fbpx

Grigory Pasko: Looking a gift horse in the mouth, Part 3

[See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series] Nord Stream, Scandinavian Style Beware of Greeks bearing gifts Part 3 Grigory Pasko, journalist I met with environmental activist and member of the «greens» Party of the island of Gotland Stefaan De Maecker at the local university. What do you think of the Nord Stream project? There is a tendency to first decide on big projects, and only then look at the environmental impact. Everything gets decided and then they ask: ‘Oh, how might this impact the environment?’ But by then everything is too late. [As concerns Nord Stream specifically], of course it’s never too late, but the conditions in which we have to work are not the best. The European Union has already made a decision that this is a really important project. …Germany and Russia are really determined that this project will happen. …

But we have another requirement: that there should be an alternative. They should look at how an alternative on land will impact the environment. This is a complicated political issue, but we think it is the only way [to go if we’re] dealing with the environment in a serious way – to have another alternative.Nord Stream have refused to look at an alternative variant of the routing…Our requirements should have a higher priority than what the company wants.What will you say about the fact of the signing of a contract by Nord Stream with the municipality of Gotland, about the allocation of money for the museum, the university?They need a positive opinion on Gotland in order to keep down protests. And they seem to be succeeding rather well. Even the Gotland municipality has received money to be a part of the pipeline construction. I really think this is bad, because the politicians of Gotland are only focused on the positive impacts of the pipeline.Could you say that Nord Stream has simply bought Gotland’s positive opinion about the project?Yes, and it was really cheap.The chairwoman of the municipal government, Eva Nypelius, has said that this question is not at the level of the municipality, everything will be decided at the top, in the government of Sweden…She wants to get Nord Stream’s money. Other municipalities, like Ystad and Simrishamn in the south of Sweden, have been clear in their criticism of the pipeline. But on Gotland, the municipality has a contract with Nord Stream …for about 80 million [Swedish kronor – a bit less than 10 mln euros]. The actual amount of money is a secret [laughs].stefan051708In his spare time, environmental activist Stefaan De Maecker finds time to serve on Gotland’s municipal council and to sue the municipal government over Nord Stream (photo by Grigory Pasko)The Gotland municipality made its decision to sign the contract with Nord Stream on a very low level – the Technical Committee. This was a closed session – the people don’t know what the arguments were or how they made this decision. …When the municipality makes a decision to do something this big – to take money from Nord Stream, to build in Slite, to be a part of the construction –we think such a decision should be made at the highest level. Then the politicians are forced to [provide convincing] arguments. Which is really difficult in this case [laughs]. That’s why they wanted to keep it down.So in September I went to the county court, Länsretten – that’s where you appeal a political decision [by a municipal government body]. And in January, the court issued its decision – that I was right. They said this was an important question of principle: The Gotland municipality was preparing to take on an economic risk, and this should be discussed in the open, in the highest body [the elected municipal council].Now the municipality has gone to court again, to a higher level – they really didn’t like it that I’d won [laughs]. They appealed to the highest level, because they need to be sure: if they didn’t [do this, it would mean] they wouldn’t have a [legally binding] decision to back up their contracts. It’s still in court.What got you so interested in this project in the first place?It was in 2005 when I first saw there was a plan to build a pipeline. And what struck me was that no political leader in Sweden was really interested… I would say we started the debate right here on Gotland, the local Green Party. We got the Green Party on the national level with us, and then there was some action in parliament, and then more political parties got involved… And that was the beginning of the process.[As to the question of sunken] mines and chemical weapons, we found out that the company …had some connections with the Swedish Geological Survey, the national authority responsible for giving permission, and they forgot about the mines, because they thought the military would take care of them, while the military thought that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency would! They really didn’t take it seriously.The Swedish firm Marin Mätteknik AB is engaged right now in studying the bottom of the Baltic Sea for Nord Stream. The research vessel “Pollux” will soon, according to my data, be here, on Gotland. What do you know about this firm and this research?I don’t know about this company. You know, it feels a bit frustrating, because I am a politician, but only as a hobby – I have a full-time job; I don’t have the time to really do a lot of work. And it’s really frustrating to see that our own politicians on Gotland, the ones who make the decisions, they have either been bought or they don’t really care. So my energy has mainly gone into trying to affect local opinion. Which should have been perfectly obvious. But it wasn’t.Have you worked together with Gotland’s representative in the Swedish parliament, Rolf Nilsson?We have. He is also a politician, and he is also against [the pipeline], but he has another way of viewing it and dealing with it. He is mainly talking about Russia and its “energy war”. That is not my first priority. I think that if we want to win the debate, and make sure that we can have a dialog on this, we can’t be so destructive.The Rector of the University of Gotland, Leif Borgert, met us in the entry hall of the university, which doubles as the cafeteria. It was getting quite noisy, as it was midday and the fraternity of students was preparing to eat lunch. Therefore, Dr. Borgert invited us to his office. I’ll be honest – I was expecting that on the Rector’s desk, like in its time on the desk of the Oberbürgermeister of Greifswald, I would see a miniature model of a gas pipeline with the inscription «Gazprom». But there wasn’t one there. Instead there were several books about Kaliningrad University Named After Kant.yniver051508The University of Gotland is Sweden’s newest and smallest (photo by Grigory Pasko)In the meantime, the Rector told that the University of Gotland is 10 years old – this is the youngest and smallest university in Sweden. The establishment focuses on the humanities – history, archaeology, biology… Unique aspects of the Baltic milieu: culture, ecology, history. Dr. Borgert has been working as Rector for 5 years. Organization theory and business administration – such is his academic background. He is interested on a purely professional level in how society deals with ethical dilemmas. One of them, as it seems to me, should be associated with the Nord Stream pipeline. Which is why my first question was precisely about the pipeline. Leif Borgert answered thus:

I came in contact with the Nord Stream project mainly as an offer from the company to provide some financial arrangements for us, to make it possible for us to do a research project within our Biology Department.When a private company approaches a university offering money for research, we have to think it over very carefully. On the one hand, there is the issue of academic freedom, and we cherish the idea that we should be able to do research in any subject, [from] any perspective, and document it and publish it freely. On the other hand, we are eager to have good cooperation with society. A university is a public organization, and we also need to have good relations with, for example, industry.And in this case, it creates a dilemma for the university. We thought it over very carefully – if we should really get in involved with Nord Stream on this project. And this has resulted in an agreement that we have decided upon, for Nord Stream to finance a research project called “Interactions Between Sea Bed, Water Birds and Man in a Changing Environment”. …The agreement, I would say, is based on the idea that the company should not in any way interfere with the project. They are only giving us the money to be able to conduct it.

(I was struck by the learned scholar’s credulity and even, dare I say, naïveté. And I imagined to myself the physiognomy, confident to the point of impudence, of some Herr Miller/Schroeder/Warnig, who, should the occasion present itself, of course, will not fail to mention that the company Nord Stream, laying a pipe along the bottom of the sea, for its own funds “conducted scholarly research on the impact of man on the flora and fauna of the sea”. And who after such a phrase will not make an enduring associative connection between the research and precisely the laying of the pipeline and a positive image of the company itself?)And just how much is Nord Stream’s pure and unselfish love for biology costing the company?It is not a secret. We have gotten 500 thousand euros, distributed over three years. [The research project itself] has not yet begun.After Nord Stream’s rejection of the construction of a service platform, have there been any attempts to reduce the sum of the grant for the research?No, I don’t think that decision had anything to do with our decision. But there has been a lot of discussion about this project by the University’s Board. And I would like to add that the research project we are talking about … has no close connection with the building of the pipeline or the platform, but is aimed at analyzing a situation in the Baltic Sea from an environmental and ecological point of view, actually. It’s a project about birds along the coastline of the Baltic Sea.rektor051508Leif Borgert, Rector of the University of Gotland (photo by Grigory Pasko)Are you aware of any other instances when Nord Stream all of a sudden, for no reason at all, began to fund some university in Sweden or someplace else?This is not a very uncommon situation in today’s university world. There are often companies that come to a university and offer to provide money for research. Mainly for public relations, to create a good image of the company. That’s part of the market society today.In western countries perhaps… In Russia, to the best of my knowledge, Nord Stream has not offered money for research in the field of the environment…In Sweden this is rather common. I think that many universities reason like this: it’s okay to take money from industry in general, as long as we can use the money freely, to do what we like and to defend the idea of academic freedom. And I think we have an agreement here with Nord Stream that takes care of this whole dilemma.And if I might add something, we also think that in the case of Nord Stream and the pipeline in the Baltic Sea, we think it is the Swedish government that has to analyze and decide upon what the Swedish government thinks is the impact of the pipeline on the Baltic Sea. We, as an academic organization and researchers, could provide facts and analysis on certain issues, but we are also dependent on what the Swedish government says about this project.It is known that the public opinion of Gotland has divided into two camps in relation to the pipeline. This is an interesting aspect for your scholarly field, is it not?Yes, for sure, it is.My next meeting was with a representative of the municipality of Gotland, the head of its Technical Committee, Kjell Skalberg.The Committee for Technical Policy of the Municipality of Gotland is responsible for, among other things, the harbor facilities in Slite. Therefore, we began our discussion with the fact that the company Nord Stream had promised to allocate certain sums to the port in Slite for modernization.The modernization, to the extent of my understanding, had already been planned earlier. So what does Nord Stream have to do with it then?We already had part of the money to upgrade the harbor. But because Nord Stream came into the picture, it was easier to do it.What kind of sum are we talking about?60-70 mln Swedish kronor [about $10-11.5 million US dollars].skalberg051508Kjell Skalberg, the elected head of the Committee for Technical Policy of the Municipality of Gotland, is responsible for all the island’s harbor facilities (photo by Grigory Pasko)What facilities are going to be outfitted/improved/built/deepened?The harbor will be made deeper, and the port will be able to handle more cargo, larger cargo.Was it assumed that Nord Stream will be using Slite during the time of operation of the pipeline as well as just the construction period?When the pipeline is built, the relations with Nord Stream will be finished.Why did Nord Stream choose Slite? After all, there are lots of ports in the Baltic.It is because we are right in the middle of the Sea. It makes the most sense from the point of view of logistics.Your attitude towards the opponents of the pipeline and to their arguments?We have no opinion about the pipeline. We can’t have one – it is up to the Swedish parliament. All harbor projects must have an Environmental Impact Assessment, and this is a matter for the state.