The case study for DISTURBED HARMONIES [ANTHROPOCENE LANDSCAPES] focuses on a Stalinist dam project in the Danube, Hungary’s first environmental initiative, underground film-makers, regime change, and conflicting concepts of democratisation versus nation-building against the background of an expanding technosphere.
‘Committee secretary János Berecz . . . spoke of a ‘certain group’ which was ‘moving in the direction of some kind of opposition’. 
Most events connected to the controversy around the Gabčíkovo‒Nagymaros Dam System in Hungary and Czechoslovakia took place in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet, the conflict remains unresolved to the present day. The planned scheme of three dams was to redirect and alter the Danube drastically on a stretch of about 200 kilometres, according to a bilateral agreement from 1977. Next to the undisguised announcement that the planned redirection would dry out Europe’s last remaining inland delta Szigetköz, the prospect of building the Nagymaros Dam in the Danube Bend, a landscape of national identification, mobilised Hungary’s first environmental initiative, the Duna Kör (Danube Circle), founded by biologist János Vargha in 1984. Initially, the group used Samizdat underground publications to protest against both dams. Despite oppression during the early years, the movement kept growing, and the political climate of perestroika made possible large protests and petitions with more than 100,000 signatures in 1988. Duna Kör reached its most significant success in 1989: Hungary’s socialist government suspended the construction of the Nagymaros Dam, and its democratic successors discarded the project entirely in 1991.
While not building the dam became a symbol for democratisation in Hungary, completing the scheme became a symbol for nation-building in newly independent Slovakia, whose aim was to achieve energy autonomy. Consequently, Slovakia continued alone in the early 1990s. The Danube was redirected towards the Gabčíkovo Power Plant near Bratislava. The major share of water was provided for the Slovak power plant, while the Szigetköz on the Hungarian side of the former border river dried up. Hungary accused Slovakia of environmental damage, and Slovakia insisted on Hungary’s responsibility to comply with their bilateral agreement. As the dispute between the two countries could not be solved diplomatically, it was taken to the International Court of Justice in 1997 – without significant results. A bilateral conflict would have prevented the two countries from entering the European Union in 2004. Thus, the official debate was muted, and unofficial solutions were found to share the current to provide both electricity and maintain the threatened inland delta by technical means.
However, both the Slovak governments and the Hungarian far-right faction repeatedly called for a renegotiation and completion of the dam project. Even touching on the topic for decades was seen as political suicide in Hungary. It was so closely related to the events of regime change, and many politicians in post-socialist Hungary had built their careers on fighting the dam. So did Viktor Orbán and the FIDESZ movement that joined the environmental protest in 1988. However, since these young democrats have changed their agenda remarkably and the Visegrad 4 countries have grown closer around 2015, unofficial governmental consultations on the Gabčíkovo‒Nagymaros issue were reported in 2016.
Apart from the political aspects, the Szigetköz provides an interesting example of how the technosphere maintains the biosphere by subordinating the latter into its structures. Since the construction of the dam system, the inland delta can only survive due to the water-management system provided by the dams. Hydro-engineers aim to simulate the more favorable water levels of the last decades, including seasonal droughts and floods, in order to provide the best conditions for an ecosystem that had almost been sacrificed to the dam scheme. However, it would be false to blame the dam system alone for the problems of the delta: the transformation of the Szigetköz had started centuries earlier, first in terms of land reclamation by local farmers, then joined by the dredging and diking of the Danube by Habsburg engineers in order to foster navigation and flood control. Long before the first dam constructions, weirs had to be installed to prevent the side-arms and oxbows from running dry, due to the fast-flowing current of the dredged-out main branch. This example describes the ongoing development of the technosphere as a multilayered process, which increasingly assimilates its predecessors.
“B-WIRE / 02-JUN-86 04:59,” 2 June 1986. HU OSA 300-40-1: 276/3; Energetika, Erőművek, Vízerőmű, Bős- Gabčíkovo Gabcikovo-Nagymaros, 1986 [3 of 3]; Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute; Donald and Vera Blinken Open Society Archives at the Central European University, Budapest [At the time of the statement János Berecz was a member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the central committee secretary for ideology. He was seen as a possible successor of János Kádár.]
The case study has been presented for the first time at Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives at Central European University, Budapest, from 2016 March 13 to May 1.
The project was only feasible with the relentless support of research assistant, translator and project manager Szilvia Nagy.
Kunststiftung NRW and Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives supported the exhibition. A Visegrad Scholarship at the Open Society Archives (2014) and an Artist-in-Residence Fellowship by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) and Visual Studies Platform (VSP) at Central European University (2015/16) supported the artistic research project.
POLITICISED LANDSCAPES, a collateral programme with presentations, panel discussions and film screenings, was organised to extend the exhibition's focus. CEU IAS, VSP and Kunststiftung NRW supported the series of events.
More detailed online documentation is provided on