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Municipalities and civil society organizations celebrate 25 years of Belgian Romanian partnership and their transition from humanitarian aid to solidarity

Operation Romanian Villages (Opération Villages Roumains/OVR) arose two weeks after the release of the documentary ‘The red disaster’ (Le Désastre Rouge) on Belgian television on December 7, 1988. Producer Josy Dubié accused the systematization plan of Ceausescu in this documentary. According to this plan, 8.000 out of 13.000 villages were at risk to be destroyed. On December 1988, a group of 12 Belgian non-political activists united in L’Initiative Populaire de Solidarité Internationale (IPSI), started in collaboration with the Belgian League for Human Rights a protest against the plan. During the official launch of OVR on February 3, 1989, the protest movement called upon Belgian municipalities to adopt a Romanian village in order to prevent the destruction. This movement was baptized “Save the Romanian Villages”. The idea of adoption was inspired by the emergence of city twinning and other similar projects initiated by Amnesty International. One of the first actions undertaken was sending postcards to the adopted Romanian villages. The popularity of protest grew very fast. As a response to the call, 40 Belgian municipalities adopted a Romanian village. This number grew to 250 in September 1989. At the turning of the year, the number had risen to 350 adoptions. One of the most spectacular adoptions was done by the capital Brussels, which adopted the whole region of Bucharest. The Belgian movement also inspired other European countries. In the end, 4.500 European municipalities had adopted a Romanian village.
After the fall of communism, the Western world found out about the living conditions under the Ceausescu regime. The protests transformed into humanitarian aid actions. The need for food, medicine and clothing was so big that massive collection campaigns started. These actions were mostly coordinated by the Red Cross and took place all over Europe. First humanitarian transports started in early 1990. The first Brussels OVR activists decided to stop their activities in 1992 since they believed that the original goals were achieved and that the road to democracy and further engagement in Romania could be best materialized in a decentralized format.
In order to provide a more coherent approach on solidarity, an overall discussion platform was installed in 2006 under the name Romania-Belgium Forum on Decentralized Cooperation. The first meeting took place in Brussels. After an edition in Slatina Timis (2007) and a next edition in Arad (2010), the fourth edition took place in October 2013 in the Belgian town of Leuven focusing on specific themes as health and health care, sustainable tourism and agro-tourism, civil society and youth, agriculture, environment and waste management. The fifth edition is scheduled for the autumn 2016 in Romania.
Actie Dorpen Roemenië-Vlaanderen promotes twinning between Belgian and Romanian municipalities and strong cooperation between civil society organizations
In the course of the revolutionary year 1989, the Flemish association ADR (Adoptie Dorpen Roemenië  – Adopting Romanian Villages) already had developed an proper policy line which notwithstanding was characterized by humanitarian aid. Later on, in 2005 ADR changed its name in Actie Dorpen Roemenië – Action Villages Romania, stressing more solidarity. The approach was embodied by a pilot project called Asociatia De Ajutor Mutual (ADAM). From 1999, a district health care center was developed in Slatina Timis (judets Caras Severin) based on the Belgian idea of mutualities. In the same year, Belgian and Romanian youngsters organized a first exchange on youth work. This resulted in the development of a youth movement in Romania, called Asociatia Grupilor Locale de Tineret (AGLT). Bit by bit, other civil society structures were developed. The exchange of knowledge and expertise on this topic was especially valued because of the need for structural changes within the Romanian society. This could not be done by single small initiatives but by a wider organized network of engaged citizens.
In this context, also other projects were implemented, amongst others exchange between and training of voluntary fire brigade teams, development of water supplies, exchange between schools, promotion of sustainable tourism.
This wide network was reinforced by the start-up of ‘The Open Network for Community Development’ (TON) in April 2012. This Romanian- Flemish Foundation was established in order to build up and unit a network in Romania. The Open Network is dedicated to give training and support to Romanian volunteers and professionals involved in civil society projects. The idea behind this foundation was rooted in the belief that structural changes have to be done in Romania by and with Romanian citizens and stakeholders. TON has the ambition to be the motor for further collaboration between Belgian and Romanian parties and in structural projects aiming to improve quality of life and consolidate social structures within Romanian communities. Such projects are implemented in close collaboration with the local population and in a bottom-up approach.  Today, more than 100 Flemish groups of volunteers are active with projects in Romania. To celebrate this 25th anniversary, round tables are organized and an exhibition is hosted from November 16 till 20, 2014 in Iasi. At this occasion ADR Vlaanderen will present a unique publication written by Marc Verhaert on the Belgian anchor  in the 25 years following the Romanian revolution.  Info on administratie@adrvlaanderen.be and www.adrvlaanderen.be. The annual report 2013 of TON can be downloaded in English and Romanian: http://theopennetwork.ro/ro/raportul-anual-2013
Opération Villages Roumains (OVR) and Partenariat Villages Roumains (PVR) guarantee the continuity in long standing relations
Opération Villages Roumains (OVR) experienced a re-start in 1992 with a number of civil society organizations based in municipalities that had adopted Romanian villages in Wallonia. OVR has continuously encouraged partnership and social modernization over all these years next to engagement in actions that were meant to strengthen local democracy in Romania. The organization also focused on horizontal thematic actions like water and water management. The Romanian partners are located in the whole of Romania and recently also in Republic Moldova. To celebrate 25 years of solidarity between the Belgian member organizations of OVR and the Romanian partners, an event will be organized on December 5 and 6 in Brussels with as main theme, citizenship without frontiers. Further information on ovr@scarlet.be and on www.villagesroumains.be
Founded in 2006, Partenariat Villages Roumains (PVR), stated the ambition to unit volunteers in inter human relations from both Romanian and Belgian municipalities. It is in the first place interested in civil society action rather than, although not excluded, in cooperation between municipalities. It also emphasizes more common initiatives involving schools, youth organizations and culturally inspired initiatives. On a trimestral basis, its magazine “Partener/Partenaire” provides interesting and useful information on Romania and on Belgian-Romanian relations. Further information on contact@paviro.org or www.paviro.org

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