Public outrage over inferno at Plovdiv’s ‘Tobacco Town’ warehouses

The huge fire that devastated historic warehouses in the Tobacco Town precinct of Plovdiv has sparked a wave of public outrage, with a public protest flashmob held in Bulgaria’s second city on August 21.

Police began inspections at the site of the fire on August 21 while officials from the cultural heritage protection inspectorate at the Ministry of Culture were exepcted to arrive on August 22, to decide on options for restoring the buildings, local media said.

The buildings that severely damaged in the fire, which burnt for many hours into the night on August 20, are part of a group meant to be protected under Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act.

Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office has initiated pre-trial proceedings againt unknown perpetrators.

The deputy head of the Interior Ministry regional directorate in Plovdiv, Georgi Georgiev, said that the fire had started in one place and he could not confirm that it was matter of arson. The necessary forensic investigation would be required to tell how the fire started and why, he said.

Plovdiv municipality said that on August 22, it would clarify who the owners were of the burnt warehouses, after checking the records over the years.

Slavcho Atanassov, a former mayor of Plovdiv who now heads the National Assembly committee on culture, said he was not aware who owned the warehouses.

“They are privately owned – this is a serious problem. From now on, much depends on the decision that the experts will take, whether the fire was deliberate, or happened because of other circumstances,” Atanassov said.

The Chamber of Architects in Plovdiv said that even in regard to private property, the Cultural Heritage Act provided mechanisms that allowed the municipality and the state to take appropriate measures in such situations.

Petkana Bakalova, deputy head of the chamber, said that the most important thing was to seek accountability, the owners, the municipality and the Ministry of Culture “because in recent years, these buildings were left to die quietly in circumstances that our legislation provides all the necessary measures for them to be saved”.

“When an owner is not willing to take care of a building, that is important for the whole society. Our heritage belongs to Europe and the world. This is part of a civilisation that is currently being allowed to be destroyed and this is a huge responsibility.”

For the next three days, motor vehicle access to the four streets around the burnt warehouses will remain restricted. Residents will not be evacuated, however.

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Bulgarian National Radio pointed out that August 21 was the birthdate, in 1862, of Dimitar Kudoglu, perhaps the biggest benefactor in Bulgaria in the 20th century, who had donated two of the buildings to the state.

According to BNR, two of the warehouses are owned by businessman and former honorary consul of Italy in Plovdiv, Pietro Luigi Ghia. The third building has 10 owners.

A few blocks away is the 8 Odrin Street tobacco warehouse that was the subject of an attempted demolition some months ago that prosecutors say was unlawful.

On the evening of August 21, hundreds of people gathered outside the fence around the burnt tobacco warehouses, in a flashmob organised on social networks. Some of the protesters held a large green banner, reading “citizens against the mafia” – a trademark slogan and symbol of the 2013/14 public anti-government protests by Bulgarians rejecting the undue influence of organised crime and corruption in public life.

Those expressing outrage, including artists, architects, many young people and families, said that part of the reason for their indigation was the very fact of the scandal over the 8 Odrin Street property, which brought the state and fate of the “Tobacco Town” precinct to the fore and “something like this was not supposed to happen”.

The protesters said that neither the police nor the prosecutor’s office were doing their jobs

“This fire is symbolic not only of Plovdiv. It is symbolic for the whole state of the country at the moment. We do not just not respect our cultural heritage, we set it on fire.”

(Photos via the Facebook page of Maria Cappone)



The Sofia Globe staff

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