Public indignation in Bulgaria against government support for a planned hotel complex development in the Karadere nature area on the Black Sea coast has been spurred further by the emergence of a transcript of a cabinet meeting showing approval was given practically without debate.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a high-tech investment, but it’s welcome. Let’s approve it.”
Going by the official transcript of the March 19 meeting of the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet, those words from prime minister Plamen Oresharski were the sum total of discussion ahead of approval of a memorandum giving approval for Class A investor status for Madara Europe, developers of the project in Karadere.
After news of the decision broke, about 1500 people turned out for a protest march in Sofia on March 20 against construction in Karadere. A protest also was held in Varna.
On March 23, protests were held in Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv and more are planned.
It was hardly surprising that the protest march in the Bulgarian capital was preceded by a large banner demanding the resignation of Oresharski and the cabinet that has been in place since May 2013 on the basis of a mandate to govern handed to the BSP.
Nor was it surprising that along with chants of, “keep your filthy hands off Karadere” and “we want nature, not concrete,” there also were chants of the traditional “resignation” call heard in the months since the anti-government protests began after the abortive appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security.
There is at least some overlap among those organising the Karadere protests on social networks with people who support the anti-government protests, while reports linking architect Georgi Stanishev, brother of BSP leader Sergei, to the project established a clear connection in the minds of many between opposition to the destruction of part of the Black Sea natural environment and opposition to a highly unpopular government. (Georgi Stanishev denies involvement in the project.)
There may not be a complete overlap, but even as the more reliable opinion polls show 80 per cent of Bulgarians want the BSP cabinet to resign, so to 80 per cent of Bulgarians oppose further mass construction at the Black Sea coast.
Ironically, the BSP also has claimed to oppose construction at the Black Sea, tabling legislation to this effect in Parliament about a year ago – a fact highlighted by those outraged by the fact that a BSP cabinet did not hesitate, in March 2014, to open the way for just such construction.
Faced with public anger about the Karadere project plan, the government has been largely on the defensive, its line being that the March 19 decision does not represent final approval for the Madara Europe project and insisting that such approval would be given only if the project complies with all EU and Bulgarian environmental laws.
This attempt at defence has not shielded it from criticism that the cabinet gave the nod to first-class investment status for the project in spite of the absence of an environmental impact assessment.
The Facebook page of the group opposing construction in Karadere and along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast has announced details of planned protests – while the page also features a poll on whether the protests should be accompanied by the banner demanding the resignation of the government.
By the morning of March 25, those in favour of coupling the demand for the resignation of the BSP government to the environmental conservation protest were well in the majority.
A protest was planned for 5pm on March 25, as the National Assembly was scheduled to meet in special session to approve laws seen as urgent by the BSP government, a sitting planned to continue until 7pm.
“We’ll be there,” an announcement on the group’s Facebook page said. “We recall that for nine months, the government pretends that there are no civil protests and continues to drive private interests. We demand its resignation.”
Plans are for the group to demand from the Economy Ministry documentation submitted by Madara Europe regarding the project. The access to information claim is to be submitted on March 26.
On March 27, there will be a protest at 2pm, the scheduled time for a meeting of a parliamentary committee dealing with amendments to the Black Sea Coast Act.
A nationwide protest against mass construction at the Black Sea is planned for March 30.
The demands of the protests are urgent adoption of amendments to the Black Sea coast Act to stop construction in protected areas and habitats including Karadere, Irakli, Strandzha, Kamchiya Dunes and Nessebur, and the repeal of the controversial decision to grant Class A investor status to the Karadere project.
Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio on March 25, Borislav Sandov, co-chairperson of Bulgaria’s extra-parliamentary Green Party said that the decision by the cabinet to grant Class A investor status to the Karadere project was illegal.
He said that he would appeal against the granting of first-class investor status, alleging that the investor did not have the necessary means, on top of the fact that there was no environmental impact assessment.
As presented to the cabinet by economy minister Dragomir Stoynev, the project envisages a complex with mixed hotel, holiday accommodation and residential use in the Byala North area.
The part of the complex for which the first-class investor certificate was granted envisages an investment of more than 105 million and the creation of 500 jobs. Implementation was planned for September 2014 to September 2017, according to Stoynev’s presentation to the cabinet.
The investor, Madara Europe, has reacted to the protests by offering to create a “green board” in which environmental conservation groups could participate to monitor closely the development of the project. Sandov said that this offer was unacceptable.
At local level, there have been demonstrations by some residents of Karadere who favour the project as a job creator, while the municipality has insisted that the laws will not be compromised, no matter who the investor is.
There is a considerable history of attempted – and successful – large-scale complex construction at Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, including in previously unspoilt areas and including – so far unsuccessfully – at Karadere.
This time, however, while public protests against the government have diminished in turnout after more than eight months, although public disapproval of the government has anything but diminished, the national stakes in the battle over Karadere are likely to be high.
(Photo, of the March 23 protest in Sofia: Yvo Bojkov)