Diary from Global Ecovillage Network conference 2012

By Nara Petrovič

(The article was originally published in Slovenian in the neswpaper Delo, Sobotna priloga, August 4th, 2012)

I heard a call from across the Hungarian plains! The makers of a better world were gathering in Krishna Valley Ecovillage, south of Lake Balaton, Hungary. I joined them for the fourth time—desiring to give, and with the hope that I will learn something new, something amazing, as I have done three times so far:-

In 2009, I brought from Finland the seed of the idea of ‘cleaning the country’ in one day. In 2010, in Italy, I realized the dimensions of the phenomenon of ecovillages, and their importance in addressing pressing global problems. In 2011, I recognized the importance of water as a strategic resource and saw a practical example of restoring water landscapes; a practice worth implementing everywhere in the world. What will I learn this year, I wondered?

Welcome to India!

Upon our arrival, the conditions on the farm of the Hungarian Community for Krishna Consciousness were so austere that our host jokingly welcomed us to India!

Temperatures of 38°C, power cuts, poor Internet connection (if any), simple rooms without electric light, plain spicy food… India, indeed!

Krishna Valley community has been developing for almost two decades, following the teachings of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, under the watchful eye of Shivaram Swami; the spiritual master of most of the inhabitants of the Valley. Around one hundred devotees live in the community while sixty members have made their home in the village of Somogyvamos, next to the Valley. So far, members of the community have purchased quite an amount of land in this village, and there in no lack of interest to buy more properties in the future.

Krishna Valley is almost completely off-grid from the networks of mainstream contemporary society. In most houses there is no electricity. Wherever electricity is available it comes from solar cells, or, if more electricity is needed, they use a diesel generator. The community has its own water supply from a 300m deep well. Over the previously barren landscape they have planted 380,000 trees (around 1,000 different species), and dug several ponds.

In a neat stable there are several cows that have never calved, yet have been giving milk continuously for many years. Devotees produce their own food on the land cultivated exclusively by oxen. Really like in India!

In the central area by the temple, two large tents have already opened for the meeting of ecovillagers and ecovillage enthusiasts from more than 30 countries, and virtually all continents.

Tour of Krishna Valley.

Thirsty for solutions

Kosha Anja Joubert, President of the Global Ecovillage Network, opened this year’s conference, saying “People are thirsty for solutions. What are they yearning for? They are yearning for reasonable community structure; for balance between the social, spiritual, ecological and economical; for an optimistic vision of the future. The Global Ecovillage Network provides an holistic model that can satisfy all these yearnings.”

Initially, some stories from countries around the world have shown that aggressive global machinery continues to pound and destroy things of value. Inci Gokmen from a Turkish ecovillage, ´Güneşköy´, was sad to report how a railroad is going to be built over their land, and there is nothing they can do about it. Ambre Solace, from Auroville, India, reported how a terrible hurricane devastated large areas of forest that were patiently planted over the past fifty years.

Now they’re into “chainsaw salvation”, transforming fallen trees into construction material.

Kosha Joubert was disappointed when the German Foreign Ministry could not uphold a verbal agreement for financial support of the African Ecovillage Network after their Climate Funds were cut by 50% in January 2012. Macaco Tamerice from Damanhur shared about the right-wing government’s intent to build a waste incinerator in their valley; I sensed a call to the conference participants for support against the incinerator.

Everybody who reported from the recent Rio+20 conference expressed disappointment. John Croft spoke in fierce voice: “I felt anger in Rio! What we saw at a government level was a violation of justice! Sustainability was replaced with sustainable development. Governments actually destroy the solutions and create problems!”

But all this darkness is only a contrasting backdrop to accentuate the light spread by Global Ecovillage Network around the world.

GEN dance!

Success stories

I had a wonderful conversation with Philip Munyasia from Kenya. He told me about his courageous activities. Among other things, he made a water drill on his own for the local community. For weeks he was asking for permit at the local administrative office, but they always told him: “Come tomorrow, come tomorrow…”

Ultimately he ended up in court because he drilled without the permit. He paid the penalty and was released. One more proof that in today’s world it is often easier to be forgiven than to get the permission.

One of the most inspiring stories of this year’s conference was definitely the new eco-village in central Germany, presented by Pascal Sutter. A group of people said to themselves: “Why should ecovillages be only in the north of Germany. Let’s use all the available experience and set up a village somewhere in the south.”

The question remained: how to quickly establish an ecovillage? They went to Google and typed something like: “A village for sale.”

It sounds amazing, but they actually found a village for sale near Nürnberg, called Schloss Templehof. In includes an old mansion with a few large buildings in the area, a big modern kitchen building, quite a few acres of land, and even an industrial building. They got the land for a really fantastic price of a million and a half Euros. They didn’t have to apply for a loan; they got all the money by shares, project funds and they had the support of the county. Funding was sufficient for restoration of a few buildings. The ecovillage project that started less than two years ago is now inhabited by about 80 people. The attendance numbers of workshops and lectures are constantly at the peak of the community´s capacities.

It was obvious to me that to establish a community doesn’t need to be a struggle. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Another success story was presented by Robert Hall, one of the founders of the Swedish ecovillage Suderbyn. Governments in the Baltic Sea region (including Russia), started a project to support ecovillages, because they see the benefits of them. They are supporting the creation of networks in ecovillages and the ‘Transition movement’.

The idea is to create the ecovillage road and open up the ecovillage idea to mainstream society. UNDP wants to duplicate the model from the Baltic Sea region in the Eastern Europe, particularly in the Danube basin and the arid Mediterranean region.


Right Livelihood Award

Geseko von Lüpke presented the Right Livelihood Award, considered to be the Alternative Nobel Prize, (founded in 1980). The Foundation is committed to supporting those that offer exemplary practical solutions to the most pressing challenges the world is facing today.

Right from the beginning, I was impressed by a quote of Naessa Arne, who said he was “a pessimist for the 21st century, but an optimist for the 22nd century”. Why was I impressed by this statement? Because in it lies realism, wisdom and awareness that actions have consequences. These consequences of human activities in the past two centuries simply can not disappear overnight. If we put the brakes on right now, we have every chance that we will slow down to a sustainable speed in a hundred years or so; if we don’t, I don’t even want to think where we’ll end up.

In the meantime, we need insecurity, as it is a necessary factor for catalyzing change. If we were certain things would turn out well, we would stop endeavouring. Were we certain that things would turn out badly, we’d stop striving. Insecurity and crisis are actually catalyzing many positive shifts in society.

The role of pioneers in this endeavour is very delicate. On the one hand they are the hospice workers for the old system, as well as being the midwives of the new system.

The destructiveness of the old system becomes evident if you take even a glance at mainstream media coverage. What is the focus of the news broadcasting channels and newspapers? Catastrophes, accidents, devastation. A Chinese proverb says: “A falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest.”

“Let’s listen to the growing forest, not to the falling trees,” Geseko said at the end of his talk. To hear the forest grow, we must be silent. Therefore we, the messengers of the new society, seem silent and invisible. But there are many more of us than we think. We are the ones we are waiting for!

What is the first thing we need to do? We need to change our consciousness of what we actually are.

Caterpillar or butterfly?

What happens inside the caterpillar in pupal stage of development? Caterpillars of butterflies don’t spin cocoons, as moths do. Instead, their skin hardens and most of their internal organs eventually change into a liquid mass with only a few main organs (neurons, eyes, etc.), staying in place. If you pierce the pupa at this stage, green liquid will come out of the hole.

Before a caterpillar develops into a chrysalis, there are so called ‘Imago cells’, waiting in a latent state inside the caterpillar’s body. In the pupal stage, the Imago cells get activated, but the caterpillar’s immune system kills them. In the second phase, the Imago cells activate again and trigger the immune system cells to change to Imago cells. In the third phase, the Imago cells begin to gather into clusters. It becomes much easier for the Imago cells to resist the caterpillar’s immune system, which still perceives them as foreign bodies. This is when the process speeds up rapidly; as if the caterpillar cells understood there is no turning back. The caterpillar cells still continue to oppose the changes—they cannot resist their nature—until the time comes when the growing clusters of cells realize they are not a caterpillar anymore, they are a butterfly!

Is this not a wonderful metaphor for our present society? Representatives of the old system are not able to change—they continue to support the sick, destructive mechanisms that devour the basis of this existence.

Just like caterpillars!

On the other hand, we see an increasing number of smaller and bigger clusters of Imago cells, that understand they are no longer a caterpillar but a butterfly!

…and the butterfly is the symbol of GEN!

Zoltan (Radha Krishna das) talks about Krishna Village.

Economy of the future

The word “economy” has always made me flinch. But, now that I have met Christian Felber, the word “economy” suddenly sounds real sexy! Now I know that ‘economy’, as it is presented to us in our society, is not that at all; it is a systemic robbing of individuals and communities. Modern capitalism is severely antidemocratic and unconstitutional, but, until now, nobody has dared to speak up against it.

Christian Felber is the author of a new model of economy called ‘Common Welfare Economy’ (Gemeinwohl Oeconomie), based on entirely different foundations than the current economy. The core values in this system are cooperation and common welfare, instead of competition and profit, which are the core values of the present economy.

There is no need to change the word competition, it should only be used in its original meaning: “to strive together for” (in Latin com means “together”). At present, capitalism actually practices ‘counter-petition’ which is very disruptive to the elementary values in the society.

The Constitution is supposed to protect human dignity, democracy, solidarity, reciprocity, compassion and similar core values. However, the current economic system encourages exactly the opposite “values”: greed, selfishness, avarice, ruthlessness, and irresponsibility.

Today’s system rewards anti-social behaviour by people silently complying with being a small cog inside the well-lubricated machine grinding everything. You can earn money by forcing foreclosures of the homes of bankrupt families, but not by assisting and aiding them. A farmer can earn more profit using pesticides and GMOs on monoculture fields than by growing clean, diverse, organic crops.

According to an opinion poll of the Bertelsmann foundation in August, 2010, 88% of the German and 90% of the Austrian population ask for a “new economic order”. People not only ask for reform in keeping with the system, they ask for a completely new system.

The ‘Common Welfare Economy’ arguably offers the best alternative to the present system that I have seen so far. Instead of measuring GDP and profit, it introduces Common Good Balance Sheet (CGBS). CGBS shows how well any particular company, organization or institution respects human dignity, solidarity, ecological sustainability, social justice and democratic co-determination. CGBS assesses suppliers and investors, staff and owners, customers and business partners in a holistic relationship with the environment.

The goal of the system is to make CGBS so simple that even a 10 year old child can understand it. Financial balance sheets can hardly be understood by anyone. The simplification will contribute to both transparency, and economic positivity, for the benefit of all.

The Common Welfare Economy sets new game rules. It establishes a system of rewarding those working for the common good, and penalizing those that harm it. Common welfare is not like capital—it cannot be accumulated to the point where it becomes harmful to itself.

The idea of common welfare is thus the cornerstone of a truly sustainable economy.

The path to sovereignty

According to Christian Felber, for change to be effective, six new concepts and practices are needed in schools:-

1. “Emotionology” (perceiving one’s own emotions),

2. Communication, (listening and talking from the heart),

3. Values ​​and Ethics, (emphasis on cooperation (effective), rather than on competition (ineffective))

4. Democracy (true democracy is based on sovereign consciousness; without it we are left with a dictatorship),

5. Body ‘sensibilisation’, (making the body’s senses alive and sensible),

6.  Direct experience of nature (not just theoretical learning).

The purpose of such education is clear: children become familiar with basic life values and skills; they are not just forced to learn dull information that they forget right after the exam.

In the current educational system, most of the knowledge that teachers deliver to children dissipates within a few years. Raising children to emotional maturity; the ability to communicate; active ethics; democratic sovereignty; compassion; and harmony with the natural environment should actually be the foundation of any education. Thus, educated children would be able to find out what it is they want to learn, because they want to use this knowledge. Only knowledge that is used remains.

What is real democracy?

By definition, democracy is the rule by the people. The Slovenian Dictionary defines democracy as a “political system that protects the individual and political rights of all citizens.” Democracy is also community of ‘sovereign’ people.

A sovereign person has “no one above him” (Lat. Soveramus: above all). According to this criterion it would be difficult to identify today’s society as democratic as it is characterised by distrust towards citizens, legalized coercion, criminal law, and a greedy taxation system.

What we have today is representative democracy, which is only the first step towards a society of sovereign people; those  who can behave responsibly to other people and the environment. The next steps are direct democracy and participatory democracy.

However, people in present society are often not mature enough emotionally, and lack the skills for a participatory democracy. “Education” and social coercion have robbed them of their sovereignty. Were they to get direct rule, they wouldn’t be able to work for the common good; they would persist within their narrow views, get into fights and cause social chaos. If you take a look at what’s going on in parliament you can see that even the best political communicators elected by us to make decisions on our behalf, cannot express mature, cross-party cooperation for the common good. They often take care of their own interests first, and only then think of our welfare (if at all). Just check the daily newspapers and you’ll see how often they put a spoke in their opponent’s wheel, and how often they cooperate.

There is a way out of this deadlock. Children and adults should be exposed to sound education that shapes sovereign, strong, independent, ethical, sympathetic, wise and conscious citizens. Such an education is almost impossible in the atmosphere of undemocratic, corporate capitalism, therefore it is extremely important to create oases of ‘sound’ society, in which the Imago cells of a participatory democracy unite into ever bigger clusters, gradually transforming the society from a, metaphorically, voracious caterpillar to the light-winged butterfly.

We may call such oases ‘ecovillages’, or give them whatever other title we choose. In whichever sense, they are human-scale settlements consciously designed through participatory processes to secure long-term sustainability. These are oases of planetary justice, sharing and harmony, (a perfect contrast to tax havens where the acquisitive hoard their tax-free wealth), which serves no-one.

If people intend to create a truly democratic society, they should simply change the rules of the game. Then they will be possible to take back all the stolen wealth. People won’t have to ask anyone for permission, just as nobody asked them when they were robbed.

Fairness is in human genes. It only needs to be awoken in them. Then sovereign people will be able to do what is right.

Beautiful change-makers.

The Global Ecovillage Network conference in 2012 made me realize that a just society is possible. Above all, I realized we should not wait for it! We should simply create it by restoring the ancient yet forgotten values by the will of sovereign people. Only such people can create a humane democracy that goes beyond the showy political “democracy”. Change has reached the threshold, change is inevitable! We can only decide whether we’ll undergo the transformation as Imago cells, leading the creative dance, or we’ll undergo it merged into the decomposing tissue of the caterpillar, resisting the dance.

I don’t know about you, but what I want is to hear the quiet fluttering of butterfly wings in this life! I want to hear our wings. Arundhati Roy said it so well: “It is possible to change our world. A different world is already coming into existence. On quiet days I can hear this new world breathing.”