"In politics, especially international politics, values are unimportant; it's always a question of interests, economics and power," said Prime Minister Robert Fico on June 4. This was perhaps more honesty than we are accustomed to hearing from politicians, but it wasn't news. Fico's government has been living by this code since it took office last year.
At the end of May, for instance, top Environment Ministry officials admitted that they intended to "re-zone" Slovakia's nine national parks, and to decide whether they should all keep their protected status. "If they contain areas that have become degraded or that do not meet the standards of national parks, we will reduce them to the level of protected regional areas," said Environment Minister Jaroslav Izák.
The advertised aim of this re-zoning is to bring the 12 percent of Slovak territory that makes up the country's national parks into line with current needs and financial resources. But whose needs are we talking about here? There is certainly no grass-roots call for fewer national parks in Slovakia; instead, it is loggers, developers and their advocates in government who "need" protected areas to be opened up to exploitation.
And what is this "lack of money" that Izák is talking about? Are we to believe that Slovakia can afford to give Christmas bonuses to pensioners, but not to preserve its national parks? Even if the government were forced to make such bitter budgetary choices in a time of 9-percent GDP growth, couldn't euro-funds be tapped to protect these areas, 80 percent of which are of European significance?
"Opening up" the Tatras and other protected areas to development will not increase tourism, because the real barrier remains poor services, not how many ski lifts you offer. It will not help Slovakia's international image, because it will be reported as and seen for the cynical barbarism that it is. And it certainly won't help the moral climate in this country, which has been poisoned by the "interests, economics and power" approach of the Fico government. What it will do is change these mountain parks forever, wasting decades of conservation for the sake of short-term profit.
Unfortunately, plans to alter the status of national parks are unlikely to be seriously opposed, given the low level of public resistance in Slovakia. The Dzurinda government, for example, was only able to push through its tough economic reforms because the people that were hit the hardest by them did not protest; neo-liberals in other countries watched in envy, knowing they could never get such drastic changes past their own unions. The same will likely apply to "re-zoning"; despite the impact it will have on conservation, people are too apathetic to resist such brutish displays of power, or the communist mentality behind them.
By Tom Nicholson
11. Jun 2007 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson