The fourth Symposium was devoted to the Adriatic Sea and took place in June 2002. It was held under the auspices of His All Holiness The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Adriatic is a semi-enclosed sea (approximately 800 by 200 km), connected through the narrow (72 km) but deep (780 m) Strait of Otranto with the rest of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Adriatic has some “hot spots” of environmental pollution (mainly caused by inadequately treated domestic waste), declining poorly managed fisheries, disturbed coastal ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, and considerable degradation of its coastal areas due to ill-planned or unplanned urbanisation and development in industrial and tourist sectors. No major rivers drain into the Adriatic, except at its shallow north-western corner where, among others, the heavily polluted River Po flows in. Consequently, that part of the Sea is considered threatened by an increased influx of pollutants (mainly agrochemicals, domestic and industrial wastes), as witnessed by the increasing frequency and intensity of plankton blooms. The Adriatic Sea is divided in ecological terms – on one side of the sea industrialised Italy has a problem of enforcement of its European environmental commitments, and on the other, the fragmentation of the western Balkans hinders coordination and cooperation.
Since antiquity the region has been a crossroad of civilisations and home to unique multicultural and multiethnic communities that shared a multitude of common problems but also a common destiny. The great divide between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires which spanned the region and, later, the rivalry of Venice and the Ottoman Empire could not destroy this feeling of belonging to the “Adriatic community” although it left an indelible mark on the region, including on its languages, customs, architecture and religious affiliations. Hence, the Sea and its coastal areas represent an almost perfect model for the study, in an environmental context, of the intricate interaction (and sometime clashes) of various ethnic groups, cultures, civilisations, religions, politics, economic activities and systems.
The overarching goals of the Symposium were:
- to examine, through informal dialogue among the Symposium’s participants and visits to selected sites, general, and some site-specific, environmental problems of the Adriatic Sea in their scientific and societal context;
- to raise public awareness about the present environmental problems facing the Adriatic Sea and about the forces causing and contributing to these problems; and
- to suggest approaches and measures that may protect the Adriatic Sea from further degradation.
The Symposium was held on a ship travelling from Corfu (Greece), stopping at Durres (Albania), Kotor (Montenegro), Split (Croatia), Koper (Slovenia), Ravenna (Italy) and ending its voyage in Venice (Italy).
While on the move and during visits, speakers and local participants reviewed the general environmental problems of the Adriatic Sea and some specific environment-related issues relevant to the sites visited. The presentations were accompanied by discussions focusing on the environmental, ethical, social and economic dimensions of the identified problems and sought suggestions for their mitigation.
National and local authorities, as well as non-governmental organisations were involved from the outset in the planning of the Symposium, in determining the Symposium’s programme, and in selection of sites to be visited.
Several hundred people participated in the Symposium, largely drawn from the countries visited. They constitute a mix of people from varied professional backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences, and included religious leaders (all major religions of the region were represented), national and regional politicians and policy-makers (including presidents, vice-presidents, ministers, and mayors of the towns visited), scientists from the Adriatic coastal countries and from other regions, representatives of media and non-governmental organisations allowing for a constructive dialogue.
In addressing the Symposium His All Holiness reminded the participants that “the entire universe constitutes one community and the actions of a single member affect every member of the community” and called for “the respect of all life [as] the fundamental criterion for any environmental ethos”.
The themes considered by the Symposium were grouped in four clusters. The first cluster dealt with the presentation of the environmental problems of the Adriatic Sea, with particular reference to the problems experienced in some specific coastal areas. The second cluster elaborated questions relating to environmental ethics, i.e. the factors that make us act the way we do (or should do) when confronted with environmental issues. The emphasis of the third cluster was on theological issues as they relate to the environment. The last group of themes considered by the Symposium provided a historical perspective needed for the understanding of the present societal diversity found in the Adriatic region.
Signing of the Venice commitment
The Symposium culminated in the signing of the Venice Declaration by Their Holinesses Pope John II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the last day of the Symposium in the Ducal Palace of Venice, followed by prayers for the environment, in the Basilica of Saint Mark.
The Declaration expressed concern “about the negative consequences for humanity and for all creation resulting from the degradation of some basic natural resources … brought about by an economic and technological progress which does not recognise and take into account its limits”, and emphasised that “a new approach and a new culture are needed, based on the centrality of the human person … and inspired by environmentally ethical behaviour”.
It established the importance of protecting the environment within a framework of just burden-sharing, recognising that while the responsibility lies with everyone, “the most affluent societies must carry the greater burden”.
In the debate following the presentation of some ongoing or planned site-specific programmes and initiatives, concrete suggestions were offered to the presenters of case studies by the participants of the Symposium. These suggestions and the “endorsement” provided, thanks to the publicity received through the world’s media present at the event, proved to be beneficial for the future course of these programmes and initiatives.
In addition another beneficial effect of the Symposium concerns the large ongoing project to reduce the volume of industrial and domestic wastes generated along the shores of a big bay (Bay of Kastela near Split, Croatia) and to construct an environmentally sound system for the treatment and sea disposal of these wastes. The multimillion dollar project is financed by domestic sources and the World Bank. Thanks to the Symposium raising awareness of the need for the completion of the project, it was heightened at all levels and this has contributed to the speed at which the project is being finalised.
The “Igman initiative” was presented as a joint project of more than one hundred non-governmental organisations from three Balkan countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro). The aim of the project is to foster regional cooperation in solving or mitigating various economic and environmental problems that cannot be solved by each country separately. Following the Symposium the presidents of the three countries met to consider the actions proposed in the framework of the “initiative”. In the region where the memories of recent hostilities are still fresh, the meeting of three presidents is undoubtedly a success. The Symposium succeeded in re-kindling old partnerships which had been affected by the political situation in the region during the 1990s.
A further example of the effectiveness of the Adriatic Sea Symposium was the case of Porto Romano, in Albania. When Symposium participants visited the site in 2002 it was an environmental disaster: Chemical factories that produced pesticides and other toxic chemicals had been abandoned in 1990. The toxic waste was simply left on site, in dumps and storage areas and seeping into the Adriatic poisoning the fish eaten by the local population. The president of Albania came aboard and addressed a plenary session, after which he faced the participating journalists, one of whom introduced the subject and suggested fencing off the entire site. The president rejected the idea out of hand, however a year later the issue of Porto Romano had been the subject of a large World Bank investigation, and a grant was given towards the clean up operation. It could be argued that as a result of the media attention generated by the Symposium, politicians were forced to take action.
A project to reforest Tirana was undertaken by Timothy Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation and the late Sadruddin Aga Khan.