Hearings called Preserving Natural Complexes of the Curonian Spit National Park were held in Kaliningrad Region Civic Chamber. Gariy Chmykhov, president of Kaliningrad Civic Chamber told RuBaltic.Ru the results of the hearings:
Mr. Chmykhov, in what aspects did you discuss Lithuania’s plans to build a bridge to the Curonian Spit?
Only ecological aspect. One does not simply divide the Curonian Spit into Russian and Lithuanian sides. It’s united unique natural complex: I don’t know any other place in the world that has dunes, mires, a clearwater gulf and the sea. It’s a very fragile territory: it a long time for pre-war German scientists and after ours own scientists after the war worked to stabilize the dunes from moving. Because previously there have been cases where whole villages would get swept up in sand.
What worries us the most is…
We believe that the presence of people and vehicles passing through the spit must be regulated.
We frequently talk about how we’re concerned about the moose population: every year a few are hit by cars. Even more so, scientists say that these cars travel faster than 80 km/h and many birds and invertebrates die due to that. This leads to irreparable damage to the Curonian Spit because restoration from outside is difficult.
There are also unresolved issues on our side. There are beaches near Lesnoy, Rybachiy and Morskoe where people rest, swim and suntan, but de jure there are no beaches on the Curonian Spit. But de facto they are present and when they started cleaning up in Zelenogradsk the people flooded the spit. If previously there was a regulated checkpoint, now it’s unregulated: the 300 rubles entry fee doesn’t stop the visitors. And if you travel through the whole territory you’ll see that cars stop wherever they please.
We think that now, especially in warmer summer times, the traffic through the Curonian Spit is close to critical. And the construction of a bridge will only increase it dramatically.
There are plans to deepen the Klaipėda port due to the Lithuanian project of building an LNG terminal. Did you discuss this question in relation to the Curonian Spit ecology?
Yes, of course we discussed how these plans would affect the Kaliningrad Gulf. Some ecologists say that this might lead to the salinification of the gulf which will change the whole ecosystem. The issue with the terminal was discussed in Saint Petersburg and I can’t say anything of the results, because I don’t know what they decided on. We don’t dabble in politics: maybe Lithuania benefits from the LNG terminal.
But everything done near the Curonian Spit must, firstly, pass UNESCO approbation and, secondly, be open and public so that international professional ecologists may inspect it and make a conclusion if it affects the Curonian Spit.
Are you aware of the attitudes towards the bridge construction in Lithuania?
There are multiple opinions in Lithuania about the deepening of the gulf and the construction of the bridge. For example, Lithuanian representative in UNESCO spoke against the construction of the bridge. Even the national park management on the Lithuanian side is very cautious when speaking of this project.
So we can’t and have no right to give our own opinion on it, but we decided to ask UNESCO so that all projects affecting the Curonian Spit in one way or another would be done under the UNESCO banner, go through public discussions with representatives from Russia and Lithuania.
By the way, our national park has great ties with the Lithuanian national park: we have streamlined our common work and information exchange. So they make joint reports to UNESCO. There’s a form where national parks coordinate their reports to UNESCO. So now we will address UNESCO through our representative. I repeat, the Curonian Spit is a unified mechanism and any interference into its nature must be internationally inspected. Our mutual opinion was that even if the bridge construction and other projects are economically beneficial but damage the spit, then we must refrain from them. Even the international checkpoint, which was first viewed as a good thing, is now hurting the spit. I wouldn’t make it international, but just for spit residents, because there are such traffic jams in summer that it’s becoming dangerous for the spit.
You seem to indicate that limiting traffic is the decision to the problem. But the Curonian Spit also has an awareness and educational function?
In these cases you must keep the traffic in such order that cars would only park in allotted places and people would walk on designated pathways, specially set up routes as to avoid the forest pollution. If you recall that at one point even mushroom collection was forbidden on both the Russian and the Lithuanian sides. There are unique plants there. I’m no ecologist, but I’d like the Curonian Spit to be preserved for a very long time, so that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren would see it. We had talks about the Curonian Spit where we invited national park staff, traffic police and the attorney office asking them to make the process of being on the spit more stern. On one hand, it’s good that people can visit the national park and see the Epha Dune, Swan Lake and Dancing Forest. But all these cars, fires and barbeques – that doesn’t have to be there.
Do you keep contact with your civic colleagues in Lithuania concerning questions of the Curonian Spit?
No, sadly we don’t have connections of that sort. The Lithuanian side has not reached out to us.
I think that after turning to UNESCO we’ll initiate a joint Russian-Lithuanian meeting about the Curonian Spit.
The main motto which we would like to propose to our Lithuanian partners concerning the Curonian Spit is – do no harm. This must be the basis of our approach to this situation, from our side and the Lithuanian side.
When looking at the Russian-Lithuanian relations as a whole and not just matters of the Curonian Spit: do your Lithuanian civic colleagues show initiative in fostering cooperation with Kaliningrad even in the ecological field at least?
No, we don’t have that. Maybe it’s our fault. I don’t blame our Lithuanian colleagues because we ourselves also didn’t show such initiative. I guess we could start that initiative with the Curonian Spit. And concerning the national park, it has great ties with the Lithuanian side. We, the Civic Chamber, haven’t had ties like that. So the Curonian Spit will be the first step. A good first step.
Translated by Pavel Shamshiev.