In Bulgaria, the mayor’s chair sometimes is not easy to occupy – especially, for instance, if it has been seized and sold by debt collectors. Mayors have been making lots of news lately, for reasons they may or may not like, in some cases because of the coming municipal elections, in one case for sprinkling sugar on the road.
It is the mayor of the town of Nova Zagora, Nikolai Grozev, who is the sugar-sprinkler.
Grozev is indulging in the unusual practice to ward off motor accidents, or as he has put it, to “banish the evil omen”.
It was “difficult”, he conceded to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, to ask the municipality to buy 50kg of sugar for the purpose of it being sprinkled in all directions – literally – towards Rousse, Svilengrad, Plovdiv, Sofia, Bourgas.
“This is a symbolic gesture,” said Grozev, sprinkling. “We want, particularly in the territory of our municipality, but also throughout Bulgaria, for people to be more reasonable, to drive carefully.”
Across in the municipality of Sopot, life at the council building was getting more or less back to normal after the debt collectors came through to confiscate items because of an arrear debt of 3.5 million leva. Among the items seized and sold was the mayor’s chair, which went for a reported 74.50 leva at auction.
Vesselin Lichev, mayor of Sopot, told reporters that the council would buy new equipment. It remained unclear, as of May 27, whether the state would agree to grant, as the council hopes, an interest-free loan of 3.5 million leva to settle the remainder of the debt to the company that built the wastewater treatment facility that caused all the trouble.
In Sopot, references to the council chairperson or to a standing committee would probably be lost in translation or at very least, unwelcome.
In the Petrich region village of Samuilovo, meanwhile, mayor Kiril Stoyanov has problems of his own, and got on national television as the “lawn-trimming mayor”.
For the second year running, the municipal council has voted no money for employing labour through social programmes, and so mayor Stoyanov has taken the lead himself, trimming the village’s green spaces, and paying local unemployed people out of his own pocket to help him.
In Obzor at the Black Sea coast, mayor Hristo Yanev is taking an unconventional approach to litterbugs, offering to personally clean up after them.
Yanev has put up a sign intended to shame people into not littering or to cleaning up after themselves.
Obzor is on the main road between the Black Sea cities of Bourgas and Varna, and is plagued by motorists who throw litter out of their car windows.
Yanev’s sign, addressed to “dear travellers”, tells them that having thrown out their rubbish and polluted the environment, they should call him personally so that he can come to pick up. The sign, in large letters, advertises his personal mobile phone number.
With local elections coming to Bulgaria in autumn 2015, people have been on the move – on paper at least – and there have been a series of media reports about peculiar sharp increases in address registrations, in what appear to be attempts to manipulate municipal vote outcomes.
As BNT so aptly put it, “six months before the municipal elections, deserted villages suddenly find themselves attractive destinations for hundreds of voters and whole new neighbourhoods emerge”.
These notable influxes are beginning to keep prosecutors busy, as they investigate whether the law on address registration is being broken. Already, there has been significant population growth in districts of Vidin, Kyustendil, Montana and Pernik.
Among the latest is the small town of Boboshevo (population officially about 1400, but growing fast) in western Bulgaria.
Boboshevo Krum Marinov mayor told reporters, “I myself have temporarily registered my son and my daughter, because they are my family and it is natural for them to support me in the elections. I suppose my opponents have also made such registrations”.
In Plovdiv, which will be European Capital of Culture in 2019 and is rightly proud (as is mayor Ivan Totev) of the fact, the first citizen has had other problems.
With considerable fanfare (again literally, from an orchestra in tuxedos and tails) Totev launched the renovated musical fountains in the centre of the city, an attraction back in business after many years in which repairs and a revamp were badly needed.
The relaunch of the newly-landscaped “singing fountains” was a grand affair, drawing crowds so considerable as to make it difficult for anyone not in the first ranks of the throng to see anything at all, though the music was nice.
However, when it became clear that children were delighting in treating the fountains as a free outdoor swimming pool, local media thundered about irresponsible parents looking on while their offspring splashed about, especially in the balmy weather of the Sunday following the launch.
In turn, Totev issued a media statement, cautioning about the potential dangers, including the fact that the water was heavily treated with chemicals to prevent the proliferation of parasites. The municipality, it was announced, had immediately ordered signs warning that bathing in the fountains was forbidden, and adding that nearby there was what is called a “dry fountain” (splashing up jets of water from the ground next to the pool, er, fountain) that was suitable for the little ones to enjoy themselves.
Matters worsened for Totev two days later with reports that the newly-restored fountain had cracks in it, and got worse still when the giant multi-coloured Plovdiv 2019 sign put up elsewhere in the central city also was cracked, a few days after it was unveiled – the cracks resulting partly from vandalism and partly from the eagerness of people to lean on the letters while being photographed.
While he had everybody’s attention, Totev – who has been something of a dynamo in renovating and developing his city – added a stirring call on the theme of civic responsibility, telling people to exercise it in all areas, including against people who threw cigarette butts on the streets of Plovdiv.
He didn’t say anything about sugar, though.