source of many quite concrete and realistic strategies. But I cannot cover every topic, and the expert on these issues, Bedrich Moldan, will surely satisfy you with his presentation.
The World Health Organisation, a very respectable institution, has spoken about the higher quality of human life. I do believe, that these were the ideas of Josef Vavrousek, and that these ideas, in much better form and more precisely expressed, are the main content of the theory of Biopolitics, called by the very comprehensive, complex, Greek word bios, and put forward by the person who inspired this symposium, Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis. These ideas are humanism, respect for nature and for bios, with their inner wealth, diversity and need for development. In ancient Greek philosophy, man felt himself to be an integrated part of nature, and this concept can actually help us today. Allow me therefore, please, to say “thank you” to Josef Vavrousek and Dr. Vlavianos- Arvanitis for striving to make this world a better place for the future.
Professor Ivan Rynda, an established member of ecological circles in the Czech Republic, is a founding member of both the National Forestry Committee and the Sustainable Development Society. He has served on the boards of both groups and as spokesman of the latter. Professor Rynda has also supported environmental issues at governmental and international levels, filling the posts of Chairman of the Environmental Committee of the Chamber of People of the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly, he also participated in the 1992 UN Rio Conference on the Environment and Development. Professor Rynda, currently Deputy Director of the Centre for Environmental Scholarship at Charles University, Prague, he travels world-wide lecturing on environmental issues and participating in international conferences on the environment. He has been Visiting Fellow at two Colleges in Cambridge University and also on the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. He has authored and co-authored papers and articles on environmental issues, politics and literature.