Hungary resents Slovak dam
THE BLUE Danube lost much of its magic when on August 1 Slovakia started dumping concrete blocks weighing several tonnes into the river. By October 20, these had narrowed the Danube from 400 metres to 160 metres. Slovakia was at the time given permission by the Danube Commission, the association of countries along the river that controls shipping, to close the river to traffic until November 3.
Slovakia, meanwhile, is opening the sluice gates of the Gabcikovo dam despite an ecological warning from the Hungarian government. The Hungarians say the project, Europe's biggest hydro-electric venture, would lead to a lowering of the surrounding water tables, damage buildings in the area and reduce drinking water supplies. The first sign of ecological damage was the appearance of thousands of dead fish, crabs and snails in the Danube just two weeks after work began to dam the river.
While Hungary has vowed to take all diplomatic measures to block the project, Pavel Liska, a Slovak government spokesperson in Bratislava warned Slovakia cannot put the project on hold because it costs L400,000 a day to leave the equipment idle. Meanwhile, the European Community has stepped in to solve the political crisis and formed a triangular commission -- EC along with the two disputing countries -- to examine the immediate condition of the Danube in the disputed area. Slovakian prime minister Vladimir Meciar has agreed to suspend work as long as existing sites are protected from flooding and erosion.
The dam is being built on the river downstream from Bratislava, which will become the capital of Slovakia when it breaks away from Czechoslovakia on New Year's Day. Slovakia has rerouted the Danube from its flow along the Hungary-Czechoslovakia border, through a newly cut canal in its own territory. The scheme channels most of the river and all of its traffic into the canal, which also feeds the Gabcikovo project. Slovakia is allowing only one-sixth of the water into the old bed of the Danube, a waterway for eight European nations.
Slovak officials contend they must generate as much electricity as possible for domestic industry and for sale to Western Europe, essential to Slovak efforts for economic survival. The Gabcikovo dam will generate 720 MW of power. Slovak officials insist it will involve less pollution than coal-fired power stations. Says Julius Binder, who worked on the first dam proposals in 1956, "Regulation of the river would give protection from floods and compensate for the river erosion caused by German and Austrian dams upstream. Navigation would also improve from 40 days to 360 days a year."