This Europe: Blue Danube sputters back to life as wars and disputes recede

The 1,770-mile Danube is a player in, and a witness to, the conflicts that have divided the peoples along its banks. During the Balkans wars the murky waters are alleged to have provided Slobodan Milosevic's henchmen with a natural dump for scores of murdered civilians. The conflict, international sanctions and Nato's 1999 bombing of Yugoslav bridges dealt a devastating blow to the shipping industry downstream.

Now, the Danube's countries are seeking to turn the tide. Austria's Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, launched the Danube Co-operation Process yesterday. The EU-backed initiative aims to promote trade, traffic and tourism along Europe's second-longest river.

Chris Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, pointed to the historic geo-strategic role of the river in the development of its peoples, saying: "I think we need to make the most of that as Europe consolidates the advances of the last few years."

Edgar Martin of the British-based consultancy Danube Research said: "If you sit in a café in Frankfurt and watch the ships go up and down [the Main], there's always something going on. In Romania you could sit for hours on some days before you see a vessel moving."

The river was declared open again last November, but at Novi Sad in Serbia work on a new bridge has not begun and a temporary pontoon bridge opens only three times a week and charges ships to pass.

Erhard Busek, the co-ordinator of the EU's Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, said: "Sometimes I have the feeling they're very pleased to earn a lot of money by opening the bridge."

Travel west and the war wounds give way to pollution. Fishermen on the Tisza tributary say their catch is a third of what it was before a cyanide spill at Romania's Baia Mare goldmine two years ago.

Further upstream again lies evidence of a dispute between Hungary and Slovakia. In 1989 Hungary suspended work on a joint dam complex with Czechoslovakia. The case went to court, but the 1997 ruling seemed only to confirm both the Slovakian view that the Nagymaros dam in Hungary should be built and the Hungarian position that Slovakia's Gabcikovo dam should be dismantled.

After passing Johann Strauss's hometown of Vienna, the river winds its way through the Wachau wine region. At this point the Danube, if not exactly blue, best fulfils the promises of his waltz. From there it is a few hundred more miles to the source in Bavaria, generally considered to be at Donaueschingen, although not everyone agrees.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before