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Grigory Pasko: Looking a gift horse in the mouth, Part 4

[See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.] Nord Stream, Scandinavian Style Beware of Greeks bearing gifts Part 4 Grigory Pasko, journalist The administration building of the residence of the governor of the island of Gotland is found on the outskirts of Visby, right next to a military base. It has been there such a short time that even my taxi driver wasn’t able to find this building at first. The governor of Gotland, Marianne Samuelsson, showed us around the brand new building. It became clear that it would have been quite impossible to find such expansive floorspace for the employees of the administration in the old town. It turned out that governors in Sweden (there are 21 of them) are a part of the ministry of finance.

Marianne Samuelsson at the start of our conversation told us about the island, about what the inhabitants do for a living. On Gotland – there are 6 thousand small enterprises. As strange as this may seem, only a very small quantity of them have anything to do with the fishing industry. Agriculture is reviving. Many prefer to live on the island and fly daily to work in Stockholm – it’s a good thing that the prices for a flight there and back are acceptable. In addition to this, ferry communications are well organized. (I, by the way, became convinced of this myself. And I could not help but compare the developed infrastructure of this island with the squalor and decrepitude of another one – the Russian island of Russky, which is found almost right next to Vladivostok. In so doing, it ought to be borne in mind that from Gotland to Stockholm is – 35 minutes on an airplane. While from Russky to Vladivostok – 35 minutes on a slow ferry).Naturally, my first question after the governor and I briefly made our acquaintance was about the Nord Stream project and the attitude towards it. Here’s what Marianne Samuelsson replied:Samuelsson: “I don’t think there is any official opinion, at least not today, about [whether the pipeline] should or should not be built. When his Social Democratic party was in power, former prime minister Göran Persson said he was against it. Today there is a four-party coalition in power, and they haven’t said anything about it. What the state has said is that we need to have really good information about what the impact on the environment. Since most of the pipeline is going through international waters, we have to rely on international law. …The Environmental Impact Assessment [submitted by Nord Stream] wasn’t sufficient, so the minister in charge of the environment said that… they have to provide more documentation.governor051808Gotland governor Marianne Samuelsson (photo by Grigory Pasko)The county of Gotland has also submitted [its official comments on the project]. Of course, we are very scared about what’s going to happen with the Baltic Sea, because it is a very intensively utilized environment. There are some parts of the Sea where we want to have no traffic at all, …nature preserves like the Norra and Södra Midsjöbanken and Hoburgsbank. I think you are forbidden to even fish there. We also want them to tell us what’s going to happen with the environment when they start the construction, during the construction, and after the work is done.Also, we raised a question about the cultural environment under the water. And about the fishing, of course, and we’re also worried about what’s happening with the old dumped weapons [on the seabed]. And then we need to know about the chemicals they’re using against corrosion …and to clean the exteriors of the pipes – we don’t know what …chemicals they’re going to use. We also asked about the service platform. We don’t know yet if there’s going to be a service platform or not. …If you need it for safety, to monitor the gas, then it’s important to have it.”Has Gotland’s bargaining position become more vulnerable after the museum, university, and port of Slite took money from Nord Stream?“This has led to a big debate, of course, in the Gotland papers and in society. But that doesn’t change the view that this is an environmental project, and we need to be sure that it doesn’t make the environmental situation worse in the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, of course, the people of Gotland need jobs, and it would be …bad if we don’t take advantage of the opportunities presented here, because otherwise someone else will, I’m sure. You have to look at [the environmental and economic questions] as two separate things. For the moment, [unemployment on the island] is not so high, about the same as on the mainland, but …for many years it was about 1% higher than on the mainland. …Three years ago it was decided that the military service on the island should close down. So then we had to work hard to get other state jobs to the island. Now they are back to the same [level] – as many as were working in the military service.”Like a true politician, Ms. Samuelsson at the end of the conversation gave us a copy of the Swedish side’s comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment report. That is, she backed her words up with a document.Solveig Artsman is an active member of the municipality of Gotland. She works at the island’s Enforcement Office – something analogous to a court marshal’s service, as I understood from her description. This seemingly quiet and peaceful lady – both by her appearance and by her profession – suddenly started to speak about how extremely worried she is about questions of Sweden’s defense capacity in connection with the laying of the pipeline along the bottom of the sea Here is what she had to say:Artsman: “I’m very afraid of it for of military reasons. Nord Stream – not Gotland, but a company – is going to have all the drawings of the harbor in Slite. I don’t like it. I don’t like the agreement between Gotland and Nord Stream, because I don’t believe in it. The agreement doesn’t mention any sum, it’s only dot-dot-dot euros… I can’t go along with that; I must protest. And also I’m afraid for the environment, of course.”How do you feel about the money that Nord Stream has already given to the municipality, the university, the museum…?“It’s a form of bribe, I think.”This is a project in the interests of all of Europe – such is the argument put forth by Nord Stream. Do you mean to suggest that Europe is making a mistake?“Yes! And [what about] Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and many others – are they wrong?”solveig051908Activist Solveig Artsman (photo by Grigory Pasko)Nord Stream has abandoned plans to build a service platform. Your opinion in this regard?“I don’t believe them. I think it’s all fake, what they’re saying. They’re [just] listening to the opinions of the people of Gotland and trying to look nice. I just don’t like their methods.Near Slite there are some islands with purely military installations on them. Some of these have been removed now, but there are still a lot there, and here you have Nord Stream’s ships… Then there’s Gotska Sandön, an island 5 “land miles” [i.e. 50 km] north of Gotland. It’s a very, very beautiful island – only sand – and it’s a national park. And just east of Gotska Sandön will be that platform. They are going to flush that pipeline with that poison, [an area] six by six kilometers [wide] and 70 meters deep – with poison! At the end of our conversation, Ms. Artsman became so worked up that she inadvertently switched into Swedish. But her concern was so genuine that my English translator had no problem understanding what she was trying to say.Inger Harlevi is truly a many-faceted person. She works in the tourist business – organizing congresses for environmentalists. She is also an elected member of the municipal council of Gotland. And vice-president of league of Hanseatic cities. And active in church affairs – she chairs the parish of the Visby cathedral. As if though all this weren’t enough, she is also the honorary consul of Poland on Gotland.When Ms. Harlevi came to our scheduled meeting, she was not wearing her traditional (as we had been told) enamelled Nord Stream pin and jacket from the same company.What do you think about the pipeline?“If I look at it from the European perspective, Western Europe needs more gas. It’s better than the coal they use today. So that’s the necessity I can see.”Do you think the pipeline poses an environmental risk?“Yes, I do. I really do. And that’s my main concern. I’m very afraid of what it could mean for the environment of the Baltic Sea. A large percentage of the seabed is dead. And most of the rest is slowly dying too. …I’m really scared of what could happen if you start to construct things on the seabed. So therefore I welcome everything that has been asked by the Swedish government, and what declarations and certifications they want to have.”Your opinion about the allocation of money by the company Nord Stream to various organizations on Gotland?“I know quite a lot about that. I have followed Nord Stream’s activities very closely, and I have been, I think, to all their information meetings and I have asked them a lot of questions. I’m not against that they sponsor things here on Gotland. I’m really not against that. It’s a company. And I think you should look upon sponsorship as sponsorship, and not mix [that with] what country they come from or what other purposes they may have, and so on.They wanted to make the harbor in Slite. That’s regional development for us. We would never have been able to construct it ourselves – the municipality is too poor for that. So fine, we’ll have a good harbor even before they get the permission [to build the pipeline] – if they get it. But we will have the harbor.”And the University? If they receive money from Nord Stream or from other companies – fine, they can do research that they couldn’t pay for themselves.There are some questions to which there are still no answers. Perhaps you have found the answers, since you’ve been studying the company Nord Stream. For example: who will bear the financial risk if fishermen’s trawling nets damage the pipe or the pipe damages their nets?“Well, I don’t have the answer to that question either. It has not been asked here. What I read from one meeting they had in southern Sweden [was that] they were willing to pay the fishermen during the period of construction; that’s all I know. But I think your question is among those that are being asked by the Swedish government.”harlevi051908Major activist Inger Harlevi (photo by Grigory Pasko)You are the honorary consul of Poland, and Poland is against the pipeline. Could it be that this project is actually dividing the peoples of the Baltic region?“Yes. When I first heard about the pipeline, it was from Poland. …And I fully agree with their concern – they are scared that it may divide Europe again in a political sense. Poland is very dependent on Russia, [and its position on the pipeline] is completely natural, reflecting the modern history of Poland; they are scared and they see many, many risks and that they are 100% against it. I can understand it, I can agree with it, and I can defend it.…[But] I’m not from a Polish family; I express my personal opinion from the position of being born and bred here on Gotland. Already a year ago, I said at an information meeting here that this question must be discussed in the Swedish parliament, in the Council of the Baltic Sea States (and Russia is a part of it; it’s not only European Union members), and of course in Brussels. And I think the politicians on that level, they must be [the ones having] this discussion; they can’t leave it to minor provinces like Gotland.”Russia hasn’t ratified the Espoo Convention and legally is not legally liable for environmental damage caused by the interference by the pipeline with the ecology of the Sea.“And I think that’s more than a pity. It’s horrible that they haven’t signed [sic – Russia has actually signed, but not ratified] the Espoo Convention. That’s needed [in order] to deal with these issues on the same level as other countries, and to agree on the obligations that we have to bear in common.I also try to read what’s said here in Sweden about the Russia of today. You can see a higher standard of living in the middle class. If you take one of the ferries between Finland and Sweden, you can see that almost a majority of the passengers are Russian today. …But – you can also see that democracy has gone the other way from our perspective, and that’s a pity.[That’s why] I think it’s very important that Russia be involved in all Baltic Sea activities, in cooperation. Because if you push a nation aside, if you push people aside, then you create hostility. You must try to involve people. By involving them, [you] open [them] up for democracy, open [them] up for common trade, open [them] up for common responsibility.”I also asked the “head fisherman” of Gotland what he thought about the pipeline. Lasse Broman, head of the fishermen’s union of Gotland, said that in his opinion, this pipeline worries all the countries of the Baltic Sea:Broman: “Even without this project we have many different restrictions on catching fish. Although everybody insists that there won’t be any restrictions in the area of the pipeline, we’re afraid that there will be nevertheless.”The laying of the pipeline will help increase the fish population – thus do the specialists of Nord Stream assert. They say that the fish will breed among the aquatic plants that will grow on the pipe…“I’m not an expert on the biological specifics of fish reproduction, but I have deep doubts about this. I understand their words, but the doubts don’t go away.”There is an opinion that fishermen themselves cause harm to the Baltic because their trawling rakes up everything indiscriminately…“Right now there are officially 23 professional fishermen here on Gotland. I myself don’t have a license to catch fish; I work as an assistant for another fisherman. Harm from trawling – that’s a debate that’s been going on for many years. In the area to the east of Gotland, several boats have been trawling for fish for 30 years already, and this has not affected the catch. There is less cod, yes, but trawling has nothing to do with this. In our situation there is no negative impact on the Sea and the fish: the seabed here is flat.”rybak051908The island’s “head fisherman” Lasse Broman (photo by Grigory Pasko)They say that fishermen have trawled up mines and munitions of the times of the war on more than one occasion?“Yes, there were cases. In the 1980s a trawler from the Faeroe Islands brought up a canister with mustard gas. The fishermen were blinded. That was in the Southern Baltic. Around Gotland there is little of that.”Will the Gotland fishermen’s union be demanding compensation from Nord Stream for possible losses and risks?The fishermen’s union will study the risks to itself from the pipeline. Many questions worry us. For example, who will pay us if our trawling nets get torn on the pipe? But there isn’t an answer to these questions yet. These questions were asked by us, but we did not receive answers.