Sandor Koles: «Euroregion «Dniester» is not a political organization because its main goal is to improve the life of communities living in the region»

Member of the Euroregion «Dniester» Council Sandor Koles - the only one who is not a representative of the Ukrainian or Moldovan side. Presence of European international expert in the Council allows the Euroregion to keep pace with the times, taking into account new European tendencies and studying the best practices of other organizations. Sandor Koles - one of those people who stood at the origins of the Euroregion «Dniester» and urged all potential participants in extreme utility of such forms of cooperation.

- So, Mr. Koles, tell us how you came to the idea of the need to create the Euroregion "Dniester"?

In the past Vinnytsia oblast initiated several times to its Moldovan partners to establish a euroregion between Ukraine and Moldova but, for various (mainly) internal reasons, it was no response from its counterparts from Moldova. I came into the picture when in 2008 Kalman Mizsei who, at that time, was the Special Representative of the European Union in Moldova and was aware of my activity at the Carpathian Euroregion and the Carpathian Foundation asked me to think about how a euroregion model could be adapted in this corner of Europe: a euroregion, which involves Transnistran municipalities as well. In 2008 I visited the region and met local leaders, and governmental officials, including Transnistrian ones in order to identify the needs and local partners for this initiative on both sides of the River and in Ukraine. Based on positive feedbacks of these talks, we organized a workshop on February 2009, in Soroca, Moldova with the participation of the representatives of municipalities from Moldova, Transnistria (Camenca and Ribnita) and Vinnytsia region and discussed what would be benefits for the communities if the Euroregion «Dniester» would be established. This workshop convinced me that the need and the interest exist. This initial workshop has been followed by a two-year process in which we developed together a feasibility study on how the Euroregion «Dniester» would work, what would be its mission, function and activity, what would its legal form, etc. It was extremely important that this process was based on the participation of local stakeholders (municipalities, civil society actors, etc.), which practically meant regularly organized workshops for the representatives of the communities and governmental officials and a study trip for the local stakeholders and governmental officials to the Carpathian Euroregion has been organized. Finally, this process, which I call “inter-regional animation”, led to establishment of the Euroregion «Dniester»  in 2012.

- You have previously held the position of the Executive Director of the Carpathian Foundation that works in the Carpathian Euroregion. What do you think these two Euroregions have in common?

There are many differences and few but important common characteristics between the two regions. First, both regions were a part of the same empire, which has its impact on people`s attitude and behavior, such as lack of capability of self-organization, the weak or non-existing civic consciousness and the unconditional belief in the omnipotent state. This impact is much stronger in the case of the Euroregion «Dniester» . Second, both regions can be characterized by a complex historical legacy and unsolved issues, which generated conflicts - even if the reasons are different but certain consequences, such as mutual distrust, are similar in both regions. On the other hand, the relationship among communities is much better than between states or quasi-states, and the communities are much more open to and tolerant with each other at local level. The third similarity is the European aspiration of both regions. The pre-accession process in the Carpathians started right after the political changes in 1989-1990 and was completed in 2004 when three countries of the Euroregion (Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) joined the European Union. Moldova and Ukraine now are at the very beginning of this long-run process whereby these countries should adopt European values and standards and make them to work in different sectors and on different levels of the society. In the case of the Carpathians the Carpathian Euroregion and the Carpathian Foundation played a very important role in this “Europeanization” process at community and regional level. I am convinced that it will happen in the case of the Euroregion «Dniester».

- You, as a senior adviser of the International Center for Democratic Transition and the Institute for Stability and Development, implemented extremely useful technical assistance project for the Euroregion "Dniester" entitled «The River Shall Connect». How successful was this project implemented to your mind?

The most important outcome of the technical assistance program is the mid-term strategy addressing the most important challenges and opportunities the Euroregion “Dniester” faces in the coming years, and formulated its main ambitious strategic directions and programmatic goals, which includes the develop­ment of the infrastructure; the green Dnies­ter River program; increased economic cooperation; strengthening connections between communi­ties; and involvement of Transnistrian communities in the activity of the euroregion.

The technical assistance program has also contributed to strengthen the organizational and absorption capacity of the Euroregion, increased its international reputation and made possible to build connections with other euroregions in Europe.

As regards the Strategy it would be important to start the implementation of the programmatic activities according to the strategic goals, generate concrete mutually advantageous projects and funding resources for the implementation of these projects. I am aware of the current critical situation in Ukraine, which makes difficult to take actions as this event slow down certain important internal processes and has its impact on the organization of the Euroregion but there is no perfect situation and we should do what we can do –now.

- What projects would you like to implement in future?

First of all, I remain committed to the Euroregion “Dniester” and try to be as useful as I can. I find very important to further strengthen the organizational capacity and enabling the Euroregion to implement its strategic goals. There are lots of things to do.

- Initially, Camenca and Ribnita districts of Transnistria expressed their willing to join the Euroregion "Dniester". You were also involved in this area for a long time. As for the moment, how does the process look?

The unsettled status of Transnistria and the geopolitical factor represent permanent challen­ge for the entire region. As regards the two Transnistrian communities, Ribnita and Сamenсa have not officially joined the euro­region, for obvoius reasons. Although responding to this challenge is beyond its scope, the euroregion can position itself and offer its institutional cooperation framework to build confidence at community level through joint projects between communities on both banks of the Dniester. The Euroregion «Dniester» should continue its efforts to identify and initiate concrete, mutually beneficial pro­jects with its potential Transnistrian partners at municipal, NGO and professional levels and work together to develop these projects from planning to implementation. Potential fields of common interest are protecting the Dniester River, water management, ecological projects, tourism development, infrastructure, etc.

It would be important to propose a compromise solution for the two Transnistrian authorities, Ribnita and Сamenсa, to join the euroregion by offering them observer status within the Euroregion Council, which would allow them to actively participate in the work of the council and pre­serve the opportunity for them to become full-fledged members.

And finally, it is crucial to make our Transnistrian friends understand that the Euroregion «Dniester» is not a political organization, moreover it plays an important role to de-politize neighborhood relationships because its main goal is to improve the life of communities living in the region.