fbpx

Grigory Pasko: Traveling the Nord Stream, Part IX

Two Bürgermeisters – Two Views By Grigory Pasko, journalist The Oberbürgermeister [mayor] of Greifswald, Dr. Arthur König, met me and my translator at precisely the appointed time. “German punctuality”, I joyfully exclaimed. True, exactly half an hour later I was no longer so happy about it – at precisely the appointed time, the good doctor politely excused himself and said that he must be off to his next meeting. Even though it was clear that our conversation was still far from over. From the very start of our talk, Dr. König expressed a firm confidence that the builders of the gas pipeline would not cause harm to the environment. And he repeated three times that he is in favor of the pipeline, not against it. I dutifully wrote down his opinion three times in my notebook. He spoke about the pipeline and its impact on life in the city. Dr. König emphasized several times that the pipeline will give a boost to economic development not only in the whole area, but, naturally, in the city itself as well.

konig10627.jpg

Photo of Greifswald Oberbürgermeister Arthur König by Grigory Pasko

This would be a good place for me to say a few words about the city. Greifswald is an old Hanseatic port city located right on the shore of the Baltic Sea, not far from such countries as Denmark, Finland, or Sweden. Not very far away in one direction is the island of Rügen and the magnificent Jamsund National Park with its white chalk cliffs, and the adjacent tiny island of Hiddensee, which is also in a nature preserve zone. In the other direction is the island of Usedom, divided between Germany and Poland, and featuring beaches of fairytale-like beauty. Perhaps the most important point of interest in Greifswald itself is the University, one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1456. So naturally there are many college students in the city, including some from Russia. Here’s how one of them described his life there: “Greifswald is a real university town. There is a multitude of libraries and university buildings, bookstores… Despite the predominantly rainy and overcast weather, the friendly and warm-hearted residents have created a hearty and hospitable atmosphere here. It’s a place where you don’t feel like you’re an outsider, but on the contrary, you get the impression that you’re very much a part of it, that you add to it and at the same time get everything it has to give from it.” There’s one part of town where the former employees of the former Nord nuclear power station live. The station is located 20 kilometers from Greifswald, about 4 kilometers from Lubmin, which we visited in my previous instalment. The city is also home to the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, a cutting-edge research institute.

grfsv0627.jpg

Photo of the Greifswald town square by Grigory Pasko

In the Middle Ages, Greifswald was a member of the trading alliance known as the Hanseatic League. The typical architecture of those times, known as “Brick Gothic”, can still be seen all over the old part of the city. The historical center practically didn’t suffer at all in the years of the war: they say the commander of the German garrison there had the good sense to surrender to the Soviet troops without putting up a fight. There are even a few graves of fallen Soviet warriors in the town. And nobody is talking about moving them someplace else. Otherwise, Greifswald is just like any other small old German town: a central square with its medieval Rathaus [town hall], a cathedral, stores, restaurants, hotels… At the Rathaus is where I met with Bürgermeister Arthur König. It turned out that last year he had visited Khanty-Mansiysk in the oil-rich area of Western Siberia, where he had gone at the invitation of the local governor. However, there isn’t a single Russian town, or an American one for that matter, among Greifswald’s “sister cities” (a popular international amusement). Considering the construction of the gas pipeline, it would be logical to think about the possibility of acquiring a sister city in Russia – how about Babayevo? When I suggested this to the Bürgermeister, he didn’t seem very enthusiastic to me, although he did approve of it. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be bad at all if Russian – for example Babayevan – schoolchildren and residents could come and visit Greifswald and Lubmin – in order to see with their own eyes the place to which their gas is transported, bypassing them, and those people who use this gas. Dr. König talked about how the impact of the pipeline will be positive for Greifswald; that the designers and builders would successfully resolve the environmental problems, for example the chemical weapons lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. It turned out that the Bürgermeister of the town of Lubmin, Herr Klaus Kühnemann, was of a totally different opinion concerning the pipeline and its role in the life of the region.

beach0627.jpg

Photo of Lubmin’s greatest asset, its beach, by Grigory Pasko

In part, he expressed concern that Lubmin might lose its attractiveness to some tourists because three large industrial facilities – a gas compressor station and gas-fired and coal-fired power generating plants – will appear in the region all at once, hundreds of hectares of forest will need to be cut down for the pipeline right-of-way, and the construction of a gas storage facility may have a negative impact on the ecosystem of Greifswald Bay. “Of course”, he said, “at EWN [Energiewerke Nord GmbH, owners of the defunct nuclear power station – Trans.] they no doubt told you that everything will be normal, everything will be taken into account… Maybe, but for now I haven’t seen such precise calculations and conclusions and am not familiar with them.”

kyneman0627.jpg

Photo of Lubmin Bürgermeister Klaus Kühnemann by Grigory Pasko

Two mayors – and two diametrically opposite views of one and the same problem. It seems to me that both officials are right. The first one is right that demand for gas is increasing in Germany and in all of Europe (according to the estimations of specialists – from 530 billion cubic meters in 2005 to 600-700 billion in 2015). And since the production of gas in the European Union is experiencing a decline, 75% of demand will have to be covered at the expense of import (in 2005, the share of import comprised 57%). And the second mayor is right that grandiose projects, as a rule, come hand-in-hand with risks of an ecological character. What didn’t either of the mayors mention? That deliveries of natural gas are an important topic in the energy dialogue between the European Union and the Russian Federation. The EU is regarding the project for the construction of a new gas pipeline as one of the priority energy products that serves Europe’s interests. But do the Eurocrats also understand that it is necessary to stimulate competition on the energy and gas markets, increase the reliability of deliveries, and protect the environment (Articles 154-156 of the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997)? And will the North European Gas Pipeline Company take all this into consideration? Only time will tell. The author would like to thank interpreter Bernhard Clasen for his assistance in preparing this article.