Five groups of protesters disrupted an August 5 meeting of Varna city council, delaying the start of the meeting by hours and succeeding, in some cases, in getting controversial items dropped from the council agenda.
The meeting was the last one scheduled before mayoral and municipal elections are held in Bulgaria on October 25.
More than 400 protesters, from various groups, occupied the plenary hall of the municipal headquarters in Bulgaria’s main Black Sea city.
Some had come to protest against a development plan for the city’s Chaika neighbourhood, others to oppose a plan for the construction of a residential building for socially-vulnerable people – effectively meaning Roma people, others still over the issue of naming a sole carrier in connection with the project for integrated public transport.
A different group was protesting about concerns over funding for in vitro procedures, and a further group – reportedly the most vociferous – consisted of fans of a football club, making their grievances known.
Varna mayor Ivan Portnih, who in the October elections is the GERB party candidate for re-election, arrived in the hall some time after the scheduled start of proceedings.
According to a report by Bulgarian National Radio, he told the crowd that if the meeting was not held, the municipality would be at risk of losing 150 million leva in European funds that were extremely important for the city and its infrastructure.
Portnih’s arrival had been greeted with cheers, groans and shouts of “resign!”, the report said.
He said that the agenda item about the Roma integration plan should be dropped from the agenda because of the tension it was causing. Councillors voted to approve this, to applause from the crowd.
The day before the meeting, a petition with 4500 signatures was submitted to the municipal administration, stating opposition to the plan to plan to build flats in the Vazrazhdane residential district, said to be part of Varna Municipality’s plan for integration of Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin and other Bulgarian citizens in a socially disadvantaged situation similar to that of Roma people.
Portnih, addressing those protesting over the in vitro issue, said that he would not allow commitments under the in vitro funding plan not to be met.
Councillors voted 39 in favour, one against and with one abstention to withdraw a decision to adopt a new comprehensive development plan for the Chaika area, a matter that has been the subject of discontent in Varna for months.
At the council meeting, it transpired that demolition of illegal buildings is to start next week in the predominantly Roma residential district Maksuda.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)