Slovenia has always struck me to be an environmental guardian, setting the benchmark high when it comes to being a responsible custodian of the naturally occurring blessings bestowed upon her. It is perhaps though with this in mind that a story recently emanating from Kranjska Gora and reported in The Slovenia Times has created such shock-waves through those, including me, who regard Slovenia as being a bucolic oasis first and foremost, putting the desires of developers wishing to exploit the surroundings a distant second. As though the old saying goes, “when money talks, even the angels listen”.

Stories regarding the proposed South Stream Pipeline are nothing new; with Slovenia enjoying cordial relations with Russia and situated as a gateway between Western and Eastern Europe, it presumably found the blandishments of the Russians too tempting to turn down. When though drilling down into the details of the project it is disturbing to note that the pipeline will actually pass THROUGH the Triglav National Park, a decision surely unthinkable unless an outside country with a large regional influence had drawn up the proposed route. Is though retaining the goodwill of a faded superpower enough justification to allow a project to carve its way through an area that is otherwise, and quite rightly, so zealously protected from all but the most essential and sympathetically designed developments?

It is of course a truism that Slovenia is not immune from sacrificing some of its natural environment to bring in hard currency from ski-tourism. Anybody who has ascended the Vogel cableway at Ukanc will be more than aware that the ski-runs have left deep and aesthetically displeasing scars upon the landscape, which strangely enough falls outside the central boundary of the TNP, where such examples of indifference to the environment would not NORMALLY be tolerated in any way, shape or form. Another local example to this is the ongoing saga of the protracted construction of Bohinj 2864 near to Bohinjska Bistrica. Styled as, when completed, as Slovenia’s premier ski-resort – it doesn’t need another one – it again abuts the TNP, hammering at the door but for the moment at least, isn’t allowed over the threshold. If though a dangerous precedent is set by allowing the South Stream Project to pass through hitherto protected areas, it could lend encouragement to developers wishing to get a piece of the action elsewhere in this wonderful area. In matters of tourism, infrastructure and investment nothing is ever as it seems or straightforward but designating the South Stream Project as of national significance and therefore supposedly immune from the strictures of building within the TNP, Slovenia’s government leaves it open to a relevant accusations of hypocrisy, double-standards and shock horror, an administration putting money and big business before the wishes of the parochial population and the sensitivity and fragility of the local environment.

Whilst a local referendum will in all likelihood, to use alpine parlance, be a landslide victory for the those against the pipeline, the wishes of the local electorate are rarely taken into consideration when a project is of national importance, for the greater good, if you will. Whilst Slovene’s nationwide might benefit from the gas pipeline running through the country, it will be with some trepidation that locals and all advocates of the Triglav National Park will watch for future developments of planned large-scale infrastructure projects. George Osbourne and David Cameron think they can build Britain out of the economic doldrums suffered since the 2008 global downturn, giving developers and councils carte blanche to concrete over huge swathes of Britain’s countryside in the name of building houses the country doesn’t need, notwithstanding also the appalling lack of harmonisation these developments invariably have with their surroundings. Slovenia is a long way from adopting this short-sighted and ultimately damaging economic model, I suspect and hope it would be completely anathema, but the fact that it has sanctioned an ugly, aesthetically displeasing pipeline to be positioned in such an environmentally sensitive area as the TNP leaves me in no doubt that nothing will remain sacred forever. There are of course also questions of security, namely protecting the pipeline from possible terrorist attacks and of malfunction, potentially putting the immediate area very much in harms way.

The fact that this project is on hold due to the European Union’s reservations regarding Russia holding a gas monopoly in Europe is almost completely irrelevant. Whether the project comes to pass or not the fact remains that the Slovenian government are happy to sanction the siting of the Slovenian stretch of the pipeline through this area. It is therefore up to readers to decide that if this project fails to get off the ground, will this be the first and only time the TNP comes under threat in this manner? Only time will tell.

The full story, courtesy of The Slovenia Times can be viewed below:

Kranjska Gora South Stream Pipeline controversy