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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
04BRATISLAVA1147 2004-12-23 06:32:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Bratislava
Cable title:  

FLATTENED FOREST FACES REDEVELOPMENT DEBATE

Tags:   AMGT EAID KSCA LO SENV 
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					  UNCLAS  BRATISLAVA 001147 

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR OES, EUR/NCE, EUR/PPD AND EUR/ACE
STATE PASS USAID FOR EEE AND OSDA
AGRICULTURE PASS TO FOREST SERVICE
DEPT PASS EPA FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: AMGT EAID KSCA LO SENV
SUBJECT: FLATTENED FOREST FACES REDEVELOPMENT DEBATE

REF: BRATISLAVA 1064

Sensitive but unclassified - handle accordingly



1. (U) Summary. On November 19, 2004 hurricane force winds
devastated the forests of Slovakia's mountainous High Tatras
region. As a result, nearly all the trees were uprooted in a
forested area over 240 square kilometers in size. Slovaks
were deeply affected by the disaster as the Tatras are the
region,s main tourist attraction and are considered by many
as a unique cultural heritage site and the pride of the
nation. The GOS responded quickly, forming a commission to
address the cleanup and redevelopment of the region, but
details of their plans have been slow to emerge. Now,
questions have arisen about what redevelopment would mean to
the High Tatras. End Summary.



2. (U) Following the natural calamity, Prime Minister
Mikulas Dzurinda called for swift action and established a
Cabinet Commission (CC) responsible for &coordination,
renewal, and development works in the High Tatras.8 The CC
consists of high-level government officials including
Dzurinda; Pavol Rusko, Minister of Economy; Laszlo Miklos,
Minister of Environment; Zsolt Simon, Minister of
Agriculture; as well as the Ministers of Finance, Foreign
Affairs, Interior, and Labor, plus representation from the
two largest opposition parties in parliament, HZDS and Smer.
In fact, the only working level participants on the CC in its
current incarnation are a local mayor and a city manager.
The CC held its first official meeting December 13, 2004 and
named Ivan Stefanec, head of Coca Cola in Slovakia, as the
acting Executive Secretary. (Comment: Stefanec is close
colleague of Dzurinda and was his unsuccessful candidate to
be Slovakia's first EU Commissioner.) Other work at the
meeting included the creation of a &roadmap8 for the
removal of the fallen trees, valued at USD 136 million.



3. (U) Ever since the catastrophe, however, there has been
media speculation that &the real ecological disaster is
still coming8, expressing the fear that the GOS would take
advantage of the disaster and convert the previously
preserved land into large-scale tourist resorts. Much of the
concern was fueled by comments from Rusko such as,
&protectionism should stop and modernization begin8 in the
Tatras. Dzurinda, though more diplomatic, also expressed a
desire to turn the tragedy into an economic positive and
foster growth in the region. Only Miklos cautioned that
redevelopment would only be done to existing tourist sites
and that, &ski resorts would not replace the forests." On
December 9, in a televised debate between various NGOs,
forestry experts, and Simon, he stated that a working group
of experts had already prepared plans of how, when, and where
to begin redevelopment though specific details have yet to be
announced.



4. (U) NGOs have consistently criticized the CC for not
including a wider array of entities in the decision making
process. Over 70 NGOs signed a petition seeking
participatory representation in the CC to ensure that all
opinions are considered. In the aforementioned debate,
representatives from the NGOs Vlk (wolf) and Ekopolis pleaded
for more discussions before any actions are taken. Simon,
however, was unable to provide any reasonable argument for
the exclusion of NGOs or other independent experts. NGOs
additionally cite the naming of Stefanec as Committee
Secretary as further evidence of the influence of big

SIPDIS
business on the CC.


5. (U) NGOs, Slovak celebrities and other concerned citizens
have since formed a new coalition called &Our Tatras8 which
seeks a larger voice in the forest renewal discussions.
Econoff spoke with Boris Strecansky, Program Director of
Ekopolis, and one of the leaders of the new citizens
association. Strecansky stated that the clean up process was
proceeding efficiently with no major problems. He further
explained that Our Tatras does not advocate any particular
approach to renovating the damaged forests, but simply wants
to ensure that the process is transparent and that all due
diligence is performed by qualified experts. The group is
concerned that the emotional response of the nation to the
disaster, spurred the GOS to &do something8 without
allowing time for reasonable actions or plans to be devised.
Strecansky did admit, however, that Dzurinda has recently
revealed a greater willingness to permit a wider range of
participation in the Tatras renewal.



6. (SBU) In conversations with Econoffs, business leaders
have questioned the likelihood of Rusko,s vision of

large-scale commercialization in the High Tatras. Services
and infrastructure, especially highways, are still limited
and, therefore, unlikely to pull tourists away from modern
facilities in the Alps. In addition, financial institutions
are aware of these issues and not apt to provide the
necessary capital for new projects in the region. Strecansky
agreed, in general, but warned that some new development was
still possible and that the most protected and sensitive
areas in the Tatras, are also the most desirable from the
market,s perspective. He further opined that Rusko is well
aware of the region's limitations and is merely attempting to
incite financial speculation thereby raising the real estate
values in the Tatras. Though choosing not to state it
directly, Strencansky implied that Rusko would personally
profit from the rising prices.



7. (U) In reftel, post requested information for a DVC
conference between GOS and USG officials to share experiences
and suggestions. We now request an update on the status of
USG speakers for such an event. Strecansky was very
optimistic about NGO participation in such an event and
specifically requested topics that could help the GOS
establish a framework to deal with environmental disasters in
a systematic and transparent manner.
THAYER


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