Protesting Bulgarian tobacco growers block border checkpoints with Romania and Turkey – updated

Bulgarian tobacco growers, protesting against what they see as a lack of state support for the industry through a failure to secure European Union subsidies and other forms of financial support, made good on promises to blockade Bulgaria’s border checkpoints with Romania and Turkey on July 11 2013.

The largest protest was at the Danube Bridge at Rousse, where farmers successfully blocked traffic for about an hour and a half, also cutting off traffic on the road between Rousse and Silistra. Vegetable growers too joined the protest.

Smaller rallies were held at the Kapitan Petko Voivode and Svilengrad border crossings with Turkey.The protesters at Danube Bridge had planned to cut off traffic for 30 minutes every hour, but relented after Agriculture Minister Dimitar Grekov, accompanied by other ministry officials, arrived at the site.

He said that tobacco growers will continue to receive the annual subsidy of 73 million leva until 2020, with Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski agreeing to increase the size of the subsidy by 11 million leva.

Vegetable growers, meanwhile, were promised subsidy payments of 100 million leva a year in the next EU programming period, 2014-2020.

The farmers agreed to end their protest, giving the Cabinet two months to release the payments, but said that they were prepared to resume their protests at a moment’s notice, Bulgarian National Television reported.

Danube River Bridge at Rousse. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer
Danube River Bridge at Rousse. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

The National Association of Tobacco Growers said earlier that the protests were economic and not political.

Tobacco growers ignited a bale of tobacco and the vegetable growers threw in tomatoes and beans. Recently, vegetable producers have been protesting against what they say is unfair and illegal competition from cheap produce from neighbouring counties being dumped on the Bulgarian market.

The tobacco growers said that Bulgaria failed to protect European subsidies for the sector for the timeframe of the EU’s next programming period, 2014 to 2020.

The vice president of the association, Assen Kichukov, said that money from EU subsidies had been granted to all EU countries that produce tobacco, with the exception of Bulgaria, which he described as discrimination.

He said that tobacco producers wanted a “constructive dialogue” to achieve financial support for the sector, but if they did not succeed, “we are ready for anything, even civil disobedience, even protests in Brussels”.

The matter is also expected to be discussed on July 18 at a meeting of the Tobacco Advisory Council, to be attended by the tobacco growers’ association, the Minister of Agriculture and Food and representatives of companies that buy tobacco.

(Main photo: Marko Faas)



The Sofia Globe staff

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