EU presidency brings protests to Sofia
Thousands of Bulgarians have protested in Sofia against the extension of a ski resort in Pirin National Park (pictured), a Unesco World Heritage Site, as the ceremony to grant the EU’s rotating presidency on the Bulgaria brought out demonstrators.
Protesters said the move, which has been given parliamentary approval, would breach nature protection laws, remove established pine trees and endanger wildlife.
“I am here because I am a Bulgarian and a European citizen and the government’s decision is in contradiction with Bulgarian and European legislation,” journalist Simeon Tabakov told Reuters.
Protesters chanted “Save Pirin”, “Mafia” and “We want nature, not concrete” as they marched, and carried signs saying “Bulgaria, wake up and fight” and “Citizens against the mafia”. They also called for the resignation of Neno Dimov, the environment minister.
The environment ministry claims it has only approved construction on 2 per cent of the national park, which is home to the resort of Bansko, to stimulate winter tourism.
The authorities are also allowing infrastructural development to collect drinking water in 48 per cent of the park, which opponents says would allow about half of the park to be developed.
The Pirin Mountains were named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1983, covering the Pirin National Park but excluding two areas developed for winter-sports tourism.
The limestone mountains have glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and large coniferous forests.
A smaller protest voiced support for another Bansko ski lift, which they argue would cut queuing times. There is currently only one lift from the Bansko resort up to the pistes.
Police officers were also protesting over pay and other demonstrations opposed the European Union to coincide with the start of Bulgaria’s six-month control of the EU’s rotating presidency.
Bulgaria, whose record on justice and corruption has been monitored by the EU since it joined in 2007, knows that Europe will be watching closely. Transparency International lists Bulgaria as the most corrupt European Union member.
European Council president Donald Tusk warned against a “Game of Thrones” in the Balkans among countries that want to join the union.
The European Union is using Bulgaria’s presidency to try to counter the influence of Russia, Turkey and other countries in the Balkans.
Speaking in Bulgarian in Sofia, the former Polish prime minister compared the history of the region to the violent books and TV show.
“The history of the Balkans is more dramatic and interesting than the screenplay of Game of Thrones, even if there are no dragons in it. We would all like it if the present and future of the Balkans were less like dramatic screenplays,” Tusk told the media.
“Stability, security, prosperity: this is what the people of the whole region deserve. And the EU’s purpose is to help make this screenplay a reality,” Tusk said.
Picture credit: IHA