The State Declared New Crusade against Strandza

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Stefan Zlatarov, Director of Strandzha Nature Park was suddenly fired on Wednesday. This happened in the aftermath of last week’s approval by the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS) of the general development plan of Tsarevo municipality. Zlatarov was the sole remaining obstacle to the utilization of the unique virgin coast south of the overly-built Sozopol, Primorsko and Lozenets, and to making it a concrete ghetto. The fired Park Director was also the only one to launch a battle against the illegally erected vacation village Golden Pearl. The first order to end this crime was issued precisely by him. The criminal construction was started by circles close to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) at the height of the rule of the Three-Party Coalition. Golden Pearl turned emblematic for drastic violation of laws and destruction of protected natural areas by the Bulgarian mafia and political oligarchy. The last owner of the village is Nikolay Valkanov, president of “Minstroy Holding,” the company that gave Ahmed Dogan the record consultancy royalty of 1.5 million levs in the mega hydro-engineering project Tsankov Kamak. Immediately after the government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski took office, Valkanov has started to research possibilities for new construction in the Nature Park, according to Bivol’s sources. This information appears viable on the backdrop of the last moves of people in power. Patrons of Golden Pearl are back in this power and are downright eliminating those who prevented the legalization of their crimes.

“I was pressured to leave by mutual consent,” Stefan Zlatarov admitted before Bivol. The pink slip has been handed to him on Wednesday, January 22, and is effective immediately. Such speedy dismissal is rare in the state administration. The alternative has been removal on the grounds of inefficiency with the signatures of two witnesses. Zlatarov has been Director of the Park since its establishment i.e. for over 18 years. The Ministry has not offered him another post. This is a procedure quite humiliating for an employee with huge contribution to the protection of state interest over the years and to the development of Bulgaria’s largest nature park. “In recent months, the situation was such that it was impossible to work,” Zlatarov added. The fact that in the last 4 years the management of the Park has won and worked on EU projects for over 8 million levs is probably one of the reasons for replacing the current director with true political party establishment.

Asked to comment on the adoption of the general development plan of Tsarevo, Zlatarov said that the worst that could happen is to have what happened in Sozopol, Primorsko, Lozenets – the coast to end up looking like a concrete wall and priceless natural beauty to be destroyed over greedy construction and property interests. According to him, an attack is underway against the “Association of Parks” which filed the legal case against the general development plan and stopped it, as it stopped temporarily EC sanctions against Bulgaria. Now, however, the sanctions will be applied.

Toma Belev, Chairman of the “Association of Parks in Bulgaria” confirmed that for the first time state institutions have launched power attacks and probes against the NGO, which consistently upholds adherence to laws of nature conservation. Belev is firm that the ruling partners, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) have decided to carry out mass construction on the country’s few remaining preserved shores. This practice will completely deprive Bulgaria of wild and protected sea coast. According to Belev, the drastic change in the position of the Ministry and VAS on the general development plan of Tsarevo municipality and the dismissal of the Director of Park Strandza are related actions.

Bulgaria faces a threat of new serious sanctions over drastic violations of the Protected Territories Act, together with violations of 3 European directives and 1 Convention. Penalties are now unavoidable and will be paid from the budget i.e. by all Bulgarian tax payers. Toma Belev and other eco activists are ready to launch a petition to the European Parliament to call on a freeze of all EU funds for Bulgaria as they only serve to benefit oligarchic structures instead of being absorbed for public interest. Coalition for Nature further plans to ask the Bulgarian Parliament to urgently amend the Black Sea Coast Act and the Development of Territories Act. The proposal includes text to not endorse general development plans without the required environmental impact and compatibility assessments. The activists will further insist on compliance with the Aarhus Convention, ratified by Bulgaria, but so far never observed. It provides for the right of every citizen to protest general and detailed development plans when they contradict laws or public interest.

Only the above can rescue the southern coast from destruction. Five days ago, a five-judge VAS panel passed the absurd decision that the general development plan of Tsarevo can be implemented without an environmental assessment. The Ministry of Environments and Waters, headed by Minister Iskra Mihaylova, has granted its agreement for this as well. Such ignorance of the laws is unacceptable, Toma Belev is indignant. This U-Turn of the Ministry and the court’s overruling of the decision of the three-member panel on the fate of the infamous development plan, which has been appealed for 6 years now, strongly reeks of harsh political pressure.

Belev, himself, was Director of National Park Vitosha and was fired by then ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB) for opposing investment intentions and felling in the mountain, planned by the shady group around banker Tseko Minev. The current government launched a full reshuffle and replacement of the heads of all national nature parks. Directors of Central Balkan, Rila and Pirin parks were dismissed just days ago and were replaced by DPS and BSP party functionaries who don’t have the needed competence and experience. The attack on Bulgaria’s nature clearly demonstrates the intention of the oligarchic clique, ruling on the mandate of the socialists, to pillage to the very end the natural resources of the country – our last and yet unappropriated national wealth.

Environmental organizations are preparing a very strong statement which they will send to the European Commission to notify it about mafia maneuvers in protected Bulgarian natural sites. Instead of following European practice of increasing the percentage of protected territories, Bulgaria remains the only Member State that in the 21st century unceasingly revokes their protection status as valuable natural landmarks in order to serve corporate interests. The facts are harrowing. In the last 8 years, Strandzha almost entirely lost its century-old forests. The felling in this unique in Europe mountain in terms of bio diversity is unprecedented in its entire history. The mountain has been turned into a giant wood-cutting place, whose forests, untouched until recently, have been transformed into lumber exported to Turkey to feed its wood industry. Ships loaded with wood from Strandzha leave Burgas’ port daily. It is all legalized through the so-called planned felling and under legal regulations of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The vicious practice that denuded mountains across Bulgaria and liquidated all remaining woods began when DPS first took over this Ministry, but was followed without hesitation both by BSP and by GERB under Minister Miroslav Naydenov. Streams have already dried up and extreme shortage of drinking water is felt in many villages in the northern part of Stara Planina mountain, where century-old beech forests were savagely cut during the terms of the last three governments.

The thick shade of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS)

According to information obtained by Bivol, the order for Zlatarov’s dismissal has come from Deputy Minister of Agriculture Burhan Abazov. This is the same person who, in 2004 and in 2005, sold to private companies and individuals land in Strandza against compensatory vouchers for 100-150 levs per decare. All lands, sold by Abazov, were state public property. Art. 18 of the Constitution, which prohibits the sale of such property, was violated.

The investigation of this huge abuse is part of the journalistic texts of Asen Yordanov, entitled Crusade against Strandza, published in two parts in 2008. At that time, the entire circulation of the newspaper “Politika” (Politics) for Burgas region was snatched on several occasions by thugs, right from the printing ramp, on the orders of BSP activists. Yordanov’s colleague, Mariya Nikolaeva was attacked by anonymous people in the newspaper’s editorial office and threatened with splashing with sulfuric acid. An investigation was launched, which ended with a decree of the Burgas Prosecutor. The decree made it clear that there was wrongdoing, but no one was found guilty and the case was crushed. Yordanov’s investigation also shed light on the interests in the area of the Member of the Parliament from DPS Yordan Tsonev, who is currently chairman of the budget committee in the National Assembly and has an extremely strong position in power.

The case with the Strandza land was one of the emblematic cases that Bivol sent to the office of the Center for Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption (BORKOR), immediately after the unit was created, demanding a renewal of the investigation. No answer followed. In fact, there is a response and it is the cynical fact that today, Abazov, instead of facing justice, reshuffles the staff of the park for the benefit of mobsters and oligarchs, impatiently looking forward to the fall of all obstacles to their construction appetites.

The second crusade was led by the “red” (Socialist – editor’s note) Tsarevo Mayor Petko Arnaudov (known also with his alias “Ivanov” as agent of the Communist State Security) to rescue the illegal construction of the vacation village Golden Pearl, linked to economic interests of DPS as well. The Mayor of Tsarevo secured the benevolence of judges with granting an attractive plot on the sea shore of Lozenets, a gift to VAS to use it as vacation home: After a claim of Arnaudov, VAS literally closed Strandza Nature Park, which sparked the first widespread protests of civil society and forced the National Assembly (Parliament) to vote on a special law to preserve the Park. Golden Pearl was eventually demolished, after a long legal saga, but the prosecution never found out who was guilty in the case with the fake document of the Ministry of Environment and Waters, which allowed the initial pouring of concrete. And the Court in Strasbourg conclusively rejected claims of the company Crash 2000 against the State.

The third crusade, led by DPS’ people in the current government of Prime Minister Oresharski can prove fatal. In the summer, when Burhan Abazov and Petko Arnaudov were restored to power, Bivol warned that the destroyers of Strandza are returning amid much fanfare.

In addition to attempts to bury under concrete Strandza’s shores, the felling and the illegal sale of lands in the Park, the new coalition partners are also preparing a project to divert the waters of the mountain and its draining to ensure water supply of Istanbul at the request of the Turkish government; Bivol was again the first one to voice alarm about these plans.

We should not wait for help from Europe as no European sanctions can stop the construction mafia. The penalties will be paid out of the pockets of all taxpayers; meanwhile the coast will be irreversibly destroyed. The decision is in the hands of civil society, which today will take to the streets again to save the last pristine places on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The first of the new series of demonstrations “Save Strandza” was held on the evening of January 22, 2014, in Sofia; the gathering place was the monument of Patriarch Evtimiy (familiarly known as The Priest).



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