Bulgarian agricultural organisations organised protests in Sofia and six other cities and towns, as well as in cities abroad, on October 20 against the January 2014 end on the moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners.
Given that the end of the ban is set in Bulgaria’s European Union accession treaty, the protest was largely futile, but with sunshine and relatively warm temperatures lighting the autumn day, it was quite nice to be outside, at least, probably a factor of importance to farmers.
A campaign against the end of the ban and a call to extend it by a further seven years was first highlighted by Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party, leading the Bulgarian Socialist Party government – effectively politically dependent on Ataka – to try to find ways to respond.
There have been mixed messages from government figures on the issue, including talk of imposing restrictions on sales of land to foreigners, although no real work has been done on drafting such restrictions. Plamen Oresharski, prime minister in the Bulgarian Socialist Party government, has described an extension of the ban as “unrealistic” while the head of the agricultural committee in Parliament continues to speak of drafting restrictions.
On October 20, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television quoted Ivan Dobrev, head of the agricultural co-operative in Garvan, as saying that Bulgarians would be financially unable to compete in the market for land.
“Land in Bulgaria is very cheap and it will attract people with questionable accumulated capital,” Dobrev said.
The report said that agricultural producers said that structures such as co-operatives that had invested millions in equipment and grain silos “could be out of work if owners of land started to sell it to foreigners for more money”.
This was the background to the protests on October 20, in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas, Dobrich, Pazardzhik and Rousse, as well as by Bulgarians abroad in Athens, Milan, Berlin, Cologne, Paris, London, Vienna and Madrid.
Agriculture Minister Dimitar Grekov, who earlier spoke in favour of extending the ban, told Nova Televizia on October 19 that agricultural land in Bulgaria was not so attractive as to be purchased by foreigners en masse.
“My personal view is that there is no extreme danger of foreigners invading our land, because Bulgarian land is not consolidated,” Grekov said.
The small sizes of individual plots of farmland was of no interest to foreign farmers, and on top of that, many owners had long-term contracts with tenants that were not due to expire for many years, he said.
Further, Bulgaria had “many problems with irrigation” and agricultural production in the country was highly costly, according to Grekov.
The expiry of the ban on January 1 2014 simply comes into effect in terms of the EU treaty and will not require new legislation.
For several years, foreigners have been buying land in Bulgaria, through rules that allow the purchase of land by registered companies representing legal persons. The expiry of the ban will remove the need for this legal façade.
(Photo: Dido Ivanov)