Date: Sun, 4 Jan 98 14:13:28 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Update on Danube Lawsuit In The Hague
Article: 24970

/** headlines: 168.0 **/
** Topic: Read Article Updating Danube Lawsuit In The Hague **
** Written 11:13 PM Jan 1, 1998 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 8:42 AM Jan 1, 1998 by in env.dams */
/* ————— “Danube Update (ENV)” ————— */

Save the Blue Danube

By Béla Liptßk, 27 December 1997

In September, 1997, the International Court of Justive (ICJ) in the Hague has made an indecisive ruling concerning the first international environmental lawsuit before it. It ruled that it was illegal for Slovakia to reroute the Danube into a concrete sealed canal on her own territory and that it was also illegal for Hungary to cancel the construction contract. The ICJ ordered the two parties to reach an agreement by March, 1998, because if they do not, the Court will superimpose its own ruling. The danger in this case is that the parties in fact will reach an out-of-court settlement. Why is that a danger?

It is, because when the lawsuit started, Hungary was ruled by a progressive, environmentally sensitive government, which lost in the elections of 1994 to the former Communists. This new government in Hungary favors the construction, has actually offered to build some additional dams, and therefore today, in effect, there is only one side to the negotiating table. The collusion between Austrian banking interests, the dam-building construction lobbies, the extreme nationalists in Slovakia and the former Communists (MSZP) in Hungary, who hold 52% of the seats in the Parliament, does make it possible, that this last project of Stalinist gigantomania, the “dunasaurus” will in fact be built. If that happens, it will set a terrible precedent for the whole planet.

The environmental stakes in this case are very high: The wetlands involved are the remains of the only inland sea delta in Europe. This delta survived since the last Ice Age, when the Pannon Sea filled the Carpathian Basin. Some 400 unique species have survived from what used to be this Pannon sea delta, and what today is called the Szigetkoz (”the region of a thousand islands”—in Hungarian), where, since the rerouting, not a single island remains,—as there is no water.

Yet, if left to the two negotiating parties, the construction could go ahead, and this beautiful and unique wetland region could be destroyed. Our only hope is that the out-of-court settlement does not take place and the case is returned to the ICJ for final ruling. There is a slim chance for that to occur and the international community of environmentalists can help in achieving that goal. Our strategy is this:

We know that an election is coming up in Hungary in April, 1998. We also know that the former Communists (MSZP) do not stand a chance of winning that election. Therefore, their strategy is to conclude the out-of- court settlement with Slovakia before the election and get this deal approved by the Hungarian Parliament, while they still have a slim majority there. So, our job is nothing less than convincing some of the MSZP deputies to change their votes, by appealing to their decency, pride and common sense. This will not be easy, as most of these people are used to blindly following the party line. Yet it can be attempted by passing out leaflets and holding demonstartions in front of the Hungarian Parliament. This will take leadership and the solidarity shown through the presence of foreign environmentalists will make a great deal of psychological difference.

The Hungarian public is passive, inexperienced and insecure when it comes to any form of free expression. Demonstrations or civil disobedience of any form were unthinkable during Communism and the memory of those 40 years still lingers on. They are frightened from being arrested and most don’t even know that they have the right to demonstrate or if they do, they don’t know how to obtain a permit. On the other hand, the MSZP reinforces these fears by daily displays of cronyism and by politically motivated dismissals.Yet, if we consider the environmental tragedy, which is at stake, we have no choice, but to try to prevent the acceptance of the out-of-court deal.

The Compromise Plan

In addition to preventin a “sellout”, we have also prepared a detailed solution, which would satisfy the desires of all parties. This Compromise Plan would return the Danube into its natural riverbed by eliminating the temporary Cunovo dam, (also called the C-variant), and by starting up the Dunakiliti dam, but doing that, without blocking the riverbed and without creating a reservoir.. Gabcikovo would be made safe by providing it with ice handling capability. Shipping would be guaranteed through both the natural riverbed and through the canal. The various parties would benefit from the Compromise Plan as follows:

Hungary would regain her border river, her wetlands in the Szigetkoz and her drinking water supplies. As a signer of the Rio treaty, she would also meet her treaty obligations by protecting the biodiversity of the region.

Slovakia would receive all the electricity generated at Gabcikovo. Under low flow conditions, Gabcikovo would not generate electricity, and the bypass canal would only be a stagnant shipping canal. On a yearly average, Slovakia would still receive about the same amount of electricity, as if she got 50% of the total, generated by the jointly owned border river.

The European Community would benefit from reliable, year-around shipping through both the Gabcikovo canal and through the natural Danube riverbed, by the addition of a second, larger lock at Dunakiliti.

The United States, by supporting Worldbank financing on a similar scale, as is taking place today in the Danube Delta of the Black Sea, would demonstrate, that a just and non-violent “new world order” is feasible and a permanent solution is possible with an investment, which is equivalent to the cost of a few weeks of peace-keeping in Bosnia.

The World would save and return into its original state, one of the planet's richest ecosystems which has survived since the last Ice Age. In addition, a legal precedent would be established, showing that rivers and wetland regions are not the properties of nations, but are the common treasures of all humankind.

The Region would benefit, not only by the restoration of its agriculture and drinking water supplies, but also by receiving thousands of jobs during the reconstruction of the wetlands, and later through ecotourism. From Hainburg to Szap, the region would become an international nature preservation park, operated as an “European Free Zone”, where all residents (Austrians, Hungarians, and Slovaks), could work and travel freely. This sense of regional community and interdependence could later become the catalyst for wider reconciliation throughout Central Europe.

If you want to learn more about the details of the Compromise Plan, you can visit our website at:

The Compromise Plan has already been presented to Vice President Al Gore, the President of the International Court of Justice Stephen Schwebel, the President of Slovakia, Michal Kovac and recently the former Foreign Minister of Hungary Geza Jeszenszky, who recommended it as the basis for the negotiations between Slovakia and Hungary.

So, while the Danube picture is bleak, it is not hopeless. It is a project where a few dedicated environmentalists can make a great deal of difference. You can either help with the demonstrations at the Hungarian Parliament, where your organizing skills or media contacts would mean a great deal to us. If joining us there is beyond your means, please study our webpage and promoto the Compromise Plan.

Béla Liptßk
December 27, 1997
84 Old N. Stamford Road, Stamford, CT 06905-3961
Tel: 203-357-7614, Fax: 203-325-3922, e-mail: