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The first public interest environmental law conference for lawyers of NIS And CEE (which later became known as the “Guta Conference”) was held in Guta, Ukraine, in June 1995 at a sports resort complex in the Carpathian Mountains. It was organized by Prof. Svitlana Kravchenko, members of her NGO, EPL, and Steve Stec (then of the American Bar Association CEELI program, now of REC). About 40 people attended, from 8 countries.

Steve Stec remembers:

“In November 1994, Svitlana Kravchenko, representing the three Ecopravos, Steve Stec of ABA/CEELI and Jay Austin of ELI decided to make a joint funding proposal to ISAR through its cooperative grants program for an international meeting of environmental lawyers and advocates, the first of its kind anywhere in Eastern Europe. Ecopravo already had an agreement with Milieukontakt Oost-Europa to hold a ‘summer camp’ on environmental law for Ukrainian environmental NGOs, so the idea was to extend the summer camp to two weeks, one week for the NGOs and one week for the international group of lawyers. In December, Svitlana, Steve and Jay developed the ISAR proposal, which was submitted in early January 1995. During January, Svitlana and Steve visited Mr. Lazarov in Ivano-Frankivsk, who at that time represented the ‘Historico-Scientific-Cultural Cooperation Organization’ or something like that. What it meant was that he had control over all the local conference facilities. He offered possibilities in Yaremcha and Guta. In fact, at the time Yaremcha was the favored site, but as soon as Svitlana and Steve visited the Guta complex, they were struck by its natural surroundings, its quiet isolation, its comfortable feeling, and the irony of having an environmentalist conference at the summer vacation retreat of Uralneftegaz (?). It was also during this trip that Steve fell in love with the Koliba restaurant and convinced Svitlana to bring the group there for an evening”

John Bonine says:

“There were intensive discussions and lots of building of new friendships at the first Guta meeting. John Bonine of E-LAW US brought simulation software and trained participants in a new technology called “elektronika pochta” –e-mail. A “field trip” took the participants for a walk in the mountains, culminating in a dinner at a restaurant known for wild game. Ukrainian and American participants joined together in song, but to a large degree sat at separate tables, challenging one another to perform. During this session, one American participant, Bob Shostak, whose mother and father had come from Ukraine (meeting each other in a labor camp run by Germans in Poland), moved over to the Ukrainian table. Without knowing what was happening, he suddenly started singing in Ukrainian, and speaking it to others. He had no memory of learning Ukrainian, but realized that when he was a small child his parents had spoken it at home. The memories came flooding back and tears rolled down his face.

“We had a rich cultural program, each evening for a different region: The first was Ukrainian, with songs presented by all 3 Ecopravos and a modern dance by Svitlana’s daughter Mariya. Others followed, with the most disorganized being a spontaneous presentation in Kolyba Restaurant by John, Pat, Bob, and Steve”.

Guta I was the first meeting of the Environmental Advocacy Network, which was established in 1994. The EAN started with 16 charter members and published ‘Environmental Advocacy,’ a forum for exchange of information about cases, legal developments, and professional funding opportunities. The publication, originally based in CEELI’s regional environmental office in Budapest, was later taken over by the Guta Association.

The Guta meeting was initially intended to be a one-off event, but it turned out to be groundbreaking. The experience was such a positive one that the ‘Guta spirit’ arose, and the participants decided to try to make it into an annual event. At that point, Sandor Fulop of EMLA volunteered to take the lead on organization of Guta II. The second Guta Conference took place in June 1996 in Matrahaza, Hungary – near another town appropriately called “Huta.”

In 1997, Ilya Trombitsky and Piotr Gorbunenko of the Biotica Ecological Society, along with a new EPAC organized the conference, which was on its way to becoming an annual event. The meeting was held at a former Communist Party sanatorium along the banks of the Dniester River

During Guta III, simultaneous translation between Russian and English was introduced for the first time, with professional translators.

Guta III was the first meeting which began to discuss the idea of transforming the EAN into a formal association.

The Guta Conferences continued to move around the region in 1998, with the fourth meeting organized by Jerzy Jendroska and of the the Poland Environmental Law Association (PELA) and held in Wroclaw, Poland. At this meeting, steps toward creating an Association went further.

The fifth Guta the meeting return to Ukraine in 1999, and was held in Yaremcha town, in Carpathians. At this Guta the statute of GUTA Association was adopted.

In 2000 Guta VI returned to Hungary – this time it was held in Budapest.

Guta VII was the shortest event, which took place in Lviv. At this meeting two co-directors were elected – Svitlana Kravchenko and Dmitry Skrylnikov – and headquarters of GUTA Association moved to EPL, Ukraine.