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Larisa Rankovic
Media analyst and researcher (Belgrade, Serbia)

Media researcher and analyst. Living in Belgrade, Serbia.

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Dam on Danube and the end of Communism

Published 14th February 2011 - 3 comments - 5899 views -

This title tells it all: "The dam that broke the Berlin Wall". Or almost all.

An interesting story from environmental history indeed.

"The story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 began nine years earlier, when Janos Vargha, a biologist from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences began a new career as a writer with a small monthly nature magazine called Buvar. In an early assignment, he went to a beauty spot on the river Danube outside Budapest known as the Danube Bend, the site of an ancient Hungarian capital, to interview local officials about plans for a small park.
It was humdrum stuff - until one official mentioned in passing that this tree-lined curve in the river, a popular picnic spot for Hungarians, was to be drowned by a giant hydroelectric dam being planned in secret by a much-feared state agency known simply as the Water Management.
Vargha investigated. He learned that the Nagymaros dam (pronounced "nosh-marosh" ) would pond up pollution, destroy underground water reserves, dry out wetlands and wreck the unique ecosystem of central Europe's longest river."

Danube circle protest

 Janos Vargha and his colleagues started writing and speaking publicly, whenever possible, about the dam which - if had been built - would have been threaning to the environment in that area. Their protests meant being not only against the important project of Hungarian communist regime, but also against the country's contract with Czechoslovakia.

In the next phase (precisely in 1984), environmental activists gathered and set up an organisation: the Danube Circle.

An organization with the name of the river in its title, and primarily environmental goal, was still very threatening to the regime.

"The Circle was illegal and ran secret presses that turned out samizdat leaflets. In an exttraordinary act of defiance, it collected 10,000 signatures for a petition opposing the dam and made links with environmentalists in the west, inviting them to Budapest to hold a press conference."

The initiatives ran by the Danube Circle were dangerous for the communist regime as they gathered not only intellectuals and students, already active in opposing the system, but also the silent majority.
Gradually, opposing the dam became a symbol of opposing the increasingly unpopular regime. As the author of this text put it:

'The dam was becoming a focus for opposition to an increasingly hated regime. Communist attempts to hold back the waters of the Danube became synonymous with holding back the will of the people.'

The government faced a crisis of authority, and reformers in parliament seized on the issue. Discussions over the dam and political change fused and almost the entire nation tuned in as parliamentary debates were broadcast live on TV.

In May 1989 Hungarian government finally abandon the decision to build the dam.

Political changes in Hungary and neighboring countries spiralled in the following period.

The texts concludes with the following sentences: "The dam had become a symbol of the subjugation of people as well as of water. And as the Danube ran free, so did the people."

And if that was possible to do in communist country, then it should be possible almost anywhere.

Photo source

Category: Politics | Tags:


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 14th February 2011:

    Thanks for this Larisa. I’m already amazed about the many stories on the Danube! It such a part of Europe’s history.

  • Anna Zemblicka on 14th February 2011:

    Great post which makes to think…

  • Larisa Rankovic on 14th February 2011:

    Thank you, Iris and Anna. I am also learning lots of new and surprising facts while researching about this topic, and really enjoy it

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