Iron Curtain: minefield to greenbelt
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It's a model greenbelt organizers would like to replicate in the swaths of former borderland between national parks and nature reserves. Mr. Terry envisions a bottom-up approach, with farmers and other landowners voluntarily participating in programs to use their land in an ecologically friendly manner. His organization is busy identifying possible projects, securing funding, and putting together a land-use map of the vast corridor.Skip to next paragraph
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The greenbelt follows the Russo-Finnish border, skips over the Baltic Sea to the former dividing line between East and West Germany and the Western borders of former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It then splits: One fork follows Bulgaria's southern frontier, the other follows the Macedonia-Greece border and then encircles Albania, whose Communist leaders feared invasions from all sides.
But there are plenty of obstacles to be negotiated. Not all of the 18 nations on the route get along as well as Hungary and Austria. Greece has a testy relationship with Macedonia and Albania, while Croatia and Serbia were on opposite sides of the Yugoslav civil war. At a local level, some landowners dislike the program and the restrictions it asks them to undertake, like forsaking the use of chemical pesticides. Funds to organize and promote the scheme have to be secured from national and regional governments, international donor agencies, and environmental groups.
"This would have been much easier to accomplish in 1989 or 1990, when most of the border was still undisturbed," says Janos Zlinszky of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, who says large parts of the zone have since been put into commercial use. "They may be closing the proverbial stable door after the horses have left."
But Fersch, the Hungarian park ranger, points out that much of the park's land used to be part of Communist-era collective farms, which drained wetlands and plowed grasslands to make way for intensive farming operations.
Now much of that landscape has been restored through the joint efforts of Hungarian and Austrian farmers and park rangers. Near Fertoujlak, some 7,400 acres of natural grasslands have been restored, providing habitat for partridge and herons and grazing land for native gray cattle.
"It's good for growing grain and beef," Fersch says, "but it's also good for insects, birds, and nature."
The Iron Curtain is gone, but some highly militarized borders remain. Among the most dangerous:
• Korean demilitarized zone: The truce line between North and South is 151 miles long and 2.5 miles wide with fences, barbed wire, and hundreds of thousands of troops on either side. Untouched for 50 years, the narrow strip of land has become home to two of the world's most endangered birds: white-naped and red-crowned cranes.
• India-Pakistan: Having fought three wars with its neighbor, India has constructed a fence over roughly half the 1,800-mile border, including the contested Line of Control.
• Golan Heights: A thin zone 70 miles long separates Syrian and Israeli troops in the heavily fortified mountain region.
Sources: "Troubled Spots" (2000); National Geographic; CNN; Washington Post