The Vrginmost case: Is it possible to develop sustainable tourism while the surrounding population is suffocating from melted plastic?

Author  Blanka Kufner

24. June 2024.

"I was especially looking forward to this project because I know how much it means for this whole area, for the beautiful Sisak-Moslavina County. A region rich in thermal waters, waters that have had the same quality for over 200 years, spas that our ban Jelačić and his wife used to visit, spas that have a long tradition. It is important to emphasize that these are grants and that this is the first time that funds for such investments have been secured at all, and that is why I am particularly proud that in this group the largest amount of funds, 17,2 million euros, was allocated specifically to Sisak - Moslavina County, for the Topusko Spa project", said the then Minister of Tourism in March Nikolina Brnjac, during the signing of the - as it was written at the time - historic contract for Topusko, the largest investment in health tourism.

The total value of the project is EUR 27,5 million, and the approved grants from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan amount to EUR 17,2 million. The signing of the Contract for the project Topusko at the source of health - health and wellness tourism in a sustainable way was also attended by the Vice-President of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Minister of Croatian Veterans Tomo Medved and Prefect Ivan Celjak.

/ / / Brnjac: A new era of health tourism in Croatia - the highest grant of 17,2 million euros secured for the Topusko Spa

Irony

"Irony, health tourism is developing 13 km from us, and the wind rose is blowing in that direction. Our air, water and soil are being poisoned... We may be the focal point of pollution, but the pollution is spreading", is the comment of a resident of the nearby town of Vrginmost on this investment. 

"Great idea, it will just have a little more brominated water if ours don't stop melting", is another remark that can be heard among the local population.

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The stench and pollution affects nature, and if tourists come to this area, it is for the beautiful nature, walks, healthy food... health in general. A logical question arises - what is the future of tourism in the area?

Increasing quality and attractiveness

The project Topusko at the source of health - spa and wellness tourism in a sustainable way aims to increase the quality and attractiveness of the Topusko destination through the renovation of the hotel complex and the introduction of new wellness and sports and recreation facilities.

At the same time, this is the largest county project in the area of ​​tourism in Sisak-Moslavina County, according to the official website pages SMŽ.

"Today is a historic day for Topusko, because this is the realization of a lifelong dream for all Topličan women and men, but also for the entire Sisak-Moslavina county. For several decades, we have been hearing about the need to reconstruct the swimming pool and new facilities here in Topuski, and now it is finally being realized thanks to the government of the Republic of Croatia. The content that we will have here in Topusko guarantees the arrival and return of tourists due to its quality and attractiveness, and we are sure that with the implementation of this project we will achieve the goal we set out, which is to make Topusko the center of continental tourism in this part of Croatia", he said in March prefect of Celjak.

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"The European Union did not finance health tourism before and this is now really a precedent that we used thanks to the government of the Republic of Croatia, which made it possible", said the director of the Topusko Spa Domagoj Mosler.

What is happening only about 10 km away

But doesn't the question arise, what would the European Union say about not taking measures against pollution just ten kilometers from Topusko?

Namely, in the town Virginity, the work of the plastic processing plant is causing increasing public indignation. Ever since the polluter opened a recycling company, the community has been suffocating in plastic and smelting byproducts. The locals have been suffering from an unbearable stench for a year and a half and are demanding the immediate closure of the plant. 

However, the authorities - as it seems for now - do not show any particular interest in this problem.

Namely, the state inspectorate reacted on several occasions and found irregularities, but there is no final decision on the work ban yet.

Despite the fact that all competent institutions were timely informed by the community, municipalities, counties and even the state did nothing to protect the human rights of persons exposed to toxic pollution. Only when the media and certain organizations became involved in the whole case did the institutions react. 

/ / / Silvia Buttignoni, JU Natura Histrica: Tourism should go in the direction of mutual satisfaction, residents of a certain area and guests

People are being threatened

Soil, water and air pollution, in addition to destroying nature, seriously impairs the health of all who are exposed, especially those who live by growing their own food.

However, the County of Sisak-Moslavina not only did not react to numerous complaints from the residents of Vrginmost, but also duly issued a permit (for poisoning) to the polluter, based on a study that is so inconsistent and illogical that it is offensive to all the authors of the study (except for those paid by the polluters themselves), it says Green action.

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However, the polluter and their mercenaries do not stop at directly harming people's physical health, but also their mental health through various subtle threats and manipulations.

Nothing from that to the above has been reacted to so far! But the "anonymous" report to the labor inspectorate against a local non-governmental organization was quickly reacted to, which contributes to the systematic oppression of an already threatened community - one of the poorest municipalities in Croatia, it is further stated on the Green Action pages.

A little more about investing in sustainable tourism

After the completion of the project, the capacity of the Topusko Spa hotel will amount to 302 beds distributed within 175 accommodation units, of which 112 are double rooms, 54 single rooms, 5 hotel suites and 4 accessible rooms.

Spaces for additional content will be arranged in accordance with development trends of wellness tourism which is growing at a rate of 6,5 percent per year.

The project will last 40 months, and with the introduction of green and digital elements, Topusko will receive high added value tourism as well as sustainable, innovative and resilient tourism, according to the website. Sisak-Moslavina County.

In the end, we ask ourselves (and we also ask you readers) whether, with the carelessness and non-reaction of the authorities for the nearby town of Vrginmost - but also nature, which is the basic resource for sustainable and resilient tourism - this county will really get the kind of tourism envisioned by the mentioned ambitious project?

/ / / Korado Korlević: It is impossible to have three times as many inhabitants in the summer and expect everything to be beautiful, fine and sustainable

Photo: Civic Initiative "Stop Phaten Plastic Recycling"

Author  Blanka Kufner

24. June 2024.