Balkan, Bulgaria's national airline cancelled all European flights on Wednesday last week, after the pilots demanded higher wages and safer working conditions. The strike involves all 260 pilots and engineers who also demanded a clear program for the development of the airline from the management. Balkan staff have been at odds with the Zeevi Group since it bought 75 percent of the company last June for USD 150,000, pledging to invest USD 100 million over five years and to pay the company's debts of USD 100 million. The strike continued on Thursday. Management refused to negotiate with the pilots. "Instead of making a step towards us they are hiring planes from foreign airlines," said Krassimir Lyutskanov, captain of a Boeing 737 crew.
The average monthly salary for pilots was a ridiculous USD 250. In contrast, Israeli pilots make a lot more than this, but passengers in Bulgaria still pay the same for tickets. The management tried to transfer some of the flights to local and foreign carriers like Greece's Olympic Airways, but they refused out of solidarity with the strike. All of the pilots' demands have been rejected. "The airline will lose about USD one million every day of the strike," Barukh Chakurov, the airline's deputy chairman, said in an interview.
The European Union raised Bulgaria's hopes of membership by announcing a grant of USD 223 million this year to encourage the country's growth. The new EU grants to Bulgaria will be allocated through pre-accession programs SAPARD, ISPA, PHARE.
The sale of Bulgaria's 51 percent stake in telecom monopoly BTC to the Greek/Dutch consortium OTE/KPN will be finalized in the next few months, officials said last Tuesday. The consortium raised its final offer in March to USD 600 million from USD 510 million. KPN Executive Director of Central and Eastern Europe Marten Pieters said at the same conference that his firm wanted to close the deal "before the summer holidays."It will be interesting to know, however, if this is in any way related to an announcement, published in the New York Times on Wednesday last week, mentioning the intent of Spain's largest telephone operator Teléfonica SA to buy Royal KPN for USD 54.5 billion.
Bulgarian customs at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint seized over 20 kg (44 lb) of heroin in a Romanian-registered car heading from Turkey to Romania. The production price of the drug of 40 packages was estimated at USD 910,000. The driver, a 23-year-old Romanian citizen, has been arrested. Another sixty kilos of the drug have been found in two separate incidents: in a truck travelling from Turkey to Bosnia and in a car at a Macedonian border-crossing.
A total of 468 kilos of heroin has been seized since the beginning of 2000 by Bulgarian customs officers-more than twice as much as during the whole of 1999. Bulgaria has recently re-enforced traffic control along its borders as part of a drive against organized crime. It is a well-known fact, that the country lies on the main route used for trafficking drugs from Asia into Western Europe.
About fifty percent of Bulgarian agricultural products are organically grown because, being strapped for cash, farmers do not use pesticides and other chemicals. Therefore this country may offer organic foods on the international market, said Darko Znaor, international consultant of the Ecozemedelie company, during a discussion on "Agriculture and the Environment" at the Agribusiness Forum '2000 which opened on Thursday last week. Bulgaria can carve a niche in the USD 12 billion international market for organic products. (BTA)
Nadia Rozeva, 28 April 2000