Citizens fight for nature in Slovakia and Hungary
by Marina Kelava
„I tried to build a sustainable living space, a smal house with a large garden here on the edge of the city Liptovský Mikuláš, but seeing what’s happening I couldn't wait any longer and there were some people, who felt the same“, describes Pavel Herich from OZ pre Dolinu (For The Valley) citizens’ organization how the fight for their valley started.
This valley is Demänovská dolina in Low Tatras, the biggest national park in Slovakia. The situation here deteriorated since 2006 when 90 hectares of national park area was opened for building a touristic infrastructure - hotels, chalets, apartments, slopes and parkings. Seeing thousands of cars pass through the protected area and forest areas transformed into construction sites, is what made Pavel and his colleagues start the campaign to stop the construction.
“We need to stop it as soon as possible. Demänovská Valley is one of the most precious valleys in Slovakia. Karstic area is kind of ‘arcadia’, rich land with hundreds of cave entrances, steep slopes and vertical limestone rocks. There are more than 50 bear-pits, which represent maybe the highest density in Slovakia”, says Herich.
So far, the organization collected over 113,000 signatures of people who support their goals and aims to advocate for the change of laws which enable construction in protected areas and leave places like Demänovská valley vulnerable to profit seeking developers.
“It is our responsibility to find ways to change this, with this many signatures we want to ask Slovakian parliament to discuss this theme. On the local level we try to convince all local entities, land owners, governmental bodies and even investors to stop any further development of this area”, explains Herich.
In the neighboring country Hungary there are no as high mountains but concerned citizens are faced with a similar problem, protected nature endangered with construction projects. In the small town of Tata lies the only urban lake in Europe on the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance. The area of around 250 hectares in the middle-northwestern part of Hungary is a part of the aristocratic garden but the scenic landscape is now threatened with a plan to build a 120-room 5 star hotel.
“We started signature collection for a referendum against the construction and we already collected 6,500 signatures, much more than 4,000 needed to ask for a local referendum”, says Ildikó Szalay from STOP Avalon Tata, a citizens’ organization formed soon after the city mayor and the investor “Avalon Kft” announced the plan in May 2020.
First Ildikó Szalay created the “STOP Avalon Tata” Facebook group that now has 14,000 members. From that moment the group organized various events to raise more awareness, from thematic weekend picnics and bicycles rides to the lake, to the summer demonstrations with a few thousand people culminating with signatures’ collection.
„Most of us and our families are residents of the city and we think that the city and lake area should be preserved as a tourist attraction for its natural values“, says Szalay.
The lake is a home for thousands of waterfowls and other migratory birds in spring and autumn. Wild geese during winter attract visitors from all over from Europe. The buildings which are surrounding the lake are also mostly protected monuments.
“This site should be untouchable and should remain a place of trees, bushes, and wild geese. From the city budget point of view the income and the other smaller developments offered by the developer are not significant compared to the loss of natural values”, says Szalay.
Some other lakes in Hungary are faced with similar problems - Velencei-tó, Fertő-tó, Balaton. The group from Tata joined forces with other initiatives and formed the “Coalition of Great Lakes”, to fight for better protection of lakes on national level.
These stories of people’s fights against profit seeking developments on the expense of nature in Slovakia and Hungary could serve as a warning and inspire people from other places to fight for better protection of natural areas.
“The story of Demänovská Valley must be heard widely so people see how carelessness of the public leads to a national catastrophe. The violation of nature on this scale cannot be tolerated any further here or elsewhere”, concludes Herich.
HOW TO JOIN THE MOVEMENT?