Danube Day 2005: Putting people at the heart of the Danube

The challenge for Danube Day 2005 was to continue the momentum set by last year's celebrations while providing an annual focus for honouring the role of rivers in people's lives and presenting a stimulus for cooperation at all levels.

Credit: Aqua, DEF Hungary, Ekotim
Danube Day was full of inspiring events in each of the 13 countries. In Austria visitors explored the twists and turns of an 80 metre model of the river. In Serbia and Montenegro athletes ventured out onto the river for a kayak race. A tour in Hungary focused on the whole river by following maps with no marked political boundaries. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, and throughout the basin, children let their imagination sail for the Danube Art Masters competition.

Once again, Danube Day surpassed all expectations with almost 250 activities for the public and professionals. It built on partnerships strengthened in 2004 and prompted people to appreciate and act for their rivers.

Your Danube: more than just water!
Uniting organisations under the slogan, 'The Danube: more than just water', an overarching theme of Danube Day was the ways in which Danube rivers influence our lives. Celebrations stressed that rivers are so much more than just the water they contain - they are arteries of life. Danube Day acknowledged the geo-political role rivers play as scenes of conflict, but also built upon their positive unifying force for communities with different cultures and histories.

The key event was the ICPDR-organised Danube Stakeholder Conference in Budapest, a major gathering to place the Danube people at the heart of basin decision-making. The event provided a forum for stakeholder groups and made significant strides towards participation of external bodies in the ICPDR's work.

Partners help promote awareness.
The Coca-Cola Company's European Union Group and Coca-Cola HBC, who recently signed a cooperation agreement with ICPDR, helped to support events all across the Danube Basin, including programmes in Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro, Romania and Bulgaria. Coca-Cola will also help produce a joint publication on all of the international and national events to celebrate Danube Day.

"It is our view that while serving the public through the creation, production and distribution of products to the highest international standards, we must also relate to the broader needs of societies, and show we believe in having a strong obligation to participation in community affairs that enhance life, and produce rewards for everyone," said Sir Michael Llewellyn Smith, Board Director Coca-Cola HBC.

Bringing the basin to life with colour and sound.
The Danube Environmental Forum (DEF) organised the Danube Photo Competition, which gave photographers the task of capturing the Danube on film. The 'International Danube Art Master Competition', also carried out by the DEF together with ICPDR, united children in an ambitious creative challenge: to visit local rivers and create artworks reflecting what the Danube means to them. The collages, sculptures and paintings that resulted lined the banks of rivers as a visual representation of young people's vision for a positive future. "I am grateful for such competitions", said Jan Dušek, scientist and school teacher at Uherské Hradište school in the Czech Republic, "because they show us a new dimension to the world: perception through the eyes, mind and creative hands of young people." Coca-Cola and ICPDR will bring the winners from each country together in Budapest this autumn for the award ceremony and selection of the International Danube Art Master.

In a symbolic tribute carried over from the first Danube Day, the Global Water Partnership's 'Greet the Danube' ship blast was extended this year. Danube ship workers from Germany to Romania paid tribute to the river and its value to their livelihoods by sounding their ship's horns in a wave of sound.

Identifying with the river.
Germany's celebrations brought fun and excitement to the river banks of Ingolstadt in a family festival. The rivers were the starting point for the 50th 'TID International Danube Tour', a 2,082km canoe safari from Germany to Bulgaria, and crowds gathered in the summer heat to cheer the canoeists. Young visitors were treated to hands-on water experiments, musical programmes and thrilling motor boat rides. "Children are the protectors of tomorrow's environment," said Werner-Hans Bhom, German District President.

Danube Day in the Czech Republic reinforced Czech identity with the Danube Basin and strengthened foreign partner collaboration. An excursion to Czech, Austrian and Slovak Morava river meadows highlighted the value of areas at risk from the proposed Danube–Oder–Elbe waterway.

In Vienna's Museums Quartier, 10,000 visitors enjoyed Austria's Danube Day. Opened by Wolfgang Stalzer of the Ministry of Water Management and Ulli Sima of the city of Vienna, the celebration included the unveiling of an 80 metre model of the river.

Credit: WWF Hungary
Thousands of blue bracelets were distributed as reminders that everyone must work together to save the river.

Linking hope and promise.
Bratislava was the venue for a host of water activities in Slovakia's tribute to the Danube. The day opened by Environment Minister László Miklós with children's musical and artistic activities, street theatre and white-water rafting at Gabcíkovo. The Global Water Partnership helped organise the 'Danube Greetings' initiative, which sent children's messages of solidarity to others in the basin. "We wish the Danube rivers clean water, a variety of plants and animals, and people who care for our beautiful European rivers," wrote pupils from Dneperska primary school in Kosice.

In Hungary, conferences were held to discuss conflicts and work together on common goals. Baja's Second International Conference on the Central Danube Floodplains involved government and civil society officials from Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro. In Györ, the North Transdanubian Environment Protection and Water Directorate led decision-makers and stakeholders from Györ, Vienna and Bavarian government and partner organisations in a conference looking at rehabilitation and development projects.

The Ministry of Environment and Water, Coca-Cola and WWF organised an event with double purposes: to raise awareness on the conservation issue, and to convince people to save the Danube together. Several thousand bracelets were distributed to remind people that on this particular day all nations along the entire Danube basin were joining together to save the river.

Credit: Ministry of Environment and Water, Bulgaria

International cooperation.
In Croatia, rain didn't prevent a packed day of workshops, field visits, competitions and songs at Zlatna Greda. Over 60 participants from all government levels, state enterprises, NGOs and protected areas, and the local populace, took part in a workshop on protecting the Mura, Drava and Danube, opening a productive dialogue between stakeholders.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's Danube Day was particularly poignant as this year has seen the country's signing of the Danube Convention, meaning all 13 countries are now full signatories. One of the main events in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the conference, 'Aspects of Groundwater Protection in Karst Landscapes'. Experts from Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Austria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina gathered to share research and experiences of international cooperation and implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Elsewhere, Slovenia held an international rafting challenge: 'Downhill on the River Mura'. Entrants with a sense of adventure from Austria, Croatia and Slovenia managed to stay afloat in all manner of craft as they travelled down the Mura. Students from a secondary school in Ljubljana created a water dragon, the symbol of the city of Ljubljana, out of stone from the Sava River, which was organised in connection with International Sava Day.

Reaching a broad audience.
Serbia and Montenegro's events got everyone talking about Danube rivers and, with major national media coverage, the message reached millions. Apatin held an exhibition of works by nature photographer Silard Kovac, and screened two short films With Danube through Vojvodina by by Nenad Mikalacki and Regional park Gornje podunavlje by Srdan Ðuranovic. In Grocka, the city held sports tournaments and the Bolec Art Association held a cultural performance, and monuments and the museum on the Vinca archaeological site were free to the public. The closing ceremony of Danube Day in Novi Sad was organised by the mayor of Novi Sad, and attended by important guests, such as Dragana Del Monaco and Milica Stojanovic, who performed that night.

Events in Romania engaged a large audience and festivities were held not only in large towns but also in many villages. The vast array of events included formal meetings, riverbank festivals, craft fairs, concerts, boat cruises, fishing contests and public-awareness campaigns. Participants of the Youth Water Parliament, which gathered in Tulcia in May, designed several Danube Day activities that took place throughout the basin. "Each of us can work towards protecting the Danube ecosystem which sustains us," said Sulfina Barbu, Romanian Minister of Environment and Water Management. "Public awareness regarding the protection of the Danube and its tributaries is essential."

Moldova's Danube Day also looked to the past years of Danube activities, and to the future EU Water Framework Directive implementation at an event in Glodeni. Citizens joined representatives from the Ministry of Ecology and local government to discuss problems such as pollution. Great interest was expressed in contributing to the integrated river basin management plan.

Credit: IAD
The IAD-Transboundary Bicycle Tour Vienna-Bratislava attracted 80 cyclists - many locals from Austria and Slovakia, but some from as far away as the USA and Canada.

Inspiring action in the region.
Support for Danube Day in Bulgaria was tremendous: over 1,500 participants from kindergartens, schools, business, NGOs and public institutions worked to get people thinking and talking about the Danube River. The city of Vidin held an expedition to observe the Danube coastal area and prepare maps and status reports of the Danube. School children took walks along the river and prepared their own reports, essays and poems about the river. Discussions and roundtables in Lom and Svishtov Municipality were dedicated to the reduction of the pollution of the river and its wealth preservation.

Across Ukraine, people enjoyed river activities and a major Danube exhibition by the National Union of Artists. Stemming from an idea from the recent Sixth European Youth Parliament for Water, four Danube Delta youth clubs from Vilkovo, Kiliya, Izmail and Odessa created a Danube photo album: a collection of old and recent family photographs, illustrating how the Delta landscape has changed over the years. In western Ukraine, the 'From Clean Uh to Clean Danube' events took children on boating adventures to the upper Uh, where they had the chance to learn more about the river, help with clean-up operations, and test their skills in environmental games and painting competitions.

Throughout the basin, the energy and enthusiasm that went into making Danube Day 2005 a success was tremendous. Long may it continue! For more information, please visit:

Suzie Holt
lives in Devon, UK, and is a freelance environmental communications consultant.
She has been involved in Danube Day over the last two years and also works as a project coordinator for the South West Forest initiative in the UK.