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An Emerging Environmental Movement


In 1984, the Czechoslovak and Hungarian governments announced a new public project: the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros complex on the Danube River, a 3 billion dollar water project, that would involve the construction of two massive dams (one in each country) and a series of hydroelectric plants. In response to this action, an environmental activist group emerged, later called Duna Kör or Danube Circle. In this speech by Judit Vásxheiyi, one of Duna Kör's founding members, she explains the process by which the movement emerged, as well as the broad sweep of opposition to the project. Most troublesome for the Communist regimes was the public opposition of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who publicized the expected environmental damage of the project, which would affect 200 km of the Danube, flood 50 islands, and destroy over 120 km2 of forests and fields for uncertain advantages. In response to public pressure, Hungary abandoned its plans in 1989, though Czechoslovakia continued construction.

Judit Vásxheiyi, "An Emerging Environmental Movement," c. 1984, Making the History of 1989.


An Emerging Environmental Movement

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Following Mr. Vargha, an expert, please allow me, a librarian to say a few words, as one of
those thousands of laymen, who have got the firm belief, that the carrying out of this farreaching project must be prevented.

The Duna Kör, an informal group, leads back its rise to the winter months of 1984 to a
period, when the question of the project was first taken up by the public. Open debates were
held at the universities, in colleges and in local clubs of the official Patriotic Front, all of
them visited by hundreds of people. Voices in scientific and professional circles and in the
literary world opposing the project have also become louder. As mentioned above, the
Presidium of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences suggested to stop the work in progress. Of
the professional groups, it was the architects and engineers led by technical as well as by
moral motives to take the lead: their national association took an official stand against the
project, maintaining to this day. Dozens of eminent writers following an Last­CentralEuropean tradition of the literati being deeply concerned with the vital questions of the
region, expressed their anxiety about the project, the open discussion planned by the
Association of Hungarian Writers, however has been postponed due to political pressure for
an indefinite time. The public in Hungary has been more and wore occupied with this
problem. In the beginning of 1984 a group of students and intellectuals: biologists, architects,
artists, historians, lawyers, sociologists and teachers initiated the foundation of an association
for the protection of the Danube. The application for registration however, has been blocked
by the authorities. Nevertheless, those signing the application decided to collect and to
publish information concerning the project even among such circumstances. This activity had
a special significance in a time from mid­1984 to this autumn ­ when a rigid ban imposed on
the publication of both pros and cons relating to the project existed. By this a breach was
made in the information monopoly of the Hungarian water management. In the spring of
1984 a campaign for collecting signatures was also launched. Those about ten thousand
signing the petition by November, 1984 demanded the government to stop the work as well
as to elaborate plans in accordance with environmental requirements. The petition has been
left by the government and the Parliament both unanswered. Nevertheless, the Duna Kör still
insists upon the possibility of a dialogue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

spiritual and material values are both endangered by the project: the drinking water of
millions, the landscape and nature, forests like those in Hamburg, dozens of species of plants
and animals, the Danube­bend, one of the most beautiful parts of our country and a recreation
center for ten thousands of people as well as historical towns. Due to the complexity of what
is to be protected any critical activity must be based on several branches of sciences. The
Duna Kör itself could not have got along, hadn't it always been in the position getting support
from eminent experts.

Like other environmental initiatives in Hungary, the Duna Kör has its roots in the general
activization process of the society. Various strata, groups, professional associations etc. are
striving for a greater autonomy. More and more people want that decisions concerning the
present and future of smaller and greater communities should be made not behind the doors
but should be based on social participation. All what has been by this honourable prize,
Ladies and Gentlemen, is a reflection of this general tendency of democratization. Analysing
the social composition to those signing the petition or visiting the open discussions it is a
good thing to see that a pretty high rate of manual workers and of non­urban population is
taking part in this ecological initiative.

"The ordinary citizen cannot judge the scientific facts. What he can and must do is bring his
reason and common sense to bear on his country's whole approach to the problem", Barbara
Ward says. During our activity we have been in the position to see that the number of such
citizens, conscious of their responsibility, is increasing in Hungary every day. It is the
opinions and beliefs of these citizens I'd like to give voice to. On their behalf I consider it as
a great distinction to have the possibility to express our thanks and gratitude to the
Foundation for the prize awarded to the Duna Kör.

Dr. Judit Vásxheiyi


Judit Vásxheiyi, "Speech at the Right Livelihood Awards," speech, December 9, 1985, Right Livelihood Foundation Right Livelihood (accessed June 15, 2007).

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