This article was coauthored by a group of students from different countries in the Balkans participating in the FOPER Graduate program sponsored by the Finland Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Authors: Todora Grašić, Vladimir Nikolić, Senka Mutabdžija, Amila Brajić, Bruno Marić, Dženan Bećirović
Assignment organizer: Dr. Saleem H. Ali
Dynamics of the last 20 years (from war to post-war period) have precipitously changed societies of Southeastern Europe.
Consequently, relationships between humankind and nature have evolved and have resulted in increased need for innovative initiatives for proclamation of protected areas. Complexity and uniqueness of the National Parks (NP) Plitvice and Una, lies exactly in its similarities. The Plitvice lakes find their origins in calcareous sinter and exhibit a variety of geomorphologic shapes, forests and meadows, flora and fauna and cultural heritage which makes this place the oldest National Park of Croatia. On the other side of the border is NP Una, the youngest National Park of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Landforms with the special importance of this NP are (you can guess!) – landforms which are products of sedimentation of tuff such as: tuff barriers, islets, cascades and caves. Despite the fact that these two National Parks are very similar in their habitat conditions, one more thing makes them brings them together; their transit position toward seacoast had resulted with manifold cultural influences whose evidence we can search in various archeological sites such as medieval castles, sacral objects of different religions and cultures.
All of the facts about these two National Parks bring out the possibility of joint management. On the one side we have very old and well-known National Park Plitvice with the tradition of 53 years for which introduction of new contents could only increase the touristic offer. On the other side there is National Park Una, established 3 years ago with need to spread the voice about its existence. Together – they can make for a cross-national nature sensation!
Success of this concept requires complete synergy between actors from different sectors in process of creation of new model for management of protected areas. In this case, creation of networks through different forms of partnership between civil, private and public sector is needed both on the State level, Cantonal and State level in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H), County and State level in Croatia, and between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
Any attempt of establishing trans-boundary cooperation should start from trust building between two countries. Thus, an assessment of all capacities that Plitvice and Una possess is necessary. Therefore, we are suggest a general theoretical framework for comprehensive capacity assessment, which will be explained with examples of these two natural haitats.
Trust building is one of the main means for establishing Peace Park Plitvice – Una. This phase should be organized trough series of workshops and seminars which will have educational and informational character. Examples of best practices from this field should be introduced in comparison with situation on the ground. Capacities, potentials, and benefits from natural resource should be presented to all stakeholders’ trough workshops. Also, this kind of approach could be useful in defining vision, mission, and goals of Strategy of development of Peace Park Plitvice – Una, which should be an umbrella document for deriving management plans.
What is certain is that local communities from both countries have very special relationship with natural resource. One visitor said:” I have never seen this kind of love for Una River, for any river actually. Their relationship with river is so special; they care and protect it from ever.” Historical relationship with resource and traditional ecological knowledge can significantly contribute to capacity building. From the other side, expert and scientific knowledge can and should be used to strength it. Conditions for establishment of this park should be provided by the legal framework in the countries, and between the countries. Also, inter-sectoral harmonization of different laws and by–laws in both countries are needed.
Mitigating circumstance is that both countries are in process of associating to EU, so parts of environmental legislations need to be harmonized with EU legislation. In order to better achieve the cooperation between the countries an important question is: “Who will be responsible for management of the Park?” There are two possible solutions: to establish one joint body which will manage, monitor, and evaluate the achievements of strategic goals, or to keep present system of management. Good starting point for this is signing of intergovernmental agreement about establishment of the Park. For purpose of establishment of Peace Park, funds are needed, in order to establish all recreational, educational, and ecological services that this Peace Park should provide. The sources of investments can be Budget of the States, or means from different projects that are present in the area. Also, B–H is a pre accession country while Croatia is a candidate for EU, and both countries can use means from IPA funds. Sustainability of this Park in first period should be achieved through different support from States and different donors, while in further period Park should be capable for self – financing. This is unique opportunity for both countries, to get significant support in funding of this Peace Park which would be the first of its kind in this region.
So far, we can conclude that there are strong potentials for establishment of Peace Park Plitvice – Una. But there are three main challenges that should be kept in mind. First is possibility for conflicts that could rise in both countries (not between countries!). The reason for conflicts could easily be robustness of project, because adaptive management plan should be made for whole eco system, not just water or forest resource. Different stakeholders, starting from sectoral institutions such as different ministries, public enterprises, and entrepreneurs will have a stake in claiming the right on management. That is why we think that best possible solution is establishing of joint body, which would ensure transparency, participation and adaptive management of the resource Second challenge is that Croatia should be accepted as a Member State in EU. This brings questions about access to resource, discrepancies between laws of these two countries, and investments into park. At the end, additional carefulness is needed with division of benefits from park, between countries, different organizational structures, and local communities.
In spite of all the challenges, uncertainties, and risks that this kind of project can and will bring, potentials for success are present. Benefits of establishment of Peace Park are not just in nature protection, rural development, and economic progress. Main benefit would be much greater! This could be a new step in post conflict period; a mean for bringing different religions and ethnicities together; a way of healing old wounds; a new bridge between two so similar, but so distant nations!