A Revolution with Green Roots

By Raianu, Mircea | American Forests, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

A Revolution with Green Roots


Raianu, Mircea, American Forests


This young Slovak activist began by planting trees and ended up inspiring his country's youth.

Marek Kapusta is only 32 but already has been called "the grandfather of four political revolutions." The national coordinator for Slovakia's 1998 version of a Rock the Vote campaign, Kapusta went on to advise opposition groups in Serbia, where dictator Slobodan Milosevic was overthrown in 2000, and in Ukraine, where the opposition's 2004 victory was dubbed the "Orange Revolution."

But what most people don't know is that this "grandfather" honed his activism skills by planting trees.

Marek Kapusta's political efforts seem far removed from his earlier work to help establish Global ReLeaf Slovakia, an international branch of AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf program. That was done with his father Milan, a prominent leader of Slovakia's nascent environmental movement in the 1990s. But Marek's story of bringing change to Eastern Europe begins, like many others' stories, with the simple act of planting trees.

Following the overthrow of communism in 1989, the two countries emerging from the former Czechoslovakia pursued different paths to democracy. Whereas the Czechs had personalities like Vaclav Havel, who could bring "democratic concepts like a gift that people accepted," as Marek describes it, Slovakia's process was more "bottom to top," and so far more difficult and time-consuming.

The role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the public sphere was essential to building a strong democratic society, but in Slovakia democratic reforms were slipping away. It was in this atmosphere that the Rock volieb '98 campaign was conceived by a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer to increase turnout among disaffected and largely apathetic youth.

Marek was hired to coordinate the national effort, but, like many Slovaks, he was "highly skeptical that some small NGO can make a significant impact."

As part of a multi-pronged and staunchly nonpartisan effort, Rock volieb organized a national media campaign on radio, television, and even in movie theaters; hosted a series of major concerts; created a Voter Awareness bus tour; disseminated printed materials; and held other grassroots activities.

Media outlets tried to extract a statement of support for one party or another, Marek recalls, adding, "I think it was one of our success factorsyouth appreciated that we were not telling them whom to vote for."

That campaign produced dramatic results: More than 80 percent of 18- to 21-year-olds in Slovakia voted, four times as many as pre-election polls had projected.

In planning the campaign, Marek says he drew upon his work with trees. His father sent him on a study trip to AMERICAN FORESTS' Washington, DC, headquarters in the fall of 1993. After that visit, Marek "changed my life a lot," starting a student branch of Global ReLeaf at his school and applying project organization and management lessons he'd learned in America. …

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