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Grigory Pasko: Traveling the Nord Stream, Part VIII

Two Worlds, Two Houses Will a pipeline be able to connect them? By Grigory Pasko, journalist Editor’s note: Today we begin publication of the second half of a series of articles by journalist Grigory Pasko in which he tells about his trip to the places where the North European Gas Pipeline – now being called Nord Stream – is being built (click here to see the first seven articles in the series). This time, Grigory visited Greifswald and Lubmin in Germany, then traveled by ferry from Travemünde to Helsinki – a route that largely corresponds to that of the future pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Grigory arrived in Helsinki a few hours before he was to give a presentation at hearings conducted at the Finnish Parliament on the subject of “The Baltic Sea Gas Pipeline – a challenge to the EU and regional co-operation in the Baltic Sea area”, where he also premiered a rough cut of the first part of a documentary film he is making for us about the pipeline project: Hearings took place in Helsinki in the middle of June on the ecological component of the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. There were politicians, environmentalists, scholars, and journalists present, and even a representative of the company Nord Stream – deputy technical director Dirk von Ameln. Inasmuch as Dr. von Ameln was in a great hurry, we only had a chance to exchange business cards and to agree that we would meet for an interview some time in the future.

For me it was important to see that a representative of Nord Stream had attended environmental hearings, instead of ignoring them as is usually done by representatives of Russian monopolist companies.

I gave a small talk about my journey along the ENTIRE route of the North European Gas Pipeline, and discovered in passing that there wasn’t a single other person among the participants in the hearing who had traversed the ENTIRE route – the section under the Baltic Sea AND the land portion in Russia. So I had something to tell them. And a few things to tell the readers of this blog. The official reports about the undersea portion of the North European Gas Pipeline usually indicate two points – the start of the pipeline in Russia’s Vyborg and its end in the German Greifswald. Actually, the start is located 66 kilometers from Vyborg – on the fringes of the village of Bolshoy Bor, in Portovaya Bay. Same thing goes for Greifswald: in actuality, you’ve got to drive over 20 kilometers due east from Greifswald, to the seaside resort town of Lubmin, and then a few kilometers more, until you get to the Nord nuclear power station, which was shut down 15 years ago. It is here, in the industrial zone of a former East German nuclear power plant, that the undersea portion of the Nord Stream pipeline will make landfall. [Editor’s note: Had Grigory traveled east just another 12 kilometers, he would have come to another location long associated with bringing two nations closer together – in a slightly different way: the former dreaded Luftwaffe test site at Peenemünde, where Nazi engineers headed by Dr. Wernher von Braun developed and tested the world’s first ballistic missile – the V-2 – which brought England within striking distance of German firepower in the times of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) and ushered in a new era in human history: that of long-distance warfare from the comfort of a control room.] My interpreter Bernhard Clasen and I arrived in the morning. The sun was already fiendishly hot. A stupendous beach tempted visitors. The sea was giving off a leaden coldness, but there were nevertheless already people desiring to take a dip in the water, even though it hadn’t yet gotten as warm as it ought to get.

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Photo of sign welcoming holidaymakers to the seaside resort of Lubmin by Grigory Pasko

At the very beginning of my German interviews, I met with the local inhabitants. One of them, Frau Heitrun Moritz, welcomed me in her second home – a hotel and restaurant on the shore of Greifswald Bay. She spoke about how she’d spent her entire life here, and that there was no place better or more beautiful anywhere on earth. “And where else on earth have you been?”, I asked. “Nowhere!”, she replied with enthusiasm. It was difficult not to agree with Frau Moritz – the sea in Lubmin truly is incredibly beautiful. A magnificent beach, a pine forest nearby, the clean sea air… They say the sunsets in these parts are breathtaking. A bit to the east of all this beauty you can see the dark strip of a levee. “That’s the canal that leads to the nuclear plant”, explained Frau Moritz. “And there, just past the levee, is where they’ll lay the pipe.”

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Photo of the beach on Greifswald Bay near Lubmin by Grigory Pasko

It turned out that the local inhabitants and representatives of the local power – our conversation had been joined by a member of the Greifswald city council, Herr Gerhard Bartels – are not against the gas pipeline: in addition to gas for all of Germany and Europe, it will bring jobs to an economically depressed region of the Land [German State] of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern [Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania]. Around 7 thousand people found themselves without a job after the nuclear power station was decommissioned. The official unemployment figure in the region is 25%. In the words of Herr Bartels, it’s actually more like 30%. In the opinion of many specialists, the plans for building two power plants – one running on gas and the other on coal – as well as a gas compressor station on the territory of the former nuclear plant will revive the regional economy and bring new life to its development.

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Photo of Frau Moritz and Greifswald city councilman Bartels by Grigory Pasko. They’ve got every reason to be worried.

The whole question is how to combine economic expediency and environmental safety in the region. After all, the power plants are going to harm the environment in one way or another. For example, over 300 hectares of forest will need to be chopped down south of Lubmin in connection with the laying of the pipeline. While Lubmin today is widely known as a resort town, is it going to remain popular after the gas- and coal-fired power plants and the compressor station are built? Frau Moritz is an ardent fighter for ensuring that all environmental norms are observed, and she hopes that German laws will not allow the builders to violate these norms. One can understand her: the guests at her hotel and restaurant come there, among other reasons, because of the pristine environment of the region.

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Photo of a typical home in Lubmin by Grigory Pasko

…Gerhard Bartels told me how his 80-year-old mother likes to watch the sunsets on Greifswald Bay. I was reminded of Margarita Alexandrovna, the 70-year-old pensioner from Babayevo, who doesn’t like it one bit that she’s got to heat her home with firewood, but has no choice because there’s no gas line running to her house, even though two of her sons work for a Gazprom subsidiary. And I also recalled that the inhabitants of Russian towns didn’t talk much about the environment, unlike the residents of Greifswald and Lubmin. Probably because the Germans don’t have to think about roads: they think about the forest – about how to save it from encroachment by the “gas civilization”. “Frau Moritz”, I asked. “What’s your greatest wish?” “That all people would make peace with one another and learn how to respect the interests of others. And also it pains me that your people live in poverty. While we here think that we’ve got the right to this gas…”

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Photo of a typical home in Babayevo by Grigory Pasko

Frau Moritz also expressed her amazement that there are more millionaires living in Moscow than anywhere else (by concentration on a small territory). While the Germans are constantly collecting humanitarian aid for the Russians. Judging by what I had seen in Babayevo, the German aid doesn’t always reach those who need it. And by the way, there are people who are poorer than the Babayevans: they may not have Russian gas, but at least they’ve got the hope that it will come to their homes. The way it once came to the Germans in central Germany. And the way it will come to the Germans again in the vicinity of Greifswald. Perhaps – and most likely – it will once again come to the Germans sooner than it comes to the Russians.