Green belt could soon replace the former Iron Curtain

Una 'franja verde' en el lugar de la 'Cortina de hierro'

Prior the fall of communism the border separating socialist Czechoslovakia from the capitalist West was notoriously well-guarded, creating a virtual no-man's land. Few were able to cross or even to enter. Paradoxically, the strict precautions ended up having an unexpectedly positive effect: nature in this area remained practically untouched to this day, a true rarity in the centre of Europe. To ensure the area's continued preservation, leading environmental organisations launched a project aimed at protecting the border region. The groups hope to link several areas to create an extensive green belt that will run throughout the whole of Europe.

After the fall of communism German environmental organisations were among the first to realise that nature in the border area had been extremely well preserved, so they launched a project for its protection. That project has now expanded to include areas of the Czech Republic and Austria. But, organisers hope that later on it will even spread as far as other former Eastern bloc countries, creating a continuous green belt that will run from the northern-most reaches of Europe, to as far south as the Black Sea. Julia Bartos is a member of the Czech environmental organization Duha.

"The idea of this project is to create this long bio corridor with undisturbed nature. The project is based on the fact that this former border between East and West Germany or the border between the Czech Republic and Germany has been uninhabited and the nature has remained more or less preserved."

Environmental organisations in the Czech Republic and in Austria have already asked for state support. They are also pushing strongly to have the new environmental zones protected under the law. The project is expected to be successful, having gained great attention in Germany, where the state granted some of its public land. The project seems to be attractive not only for its environmental value but also for its symbolic meaning, as Julia Bartos explains.

"Our main aim is to preserve nature. Of course at the same time we also consider it to be a symbol of freedom and democracy - nature conservation project replaces the former Iron Curtain."

The green belt is now hundreds of kilometres long and between 50 to 200 meters wide. It creates a home environment for many kinds of animals and varieties of different plants. Several hundreds of birds in danger of extinction have also made it their own. Along with preservation, the project also hopes to use the unique opportunity to create a connection between diverse eco-systems throughout whole Europe. Julia Bartos and her colleagues hope to be able to keep the number of roads and other negative factors on the environment to a minimum.

"Preserving ecosystems themselves is one thing, linking them is another important thing. It enables animals, species to move from one corridor to another. It is important to have this European green belt because it gives us the unique chance to enable habitats or animals to move from Germany later on down to Bulgaria over very long distances."

Once the idea is realised in the Czech Republic and Austria, the project plans to expand to other countries. Environmental activists hope that it will take less then another thirteen years, which were needed to launch the project in Germany. This project also wants to draw attention to the necessity of a supranational environmental policy covering the whole of Europe.