Environmental Activist Feels Vindicated By Parliamentary Calls to Reject Dam

SEVERAL years ago, we said that if we couldn't change the fate of the Danube, we wouldn't be able to change our own fate," says Janos Vargha. Mr. Vargha is the founding member of Hungary's first environmental group, the Danube Circle, and now the president of the East European Environmental Research Institute. "The recent tough parliamentary resolution calling for an end to the dam project is the environmental movement's achievement," he said.

Vargha kicked off the protest against the dam a decade ago, when he wrote a study of its potentially harmful environmental consequences. The public campaign began three years later, in 1984, as Hungarians circulated anti-dam literature in samizdat and collected signatures on petitions to stop the project. Tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets in mass demonstrations.

In 1989, the environmental movement succeeded in pressuring the government to put at least a temporary halt to the project. In the process, in fact, it helped bring the Communist government down.

Vargha is undaunted by the lack of progress in Hungarian-Slovakian talks.

"There's a certain inertia in politics," he says. "We expect to see results from the parliamentary resolution in a few months. The key thing is to convince the Slovaks that there is no room for compromise here - just as we've driven [the point] home to the Hungarian government."

Vargha says he is not concerned by the movement's loss of its mass base after the government accepted arguments against the dam. Although it no longer can attract crowds in street demonstrations, the movement has become more professional and has taken on a strong lobbying role. In addition, many who marched against the dam are now sitting in the parliament.

There is no shortage of new issues for Hungary's environmental movement, says Vargha. The next item on its international agenda is to try to stop Western countries from building nuclear reactors in the East.

"They'll have a clean source of energy and no problems with their public," he says. "But wait until they hear from our public."

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