Hungarian green activists are uniting in a fight against the destruction of a treasured marsh by a large French multinational. While the law is on their side, their battle is a hard one against corruption and greed.
The Dunakeszi marsh, outside of Hungary’s capital Budapest, is a place of unique natural beauty. Thanks to a swampy landscape and mosquitoes, the area has managed to be left intact from the invasion of human beings for centuries. Recent years have seen this change though.
In 1998, a motorway was built over it. This despite the existence of a law passed in 1995 by the national parliament, which ruled that construction over marshes is strictly forbidden.
While the aggression was suffered with little resistance, people with an interest in the place – be it locals or nature lovers – stood ready for the next threat.
The car park
This came last June 2009 in the form of Auchan, the French international retail group, which announced plans to build a 46,000 sq/m mall, which car park alone would almost entirely destroy the Dunakeszi marsh.
An unlikely group of three local men teamed together to start a movement against the construction: a fisherman, an architect and a university biology professor. Local and national green organizations soon joined in the uproar.
“The law is on our side you see, Auchan has no legal building certificate,” says Zoltan Feher a 23 year-old university student and activist for Live Chain for Hungary, one of the organisations taking part in the struggle.
The National Inspectorate for Environment, Nature and Water, however, disagreed. Their expert, having been sent in to inspect the marsh, came back claiming that it had dried out and was not therefore worth conserving.
Campaigners found this affirmation outrageous. In the past few months, they have concentrated their efforts to overturn the verdict. A demonstration, a petition, and an appeal – today, all efforts are looking like they may start paying off.
“The future generation Ombudsman has sided with us and it looks like we may be receiving further good news which would finally stop the Auchan plans altogether,” Feher says.
But why did it get so far?
Activists felt that Auchan was using its economic powers to make politicians overlook the marsh, which is not only noted for its peat ponds and fern, but is also the symbolic meeting point between the great plains and the mountains.
Feher, who plans to use his degrees in sociology and law as tools to effectively confront these kinds of threats, explains:
“This kind of problem is widespread in Hungary. People are prepared to look the other way if it means making money.
A victory here would have many consequences. Apart from the upkeep of environmental values, it would send a message to authorities about the power of grassroots movements. Citizens won’t just lay back and let things happen.”
by Rose Hackman
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