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East bloc faces up to pollution. Poland and Czechoslovakia are looking at effects of industrialization

By Eric BourneSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 17, 1985



Vienna

Concern over preservation of the environment in Eastern Europe is growing. In former times the East bloc's drive to industrialize left no place for consideration of the environment.

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Some communist authorities in the last few years have begun to think about pollution, although ideology still comes first.

One thing such awareness does not mean, however, is official tolerance for some equivalent of West Germany's environmentalist Greens, with their concerns about both nuclear and industrial threats to the environment.

Muted protest over Soviet nuclear missile installations last year in Czechoslovakia and East Germany was quickly snuffed out.

More articulate ecological protest emerged in mildly ``liberalized'' Hungary, where environmentalists openly braved official disapproval to protest the likely ecological damage from a new power station and dam on the Danube between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Although it was not publicly admitted, the protest -- and the cost of the projects themselves -- caused the Budapest government to have second thoughts. But, in the end, bloc unity prevailed, public misgivings were brushed aside, and the go-ahead signal was given on both sides of the river.

The worst environmental threats in Eastern Europe are faced by Poland and Czechslovakia.

Each for years has suffered alarming ecological affects from acid rain. And each claims that much of that rain is ``imported'' -- coming in on the prevailing winds blowing from major industrial areas in west-central Europe.

Polish officials say that no less than 60 percent of pollution descending on Polish soil comes from outside. But Polish environmentalists say this does not exonerate the government from a responsibility to reduce the damage from indigenous industry.

Polish pollution is said by experts to be affecting the health of Polish citizens as well as threatening destruction to historic cities such as Krakow.

Krakow is a venerable city packed with historic buildings that survived World War II with little damage. (Devastation to Warsaw, on the other hand, was so heavy that there was little left to restore, except its Old City.)

Today Krakow is being ``smothered and polluted by tons of gases, fluorites, sulfur, and carbon-dioxide fumes,'' in the words of a recent public appeal for action.

``Centuries-old buildings of great cultural value which have withstood wars and natural disasters are crumbling under our eyes,'' the appeal warned. ``Heavy industry located inside the city and in its environs [including a steelworks] accelerate the city's agony instead of being [as they were intended to be] an economic source of support for the city's welfare.''

The Silesian coal and iron belt blights most of southwest Poland, where Krakow is located. But all over Poland factory chimneys spew gasses into the atmosphere. Untreated waste is discharged into waterways. More than 10 million Poles -- about one-third of the population -- live in directly threatened areas.

In Czechoslovakia, the situation is also bleak. Already 11/2 million acres of woodland are blighted by acid rain. Without urgent remedial action a quarter of its wooded territory could be lost by the year 2000.

Prague is one of the oldest and loveliest European cities. But the city, now a major industrial center, has suffered serious decay since World War II.

Only in recent years have efforts been taken to curb industrial pollution and to restore the city's landmarks.

Governments in Prague and Warsaw are contemplating stronger teeth for antipollution legislation which up to now has been halfheartedly applied and has in any case relied on fines against offending managements.