Slovenia: The Time when Ecovillages were Places Faraway in the Woods is Over

The following article about ECOLISE and GEN, written by longterm ecovillage activist Nara Petrovič from Slovenia, was published in the Delo Newspaper, one of the biggest mainstream media of the country. It can be likened to GEN as it is today: a modern and open movement for global change.

What connects us, brings us joy and is good for everyone: for ourselves, for our communities and for the Earth? Can civil society think and plan further into the future than that which currently directs global development – primarily politicians and economists? Can an umbrella alliance represent community-led local development and thereby long-term interests of people and nature, thus radically changing global development goals in Europe or even in the world? These are the questions raised by ECOLISE, which hosted its first General Assembly in Freiburg, Germany on February 7 and 8.
There are heated debates in Slovenia in favour of, and against, privatization. There is dissatisfaction over the gap between political elites and citizens amongst clashing opinions on which energy investments are appropriate. There are debates on the issue of alienation of Euro-bureaucrats from what is actually happening in the member states. Amidst all of this, Freiburg hosted an assembly of civil movements that are practically engaged in the field of sustainable society, developing a strategy that is urgently needed if we are to reach crucial goals for our survival.
These movements are involved in raising social cohesion and local self-sufficiency, stabilizing the economy, rational use of natural resources, achieving zero carbon footprint, amongst many others. The strategy is based on diverse and extensive activities that are already taking place in local communities, regardless of politics and economy.
National network representatives of the Transition Town Network, Global Ecovillage Network, Permaculture Network and other organisations that represent grass-roots interests of society, have consolidated the European meta-network, using participatory decision-making. A few observers from universities and institutes also attended the assembly. Some participants have been employed in, or are still somehow connected with, political structures in Brussels, in separate countries, or in the United Nations.

Transition as Joy, not as Urgency
Filipa Pimentel used to work in Brussels, then she got in touch with the Transition Movement, quit her job, and moved back to her hometown to support local transition to sustainability. Knowing both her home environment and the guts of Euro-machinery very well, she quickly found a niche for her voluntary involvement. Her family and neighbours were astounded, of course: who would want to abandon the security of a well-paid job in Brussels and do voluntary work amidst Portuguese misery?
The crisis in Portugal is harsh. Salaries are low, while the prices are comparable to those in the UK. Due to the economic state of affairs, people keep opening up to new ideas. Filipa was well acquainted with the state of the global economy, so from the very beginning of her involvement in the Transition movement in Portugal, she stood for decoupling money from Transition. Transition events are thus conducted on the basis of gift economy. This begs the question of how much people are actually willing to give for goods and services, which results in growing local exchange systems and rethinking the (useful and harmful) functions of the foundation of the existing economy: money.
A big shift in the way they operate is that they have changed the basic motivation from urgency, hurrying, and hard work, to contentment, connecting and sharing. When they choose the next
activity from the endless list of everything that needs to be done, their first criterion is: what connects them and brings joy? When people do what they enjoy, what doesn't even feel like work, they are much more efficient. They accomplish more than if they worked out of necessity.
Who wouldn't want to accomplish more while having a positive attitude to "work"? How much more could we do, if we give in to work that we love doing with joy and a sense of belonging? This is exactly why good-hearted people like Filipa are ready to give up highly paid office positions and channel their energy into solutions, which their home needs – their home at the level of their village and at the level of the planet.

Slobbying – influence without corruption
Filipa spoke of a new concept of influencing policy, which she called 'slobbying', in which highly competent people are made available to those who need them. Rather than forcing and pressuring, they build influence on credibility, transparency, professionalism and unobtrusive dissemination of information. Slobbyists are interested in the subject matter on the table, not in their own ego. The slobbyist's face is not the value in and of itself, so slobbyists, depending on the situation, bring to the fore a variety of experts according to their competencies, while helping silently in the background. They want the best possible outcome for everyone involved, as opposed to increasing their own recognition, accumulating economic benefits for themselves and power for their clients.
Slobbyists therefore cannot be corrupt, they cannot just represent the narrow interests of influential individuals or groups, they must understand the bigger picture and be highly ethical – while simultaneously being skilful communicators. Slobbyists' value must be the common good, good for everyone.
In the background of slobbying lies the question: “How to create the new normal without resistance?” In other words: “How to redefine what is normal and make society embrace it without resisting the innovations?” Most importantly the new normal has to be, as far as possible, good for everyone; it has to carry in itself a mechanism for self-correction, resetting, in the event that it stops serving the purposes for which it was established.

Innovative research in local communities
Thus far, European institutions have not viewed organizations that represent local communities as equal in formulating development strategies. However, this year things began to change. This is reflected in the contents of the new cohesion policy for local development (CLLD), for the period of 2014 to 2020; in the UN call for action for sustainable development, called The Road to Dignity by 2030; in the UN sustainable development goals; and in the EU programme Horizon 2020, where for the first time people's, that is non-institutional, scientific research is internalised.
ECOLISE comprises organisations which boast of a treasure-house of innovations from all areas: social sciences, agriculture, politics, economy, energy, urbanism and many more. Neither scientific institutes nor decision-makers are acquainted with them well enough, so they cannot adequately include them in development strategies. They have never been the topic of a comprehensive, large-scale survey. In ECOLISE we would like to see such a survey on the European level and, subsequently, the results disseminated in all spheres of society.
We don't know how the survey will be conducted and by what means. What we know is that we want to involve institutes and universities working in the areas of sustainable economy, agriculture, energy, building, etc. If various institutes joined hands and focused their research on the common aim of this meta-study, that would allow it to be truly comprehensive and useful on the scale of Europe entire, or even the world. European funding mechanisms abound with funds for such research, and the results will be easily applied in a wide range of sectors.
In terms of publicity and dissemination of innovative practices, we are preparing Share the Vision Tour, starting as of April 22, 2016 and moving through 25 European countries, building bridges between the present consumer culture and the future sustainable culture. In some countries coordination teams are already being established. New people are welcome to join in!

Where will we be in 20 years?
ECOLISE attempts to co-create European policies with a different attitude, while at the same time using the language which the relevant institutions easily understand. Instead of creating leadership and propaganda mechanisms, it creates supportive and navigation mechanisms. In Europe, we do not lack the knowledge, tools, materials and labour; we lack meaning, vision, direction and good navigation. Therefore ECOLISE develops elaborate maps and navigation tools on how to get through difficult waters and continue to joyfully navigate even after 20, 50 years or more.
Andy Goldring from Permaculture Association in UK asked a question: “Can we look twice as far in the future as others, who are currently planning development strategy – to 2030 or even 2050? Can we be a few steps ahead of the current decision-makers and manage to get them to follow us, and not vice versa? Can we design a long-term vision that would be embraced by both a civil servant and a businessman, an environmentalist and an average citizen?”
In this spirit, on the initiative of Robert Hall, we are going to create the ECOLISE 2035 Report, which will rely on participatory methods to answer many pressing questions about the future. These answers will stir the development goals towards sustainable strategy – this tool will support civil society in factually navigating strategic development at all levels of society, from local communities to EU and beyond.
Robert Hall, Managing Director of Global Ecovillage Network Europe (GEN Europe) and one of the major inspirations for the establishment of ECOLISE, states: “The time when ecovillages were places faraway in the woods is over – as active participants of society, they co-design our future. Many policymakers in Brussels see these signs, and the doors for cooperation with GEN and ecovillages are wide open. For this reason GEN cooperates with related movements such as the permaculture network and the transition town initiatives.”
Another person, central in how ECOLISE developed from the beginning until now, is Eamon O'Hara from the European Association for Information on Local Development (AEIDL). In the future, the management of the organization will be in the hands of the newly elected council, consisting of 11 competent representatives of civil society from all parts of Europe. In the coming years ECOLISE wishes to influence the development of local potentials and combine vast local diversity with the glocal euro-mosaic (one that combines global and local).

Parallel society for faster transition
From Slovenia came the idea of Parallel Europe: a wisely structured and open set of social agreements. Agreements are based on common values, protecting natural and social capital. The agreements are there to give society new rules of the game, which serve the common good. Thus, emerging parallel social structure doesn't fight against existing structures, it doesn't distance itself from them, and it doesn't criticize them. Instead, it actively seeks dialogue and solutions, side by side with them. It is not a coup, a revolution, but simply jumping out of the box of old paradigms, where responsibility is predominantly held by impersonal authority – and thus actually carried by nobody. Responsibility is nowadays lost in endless bureaucracy, which is often an end in itself, unrealistic, ossified, and unresponsive.
In the parallel social dimension, responsibility is personal and direct. This is the foundation of norms and ethics which are, sustainability-wise, more precise and strict than those in the existing legal system; each individual is actively accountable for her or his actions in relation to the common survival basis. The survival basis is protected by a charter (or declaration, act), created by each community in a participatory process, and signed by each individual. With such a charter the community gains legal grounds to stand for preservation and protection of their survival base if anyone comes to threaten it.

The principles of Parallel Europe are:
- “good for all” philosophy (whatever we do, affects all of us – there are no “them”),
- we are all responsible for ourselves, for our communities, for the planet (we call this love in action),
- cooperation instead of competition (we are truly active citizens),
- luxurious simplicity (enoughness is the basis for happiness, not growth),
- transparency, openness.

These principles were conceived within the Initiative for Parallel Slovenia. The idea has been developing for eight months, and is still maturing and growing. This is the first time we are presenting it to the wider society. We emphasize that parallel society is based on agreements, arising from mutual trust which is the elementary social glue. Agreements are the basis of organic social order, including ethics, norms in relationships, conflict resolution, organization of work, distribution of goods, etc. Laws are enacted when agreements don't function well or when one group resorts to repressive methods to subordinate other groups.
An important guideline for us is the famous quote of Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Looking at the complexities of the world I have to admit: we do not know what exactly is arising in the world, what really needs to be done. However, we are not closing our eyes at strikingly obvious signs that literally cry out for us to take action. Therefore, we encourage people to ask themselves what they really want, and to write down a priority list that reflects common values. We wish the key criteria would include the things that connect us, bring us joy, and are good for all of us: for ourselves, for our communities, and for the Earth.

The article in original language:


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