The Great Slovak Canal

"In the center is the Danube, holding the fulcrum of the balance.  She's been holding it for a quite a while, but now she's in trouble.  You can't throw one gram more in either pan than that which the valid law of physics demands for balance.  The balance:  honor.  We need men with clean hands and honorable hearts to handle the balance. The slightest iota of dishonor would throw the balance off.  And woe be to him, who would pull the pan down..."

Rezső Szalatnai:  "Beno Ondrej's Mistake"  (1948)


According to the plans of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Barrage System, the present main bed of the Danube will be closed off along the Czechoslovak-Hungarian section of the Danube, which extends from river kilometer 1850 to the mouth of the Ipoly along the border between the two states, at river kilometer 1842 by a reservoir dam being built at Dunakiliti's hamlet border.  Above the Dunakiliti dam, a reservoir of 240 million m3 volume is to be built, which will extend all the way to Pozsony (Bratislava) and which will raise the water level to 6 and one half meters above ground level at Dunakiliti.  From the reservoir, the water will go into an artificial canal, the canal leading to the hydro-electric plant being built at Bős (called Gabcikovo in Slovak).  In this so-called "suspended canal" the water runs between two dikes to the power plant.  Going through the slightly sloping Csallóköz lowland, the water level will be 16 meters above ground at Bős, while the height of the dikes will be 18 meters.  The canal, therefore, will not resemble the natural bed in the slightest.  To quote a water management expert's opinion, "The straightening of the flow and the lack of trees will turn this into a technical canal.  Such unnatural, unilateral interference by technology is uneconomical and, at the same time, disgusting."  (Vízügyi szakmai világszint-beszámolók, No. 11, 1965, pp 147.)

The water rushing through the Bős power plant will return to the Danube's present bed by way of another canals, or the auxiliary canal will be entirely on Slovak territory, and international boat traffic through this section will all need to go through Slovakia.  The "abandoned" Danube's 30 kilometer bed will only receive 50 cubic meters of water per second from the average 2000 cubic meters of water flowing through the Danube.  Annually, we can expect amounts greater than this on only 14 days, aside from millennial floods.  We may even have winters when no water will flow into the "abandoned" bed from the Dunakiliti reservoir.

The other power plant of the planned barrage system will be built in the Danube Bend, on Hungarian territory.  The dam would obstruct the Danube between Nagymaros and Visegrád, swelling her water level to beyond the highest flood levels experienced to date. Because of this, costly flood defense investments would be required, which would increase the cost of the Nagymaros barrage by 30%.  In certain towns, however, such as Esztergom, we must count on water leaking into the basements of buildings on the lowlands, to the detriment of these same buildings.

From an operational viewpoint, is the operation of the 720 megawatt Bős hydro-electric plant at peak capacity. When electrical energy consumption is lowest, for instance at night, they would only allow the levels to go down enough to accommodate shipping.  They would store the remaining part of the Danube's flow in the Dunakiliti-Pozsony (Bratislava) Reservoir.  The Bős power plant would work at full capacity when consumer needs are greatest, for instance in the late afternoon.  As a result of running at peak capacity, the level water in the reservoir would oscillate by as much as one meter, while differences in water level could reach as much as five meters down river from the power plant during the four hour peak operating period.  This would happen twice daily with a flow of 2100 cubic meters per second.  The changes in water level would, at the mouth of the Mosoni-Danube, reach 2 meters.  As a result of the artificial flood wave, the waters of the tributaries would flow backwards at such time, transporting Gyôr's sewage back into the city.

The 160 megawatt Nagymaros plant would, in general operate continuously and would only contribute in small amounts to peak energy production.  It's most important role, for which they want to build it despite the fact that it's "side effects" would destroy Hungary's second tourist attraction, is that it would create an evening reservoir, which would, in part, cut the amount of oscillation resulting from the water released in a short period of time during the peak operation of the Bős power plant, the so-called "peak wave," which will, however, continue to be significant, as we saw in the above and the waves would obstruct larger vessels from entering the lower canal during peak operation.  (Közlekedési Közlöny, 1980, No. 48).

According to the international treaty, the two states are to complete the construction work, bear construction costs and share the 3.6 billion kilowatt-hours average energy produced annually 50-50.  As a result of reservoir swelling, a 3.5 meter deep, 180 meter wide boating way will come into being between Nagymaros and Pozsony (Bratislava).  Between Dunakiliti and Szap, the peak flood level will go down because the water flow will be split between the "abandoned" bed and the auxiliary canal.

Something for something...

The utilization of the Danube as a source of electrical power has several draw-backs, as well.  Although certain writings which speak of these have now seen the light of day, 1 it seems prudent to summarize a few more important effects.

In the Pozsony reservoir, where the speed of water flow will be mush less than at present, the dropping of 2-2.5 million metric tons of suspended silt annually. One part of the water under increased pressure in the reservoir, this silt will force its way into the highly permeable, sandy-gravely substrata taking this silt with it.  Leakage will be strongest in the direction of the of "abandoned" bed, because this is where the ground water levels will be lowest.  The silt, which contains heavy metals, oil, and other toxic substances will pollute the water table found hundreds of meters underground in the gravel layer, with a volume of 12-15 cubic kilometers.  The breakdown of the silt remaining on the reservoir will further degrade the Danube's water quality.

The pollution of the good quality water table present in the gravel layer between Szigetköz and Csallóköz would deny Hungary and Czechoslovakia of a drinking water resource easily obtainable by wells which could have a daily capacity of 2 million cubic meters.  We must emphasize strongly that it would also be impossible to protect these water reserves from pollution if river barrages were built along this section, because the suspended silt's dropping and sinking into the ground would result from permanent swelling.  A similar process can be expected between Komárom and Nagymaros, as well, where permanent swelling, along with the dropping of polluting substances and the pollution of the banks' gravel layers would not only destroy potential water bases, but also the filter wells built long ago along the shores.  Budapest's drinking water supply comes, in large part, from wells down river from Nagymaros, particularly the well network in place on Szentendre Island.  These wells will be adversely effected by the erosion of the layers beneath the barrages, first by the thinning of the filter layer, second, by the reduction in water flow at times of water being held back.

The pollution of developed and developable drinking water bases would mean the destruction of 60-70 million forints worth of national treasures of emotional value for the Hungarian party alone.  If we had to take surface water from the Danube, instead, and purify this to create a drinking water supply, this would mean an annual outlay of 0.8-1.0 billion forints as a result of operational and amortization costs of the purification plants.  Water purified in this manner at the presently operating Budapest surface water treatment plant does not satisfy the usual definition of drinking water.  Only by diluting it with clean water from the Szentendre wells can it be made tolerable in taste and smell.  The purification technology can only be used with the "average" pollution level of the Danube.  When unusually large waves of polluting substances arrive, the plant must shut down operations until they pass.  If the proportion of water which had to be purified by this process increased greatly, drinking water services would, for all practical purposes, cease to exist.  If the technology of purification was measured against unusual pollution levels, then the previously mentioned costs would have to be doubled.

In the event of the "barraging" of the Hungarian-Czechoslovak section of the Danube, the danger to the drinking water supply would only decrease in the event that by the time the barrage system was completed, that is, within ten years, the pollution levels within the river could be decreased by factors of ten.  The size of this task is indicated by the fact that the purification of sewage water dumped by the Hungarian party alone to the necessary levels would require an investment of over 20 billion forints.  To achieve the proper results, this would have to also occur on the upper sections of the Danube, as well as along numerous, mainly Czechoslovak, tributary rivers. Looking at present international practice and, not lastly, the world economic situation, this seems to be simply impossible.  (We must add that Hungary does not pay enough attention to the cleanliness of rivers flowing out across her borders, either.)

Aside from the present quality of the Danube's waters (which are deteriorating from year to year)  there are contradictions between the utilization of energy and drinking water needs which cannot be resolved with the existing technical, economic and political tools.  By the turn of the millennium, 20% of Czechoslovakia and 30% of Hungary will be able to obtain clean drinking water solely form the reserves located along the section of the Danube between Pozsony (Bratislava) and Budapest, by way of the planned expanded regional water network, because local water reserves will become more and more polluted.  Danubian hydro-electric energy will represent no more than 2% and 3.5% of the two countries's electric energy consumption, respectively.  These proportions would make the construction of the hydro-electric plants irrational even if the use of this energy were to prove economical.  This, however, is not the case. The machines, reservoirs, and great excavations in the interests of building Czechoslovak-Hungarian hydro-electric plants on the section of the river flowing through a prairie region with very little fall will cost about twice as much to build as thermal power plants of similar capacity.

We cannot ignore the fact that the utilization of the Danube for such small amounts of energy make great parcels of land unusable for other purposes.  The area made permanent use of by the barrage system is a grand total of 120 square kilometers, of which 73 square kilometers are agricultural land and the rest is forest.

The relocation of the Danube in an auxiliary channel also uses a large amount of land, and further increases environmental damage, primarily because the ground water level near the "abandoned" bed will sink over a great territory.  The extent of this sinking will exceed 1 meter over 200 square kilometers, with sinkage exceeding 4 meters over 30 square kilometers within this.  The effects of the irrigation system planned to counteract this drop in ground water levels will extend only to limited areas and its construction will cost 3 billion forints.  The trustworthiness of the system is doubtful at best.  The planners themselves don't know how to defend against the obstruction of the irrigation canals against obstruction by sedimentation, "for this, we absolutely need to study and analyze the physical, biological, and chemical characteristics present, with the development of bed maintenance technology being essential, and only in the event of favorable results of these examinations will; we be able to construct an irrigation system."  (Ottó Haszpra: "Examination of the Effectiveness of the Dunakiliti Reservoir's Irrigation Canals,"  Summary. 1980)

The unavoidable consequence of a drop ion groundwater levels will be damage to the living ecologies of the old bed and the related tributaries, so very rich in species at the present (See in detail:  Földrajzi Közlemények. 1983, number 1.)

The planners and the investors justify the auxiliary canal alternative from the standpoint of energy, navigation and flood defense.  The auxiliary canal, however, is entirely unnecessary from both an energy and a navigation standpoint.  The construction of a river hydro-electric pant can be used to develop a navigable waterway which is just as deep and just as wide and, during basic operation, may actually produce a few percent more energy.  Basic operation is more favorable from a navigation standpoint than the running of the hydro-electric plant at peak operational capacity.  The division of flood waves between the old bed and the auxiliary canal is just seemingly advantageous.  The "abandoned" bed cannot truly be left to itself, and its flood defense dikes must still be maintained, in order that the Danube be able to flow somewhere even if the auxiliary canal's dikes are damaged somehow.  The maintenance of the old bed will cost more the maintenance of the same section if left in its present condition.  The "abandoned" bed must always remain in a condition conducive to transporting flood waters which exceed the capacity of the industrial water canal, as well as the ice and sedimentation released by the reservoir, but in an emergency, even international boat traffic must be detoured through it.  As compared to the present situation, the wide differences in water flow will cause rearrangement and ruination in the old bed to a degree incalculable at present.  The parts of the bed which will remain dry must continuously be freed of weeds.

This summarized familiarization demonstrates what bad business this barrage system will be to the populations living on both banks, who can count on a very small return on an immense investment, but will have to live with great damage.

This general conflict of interest has not had any effects to date.  This does not seem unusual, at first glance.  This will not be the first investment project in the region which ecological and more widely defined economic interests are forced to the background by the central decision making mechanism.  This mechanism is characterized, first and foremost, by the corrupt braiding of state administration and industrial production..  Central planning, which, due to the untrustworthiness of information and the limits of the various sciences, would not otherwise be valid, is replaced by plan haggling behind closed doors, during the course of which the various departments attempt to cut the largest possible piece of the resource pie to be divvied up by the central authorities.  The power relations between the various departments are influenced by subjective factors.  Those in favor of the hydro-electric plants could refer, at one time, to the "Great Soviet Hydro-electric plants."  At the end of 1958, when the Czechoslovak-Hungarian agreement to jointly build a barrage system at Nagymaros was born, the author of one propaganda article bubbled as follows:  "...up here, in the heights, above the Volga, tamed to a standstill, where our eyes feast upon the panorama of the Stalingrad hydro-electric plant, I still feel that this, too, is a monument. It does not speak of our heroes in a manner any less worthy than the greatest work of art.  Grandiose... monumental impressive... gigantic... imposing... I continue to try to find the right words."  (Péter Rényi:  "The Largest Hydro-electric Plant in the World."  Népszabadság, Dec 7, 1958.)  These days, István Sáfrán is trying to find the right words in the same paper...

Besides simple gigantomania, the thought processes in water management are also influenced by the fact that the planning and construction of these hydro-electric plants count as the non plus ultra of the profession and the planner of a useless hydro-electric plant will get a state award before his colleague who has been working usefully all his life, albeit on projects which are less obvious.

It is no wonder that the water management profession has done everything in its power, and continues to do so today, to build the Danube hydro-electric plants. It seems, for the moment at least, that the profession's efforts will meet with success.  The picture, however, is not so simple.  If we attribute the decision to build the power plants entirely to the influence of the water management profession, we have no real way to explain why the auxiliary canal, which significantly increases the disadvantages of the barrage system, is being built. The question of whether a river or auxiliary canal power plant is built is indifferent to the material and intellectual position of the water management profession's self-realizing goals, which are against the "public interest."  It is only important for something to be built.  As a matter of fact, within the water management profession, several experts, knowing the drawbacks of the auxiliary canal alternative, are supporters of the river alternative.  Only in secret, however.  In the open, they still fight for the auxiliary canal, because they clearly understand the fact that the water management profession could never get the decision-makers to accept the river alternative.

The auxiliary canal plan has, aside from its environmentally damaging effects, political consequences which have nothing to do with ecological factors and only a slight relation to economic factors, which brought water management experts into alliance with influential Czech and Slovak nationalist politicians.

The most important political consequence is that the relocation of the Danube alters the fundamental character of the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border.  In the spirit of the treaty between the two states, the character of the border changes, but the substance does not.  The Peace Treaty of Trianon named the navigable main line of the Danube as the border between the two states.  In this light, the left bank of the river came into the possession of Czechoslovakia, while the right bank, with the exception of the small area upon which the foundation of the Pozsony Bridge's foundation lay, stayed under Hungarian authority.  The Paris Peace Accords of 1947 made null and void the Vienna decisions, reinstated the borders to their places as of the period before January 1, 1938, except for the section effected by the expansion of the Pozsony Bridge's foundation.  In other words, it once again divided the river between two nations until the mouth of the Ipoly. With the construction of the auxiliary canal, the situation between river kilometers 1842 and 1811 of the Danube as provided for in the Peace Accords will fundamentally change.  The border will no longer be the main navigable line of the river, but a streamlet running through the gravel sea of the "abandoned" bed.  The Hungarian state will possess 31 kilometers less of the Danube bank, while the section of the river coming under exclusive Czechoslovak sovereignty will increase by 25 kilometers.  (The difference lies in the fact that the auxiliary canal is largely straight, while the present path of the Danube weaves rather strongly.)  Czechoslovak nationalists can chalk up a significant "victory" for themselves, for that section of the Danube where both banks fly the Czechoslovak flag will more than double.  As far as environmental damages are concerned, both nations share these, in spades, even if not quite evenly.  Comparing the two is rather fruitless, though.  Ecology knows no national boundaries.

The other political consequence of the auxiliary canal would be that along the effected section, the Hungarian minority living would be isolated from the Hungarian border.  The construction of the barrage system will have "unfavorable effects on the communities of Vojka, Dobrohost, and Bodiky.  The three communities will be cut off from the rest of the region by the upper canal...  We must expect the populations of these communities to the level determined by the possibilities of farming the area between the canal and the old bed."  ("Joint Investment Program," summary.  1973, pp38.)  According to the quoted source, 2460 persons reside in the communities in question.  It does not, however, mention the fact that the majority of those living in the communities of Vajka, Doborgaz and Nagybodak are Hungarians.  The three villages can be expected to be entirely depopulated, because the ground water levels on both sides of the "abandoned" bed will sink, thus decreasing the opportunities for farming to a minimum.

When compared to the river variation, the construction of an auxiliary canal demonstrates no significant advantage on either an energy, a navigational or a flood defense level.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  It will increase environmental damage and will increase the costs of maintaining the river.

River barrages, however, are entirely insufficient for the purposes of expanding Czechoslovak sovereignty over the Danube and isolating the Hungarian minatory in Slovakia.  This is why an auxiliary canal is being built in Csallóköz.

Nationalist goals have an important role in the fact that the reservoirs are being built at all, rather than finishing the river regulation project begun earlier and left half-done, which would have created a 2.5 meter deep navigable waterway and would have been more than sufficient for the purposes of navigation.  The water management profession would never have been able to get the politically neutral river power plants accepted when faced by the much more influential energy profession 2 because, in this case, the economic appraisal would have been decisive. (Ecological and drinking water questions still would not, in all probability, have been of any influence.) The energy profession even succeeded in obstructing the execution of the 1958 Hungarian-Czechoslovak Agreement and the planned construction of the Nagymaros river hydro-electric plant in 1965.  they were able to do this primarily because Czechoslovak politicians had no real political interests in constructing a hydro-electric plant outside of their own territory, even though Czechoslovakia would still have been the recipient of half of the electrical energy produced.  It is a certainty that nationalist goals were playing a role, even then, in the tug-of-war surrounding the hydro-electric plants, for, you see, these are approximately of the same age as the Czechoslovak Republic.

From Here to the Danube, Beyond the Danube

The fundamental thought of making Czechoslovakia a Danubian state is much older.  In the middle of the last century, Frantisek Palacky argued for the unification of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, among other things, on the grounds that this would guarantee a route to the ocean and would unite the Czech's, surrounded by Germanic peoples, with their Slavic cousins.  All of the plans for creating new states subsequent to World War I included this idea and extended the borders along southwestern Slovakia to the Danube, to a greater or lesser extent.  As a result, all these plans placed claims on Hungarian territories, because the territories where the Slovak language was spoken did not extend to the Danube. According to the study commissioned by the French Foreign Ministry and dated November 20, 1918, the ethnographic dividing line "never touches the Danube at any point, leaving the Danube a German and Hungarian river to this day.  It does not include Pozsony (Bratislava), either, where, although Slovaks do work in the factories and Slovak peasants come to sell their goods at the markets, there are only 11 Slovaks for every 42 Germans and 40 Hungarians.  Pozsony is not the Slovak capital.  If such a place even exists, it would have to be Turóczszentmárton."  (quoted by Mária Ormos in "From Padua to Trianon,"  Budapest 1983, pp 57-58.)  Pozsony, the harbor city, was claimed by all plans.  As a matter of fact, the most moderate of plans demanded much more than this.  T. G. Masaryk, who would later be President of the new state, labeled the border of southwestern Slovakia in October, 1914 as extending east of Pozsony, down the Small Danube, leaving Hungary with Csallóköz, an area of 1813 square kilometers, which, according to the census of 1910, was 95% Hungarian, with 110,475 persons claiming Hungarian ethnicity and only one percent Slovak.  Czechoslovakia would have had two access ways to the Danube.  One would have been at Pozsony, the other at the river section by the Ipoly's mouth.

Another influential Czech politician, the Russian sympathizing, pan-Slav proponent Karl Kramerhad a strategic appetite which was even greater than this. In May 1914, he worked out a plan, which he forwarded to the Russian Foreign Minister in which the Czech Republic would have swallowed Slovakia, together with Csallóköz.  The border would have run from Pozsony all the way to the Danube Curve, along the path of the river.  Kramar imagined the future of the Czech Republic as a part of an immense Slavic Empire under the leadership of the Russian Czar.  This Empire would have included Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, as well.  Hungary was to become a shrunken island in the Slavic ocean, because Serbia would have been given a wide strip of territory along the Austro-Hungarian border, all the way to the Danube, thus along the section of the Danube extending from Pozsony to the mouth of the Moson Danube, there would have been a Czech-Serbian border.

Hanus Kuffner placed Czech Danube policies on even greater fundaments, writing in his book entitled "Our State and World Peace" ("Nas stát a svetovy mir," Prague, 1918) as follows:  "The Czech Republic cannot exist in the future without the territories surrounding the Central Danube, form Regensburg to Buda, and the proper number of main bridges to be built thereupon.  These will be the main border Czech crossing points in the southwest and southeast...  For the defense of the Czech Central Danube, possession of the strip south of the river, including the entire Moson region near the Hanság, and the Komárom and Esztergom regions, as well, and the right bank section of the county of Pest-Pilis together with the city and castle of Buda, is essential."

Immigrant and domestic Czech politicians met in Geneva in October 1918 to harmonize their political and territorial views.  The conferences declarations included also the following: "The Czech Republic will possess the Fiume-Pozsony Railroad, with the Danube and Visztula Rivers, which we will make international..." (Ormos, i. m. pp. 55)  The representatives of the Czech Government, who met with Benes in Paris at the end of October made an unusual wide viewed statement regarding the borders:  "We have been informed that we will be given as large a piece of Slovakia as we wish.  We were advised to make claims on territory extending to the Danube.  As far as the borders are concerned, the Allies... are of the opinion that this will be left to our deliberation and entrust it to us to decide what types of borders we desire and we have been told to make our own interests the decisive criteria."  (Peroutka:  "Budováni Státu," I. pp. 222.)

As is known, the Prague Government was able to achieve permission for their troops to really go as far as the Danube prior to the Peace Conference.  Benes came to an agreement with the French as to the demarcation line and the Hungarian Government was forced, by the French Government, to withdraw from behind the indicated line, including Pozsony and the Ipoly mouth region of the Danube.

Undoubtedly, the French wanted to stab Germany in the back with a militarily and economically strong Czechoslovakia, and this is why they ignored the above quoted study by the French Foreign Ministry which stated that at no point did the Slovak language territory ever touch the Danube.  It may also be true that Marshall Foch, the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, a strong supporter of the Czech's territorial claims, was "strongly impressed" by incidental use of the Czech Legions by the Russians in the intervention. (Ormos, i.m. pp 57.)  Marshall Foch was probably strongly influenced by his own Rhine politics, which held that the key to France's security lay in the possession of a Rhine border.  In the interest of this, he was ready to separate the German provinces on the left bank of the Rhine, primarily the Rhine and Saar regions, from Germany and make them a part of a "federal" system in which they would depend, militarily and economically, on France.  In Foch's opinion, one could not believe a single word the Germans said.  For this reason, the French needed the Rhine as a physical guarantee against the threat posed by the population of 70 million living on the other side of the river.  At the Peace Conference, the Commander-in-Chief explained the significance of a Rhine border, "He who rules over the Rhine, rules over the whole region.  He who is not present on the Rhine, must lose everything.  We don't need to go far to see a similar example.  If we wish to defend ourselves in this conference room, it would be sufficient to possess the door to obstruct the enemy's invasion.  In the opposite instance, if we were to lose possession of the doors, the enemy would be free to invade." (Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States [PRFRUS], 1919, Paris Peace Conference, iii.  pp386.)

One memorandum of the Czechoslovak delegation to the Peace Conference was written in a similar spirit.  The author (Benes?) emphasized not only the strategic viewpoint, but the economic arguments, as well: "A Danube border is of life or death importance to the Czechoslovak Republic.  This cannot be the subject of any sort of compromise, and we are not even willing to discuss this issue with the Hungarians...  This is the only natural border between Hungary and Slovakia for both territories.  Any other border would necessarily be the source of conflicts, claims and provocations, from both sides.

"But, and this is important, this border will make the Czechoslovak Republic a true Danubian state.  This will result in untold economic and political consequences and pace the state in an unusual position against Greater Rumania and Yugoslavia, not to mention Hungary and Germany/Austria.  Without a Danube border, the Czechoslovak state would be denied one of its bases for existence, which is essential, if one views its central European situation.  It would also be denied the power it needs to stand on even terms with the Germans, the Hungarians and its other neighbors, in the interests of law and justice.  The Danube is one of the pillars which supports the entire structure of the Czechoslovak state's policies and economy.  One accessway to the Danube at one or another location, we cannot be satisfied with this.  The Czechoslovak state must become a true Danubian state..."  ("Die tscechoslowakischen Denkschriften far die Friedenskonferenz von Paris," Berlin, 1937, pp51-53.)

The claim to the Danube as the "only possible border" rhymed very well indeed with the French claims to the Rhine, but did not really agree with Prague's true intentions.  President Masaryk's own, hand-written classified notes called for the occupation of lands beyond the Danube during the time of the military conflict between Czechoslovakia and the Hungarian Soviet Republic, moving down from Pozsony and possibly taking a long right bank strip including the komárom bridge, so that Czech troops could reign over the bridge and the Danube.  According to the note, "the lesson gleaned from the present Hungarian attacks is that the rivers are not good strategic borders." ("Documents Regarding T.G. Masaryk's Politics Against the People and the Nation," Bratislava, 1954. pp. 51-52).

Memorandum number 5 to the Peace Conference shows the same borderline on one of its appended maps which the above note describes.  This infers that the invasion and annexation of the right bank region of the Danube was not a momentary idea, but a seriously considered, more or less finished plan.

The Peace Conference, however, on basis of the unanimous recommendation of the responsible committee, labeled the Danube as the border.  The French Foreign Minster declared that Csallóköz must be attached to Czechoslovakia, because the new state needed to have access to the Danube's important international waterway along the widest possible margin.

The Czechs, on the other hand, would have liked to have gotten their hands on the region beyond the Danube.  Therefore, in their proposed amendment, they asked for possession of there Pozsony Bridge foundation, which, after a number of unsuccessful attempts, they were given at the Peace Conference on basis of a French compromise plan, in exchange for territory ceded to Austria!

Czechoslovakia did not only endeavor to obtain the longest possible section of Danube bank, but also to obtain extraordinary rights from Hungary (and Austria) along the common sections of the rivers.  The Czechoslovaks prepared a proposal, in which the provisions of the Peace Treaty would grant their claims.  The proposal says, among other things, that "on the Danube and the Morva and the tributaries thereof, despite the fact that these form common borders between Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Germany/Austria, it shall be the sole right of the Czechoslovak state to utilize the hydro-electric resources of these rivers, with the agreement of the International Danube Commission, to improve upon navigation conditions in the interests of completing the aforementioned works, including permission to utilize any and all necessary territories, on the Hungarian and German/Austrian sides, as well." (Miller, D.H.:  "My Diary," 1925.  XII. pp 29.)

In unilaterally demanding the right to utilize hydro-electric power, the Czechoslovaks were following the French example, who demanded all hydro-electric energy on the river for themselves, claiming that Mülhausen and Alsace, which belonged to Germany before the war and which were supplied by electricity produced in the Black Forest, must now be supplied by France.  The earlier energy sources were to remain in Germany, therefore the French must be given the hydro-electric energy of the Rhine.  "Germany had previously studied the problem and had developed plans which have proven good and will probably prove utilizable.  The Rhine must be dammed and a canal dug on the left bank," declared French Delegate Claville.  (PRFRUS, 1919. "The Paris Peace Conference," V. pp253.)  The auxiliary canal plans, prepared by Köchlin in 1892 (!) were, in fact, rejected by the Government of Baden, having found them to be not good at all.  The Americans and the British, not familiar with the facts, objected only to the fact that Germany was to get nothing, despite the fact that, in theory at least, half of the river was hers because the border extended down the center of the river's path.  The French gladly gave way to compromise, thus Article 358 of the Peace Treaty of Versailles which states that France, "has exclusive right to energy produced as a result of acts necessary for river regulation, with the condition that she pays an amount equal to the value of half of the energy actually produced to Germany."  In other prtions of the Article, the French guaranteed for themselves all rights which were necessary for the construction of the auxiliary canal on the left bank of the Rhine, the Great Elzas Canal. The canal section, built between 1928 and 1932 and between 1948 and 1952, takes 60 kilometers of the Rhine's old bed away from its original task of carrying water.  Along the path of the "abandoned" bed all those damages which we expect to happen along the Danube did actually occur.  "Every year now, Electricité de France produces a few billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.  At the same time, boaters who had once been able to view the green, grapevine covered mountains of Baden, nopw see only the 50 meter high gravel dunes which extend along both side of the banks of this monotonous channel.  The picture is depressingly barren...The auxiliary canal of the Rhine carries 1080 cubic meters of water per minute.  During two-thirds of the year, the flow of water through the entire river barely surpasses this figure.  The Rhine... has become a tepid stream, which they turned into an odoriferous sewage canal.  The region becomes ever poorer.  It's bleeding to death.  The bitter peasants simply refer to the "malaise," the misfortune, when speaking of the proud Grand Canal d'Alsace."  (Gilsenbach, R.:  "The Thirsty Earth," Budapest, 1964.  pp 142.)  The environmental damages, especially the 4-5 meters of decrease in ground water levels, primarily effected Germany and when the two nations became allies, France withdrew its plans to complete the canal, which had been planned to a length of 120 Kilometers.  (Gilsenbach, R. i.m. and "Vízügyi Közlemények,"  1980, number 3.)

The Paris Peace Conference did not give Czechoslovakia the unilateral right to utilize the Danube's (and the Morva's) hydro-electric power.  The reason for this was not recorded in the minutes.  In meetings of the Commission on Harbors, Waterways and Railroads, where the French debated in detail their claims to the Rhine, the Czechoslovaks were quite passive.  Only one Article was inserted in the Peace Treaty of Trianon which even resembled one of the provisions of Article 358 of the Peace Treaty of Versailles.  This Article guarantees the new states the necessary assistance on territories outside of the bed of the rivers, if "with the International Commission's accession or authorization regulation, repair, reservoir or other miscellaneous work is done on a border section of the water network."  (Act XXXIII. of 1921, Chapter II, Article 290.)

This Article makes no mention of hydro-electric power. Despite this, Emil Zimmler, counselor responsible for water management at the Ministry of Public Works in Prague stated in 1924 that "according to Article 290 of the Peace Treaty of Trianon, the Czechoslovak Republic is possessor of the exclusive right to utilize the hydro-electric power of border rivers under the supervision of the International Danube Commission."  The counselor declared, "Without a doubt, the Czechoslovak republic will use this right to its fullest extent, especially on that section of the Danube in the vicinity of Bratislava where, under the provisions of the Treaty of Trianon, Czechoslovakia has authority over both banks. Utilization of hydro-electric power will not be difficult either in the main branch of the Danube or the long side branch at Csallóköz, which leaves the Danube just down river from Bratislava and which rejoins the Danube 103 kilometers later, near Komárom."  (Zimmler, E.:  "Water Power," in "Czechoslovakia."  New York, 1924.  pp 84.)

The Czechoslovaks, however, had to wait half a century before an allied Hungarian Government dropped all those rights which France had to take from Germany at the barrel of a gun in 1919 into their laps.

"A Thorn in the Heart"

In truth, Czechoslovakia could not even be sure that it would keep the regions near the Danube when faced with Hungary's post-World War I revisionist efforts. The possibility of a referendum to determine where ethnically Hungarian regions should belong would be introduced as a result of changes in relations between the Great powers.  "A great action was begun not too long ago, to change the borders along the Danube," said Slovak politician Milan Hodza in 1928.  "The Czech nation instinctively felt that we are not speaking of a Slovak Danube, but of a Czechoslovak Danube.  This is true because if the nations under the Czech crown have no Danube, they will eventually be pulled into Berlin's sphere of power both nationally and politically.  Every kilometer by which the Danube border is shortened results in us being drawn miles closer to Berlin's sphere.  Every kilometer of the Danube which is in our possession increases our independence from the great German world and makes it possible for us to be brokers between East and West. This is our historical vocation."  ("Híradó," Pozsony [Bratislava] February 20, 1928.)  Palacky's Danube concept in slightly retailored clothes.  This reasoning may be turned around, as well.  Every kilometer of Danube means a greater degree of independence, some present Slovak politicians might say.

Czechoslovak geopolitics did not see injustice in extending the borders of Slovakia t the Danube in the interests of territorial independence.  Thus, they swallowed several ethnically Hungarian villages, because, so to speak, the principle of nationhood speaks of the right to self-determination of nations, not of villages.  (Korcak, J.:  "The Geopolitical Foundation of Czechoslovakia."  In: "World Peace and Czechoslovakia 1919-1934." London, 1936, pp 36.)

Prague did not satisfy itself  with guaranteeing itself border territories which ethnically belonged to other nations by way of these (rather weak) arguments. It took tangible actions, as well.  It endeavored to isolate the Hungarian minority form the border with Hungary.  Milan Hodza stated openly in 1926 that one of the goals of land reform is to ensure the Czechoslovak nation's rule over the Danube. Therefore, the areas in the vicinity of the Danube, where mostly Hungarians lived, must be, with the assistance of land redistribution, "nationalized." (Prágai Magyar Hírlap, January 24, 1926.)  In the first decade of land reform, 130,280 hectares of land changed hands in ethnically Hungarian territories, but only one-fifth of this amount, 26, 863 hectares, ended up in ethnically Hungarian hands.  (Machnyik, Andor: The Csallóköz, Komárom, 1935. p 20.)

During World War II, Czechoslovak immigrant politicians living in London and Moscow, without regard for their world view or party membership, decided in harmony that after the end of the war, the 1938 borders must be reinstated and, in the interests of state security, the Hungarian and German minorities must be deported.  The Allied Powers allowed only the relocation of the German minority in this manner, but pressured Hungary to sign a population exchange agreement which would allow Prague to deport as many Hungarians living in Slovakia as the number of Slovaks living in Hungary who would be willing to move to Slovakia.

In the Hungarian Parliament, independent representative István Dénes pointed out the connection between the population exchange and the Danube question:  "From Pozsony to Szob, to the Ipolyság, on 7000 square kilometers of territory... over one-half million Hungarians live together on the banks of the Danube, in the Danube basin.  As long as over one-half million Hungarians live in one block in this 7000 square kilometers area, the Czechoslovak Governments, always desiring the Danube, forever wanting to possess her banks, would feel themselves to be in an insecure position..."  (Nemzetgyûlés, 1946, 33rd Meeting, 80.h.)

Foreign Minister János Gyöngyösi, whom the representatives attacked rather vehemently because of the one-sidedness of the agreement (regarding this, see: Károly Szabó and István E. Szôke:  Addendum to the History of the Hungarian-Czechoslovak population Exchange.  Valóság, 1982, No. 8.)  was of the following opinion:  "The Czechoslovaks made no secret, understandably, of the fact that with this population exchange, they wish to relocate ethnically uniform blocks, that is, specific ethnic and border zones... If for a moment I thought that by the sheer numbers of the applicants this scheme had the slightest possibility of succeeding, I would have had to consider quite carefully, indeed, whether or not I would sign."  (Nemzetgyûlés, 1946.  33rd Meeting, 91-92 h.)

Independent representative, Dezsô Sulyok opposed the ratification of the agreement with other arguments, which are valid even today:  "Honored Parliament, we cannot ratify this agreement because if the spirit we see in this agreement is allowed to become reality and expands to effect the larger part of Hungarian-Czechoslovak relations, then Hungary will come into a position of disadvantage across the board when facing this partner.  We don't want to create a rift.  We are not men of forced solutions which leave thorns in hearts.  We only want for these two peoples to sit down as equal enemies or equal friends and expostulate their grievances, damages, claims, and then to use the direct tools of understanding and conviction to endeavor to find the path which will lead us out of this situation, which today seems unsolvable." (Nemzetgyûlés, 1946. 32nd Meeting, 60 h.)

To force the commencement of the population exchange, the Czechoslovak party began the internal deportation of the Hungarian population to the Sudetenland.  The forced relocation, being done under the title of obligatory public work, they took primarily farmers, with their families, from border villages.  (The World Today, 1947.  No. 5, pp 131.)

The de-Hungarianization of the border zone was, in the end, unsuccessful in both its land reform and its population exchange forms.  After the turn of the millennium, however, it is sure to succeed along the 30 kilometer section where the Great Slovak Canal is being built.  The desire to possess the river for eternity influenced the acceptance of the technical plans as an afterthought, which is economically and ecologically unfathomable.

The other goal, in the interests of extending sovereignty over the Danube, the Czechoslovak, at the 1946 Paris Peace Negotiations, for the expansion of the Pozsony Bridge foundation to an are of 150 kilometers, but "only" received half.  The expansion of the territory belonging to the Pozsony Bridge foundation would, in principle, have made it easier to construct a canal along the left bank of the Danube, assuming that Czechoslovakia has the necessary rights at its disposal.  Új Magyarország, in September 1946, in its article entitled The True Meaning of the Pozsony Bridge foundation referred to the possibility of a unilateral action by Czechoslovakia when they wrote that "The cutting across of the Danube goes well beyond the Hungarian-Czechoslovak border debates. This is a decisive political question on even a world level."  The water management factors related to the expansion of the Pozsony Bridge foundation were being trumpeted by the Slovak press, as well:  "[At the Paris Peace Negotiations] we asked to be guaranteed the opportunity to construct the necessary works to utilize the Danube as a natural power source, with particular attention being given to the barrage next to Pozsony..." (We Have Already Six Village in Our Transdanubia.  Narodna Obroda, October 14, 1947.)  Slovak leaders had included the construction of a navigable canal between Pozsony and Komárom with which, among other things, "we would receive the opportunity to build a few hydro-electric plants which would service all of southern and southeastern Slovakia."  (Narodna Obroda, February 11, 1947.)  In this plan, they were talking of a variation which would have turned the side branches of the Danube and the Little Danube (Maly Dunaj) into wide, deep, navigable canals.  The Hungarians prepared similar planned farther south, around the time of World War I, for the Moson Danube.  Subsequent to the labeling of the Danube as the state border, these plans cannot be executed because neither state had the right to take enough water from the Danube to make this plan a reality.  Further research is necessary to determine whether or not Czechoslovakia attempted to obtain such rights at the 1946 peace talks or before.

On The Level of Experts

The only reason that the guarantee of such a right could not have been made at the Paris Peace Conference was that the victorious powers were unable to come to an agreement on even a single detail regarding the Danube.  The situation is different since the 1948 Danube Conference in Belgrade, because from that point forward, the Soviet union played a deciding role on the Danube Commission.  This body has been calling for the construction of a Czechoslovak-Hungarian barrage system in the interests of navigation for quite some time.  The development of a navigable waterway is primarily in the interests of the Soviet Union, because Soviet ships carry the most goods down the Danube.  The Soviet union is not at all interested in whether a river or side auxiliary plan is accepted. From a purely navigational point of view, the Soviet Union should support the river variation because of the unfavorable navigation characteristics of the auxiliary canal option.  Insofar as Soviet influence helped decide upon the auxiliary canal version, this must be attributed to Czechoslovak inspiration which was first professional and only later won political colors.  In any case, during the course of the "joint" planning undertaken during the fifties, Czechoslovak planners were intent on making a left bank auxiliary canal a reality.  Between 1952 and 1955, the Czechoslovaks worked out a grand total of 13 variations for the construction of a barrage system along the border segment of the Danube.  Among these, there were two river options, the rest being exclusively auxiliary canal types.  (The Hungarian planners were working primarily with the Nagymaros power plant plans, although some Szigetköz Danube section plans were prepared.  Among these, however, only one river variation could be found, as opposed to five auxiliary canal variations, including two right bank, one joint right and left bank and two long left bank variations.)  In 1955, COMECON authorized the GIDROPROJEKT, the Soviet water planning institute to work with the Danube states to develop a "draft complex utilization plan" for the section of the Danube between Dévény and the Black Sea.  The Soviet planners took over the design of the partial plans from HIDROPROJEKT of Pozsony.  These plans also called for a left bank auxiliary canal.  In April 1957, Czechoslovakia and Austria signed an agreement in Prague regarding the construction of a Wolfsthal-Bratislava river barrage system (this agreement being dissolved later by Austria for environmental reasons.)  Subsequent to the labeling of this barrage system's location, they worked out 20 variations for the Czechoslovak-Hungarian section of the Danube.  Among these, only one river variant can be found.  all the rest are left bank auxiliary canals.

The plans for a water barrage, which both the Hungarian and the Czechoslovak planning commissions accepted, were ratified by COMECON's Permanent Committee on Electrical Energy Affairs and Agriculture. This solution was signed by the Czechoslovak and Hungarian Governmental Delegations in April 1963 and by the Czechoslovak and Soviet experts in their consultations of 1965.

On a planning level, a few not so bold attempts at getting a river option accepted were undertaken in the second half of the sixties.  These failed, however. In part, because those making the recommendations wanted to take part, to a greater or lesser extent, in the construction of some form of a hydro-electric plant.  They realized that only an auxiliary canal variant had any chance of receiving any serious political support.

The affairs surrounding the barrage system accelerated following the rise to power of Gustav Husák.  In the early seventies, it was time to engage in the "Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Barrage System's" joint investment program.  Following this, they would work out a joint agreement.

According to the signs, the question of whether or not the state border would be relocated had not yet been settled.  According to the joint investment program of 1973, "a separate treaty will be prepared to settle the issues surrounding state borders," eventually. This same document, however, includes the comments made by the Czechoslovak Party in February 1973 in Budapest, among which is the following:  "We must examine the necessity and prudence of the suggested amendments to the Czechoslovak state border."  The salami tactics can be plainly seen.  This continued after the signing of the treaty between the two states, when the Slovaks suggested, taking advantage of the fact that the operational issues had not yet been cleared up, that they would control the Bős power plant, which was to be joint property, from the Vág hydro-electric plant central control.  This solution would make the 50-50 distribution of the electricity produced unconfirmable by Hungary.

The Hungarian Party and State leadership, on basis of reasons not made public, gave its accession to the relocation of a 30 kilometer section of the Danube to Czechoslovak territory and to the construction of the barrage system.  The treaty regarding the above was signed by the Prime Ministers of the two nations, György Lázár and Lubomir Strougal in 1977, following a meeting between János Kádár and Gustav Husák.  The treaty was ratified by the Parliament in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary, however, it was ratified solely by decree of the President's Council.  Without overestimating the independence of the Hungarian Parliament, we can perhaps connect this fact with the not so clean consciences of the Hungarian Party and State leadership.  The find Czechoslovak nationalism to be more important than the healthy drinking water of millions, the bread of hundreds of thousands, and the living world of the Csallóköz flood plain forests.

The work had hardly begun when in May 1980, the Hungarian Hydrological Society and the Patriotic People's Front organized a conference entitled "The Environmental Effects of the Bős-Nagymaros Barrage System," at which biologists and engineers sharply criticized the plans.  The organizers left all critical comments out of the material published as a summary of the conference.  Czechoslovakia must have gotten wind of this because it very soon stepped up its work in the barrage.  According to the accounts of eyewitnesses, they plowed up greening wheat along the auxiliary canal's planned route, presumably to present the Hungarian party with as many finished acts as possible.  This policy, which can be traced back to old traditions, was reflected in an article in the Új Szó, Pozsony, which objects to the fact that János Vargha's aforementioned article appeared in the Hungarian Press:  "To cast doubt upon the propriety and timeliness of the construction of the barrage system at a time when we have invested approximately 2.7 million crowns into the construction of this joint project, including planning costs does not testify to forethought and damages our common affairs."  (Új Szó, February 12, 1982)

In the meantime, the Hungarian Government, having inspected the great investment required, suspended the transfer of credit for investment into the barrage system and began studies into the environmental effects of the barrage system.  Water management experts did their vary best, with great success, to ensure that these studies would present conclusions as per their wishes.  Hungarian hydro-construction experts, matching Czechoslovak politics, referred to the amount of work finished on the other side, made mention of millions in liabilities, and threatened that Czechoslovakia would build the auxiliary canal power plant unilaterally, if the treat were dissolved and that Czechoslovakia will not take notice of water quality problems of the water arriving from Czechoslovak territory (which it paid no attention to until then, either.)  There was some political blackmail, as well.  "When we speak of the GNV (Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Barrage System), we present an opinion as to the competence of the experts of two nations existing in one socialist community and of the scientific preparedness of consulting Soviet experts.  Let's measured and careful."  (Miklós Kozák:  Opinions on Individual Problems Regarding the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Barrage System,"  Budapest, March 1982)  One expert committee, of which Miklós Kozák was the Chairman, and which studied the financial questions surrounding the suspension of investment, wrote in its report that "This question has international political aspects which cannot be ignored.  The Czechoslovak party has dictated a construction tempo in certain locations which, today, are at 80% strength.  The unilateral interruption of this work could lead to certain difficulties.  Fortunately, the greater tempo is focused on the Dunakiliti-Gabickovo region, which will produce the greatest amount of electricity in the system. (Report of the Committee, January 28, 1982).  The committee felt that "rather than suspending all work, a new study and slower tempo, compared to the original plan, would be more economical, and will deflect international tensions."

With time, newer and newer committees were formed. The conclusions of the studies were not distorted only by water management experts, but also the almost reflexive self-censorship of scientists.  The Government got ever more deeply entangled in the game of committees and probably was able to go through the ever growing pile of reports at an ever slower pace. Sándor Szalai, Professor of Sociology, Chairman of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences' disciplinary committee, who repeatedly opposed the busy redefinition practices of the water management lobby, just before his death, wrote a letter in Spring 1983 to János Kádár in which he presented the expected consequences of the barrage system.  At this time, the report of one of the work groups of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was prepared which, while a bit foggily, presented the ecological damages which will result from the barrage system.

The leadership of the Hungarian Party and State were more worried about how to free themselves from the burdens of the construction of the barrage system. For this reason, they suggested that Czechoslovakia build the whole thing and take their reimbursement for their expense in the form of electrical energy.  They made similar offers to Austria, in the event that Austria wished to become involved with the construction of the Nagymaros Power plant in return for electrical energy. Chancellor Sinowatz spoke with the Hungarian Government about this in detail in November 1983.

The Hungarian-Czechoslovak haggling ended in a pathetic way.  At the beginning of July, Deputy Prime Minister József Marjai agreed to a delay of only four years and the delegation led by György Lázár signed a book of minutes attesting to the same in Prague. According to the agreement, the Czechoslovak party would take over certain tasks (such as the construction of the lower canal.)   This was preceded by a meeting of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party at which they apparently decided to go with the construction of the barrage system.  (According to leaked news, a number of members voted against continuation.)  The importance of the minutes as signed in Prague were reinforced by János Kádár and Gustav Husák in their meeting of November 1983.  The agreement was ratified by the Czechoslovak Parliament before the end of the year.  We can expect similar news from the Hungarian party in the beginning of 1984.  Népszabadság, in an article of October 1983 praised the barrage system.  The articled claimed that according to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences "the investments will not result in any water management consequences which would be so great as to justify the suspension thereof."  (István Sáfrán:  The Gate Between the Two Seas.  Népszabadság, October 29, 1983.) In December, at György Aczél's request, the Presidium of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences prepared its position paper, which condemns the plans of the barrage system in all of its major points.

On January 14, 1984, István Sáfrán published another article in Népszabadság, which presents certain portions of responses he received to his previous article.  In the article, we hear the voices of those who support the barrage system, such as Professor Miklós Kozák, from whom we quoted before, said, regarding the question as to whether the 50 cubic meters/second flowing through the old bed is too much or too little says that "Budapest's entire residential and industrial necessities can be met by 12 cubic meters/second."  We can hardly believe that the Director of the Budapest technical University's Water management and Construction Institute does not realize that the amount of water needed to sustain the water table at Szigetköz and to meet Budapest's residential and industrial needs have no relation to one another whatsoever.  But, if he does know, then it makes it even sadder.

The leadership of the Hungarian Party and State seems, according to the signs, ready to adhere to the new agreement, the price of which we must pay, the consequences of which will be suffered by our descendants.

The conditions upon which a treaty between states may be dissolved in international law is given:  "no sovereign state may obligate itself in a treaty to adhere to the provisions of a treaty in the event of such an unforeseen change in conditions occurring which would make an otherwise justifiable burden much more difficult to bear."  (György Haraszti:  "Dissolution of International Treaties,"  Budapest, 1973, pp 56)

The Government has the necessary arguments at its fingertips for the invocation of this clause.



Kien Péter [Vargha János] 1984. A Nagy Szlovák Csatorna. Beszélő, 9, 1–19 o.

Draft translation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary in 1993.

Please do not quote or cite without permission from the author.​