Snowballs thrown at Energy Minister, arson in Plovdiv as thousands of Bulgarians protest against electricity bills

Two company cars owned by electricity distribution company EVN were burnt out in Plovdiv on the eve of a protest in 15 Bulgarian cities against high electricity and central heating bills – and as emotions ran high in the capital city Sofia, Economy and Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev beat a retreat into his building after being pelted by snowballs.

In Varna, a number of people were arrested after police and protesters clashed when protesters threw stones and eggs at the building of the power distribution company.

The protest, organised on social networks, describes itself as not political. The demands are the expulsion from Bulgaria of the three distribution companies, nationalisation of electricity distribution and publication of the energy distribution contracts.

In a statement, EVN condemned the torching of the two company cars outside its central Plovdiv headquarters, close to a kindergarten building.

The arson took place just after midnight. Video footage of the two masked men who torched the cars has been passed on to police.

“Tonight’s act of vandalism was directed not only against the property of the company but also against all of our associates across south eastern Bulgaria, who are responsible for ensuring the quality of supplies and services to more than 1.5 million customers,” said EVN Bulgaria board chairman Joerg Sollfelner. “This act effectively threatened the lives of anyone nearby at the time it was committed, the firefighters who had to put out and fire and the police who cleared the area,” he said.

In Sofia, about 500 people turned out for the protest outside the Economy, Energy and Tourism Ministry building. When minister Delyan Dobrev emerged, protesters began throwing icy snowballs, hitting Dobrev and nearby journalists.

Attempts by Dobrev to address the protesters failed as he was drowned out by calls of “resignation”, “killers” and “Mafia” while the throwing of snowballs continued. Dobrev went back inside.

The protesters held banners reading “No to legalised racketeering” and “feudal slave to Toplikatsia! Until when?”.

Protesters also burnt their electricity and heating bills.

Local media in the Black Sea city of Varna said that about 2000 people turned out to protest, a number similar to the turnout in Plovdiv, while about 500 people joined the protest in Bourgas at the Black Sea.

In Bourgas, protesters chanted “EVN, auf Wiedersehen” – a reference to the company being Austrian – and said that they would return to protest every Sunday.

The power distribution company in Sofia, CEZ, said that it had received about 1660 complaints about high December electricity bills.

Protests were also taking place in Rousse on the Danube, Silistra, Blagoevgrad, Gotse Delchev, Sandanski, Shoumen, Belene, Yambol, Veliko Turnovo, Montana, Dobrich and Kurdjali.

In Rousse, the turnout was about 100 people, holding signs including “Energo Pro – a danger to us” and “Energo Pro – discarded rubbish”. People chanted “parasites”, local media said.

Earlier in January, there was indignation among people in Sofia and elsewhere about high electricity and heating bills. Reportedly, in some cases bills were 100 per cent higher than they had been in December 2011.

An official investigation into heating bills in Sofia, ordered by the mayor, found that there were inaccuracies only in a very low percentage of these bills.

Bulgarian-language website Mediapool said that the organiser of the protest in Blagoevgrad, Lyudmila Manova said that a petition would be initiated on February 11 for a national referendum on expelling Czech company CEZ from Bulgaria. At the Blagoevgrad protest, people sang the Bulgarian national anthem and songs from the time of Bulgaria’s struggle against Ottoman rule.

While protesters insisted that the campaign was not linked to any political party, and local media reports from Bulgarian towns said that politicians who tried to join the marches were shown away, for some months ultra-nationalists in Bulgaria have been campaigning for the expulsion of three foreign-owned electricity distributors and the nationalisation of power distribution.



(Main photo: EVN)



The Sofia Globe staff

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