The Ecological Institute for Sustainable Development, Hungary

Maintaining the culture of sustainability in the village of Gömörszőlős

Iván Gyulai is a heroic figure in the Hungarian green movement. Besides being an expert on sustainability theory, he is also well-schooled in its practice, which is well demonstrated by his pioneering work in projects such as the Gömörszőlős ‘sustainable village’ in the north of the country.

In 1993, the Ecological Institute for Sustainable Development, led by Iván, made a comprehensive survey of the village of Gömörszőlős, taking into account the social situation of the inhabitants of the village, their economic activities and the state of its environment. The outcome of the survey showed Gömörszőlős was a typical small village where the population was in decline. Young people were leaving the village, which was causing the average age to increase. Opportunities for jobs and income were dwindling as the local market collapsed, the population’s health was in decline, the social web of the local society was unravelling, all leading to an overall loss of the region’s organic culture.

This decline emphasised the clash between the sustainability of organic culture and the requirements of ‘development’ in the modern era.

Attempts to fight against this tide seemed doomed to failure, yet Iván persevered to try to save organic culture in a post-globalised world. He wanted to create alternatives to the mainstream notion of ‘development’ and replace poverty-led sustainability with a more environmentally and socially conscious version.

Sustainability is now a going concern in Gömörszőlős. The theory of sustainable development is taught in an education centre, and so far several thousands of people have experienced how an organic farm with a permaculture garden works, using mulch, native animals and an ancient orchard. They have had the possibility to learn how mass ovens, reed-bed systems and solar fruit-dryers work, and have been given an insight to the fading world of folk arts and crafts through the village’s collections and special events.

“Our goal was to bring the notion of sustainability closer to people and show how it was possible to turn this beautiful idea to practice: to live today in such a way that there is something left for the future. Here in Gömörszőlős, people’s minds resonate more easily with nature; this is an island of quiet, harmony and nature.”IVÁN GYULAI

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