Balkan Rivers Tour 4 – Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria
by: Carmen Kuntz
Cover photo: Katja Pokorn
Just kayaking a river can’t save it from hydropower dams and destructive industry. But combining kayaking with direct action, media coverage and local river defenders, can. Balkan Rivers Tour (BRT), now in its fourth year, have proven their form of river conservation is comprehensive, effective and damn fun! They have taken on a new formula for this year’s action, organizing three separate, one-week mini tours; Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Instead of changing location every day of a month-long tour, they set a basecamp for each week which serves as a place to network, develop a river defence plan with locals, kayak, and broadcast the fight for these rivers in local and international media.
Balkan Rivers Tour’s purpose has always been to expose threatened rivers and directly help the passionate locals fighting for them. BRT4 Week 1 in Romania (April 15-20) was just that. Throughout the week, the team of 23 kayakers from 11 countries kayaked 5 incredible rivers (Bâsca Mica, Bâsca Mare, Bâsca Rozilei, Buzau and Jiu). They organized and attended meetings with mayors from two river-side towns. They worked with school children, discussing river conservation basics and introducing kayaking. They arranged in a river cleanup with locals and got the local river defender and kayaker Catalin Campeanu on national television to share the plight of the Bâsca Mare where there is not only an illegal hydropower dam being built, but illegal logging of old growth forests to feed the Austria market for ‘organic firewood’. They finished the week with a massive party and submitted an open letter to the EU commission, the President and Prime Ministers of Romania, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat and others, with regards to the dam projects on the Bâsca Mare, outlining the laws being broken and ignored by the EU, the endangered species affected, and highlighting sustainable tourism as a solution to hydropower.
Week 2 (July 7-13) of BRT4 saw the Balkan River Defence (BRD) crew invite kayakers and river lovers from around the world, to their home on the Soča River. It was a jam-packed week of brains and brawn, connecting kayakers, scientists, students and river conservation experts. Collaborating with BRD’s River Intellectuals initiative and their Students for Rivers Camp, kayakers got the chance to sit in on lectures by leading experts in river conservation. On the water and in the classroom the two groups melded seamlessly and solutions flowed with the continuous supply of schnops and beer. Throughout the week the kayakers ran the entire whitewater section of the Soča-from Lepena to Tolmin, experiencing the entire stretch of wild Soča. On the final day, 100 people from 23 counties joined on the water for the FreeSoča Flotilla, using paddles, whistles, signs and loud voices to celebrate the Soča River – but also to introduce the idea of removing the Podselo Dam, which would free up 20 km of river for kayaking and river-related tourism. Throughout the week the also paid tribute to the locals from Tolmin who defended the river from hydropower production (HPP) dams in the 70s, and sent a loud message to the HPP company SENG, that they won’t allow new dams to be built on river Učja, a major tributary of the Soča. With their actions appearing in local, national and international news, radio and newspaper, the pro-river and anti-dam messages balanced each other out to tell decision makers in Slovenia that BRD will continue to defend rivers, and have fun while doing it!
The final week of BRT4 will take place in Bulgaria (September 24-29), where the formula of exposing, exploring and helping locals will be repeated to develop a plan to defend rivers of Bulgaria and explore eco-tourism potential and get to know the local river defenders there. Join them, and put your paddle and voice to use, defending the last wild rivers of the Balkans.