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damas gruska

UnsUstainable	
UndeVeloPment	
B

ratislava borders with Austria. Part
of the border runs along the Danube
but the rest was delineated purely politically, not naturally. Even without
boundary posts it is not hard to check where
it runs: all you have to do is find satellite
images in Google Maps, or walk or bike along
it. In the first case you can see the difference
between small fields on one side of the border,
and vast monoculture fields, vestiges of the
time of state-owned agricultural enterprises,
on the other. In close-up you can see ravages
left over by the communist system, which have
not been completely removed even during the
twenty-three years since it fell. Before the war
the boundary was almost indiscernible, all the
more so since areas on both sides were inhabited by ethnically related people. What is to
blame: the historical gap or disastrous post-revolution development? Perhaps both; and anyway it is observable elsewhere, as well. Similar
ugly views can be seen all over Slovakia: remnants of decades of social engineering when

ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 64

decision makers could not envision other ways
to feed starving valleys than to construct giant
factories. It was simply the easiest solution
in communist and capitalist times. Factories
supplied work for thousands of people but it
was necessary to transport workers to them
or to build new housing estates. It began with
intervention into the social structures of local communities, followed by exploitation of
the surrounding natural environment. The
majority of factories gradually went bankrupt,
leaving behind dilapidated torsos of factory
floors, ownerless waste dumps, glum, identical, sprawling blocks of flats, and an army of
jobless people who are still not rooted in the
local community. It seems that nobody has
drawn any conclusions. All post-revolution
governments have shown a marked preference
for big investors (beginning from the form of
investment), to a clear disadvantage of small
and medium enterprises. The logic of election
cycles makes them choose short-term solutions, particularly at a time when unemploy-

ment figures are record high. Yet the reasons
of this situation are even more complex.
The velvet revolution in Slovakia was partly
triggered by ecological issues. The semi-official publication Bratislava Aloud (1987), whose
authors dealt with environmental issues in
the broadest sense of the word (the publication was compiled by eighty-four authors and
reviewers) had resonance with the public:
the first edition consisted of 1,000 copies but
unofficial data reveals that within a month
about 60,000 copies were made on different
mediums. The people of Bratislava, where
the major industry were chemical plants,
particularly at the time when it was under
surveillance of the communist security service, were particularly sensitive to environmental issues.
It is not surprising, then, that the velvet
revolution elevated the authors of the
publication to positions of power, though

13-10-30 14:40
All photos in the article: D. Grusk
ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 65

13-10-30 14:40
ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 66

13-10-30 14:40
not necessarily connected with environmental issues. This is why some energetic
activists ceased to be concerned with these
problems. Also, economic transformation led
to a partial or complete closure of many big
factories, which, incidentally, were some of
the major pollutants. Impoverished in the
new economic system, farmers were forced
to reduce the amount of chemical fertilisers,
protective sprayings etc. Gradual elimination of liquid or solid fuel heating, vehicle
replacement and the like contributed to a
fast and visible ‘natural’ improvement of
the quality of the environment. Nothing
could henceforth hinder the development of
a consumer society. In any case, at the time
when the society was completely preoccupied
with the economic transformation (part of
the reform was the mantra that we had to fix
our economy before we fixed anything else),
dissolution of Czechoslovakia, building the
republic of Slovakia and complete devastation of public space, which was soon to be
seized by various private enterprises, there
was no other way but economic violation. In
addition, media space was early taken over
by young right-wing know-it-alls, whose only
intellectual asset was superficial familiarity
with a few ideas of Friedrich von Hayek’s.
Further political development did not foster
sustainable development. Within twentythree years there emerged no significant
green party which would deal with these
problems. Although Bratislava has traditionally been ruled by ‘right-wing’ coalitions
– quite an extraordinary thing for a European capital, which proves how immature
the political scene has been – at the state
level, paradoxically, right-wing parties have
been closer to ecological concerns than the
‘social democracy’ in power at present. The
latter consists of entrepreneurs mixed with
nationalists, a far cry from a modern left

ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 67

wing party. One example will suffice to illustrate the point: when the former coalition
promoted the idea of small dykes as an antiflood measure, the other aim of which was to
retain as much water as possible in the forest
– a low budget project, fostering in addition
employment growth among unskilled workers
– the new ‘social-democratic’ government immediately halted it for the sake of concretebased solutions.
The state of sustainable development in
Slovakia is best illustrated by the case of Bratislava. Following World War I the nationality
structure began to change dramatically (to
the disadvantage of the German and Hungarian minorities), and after WWII the same
happened to the social structure. To increase
working class representation, new factories
were built and existing ones were (also) enlarged. As a result, since 1945 the population
of the capital increased over threefold. To
provide sufficient accommodation, new housing estates were built, including the allegedly
biggest one in central Europe with 115,000
residents. The city sprawled in all directions allowed by the geographic location and
the proximity to the border, extending over
an enormous area. For comparison, nearby
Vienna, which is four times bigger, covers the
area that is less than 10% larger than that of
Bratislava. In the meantime, the majority of
factories went bankrupt, leaving behind vast
brownfields (postindustrial areas), some of
them stretching as far as the city centre. Despite abundant unused land, the city authorities did not impose any restrictions on building development of quality farmlands on the
outskirts of the city. As a result, the situation
deteriorated. In addition, due to bombings
during WWII and the destruction of historic
castle grounds, vast undeveloped stretches
of land are generally regarded as an integral
part of Bratislava’s genius loci. If any avail-

able land gets built over, typically another
development takes place in the vicinity, usually replacing some postindustrial facilities.
In this way, the city is permanently scarred
(overgrown with weeds, cluttered as a result
of wrong space management, and ultimately
defaced). Both legislation and daily practice
contribute to the relatively easy demolition
of industrial heritage. It is often said that the
worst that could happen to a building is for
it to be entered in the National Register of
Historic Places.
Vast city space requires proper maintenance
of public space, transportation services and
the like. The authorities are merely paying
lip service to the idea that public transport
should take priority. No new tram line has
been constructed; on the contrary, one of
them has been out of order for ages, and the
other ones are under threat. Building the
underground has been a leitmotif of all election campaigns. No wonder that, driven by
a post-revolution euphoria, residents tend to
rely on private transport – mainly cars (the
number of cars in proportion to the population is higher in Bratislava than in many
metropolises in Western Europe; moreover,
Slovakia is the biggest car manufacturer in
proportion to the population). No wonder
that the Car-Free Day remains an unknown
concept in Bratislava. The situation reflects
the local politicians’ approach. According to
an interpretation of the long expected and
finally accepted urban development plan, the
only building which can be situated anywhere
(including parks) is a subterranean garage.
By the way, as to greenery: existing parks are
usually not properly kept, if not downright
neglected, so that they could be replaced with
brand new, modest buildings. Setting up new
parks is out of the question. And it happens
that in their public speeches successful local
politicians speak against greenery in the city

13-10-30 14:41
at every possible opportunity.
Traditional market places where local farmers
sell their agricultural produce are progressively disappearing (market places survived
communism, only to be destroyed by market
economy), and that is happening with the
city’s consent as it gives priority to developers who are eager to get lucrative land, rather
than to citizens in need of high quality fresh
local products – all this at a time when market
places prosper spectacularly in other places
in the world. Moreover, virtually unregulated
construction of super- and hypermarkets has
contributed to the disappearance of smaller
shops, especially in the city centre and
hence to its depopulation, and to the reduction of the variety of locally grown produce.
Once a rural country, today’s Slovakia is no
longer self-sufficient in the food sector and
most foodstuffs, produced in Slovakia until
recently, have to be imported. It is not only a
problem of foodstuffs but mainly of domestic
production for the citizens of the country.
For example, wooden houses, once immensely
popular in Slovakia (as it is one of the most afforested countries in Europe), are very slowly
and tentatively coming back into fashion.
Municipal recycling policies are equally irrational. Although it has become possible to
sort waste, this activity has been left up to
the residents’ enthusiasm, with no financial
or legal regulations (such as obligatory waste
segregation). The author of this text dutifully
sorts out rubbish, and regularly puts out a
practically empty waste container in front
of his house, for which he pays as if it were
full to the brim and as if the waste were not
segregated. In addition, allocated ‘public’
rubbish dumps and the price of their disposal
have resulted in the situation that illegal
dumps are scattered all over the city, just like
in the whole country. The counterweight for

ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 68

the government and municipal policies (i.e.
lobbyists’ tools) are two powers: on the one
hand, the European Environmental Agency
(EEA), with legislature and finance related to
its activities at its desposal, and on the other
hand, municipal activism. The former may
have a great impact on sustainable development but it is less conspicuous, especially
with regard to legal norms. What does catch
the eye are mindless excesses of the Agency
(for instance, hectares of quality farmland
covered by solar panels). From this perspective, the approach to sustainable development
resembles a sickly adopted child who is kept
alive by drip infusions from Brussels. Thus,
we tend to repeat all mistakes made by our
more mature neighbours, without employing
at least any mechanisms to rectify them.

as the post-communist consumerist euphoria
evaporates. Only then will we realise that
our development lacks sustainability. Without it, it is impossible to think of the future,
while the question of sustainable development remains just another obligatory slogan
when applying for grants.
Translation from Slovak into Polish by
Emiliano Ranocchi
English translation by Anna
Mirosławska-Olszewska

Activism, based on more or less formal associations, may bring more benefits than millions
of subsidies. When cycling to work, I personally appreciate ‘illegal’ repairs of pavements
and patched holes in asphalt – an initiative
carried out by some anonymous activists at
night – much more than municipal designs
of cycle lanes. Not to mention the fact that
the authorities’ interest in bicycle transport
ends with cycle lanes, so the majority of users
find it challenging to park their vehicles in
the city and outside it. In general, I consider
activism to be Slovakia’s greatest hope. Not
because it might solve all problems related to
sustainable development but because it seems
to be the only power which is able to turn
officials’ inertia into something perceptible,
tangible, concrete and sensible.
The words in this article express my criticism
of sustainable development in Bratislava.
Each of the above mentioned problems is
tackled by activism; activists can also resensitise the Slovak society to some questions
concerning the natural environment as soon

13-10-30 14:41
ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 69

13-10-30 14:41

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Rownowaga 1 uk-64-69

  • 1. damas gruska UnsUstainable UndeVeloPment B ratislava borders with Austria. Part of the border runs along the Danube but the rest was delineated purely politically, not naturally. Even without boundary posts it is not hard to check where it runs: all you have to do is find satellite images in Google Maps, or walk or bike along it. In the first case you can see the difference between small fields on one side of the border, and vast monoculture fields, vestiges of the time of state-owned agricultural enterprises, on the other. In close-up you can see ravages left over by the communist system, which have not been completely removed even during the twenty-three years since it fell. Before the war the boundary was almost indiscernible, all the more so since areas on both sides were inhabited by ethnically related people. What is to blame: the historical gap or disastrous post-revolution development? Perhaps both; and anyway it is observable elsewhere, as well. Similar ugly views can be seen all over Slovakia: remnants of decades of social engineering when ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 64 decision makers could not envision other ways to feed starving valleys than to construct giant factories. It was simply the easiest solution in communist and capitalist times. Factories supplied work for thousands of people but it was necessary to transport workers to them or to build new housing estates. It began with intervention into the social structures of local communities, followed by exploitation of the surrounding natural environment. The majority of factories gradually went bankrupt, leaving behind dilapidated torsos of factory floors, ownerless waste dumps, glum, identical, sprawling blocks of flats, and an army of jobless people who are still not rooted in the local community. It seems that nobody has drawn any conclusions. All post-revolution governments have shown a marked preference for big investors (beginning from the form of investment), to a clear disadvantage of small and medium enterprises. The logic of election cycles makes them choose short-term solutions, particularly at a time when unemploy- ment figures are record high. Yet the reasons of this situation are even more complex. The velvet revolution in Slovakia was partly triggered by ecological issues. The semi-official publication Bratislava Aloud (1987), whose authors dealt with environmental issues in the broadest sense of the word (the publication was compiled by eighty-four authors and reviewers) had resonance with the public: the first edition consisted of 1,000 copies but unofficial data reveals that within a month about 60,000 copies were made on different mediums. The people of Bratislava, where the major industry were chemical plants, particularly at the time when it was under surveillance of the communist security service, were particularly sensitive to environmental issues. It is not surprising, then, that the velvet revolution elevated the authors of the publication to positions of power, though 13-10-30 14:40
  • 2. All photos in the article: D. Grusk ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 65 13-10-30 14:40
  • 4. not necessarily connected with environmental issues. This is why some energetic activists ceased to be concerned with these problems. Also, economic transformation led to a partial or complete closure of many big factories, which, incidentally, were some of the major pollutants. Impoverished in the new economic system, farmers were forced to reduce the amount of chemical fertilisers, protective sprayings etc. Gradual elimination of liquid or solid fuel heating, vehicle replacement and the like contributed to a fast and visible ‘natural’ improvement of the quality of the environment. Nothing could henceforth hinder the development of a consumer society. In any case, at the time when the society was completely preoccupied with the economic transformation (part of the reform was the mantra that we had to fix our economy before we fixed anything else), dissolution of Czechoslovakia, building the republic of Slovakia and complete devastation of public space, which was soon to be seized by various private enterprises, there was no other way but economic violation. In addition, media space was early taken over by young right-wing know-it-alls, whose only intellectual asset was superficial familiarity with a few ideas of Friedrich von Hayek’s. Further political development did not foster sustainable development. Within twentythree years there emerged no significant green party which would deal with these problems. Although Bratislava has traditionally been ruled by ‘right-wing’ coalitions – quite an extraordinary thing for a European capital, which proves how immature the political scene has been – at the state level, paradoxically, right-wing parties have been closer to ecological concerns than the ‘social democracy’ in power at present. The latter consists of entrepreneurs mixed with nationalists, a far cry from a modern left ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 67 wing party. One example will suffice to illustrate the point: when the former coalition promoted the idea of small dykes as an antiflood measure, the other aim of which was to retain as much water as possible in the forest – a low budget project, fostering in addition employment growth among unskilled workers – the new ‘social-democratic’ government immediately halted it for the sake of concretebased solutions. The state of sustainable development in Slovakia is best illustrated by the case of Bratislava. Following World War I the nationality structure began to change dramatically (to the disadvantage of the German and Hungarian minorities), and after WWII the same happened to the social structure. To increase working class representation, new factories were built and existing ones were (also) enlarged. As a result, since 1945 the population of the capital increased over threefold. To provide sufficient accommodation, new housing estates were built, including the allegedly biggest one in central Europe with 115,000 residents. The city sprawled in all directions allowed by the geographic location and the proximity to the border, extending over an enormous area. For comparison, nearby Vienna, which is four times bigger, covers the area that is less than 10% larger than that of Bratislava. In the meantime, the majority of factories went bankrupt, leaving behind vast brownfields (postindustrial areas), some of them stretching as far as the city centre. Despite abundant unused land, the city authorities did not impose any restrictions on building development of quality farmlands on the outskirts of the city. As a result, the situation deteriorated. In addition, due to bombings during WWII and the destruction of historic castle grounds, vast undeveloped stretches of land are generally regarded as an integral part of Bratislava’s genius loci. If any avail- able land gets built over, typically another development takes place in the vicinity, usually replacing some postindustrial facilities. In this way, the city is permanently scarred (overgrown with weeds, cluttered as a result of wrong space management, and ultimately defaced). Both legislation and daily practice contribute to the relatively easy demolition of industrial heritage. It is often said that the worst that could happen to a building is for it to be entered in the National Register of Historic Places. Vast city space requires proper maintenance of public space, transportation services and the like. The authorities are merely paying lip service to the idea that public transport should take priority. No new tram line has been constructed; on the contrary, one of them has been out of order for ages, and the other ones are under threat. Building the underground has been a leitmotif of all election campaigns. No wonder that, driven by a post-revolution euphoria, residents tend to rely on private transport – mainly cars (the number of cars in proportion to the population is higher in Bratislava than in many metropolises in Western Europe; moreover, Slovakia is the biggest car manufacturer in proportion to the population). No wonder that the Car-Free Day remains an unknown concept in Bratislava. The situation reflects the local politicians’ approach. According to an interpretation of the long expected and finally accepted urban development plan, the only building which can be situated anywhere (including parks) is a subterranean garage. By the way, as to greenery: existing parks are usually not properly kept, if not downright neglected, so that they could be replaced with brand new, modest buildings. Setting up new parks is out of the question. And it happens that in their public speeches successful local politicians speak against greenery in the city 13-10-30 14:41
  • 5. at every possible opportunity. Traditional market places where local farmers sell their agricultural produce are progressively disappearing (market places survived communism, only to be destroyed by market economy), and that is happening with the city’s consent as it gives priority to developers who are eager to get lucrative land, rather than to citizens in need of high quality fresh local products – all this at a time when market places prosper spectacularly in other places in the world. Moreover, virtually unregulated construction of super- and hypermarkets has contributed to the disappearance of smaller shops, especially in the city centre and hence to its depopulation, and to the reduction of the variety of locally grown produce. Once a rural country, today’s Slovakia is no longer self-sufficient in the food sector and most foodstuffs, produced in Slovakia until recently, have to be imported. It is not only a problem of foodstuffs but mainly of domestic production for the citizens of the country. For example, wooden houses, once immensely popular in Slovakia (as it is one of the most afforested countries in Europe), are very slowly and tentatively coming back into fashion. Municipal recycling policies are equally irrational. Although it has become possible to sort waste, this activity has been left up to the residents’ enthusiasm, with no financial or legal regulations (such as obligatory waste segregation). The author of this text dutifully sorts out rubbish, and regularly puts out a practically empty waste container in front of his house, for which he pays as if it were full to the brim and as if the waste were not segregated. In addition, allocated ‘public’ rubbish dumps and the price of their disposal have resulted in the situation that illegal dumps are scattered all over the city, just like in the whole country. The counterweight for ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 68 the government and municipal policies (i.e. lobbyists’ tools) are two powers: on the one hand, the European Environmental Agency (EEA), with legislature and finance related to its activities at its desposal, and on the other hand, municipal activism. The former may have a great impact on sustainable development but it is less conspicuous, especially with regard to legal norms. What does catch the eye are mindless excesses of the Agency (for instance, hectares of quality farmland covered by solar panels). From this perspective, the approach to sustainable development resembles a sickly adopted child who is kept alive by drip infusions from Brussels. Thus, we tend to repeat all mistakes made by our more mature neighbours, without employing at least any mechanisms to rectify them. as the post-communist consumerist euphoria evaporates. Only then will we realise that our development lacks sustainability. Without it, it is impossible to think of the future, while the question of sustainable development remains just another obligatory slogan when applying for grants. Translation from Slovak into Polish by Emiliano Ranocchi English translation by Anna Mirosławska-Olszewska Activism, based on more or less formal associations, may bring more benefits than millions of subsidies. When cycling to work, I personally appreciate ‘illegal’ repairs of pavements and patched holes in asphalt – an initiative carried out by some anonymous activists at night – much more than municipal designs of cycle lanes. Not to mention the fact that the authorities’ interest in bicycle transport ends with cycle lanes, so the majority of users find it challenging to park their vehicles in the city and outside it. In general, I consider activism to be Slovakia’s greatest hope. Not because it might solve all problems related to sustainable development but because it seems to be the only power which is able to turn officials’ inertia into something perceptible, tangible, concrete and sensible. The words in this article express my criticism of sustainable development in Bratislava. Each of the above mentioned problems is tackled by activism; activists can also resensitise the Slovak society to some questions concerning the natural environment as soon 13-10-30 14:41