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Developers meet conservationists’ resistance in Slovakia national park

July 01st, 2021
topics: Conservation
by: Zuzana Gogová
located in: Slovakia
tags: conservation, National Park, Slovakia, Sustainable Development

“We completely lost the spirit of the country,” says Pavel Herich from the civic association Pre Dolinu (For the Valley) - a newly established, bottom-up initiative engaged in the protection of the Demänovská Valley in northern Slovakia.

The system of underground caves in the Demänovská Valley is world-famous from a scientific point of view. "It is the system of tens of underground rivers, riverbeds and cave's biotopes directly connected to these waters," which is endangered by the unbearable construction of hotels and cottages in the higher parts of the valley, Pavel Herich told FairPlanet. 

Herich is the head of the For the Valley association and, along with other members and activists, started a petition that called for construction cessation and traffic regulation in the Demänovská Valley in the middle of November 2020. The petition had raised over 113 000 signatures in a country with a population of 5.4 million, and as such is considered to be a highly successful initiative.  

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE VALLEY  

The first serious interest in the location dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, when early scientific findings concerning it were published. "One of the oldest cave maps in Europe comes from here. We have the biggest cave system in the whole Carpathian Mountains, from Romania, through Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia," said Herich. 

In 1929, a section of the Demänovská Valley was proclaimed as the Demänovská Valley National Nature Reserve, and as such included in the so-called fifth and the highest degree of protection. Later, in 1978, the Demänovská Valley became part of a newly established Low Tatra National Park. The Valley became more popular, which led to increased investments in building infrastructure for winter sports and accommodations. 

In 2005, the authority over construction projects in the Valley was handed over to municipalities, which in the case of the Demänovska Valley meant that five members of the municipal council and one mayor were in charge of the decision-making processes of the natural heritage of all the people in the area. 

The future zoning plan had then changed in favour of a new developer's projects. Tourism and uncontrolled building construction took a toll on the upper parts of the Valley, under the official stamps of the controlling organs, said Herich, describing the genesis of the issue.

Developers’ ambitions clash with environmental concerns

While the upper part of the valley, which includes hotels and skiing resorts, is in the third degree of natural protection, just a few kilometres down through the valley spreads a complex cave system with drinking water resources which is classified in the fifth zone of protection. "This is the most important source of drinking water for  [the] Liptov" region, Herich pointed out. Therefore, the development for recreation in the upper part raises concerns among environmentalists, activists and the region’s residents. ”On the one hand, the canalisation is faulty at times and along with the building materials that we have seen around, either isolation, adhesive or paint which [over time] degrades, penetrate into the groundwaters and as such poses danger.” 

Just about 100 meters from the Vrbické mountain lake, which is in the fifth degree of natural protection, a tall hotel called Damian is under construction. Paul Zika, general manager of the Damian resort, argues that in the question of the materials, the hotel is built with high-quality materials and is supposed to be one of the most ecological ones in Europe with one of the lowest carbon footprint, too.

The resort is going to accommodate 700 guests and offer a variety of services, which, Zika claims, will lower people’s mobility up and down through the valley, as they will find everything under one roof.

The current mayor of Demänovská Dolina village, Ľubomíra Klepáčová, admitted in a discussion on the TV station TA3 that extensive construction may concern people, but at the same time added that “tourism infrastructure is needed to a reasonable extent, which won't be so harmful to the environment.” She did not specify, however, what “reasonable extent” would mean. 

Obviously, a developer would define “reasonable extent” differently from activists or environmentalists, and this seems to be the key premise, both from the perspective of environmental protection as well as for someone who sees nature as a source of profit. 

People around Herich, as well as other activists, argue that the current speed of construction in the upper part of the Valley exceeded the limits accepted within the Low Tatra National park. “The protection of nature in the National park is superior to any other activity according to the law,” Herich says. At this point, he continued, something that is changing on a grand level is affecting the life underneath, not mentioning the kilometres of plastic tubes and infrastructure built under the ground in the National park. 

Regarding the issue of future of tourism in Demänovska Valley, Zika of the Damian resort believes that “The ideal way is looking for the symbiosis of sustainable development of tourism and protection of the natural environment,” - an approach highly criticised by social scientists and environmentalists arguing that one can hide different actions towards specific goals behind the banner of “sustainable development” to such an extent that it becomes vague and inherently contradictory as a term. 

LOOKING FOR A SOLUTIONS 

Currently, members of For the Valley are trying to communicate with all the parties involved: the village of Demänovská Dolina, developers and, last but not least, members of Parliament in order to find a solution reflecting the significance of the Demänovská Valley. 

The need for communication between the different parties is even more pressing since the village Demänovská Dolina is working on a new zoning plan. In an online discussion organised by the Goethe-Institute in Bratislava, Pavel Herich, together with his guests Juraj Rizman (an activist and former director of Greenpeace Slovakia) and Iveta Niňajová (of the citizen-initiative My sme Les) agreed that the petition is only beginning and that this initiative, which alarmed so many people, should not settle for other than a real solution for the Demänovská Valley. 

The case of the Demänovská Valley can serve as a good example of what it takes to participate in civic campaigns for justice. 

Image: Zuzana Gogová. 

Article written by:
Profilovka++(1+of+1)
Zuzana Gogová
Author
Slovakia
The Demänovská Valley. \'One of the oldest cave maps in Europe comes from here.\'
The Demänovská Valley. "One of the oldest cave maps in Europe comes from here."
© Zuzana Gogová
The general manager of the Damian resort argues that in the question of the materials, the hotel is built with high-quality materials and is supposed to be one of the most ecological ones in Europe
The general manager of the Damian resort argues that in the question of the materials, the hotel is built with high-quality materials and is supposed to be one of the most ecological ones in Europe
© Zuzana Gogová
Cross-country skiers in the upper part of the Demänovská Valley, calledJasná. The area with artificially planted spruce monocultures is visibly affected by wind calamity and logging.
Cross-country skiers in the upper part of the Demänovská Valley, calledJasná. The area with artificially planted spruce monocultures is visibly affected by wind calamity and logging.
© Zuzana Gogová
“The protection of nature in the National park is superior to any other activity according to the law.\'  Pavel Herich.
“The protection of nature in the National park is superior to any other activity according to the law." Pavel Herich.
© Zuzana Gogová
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