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When the Greenie Sees Red

Zsolt SzegfalviA few weeks ago- Hungary faced its most daunting ecological disaster till date. A reservoir at an aluminum refinery ruptured, sending a wave of toxic sludge across three counties, and into the Danube River.

The Danube is Europe’s second longest river and flows from Hungary into Croatia, Serbia and Romania, reminding everyone that a threat at your neighbors’ door is a threat at yours as well.

The Millions of tons of toxic red sludge flooded people’s homes and farms and made its way into surrounding lakes and rivers; ensuring that nothing living or growing there would escape unscathed.

Nine people have died and more than a hundred and twenty have been hospitalized due to contact with the industrial waste. The forty-one square kilometer area bathed in it will take years to decontaminate and will most likely never be optimally habitable again.

In Budapest, I scanned the newspapers for updates and heard only two voices- the official press release from the office of the Environment Minister and the environmental activists from Greenpeace Hungary.

It was alarming how their tenor differed on the same subject. The government tried to quell the panic and even assured the residents that it was safe to go home, barely three weeks after the spill. While, Greenpeace came forward with laboratory reports and analysis that contradicted the government’s pacification. Informing the public of the dangerously high levels of Mercury and Chrome in the sludge.

The Greenpeace activists were among the first to reach the disaster site and offer the pooled expertise of their seasoned international team. I spent an afternoon with the Director of Greenpeace Hungary, Zsolt Szegfalvi. Zsolt- a Marine Engineer, turned teacher turned environment activist. He has a quiet strength about him and is undeterred by the two ongoing court cases against him.

Undoubtedly, Greenpeace is known for it’s radical activism and unabashed, often eye popping demonstrations. They like to send the message loud and clear, invariably irking law enforcers with most of their demonstrations ending in the detention of activists.

“Our activism is not about aggression- we’re usually at the receiving end of it. We do follow a radical ideology- great injustice needs an even greater reminder of the power of the people and the strength of their opposition”. He says.

The government fumbled and flapped with it’s unpreparedness for such a crisis, issuing short sighted press releases about the situation being ‘under control’, even likening the toxic sludge to red paint that would be washed off and cleared rapidly. Greenpeace was the thorn in their side that made them retract their statements and issue clear and fair warnings to the citizens.

Zsolt explains that, “we know the beaurocratic process only too well, it’s not going to change at the pace our country deserves it to. So it makes our work even more relevant at this stage. Even the highest Authority needs monitoring and to be kept accountable. Our protests don’t stem from a disregard for the establishment, but rather from a reverence for it and from a sense of duty to ensure that it serves the
people in the most righteous manner.”

Zsolt knows that when you ask the uncomfortable questions, you slide down the popularity charts. The slide becomes a cliff dive if the probing inconveniences the powers that be. If being bullied and cornered doesn’t cure you of your doggedness then the media bashing and tainting probably will.

The message is clear- Raise your voice and we’ll raise the stakes.

But, Greenpeace Hungary is never short of volunteers and activists. A sign that people are aware concerned and motivated to act. Zsolt Szegfalvi and his band of merry greenies dare to rattle the system, demand transparency and information and challenge it’s motives. And, they bear the consequences so that others may live in a safer, more just world.

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17 Responses to “When the Greenie Sees Red”

  1. k krishnan says:

    great post tithiya. but honestly, something about greenpeace that ticks me off is that it does these orchestrated stunts for media attention.

  2. David Mccutcheon says:

    their previous report on technology companies not being responsible to the environment was widely criticised for being factually incorrect.

  3. Mohit Awasti says:

    great relevant current affairs post tithiya.

  4. Alok Sinha says:

    just noticed and read about your Makemytrip sponorship. Congratulations!

  5. Bhushan R says:

    for the kind of content we consume, sensationalizing stuff is the only way forward to make any impact in this world. you need to look at the end results.

  6. Anderson Mulder says:

    the problem is much deeper, after cleaning the upper layers of soil, roughly a thousand hectares of contaminated soil has to be stored in an environmentally safe way.

  7. raman govindan says:

    having our planet around for a few more decades looks like a challenge.

  8. Gaurav Kaul says:

    love reading your posts. march on.

  9. kiran says:

    For a small planet, the chances of disasters cropping up are that many. Its really about how responsibly we can protect this earth and keep it safe from disaster as well as greed.

  10. Kailash upadhyay says:

    9 people died and there is so much ruckus. what about the ecological and mankind disaster in bhopal in 84. no one writes about that?

  11. mahesh joshi says:

    mankind isnt in control. thats the writing on the wall.

  12. Navin Dingra says:

    happy diwali tithiya

  13. Devendra says:

    i see greenpeace is quite a contraversial topic here. never thought about it that way!

  14. Michelle Conard says:

    when do you get to zurich?????

  15. kiran says:

    Are you in Zurich Nanno?

  16. Pat says:

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