A protest aboard kayaks against the construction of thousands of dams in the Balkans. Last April 16 from Lake Bohinji, Slovenia, departed an unusual caravan of dozens of people whose aim is to sail eighteen rivers over a period of 35 days, as a protest against a possible environmental disaster.
The question at stake are the 2,700 dams that are going to be built in the next few years, 113 of which in national parks; this intervention – according to the organizers of the event – will have serious consequences for the rivers, the surrounding environment, and for animals. Besides, the rivers are not merely a waterway. With their benches, islands, floodplains, and fords, natural waterways are some of the richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity.
The hydroelectric settlement destroys this diversity, because it blocks the dynamic nature of the river. However, many people have difficulties in recognizing the full extent of the hydropower’s impact, since most of the damage hides under the surface of the water. The riverbed seems to remain unchanged and people think that everything is fine.
This is not the case. A natural river has little in common with a tank, as a virgin forest has nothing in common with a spruce plantation: there are trees in both of them, but their ecosystems are very different. Hydropower is not renewable; it is not a “green” energy production method. It has a huge impact on watersheds, floodplains, and on biodiversity, which changes forever or even destroyed altogether.
On their kayaks, the sportsmen will cross one paddling after another Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro, finishing their journey of protest in Albania on May 20. The event is part of the international campaign ‘‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’’, an initiative created to protect fresh water in the Balkans. The former Slovenian Olympic athlete Rok Rozman leads the group of canoeists under the slogan ‘‘save our rivers’’. Rok Rozman, (3rd place WC Poznan in 2009, 4th OG Beijing 2008), biologist, fly fisherman, adventurer, and kayaker, is the founder of a movement for the promotion and protection of aquatic ecosystems.
“Balkan rivers are not just megawatts suppliers – said Ulrich Eichelmann, campaign coordinator at ‘‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’’. – They have an important recreational value for people and provide indispensable habitats for animal and plant species. We need to protect this natural heritage of Europe against the greed of the companies and banks”.
Yet, they do not fight this battle in the Balkans only for the sake of Europe. According to the organizers, the hydroelectric expansion threatens the last intact river systems around the world, from the Amazon basin and Mesopotamia to the Himalayas, from Borneo to Chile. Even in highly exploited regions such as the Alps, where many rivers are already used to generate energy, they decided to exploit also the last remaining river stretches. In 2010, worldwide expenditures for the construction of new hydroelectric power plants amounted to about 100 billion US dollars (compared to 19 billion US dollars spent on solar energy). Under the mask of “production of green energy”. A slap in the face of the planet, a lexical trickery – according to Eichelmann –, which destroys the Creation under the banner of alleged environmentalism.