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Slovenian wins "Nobel prize" for grass roots environmentalists

San Francisco/Ljubljana, 24 April - Slovenian Uroš Macerl is among the six recipients of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize, a prestigious award for grass roots environmental activists. The president of the Eko krog NGO is the first Slovenian to receive it since the prize was first given out in 1990.

The Eko krog environmental group staging protest in front of the government building in 2010 against the state allowing Lafarge Cement to incinerate hazardous waste at the cement-maker's plant in Trbovlje.
Eko krog president Uroš Macerl (pictured)
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
File photo

The prize honours grass roots environmental activists from around the world, recognising them for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk, according to its website.

Goldman Prize recipients focus on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice.

The recipients are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide group of environmental organisations and individuals.

The winners are announced every April to coincide with Earth Day. Representing Europe, Macerl will receive it today in San Francisco, US.

Macerl is known as a strong opponent of French-owned cement factory Lafarge Cement in the Slovenian town of Trbovlje, which was incinerating hazardous waste.

As a result of his personal engagement, the company was left without an environmental permit after a several-year battle.

The civil society around Macerl was convinced that the factory was very harmful for the environment, posing a risk to the health of local residents.

"This prize is not a recognition of my work, but of our work, of the work of Eko krog, the entire team who were active in the region of Zasavje," he told the STA.

Eko krog had fought the battle against Lafarge Cement together with the municipality of Trbovlje, the Ravenska vas local community and the Civil Initiative for the Future of Trbovlje.

Speaking for the STA on this occasion, Macerl was critical of politics and political institutions, saying they were dominated by capital and had an extremely negative attitude towards environmental organisations.

"Although politicians are talking about a green breakthrough all the time, they yield to the pressure of capital in a moment. So we really are in for a lot of work."

In his view, the situation in the area of environmental protection is extremely critical if not catastrophic.

"Environmental legislation has been written by capital, if necessary, the legislation changes to the benefit of only one factory," said Macerl, who believes this is a rather short-sighted approach which will affect the environment and public health.

He said Slovenia should get an environment ministry, environment agency and government that would work to the benefit of the environment and people instead of doing everything to double-cross the civil society.

Macerl would also like Slovenia to have a strong green party and believes that environmental organisations should work closer together to become stronger.

"We have to start helping each other, learn one from another and join forces. Capital is learning very fast, it finds new ways to pressurise and direct politics."

He sees a solution in making the civil society more active. "There are not many active citizens. Unfortunately, too many people understand active citizenship as signing an online petition."

Macerl also said that the public should realize that environmental organisations were working to the benefit of people and needed the support of masses to be able to deliver.

© STA, 2017