Children of dune: Controversy continues about Bulgarian seaside development

Fallout from the controversy about an attempt to develop a residential building complex by clearing a sand dune protected nature area near the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Nessebur continued on January 9 2013 with calls from minority political party figures for further official inquiries.

As a spinoff, the controversy generated a side-issue about whether or not the coastal dunes possibly concealed archaeological treasures.

The saga began when conservationists alerted the media about land clearance on sand dunes near Nessebur.

Acting on the instructions of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, the construction control development ordered a stop to work pending the outcome of an interdepartmental investigation and probes by various Cabinet ministers.

With the political season starting ahead of 2013 parliamentary elections, the issue rapidly became politicised. There were allegations that one of those involved in the project was a close friend of Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov (Tsvetanov denies this); that also involved was architect Georgi Stanishev, brother of former prime minister and opposition socialist party leader Sergei Stanishev (both Stanishevs deny this) while a socialist MP called for Agriculture and Food Minister Miroslav Naidenov to resign over the land use change – to which Naidenov responded that original approval for the development had begun before the current government was in office and when the socialist coalition was in power.

Two senior officials, including the head of the Forestry Agency, were fired after the interdepartmental investigation reported to the Prime Minister. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture rejected criticism for having signed approval documents, saying that she had been unaware that the land was a dune area. Defending her, her boss Naidenov was quoted as saying, “she’s a lawyer, not an expert”.

When Parliament resumed on January 9 after its Festive Season recess, the Bulgarian Socialist Party said that it was recruiting support for an ad hoc parliamentary committee of inquiry into the circumstances, data and facts on the land transactions in the Nessebur area.

The firing of the Forestry Agency head and of the head of the environmental inspectorate in Bourgas were an insufficient response and political responsibility for the scandal should be accepted higher up, the socialists said.

The socialist call came after Yane Yanev, of the minority Law Order and Justice party and head of a special committee set up in Parliament in 2012 to investigate alleged cases of high-level corruption in recent years said that he wanted his committee to probe the Nessebur saga.

The matter has dominated political discourse in recent days and has led to a pledge by the government to outlaw all forms of development on sand dunes, whether these are in private or public hands, and to review other environmental protection laws.

The issue also has preoccupied the media, leading one Bulgarian-language media outlet to post a headline, ironically and rather wittily, “Sand dunes discovered near Nessebur!” Bulgarian media, in recent days, added to the journalistic lexicon of Watergate references by dubbing the affair Dunegate.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum and no stranger to headlines, got one for himself by telling a reporter that it was probable that archaeological discoveries lay in wait beneath the dunes of Nessebur.

Dimitrov based this argument largely on the fact that the area was called by a word that translates into English as “bones” and that lots of bones previously had been found there.

However, the head of the Museum of Old Nessebur, Petya Kiashkina, rushed to dump cold water on Dimitrov’s sand castle. “We would be the first to pounce against a construction development if we expected that there were artifacts there. Unfortunately, there are no grounds at the moment to believe this,” she said. The necropolis of ancient Messembria was about a kilometre from the dunes site, Kiashkina said.




The Sofia Globe staff

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