Plovdiv’s ‘Tobacco Town’ controversy: discrepancy in documents to be checked

A key part of the investigation into the controversial attempt to demolish a historic warehouse in Plovdiv’s “Tobacco Town” is expected to be the discrepancy between different documents, one saying that the building was not a monument of culture and another saying that it was.

Demolition work began on March 6, the Sunday of a four-day long weekend, causing outrage and protests.

The following day, prosecutors announced that they were investigating the matter, while the Ministry of Culture announced in the afternoon that it had established that the building, which is in a precinct featuring several large houses dating from the 1920s and 1930s when Plovdiv was a centre of the tobacco trade, had been protected by statute since 1977.

However, at a March 7 meeting with people indignant about the demolition project – reportedly to make way for a 10-storey hotel – Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev showed a document, dated 2010, that asserted that the building was not a monument of culture.

It was apparently on the basis of this document that Plovdiv chief architect Roumen Russev had given the go-ahead for the new building project at the 8 Odrin Street site.

On the morning of March 8, heavy machinery had been removed from the site. Employees of the firm that had been hired to carry out the demolition had fenced off the site and normal traffic around it had resumed. Reportedly, an order to halt the demolition of the building had been handed over.

Local media said that those who had protested against the demolition continued to observe the situation at the site of the warehouse.

Bulgarian National Television said that prosecutors had begun gathering documentation in their investigation into the demolition of the tobacco warehouse.

The report said that the municipality had found a discrepancy in documentation after beginning a detailed review.

Mayor Totev said that it was for the authorities to investigate the discrepancy. He said that it had not been possible to do such a check earlier because of the large amount of projects submitted to the municipal administration daily.

“Anyone who submits documents bears the responsibility,” Totev said. If the municipality cross-checked everything, it would take “probably three weeks” for the municipality to issue certificates, he said.

Asked whether such a check should not be conducted in the case of an important building such as the one at the centre of the controversy, Totev said that there was no statutory guidance to determine which building was important and which was not.

Chief architect Rusev said that the owners were intermediaries between the Institute of Immovable Cultural Heritage and local government, and this was why the certificate they provided had been the basis to give the go-ahead for the construction project.

Plovdiv’s Chamber of Architects has called for the owners to be compelled to rebuild the warehouse as it was.

Archive photo: BNT
Archive photo: BNT

Bulgarian National Radio quoted architect Zhana Dzhugalanova of the National Institute of Immovable Cultural Heritage as saying that there were two documents, but only one of them was in the national documentary archive. Reports said that the document showed by mayor Totev lacked the names and signatures of the issuing officials.

In a statement on March 8, Culture Minister Vezdhi Rashidov said that the tobacco warehouse at Plovdiv’s 8 Odrin Street should be restored to its original appearance.

Rashidov said that he had issued an order to initiate proceedings to impose administrative sanctions on those responsible for the destruction of immovable cultural value, as it is termed in Bulgarian law.

The people who had destroyed the tobacco warehouse, as well as those who had made this possible, had egregiously violated the provisions of the Cultural Heritage Act, Rashidov said.

In January 2014, the Ministry of Culture had informed Plovdiv municipality that the tobacco warehouse was within a protected area and “all interventions” required consent under the Cultural Heritage Act.

“The Ministry of Culture will exercise all the powers conferred on it by law in the aftermath of the damage to cultural heritage,” Rashidov said.

Local media said that Georgi Branekov, a member of the board of directors and manager of the company that owns the building, had declined to comment.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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