On Wednesday, hundreds of people formed human chains, protesting against a planned project to build a levee on Hajógyári Island in Budapest.
The demonstration was held in reaction to a flood control system planned by the Orbán government around the island, famed for its internationally acclaimed summer festival ‘Sziget.’
On one hand, the investment would require the clearing of almost three hectares of forest (nearly 1,000 trees); on the other hand, the system of dams and sluices would also significantly increase the water level around the island.
Budapest Leaders Oppose Gov’t Plans on Hajógyári Island After Impact Study Made Public
Many suspect the project to be related to a future kayak-canoe sports academy planned by the government to be built on the island.
During the demonstration, László Kiss, the opposition mayor (DK) of the Óbuda district, said that they wanted the concrete jungle that surrounds the city “not to be the only reality.”
“We love nature, but hate the destruction of it,” he said.
As the land on Hajógyári Island is partly owned by the central government and partly by the local governments, the public debate between the parties is not surprising.
Kiss had already raised his voice against the planned project quite a few times before, saying that it was unfair that the district had not even been consulted about a plan of this size, and called on everyone to protest against the construction of the levee, which would “permanently change the image of the island.”
“I want this island to remain a park, not ‘a New-Manhattan,’” he said in his speech at the protest.
Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony also stated that the capital cannot get behind an investment that would involve cutting down 1,000 trees and “mutilating the greenspace.”
But the government is persistent that the development project would bring about positive changes.
The levee system would be set up to protect the area from flooding, which is a “common goal” and is “supported by everyone,” Minister Gergely Gulyás said. In a later press briefing, Gulyás revealed that the government has not yet seen the exact plans of the sports academy, they only gave their preliminary support. He also noted that there are alternative plans for flood protection.
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This isn’t the first time, however, that the government has been accused of eradicating existing greenspaces for some grand development project.
Former Fidesz district mayor also against levee system
In an article, liberal news site 444.hu provides additional details about the levee project.
The investment originally would have started last year, however, the government did not provide any substantial information to the Óbuda district about the project, thus, then mayor Balázs Bús did not give drilling permission in the areas belonging to the local government. What is interesting is that Bús vetoed the plans even though he was a Fidesz politician.
However, the portal notes that then chief architect of the district did not give up, and after the municipal elections, the new, opposition leadership of the district approved the plans. The local government realized their mistake only half a year later, in June.
Featured photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI