All the blockades that had closed border crossings between Bulgaria and Greece were lifted on the afternoon of February 21 2016.
Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said that the flow of traffic through the Ilinden checkpoint was restored soon after 4pm. All types of vehicles were being let through. Some time before 5pm, there were about 40 waiting lorries and 15 cars.
The blockades at the Ivailovgrad and Zlatograd had been lifted soon after 3pm, the Interior Ministry said. Vehicle traffic is both directions had been restored. There were no reports of queues at Ivailovgrad border checkpoint.
The ministry said that according to preliminary information, Zlatograd would remain open until 8am on February 22.
The Interior Ministry said that it had been informed that vehicle traffic in both directions for all types of vehicles had been underway at the Kulata – Promachonas border checkpoint since some time after 3pm.
The blockade at the Kapitan Petko Voivoda checkpoint also had been lifted, as had the blockade at Makaza.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio said that at a meeting at the Kulata checkpoint, a committee of Bulgarian lorry drivers and representatives of industry organisations had decided to lift the blockade on all border checkpoints on the Bulgarian side.
They said that they had lifted the blockade to prevent it being exploited in talks scheduled for February 22 between Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Greek farmers who for weeks have been mounting blockades inside Greece and at its borders in protest against pension system reforms.
The blockade had been lifted because of the severe conditions that drivers were experiencing on the Greek side of the border, Vangel Tsilev of the carriers’ strike committee told the media.
“Someone had to make the first move. I have heard comments from people at Kulata that we have surrendered. I can say that is not true, we took this decision because drivers on Greek territory are in serious distress,” Tsilev said.
“We stand behind our minister (Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski, who has been involved in negotations for days in a bid to resolve the border blockade crisis) and we do not want him to become hostage to a ridiculous Greek strike,” he said.
Moskovski, who earlier this week repeatedly expressed support for the Bulgarian border blockade, on February 21 reversed himself to publicly call on the Bulgarian lorry drivers to end it.
Yordan Arabadzhiev of the union of international carriers told Bulgarian National Radio that the blockade had been lifted because of the serious situation in which thousands of Bulgarians had been left on the Greek side of the border.
Moskovski said that he had called on the Bulgarian carriers to lift the blockade because a humanitarian problem was being exacerbated by the fact that there were hundreds of drivers in need of help.
He added that Bulgarian businesses’ losses because of the blockade at the Greek border would add up to millions of euro.
Bulgaria had requested its embassy in Athens to get the forms to claim compensation for carriers and companies and to lodge claims in Greek courts.
“In parallel, however, we expect the European Commission to respond,” he said.
Referring to sharp comments he had made earlier about the Greek state (among other things, he had referred to it as not functioning) Moskovski said, “excuse me, but I stand behind my every word and confirm that everything I said is fair.”
“At the end of the day, I am the Bulgarian Minister of Transport, I am not the Greek minister of farmers. From now on, however, if the border again is closed from the Greek side without any control, honestly, I do not know who will be held responsible,” Moskovski said.
(Photo of Kulata – Promachonas: Anton Lefterov)