Bulgaria’s EU Presidency: Hectic last minute preparations

Written by on December 20, 2017 in Europe - Comments Off on Bulgaria’s EU Presidency: Hectic last minute preparations

The National Palace of Culture (NDK) is a giant object with the charm of a shoe box. Once the building was completed in 1980, student brigades came to help clean and prepare the new “achievement of the socialist fatherland”. That bunker was built for party congresses, during which everyone would agree with the regime’s plans introduced in endless monologues.

Culture was another purpose. The communist regime under dictator Todor Zhivkov would award itself for the brutality it reigned the country with, by putting great artists on the NDK’s stage.

Much later, during the first years of the new millennium, countless concerts would take place at the NDK, mostly in Hall One, which seats 3800 people. When the orchestra pit is not needed, chairs can increase that number to just over 4000.

In 2004, promoters paid 6000 leva per night for Hall One. Still, the NDK management insisted on having its own balcony for all concerts. The bosses would invite friends or business partners to experience shows and concerts from above.

In spite of all the money coming in, when the NDK still provided the largest concert hall in the city, the building was not in a very good state. During a concert with the famous Bulgarian vocalist Kamelia Todorova in a hall in the basement, she and her audience were forced to inhale diesel clouds, which came from the refuse lorries moving in a service tunnel below.

Back then, some bathrooms belonging to the backstage rooms for artists were flooded. Musicians from abroad complained about the fact that there never was any toilet paper. This applied to the public toilets as well. While Bulgarians were used to this, and always brought their own Kleenex tissues, foreign artists did not. Besides, the public bathrooms had this constant smell, which was probably caused by a wastewater pipe leak.

Today, in late 2017, twelve days before Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union commences, things look different. The square in front of the National Palace of Culture was refurbished, parts of the interior of the NDK, including the corridors, were renovated too.

Hall Three was converted into an attractive conference hall, which seems to be ready to go. The other day, Bulgaria’s Minister for the Bulgarian Euro-Presidency, Lilyana Pavlova, showed off that hall to media representatives.

On Tuesday, the Presidency’s schedule was introduced. According to Pavlova, it will be officially approved today, by the Council of Ministers.

During Bulgaria’s EU Presidency, as many as 300 official events will take place, mostly in Sofia. Those include a big summit in mid-May, more than 50 conferences and 32 ministerial meetings.

Minister Pavlova (centre, in red) is overlooking the preparations. Photo: EU2018BG.

In most cases, the meetings will be held in Bulgarian, one of the EU’s official languages. This aspect will make things a lot easier for Bulgarian officials and politicians, whose English is “a bit rusty”. The latter applies to many of them, but not to all.

Pavlova told Bulgarian National Television (BNT) that some meetings would be open to the general public. And she listed the four priorities the Bulgarian EU Presidency will have:

> Young Europeans

> Security and stability in Europe

> The Western Balkans

> The digital economy

The hectic last minute preparations also include security, provided by a “Unified Sofia Security System”. More than 3000 CCTV cameras will be pointed at everyone and everything, from all angles, 24 hours a day, live and in living colour. The only places without camera? Those should be the bathrooms.

A cultural programme was also put together.

Sofia’s 1.3 million inhabitants already know there will be inconvenient aspects. The routes used by EU officials, e.g. from Sofia Airport to the NDK, will be blocked at times. So will the areas around the NDK, Sofia Tech Park and Boyana Residence.

Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union even got a shiny new website in several languages. Especially the Bulgarian and English versions are being kept up to date, while the French and German ones are dragging behind. C’est dommage.

Hundreds of CCTV cameras are hastily being installed as we speak, the rest of the preparations have just been completed. Everyone involved can now go ahead and gain weight during many nice holiday dinners.








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