The Veterans' Struggle
Best Practice Stories
Neues Deutschland reports on SozialMarie award winner Zeleni odred (The Green Squad).
Environmental protection is considered an issue of the urban middle class in Croatia. But the members of the veterans' association ViDrA (Veterani i društvena akcija – Veterans and Social Action), of all people, show that environmental protection is not just a matter of urban lifestyle, but also a very burning social issue. One issue is particularly close to the heart of chairperson Vesna Grgić: the protection of Croatian forests. That is why she founded the working group Zeleni odred (The Green Squad). And this group has raised a lot of dust in the past few years.
Compared to other European countries, Croatia has relatively few privatised forests. The state enterprise Hrvatske šume d.o.o. (Croatian Forests Ltd.) is responsible for managing the forests, but the way it deals with public property is highly questionable. The Croatian state has been subsidising the domestic timber industry for years on the grounds of promoting the development of the sector. As a result, the price of wood per cubic metre in the youngest EU member state is significantly cheaper than in other European countries. However, only a few large companies that buy up the subsidised wood benefit from this. Small sawmills and wood processing companies can participate in the public tenders, but usually come away empty-handed.
The non-transparent tendering procedure also encourages corruption. Some biomass heating plants bought wood for years without even going into operation. Moreover, it is unclear how much wood the sawmills really process as the responsible supervisory authorities often neglect their duty, which has opened the door for the industry to export wood undisturbed and make millions in profits. So, the dumping prices for the wood have not helped the growth and development of the Croatian timber industry at all.
However, the environmentalists' efforts are creating a headwind – from the very top. "Zeleni odred has been called a 'dangerous group' at a government meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković", says Grgić with pride. Indeed, Grgić continues to receive threats because of this – three members from the Green Squad have even been beaten up.
The achievement of Zeleni odred is not only that an initiative “from below” has brought rampant criminal business into the public eye. Nor only in the fact that for the first time anonymous, courageous whistleblowers from the state enterprise have been at work. What is also an achievement is the destigmatisation of the veterans, who are otherwise often instrumentalised for cheap political purposes. In this way, the association shows that there are also people among veterans who are not committed to nationalism, but to other issues. These include not only environmental protection, but also anti-fascism as one of the basic values of the Croatian constitution and protection of the common good.
Zeleni odred was awarded the 2000 Euro Prize for its commitment. The members of the organisation want to use their growing publicity to draw attention to the ongoing environmental destruction in Croatia and to hold those responsible accountable. In 2018, the organisation filed charges against Minister of Agriculture Tomislav Tolušić, his predecessor Tihomir Jakovina and HŠ board chairman Krunoslav Jakupčić for forest devastation and abuse of office. To date, however, no legal proceedings have been initiated. "That is why we sent 80 pages of evidence about the devastation of Croatian forests and the role of the responsible institutions to the EU Commission and Parliament", says Grgić. She received a reply from Austrian MEP Thomas Waitz(Greens), who has previously campaigned against excessive forest clearing in Poland and Romania. Grgić hopes that this will now also happen in Croatia.
This text was originally published on 17 September 2020 in the newspaper Neues Deutschland
Text: Fran Radonić Mayr, edited by Ivana Perica
Photo © Zeleni odred