‘Dumps Don’t Belong in Towns’
Born and raised in Pezinok, Zuzana Caputova is an attorney at public interest law organization VIA IURIS, a career path she chose as a way to help people in her community.
For Caputova, the waste dump’s toxic legacy cast a deep shadow both at work and at home. The stench from the nearby landfill wafted into her home, where she kept the windows shut to keep her two young daughters safe. Cancer took an unwelcome foothold when both her uncle and a close colleague’s wife received diagnoses in the same week.
Armed with her legal expertise, she engaged artists, local businesses, wine producers, students, church leaders, and other members of the community in a grassroots campaign to shut down the dumpsite. Caputova and other activists came together and organized peaceful protests, concerts, and photographic exhibits and gathered 8,000 signatures in a petition to the European Parliament. In addition to mobilizing civil society, she mounted a relentless legal challenge to the new landfill through the Slovakian and EU judiciaries.
The first demonstration brought together thousands of local residents, which helped bring municipal leaders on board with the campaign despite their early skepticism. They heard the citizens’ message loud and clear: “Dumps Don’t Belong in Towns.”
Rallying civil society in post-communist Slovakia
The campaign came to a head in 2013, when the Slovakian Supreme Court ruled that the newly proposed landfill was illegal. The court withdrew permission for the new dumpsite to begin operating, and ordered the decrepit dumpsite to shut down. The verdict echoed a decision from the EU Court of Justice, which affirmed the public’s right to participate in decisions that impact the environment not only in Pezinok but throughout the EU as well.
Caputova, as a member of the VIA IURIS team, is now fighting back new construction laws in Slovakia that would make it easier for developers to bring illegally built projects up to code while weakening public access to environmental information and decision-making. Along with her VIA IURIS colleagues, she is also providing legal assistance for other communities in Slovakia that are fighting against industrial pollution.
The victory in Pezinok—the largest mobilization of Slovak citizens since the 1989 Velvet Revolution—sets an important precedent for civic engagement in Slovakia, and is inspiring citizens in the country to stand up for their rights to a clean and safe environment.