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Vol 3, No 6
12 February 2001
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Bulgaria News Review News from Bulgaria
All the important news
since 3 February 2001

Matilda Nahabedian


Stricter control over beef imports

"We shall tighten customs control to prevent illegal import of paltry and beef," said Iliyan Batchvarov, Chief of the National Veterinary Service. A General Ordinance will be signed to the attention of the Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Finance before 15 February to tighten the customs control over meat imports. From the customs check-point to the storehouses, the freights will be under strict control. Illegal products, imported after having been confiscated, will be destroyed, said Boris Stoimeonov, chairman of the Poultry Breeders Association. These measures come after the increasing risk of Mad Cow disease in Europe.


UDF is the expected winner in the upcoming elections

Surveys conducted in January show that the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) will be the likely winner of the parliamentary elections to be held in about five months. If elections were held now, 28.4 percent of Bulgarians would vote for the UDF and 18.2 percent for the opposition Socialist Party, according to a Sova-Harris survey published in Monitor on Monday 5 February.

The ruling UDF was losing ground for nearly a year, which led some analysts to forecast it would collapse like the Socialist Party did in the elections in 1997. But now the UDF seems to be regaining the confidence of its electorate, Tsvetozar Tomov said, commenting on the Sova-Harris survey.


Measures against people trafficking

Bulgaria is cooperating with the other European countries to combat against the trafficking of people, the press office of the Interior Ministry said in connection with information aired by the BBC Radio that Bulgaria is a staging post for westbound illegal emigrants coming from China and the Middle East. The BBC based its information on maps and analyses on the operation of rings for human trafficking published in The Guardian and The Independent.

A check at the Border Police showed that 103 Chinese citizens passed through the country in 2000 on legal transit visas en route to destinations in other countries. 3850 Chinese citizens visited Bulgaria last year, and 3643 exited the country. The overall number of Chinese citizens that are currently officially residing in Bulgaria is 169. One-year residence permits were granted to 1434 Chinese citizens in 2000. 11,777 citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Jordan passed through Bulgaria on legal transit visas, the Border Police said.


Newly elected radio director should resign

In a declaration read over state radio, journalists working for that institution on 6 February protested against the nomination of Ivan Borislavov earlier that day as director of Bulgarian Radio, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Borislavov, a poet and translator, was appointed to the position by the National Council on Radio and Television, but the journalists said the appointment was politically motivated.

The council's members are nominated by the government, the President and Parliament, and the vote in Borislavov's favor was seven to two. The threat comes only weeks after a similar strike led to the resignation of the new head of Czech television. The BBC said many of the region's state television and radio stations are facing a moral and financial crisis.


Arguable constitutional court decision

The constitutional court in Bulgaria has ruled that H M King Simeon cannot stand as a presidential candidate later this year. A number of parliamentary deputies had appealed to the court to allow the candidacy of former King Simeon, after he indicated that he wanted to play a public role in Bulgaria following the collapse of communism. But the court said that he had to have lived in the country for at least five years to qualify.

King Simeon, who is now 63 and exiled in Spain, ruled Bulgaria while still a child, before being deposed after the Second World War. The post-Communist authorities in Bulgaria restored his property and Simeon has since visited the country several times.


On the ailing state of the wine industry

Bulgarian wine gurus have declared the time is ripe to give a new lease of life to the Balkan state's ailing vineyards and re-conquer old markets. The country was once the true vineyard of the Eastern bloc, but with the fall of Communism, Bulgaria lost many of its traditional consumers. Efforts to gain a permanent presence in the West have been difficult, due to costs and competition.

The past five years have seen a particular decline. Exports to European Union countries have almost halved in two years, from 44.5 million liters in 1998 to 24.85 million liters last year. There has been an annual decline in exports of 20 to 30 percent since 1996.

The Bulgarian wine sector has had to contend with Europe's growing taste for Australian and South African vintages, as well as for wines from Russia and Macedonia, which have a Bulgarian label but have nothing to do with the country.

"The vineyards are old and not well looked after. The quality of wine is not stable, nor is the production," said Joe Rodriguez, vice-president of the US wine trader Old Sea Corporation, which bought the wine cellar Vinprom Rousse two years ago. The EU is financing a EUR 2.5 million program, part of which will be used to procure advanced production equipment, wine sampling stations and to set up a registry of wine cellars.


Military industry demonstrations

On 7 February, some 4000 workers in the military industry demonstrated in Sofia against the government's neglect of the problems of that sector. They said the cabinet lacks a clear-cut plan to deal with the debt-ridden industry. The protesters also said wages have not been paid for several months.

Most of the demonstrators work in the VMZ plant in Spot, some 150 kilometers east of Sofia. A local union leader cited by the AP said the future of the whole area depends on the fate of the company. The government put VMZ up for sale in March 2000, but investors have shown little interest. The company has run up a BGL (Bulgarian lev) 68 million (USD 32.7 million) debt to the state budget.


Tortured Bulgarians in Libya?

Amnesty International on 7 February said it was "concerned" over Libya's handing of the six Bulgarian health workers charged with deliberately infecting children with the HIV virus in a Benghazi hospital. Jurgens Carsten, who is in charge of the Middle East in the organization, told Reuters that the Bulgarian medics "were detained two years ago and had spent one year without legal or medical help." He said that Amnesty's "major concern is that Libya has not investigated allegations of use of torture against the medics" during the year-long pre-trial period.

Libyan lawyer Osman Byzanti said two of his clients told him they had confessed under duress. In June 2000, Bulgarian Justice Minister Teodossyi Simeonov said the medics had been tortured during the investigation and the nurses among them were pressured to convert to Islaam.


And in other news...

  • The European Commission and the World Bank have developed a web site designed to be an information source for those interested in working for the economic reconstruction of South Eastern Europe. The countries covered include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, FYR Macedonia and Romania.
  • Law-enforcement liaison officers from eight countries opened a two-day international conference in Sofia on Wednesday 7 February, the Interior Ministry said in a press release. Taking part are some 40 liaison officers accredited to Bulgaria and the Balkan region from Britain, Belgium, the United States, Australia, Germany, Israel, Spain, France and the Netherlands and representatives of the Delegation of the European Commission in Sofia and the UN Mission in Kosovo. Experts will discuss the joint effort to fight drug trafficking. Maurice Kemball, a former liaison officer at the British Embassy, who is now special adviser to Interior Minister Yordanov and who initiated the meeting, familiarized the participants with Bulgaria's record of achievement in countering narcotics smuggling, as it takes credit for some of the largest heroin seizures.
  • Kraft Foods International, a unit of Philip Morris Co, said it would buy two coffee businesses in Europe, strengthening its market positions in Bulgaria and Romania. Kraft's purchase of Bulgaria's Nova Brasilia makes Kraft Foods Bulgaria the leader in the country's coffee market. Its deal with Supreme Imex Romania makes it the number two brand of coffee in Romania. Terms of the deals were not disclosed. "As coffee is a core business of Kraft Foods worldwide, these additions will be important for us as we move to further develop our business in these growing markets," Michel Boon, the company's area director in the Balkans, said in a statement.
  • The question concerning the transportation of spent nuclear fuel from the Kozloduy nuclear power station to Russia has been resolved, said Vasiliy Zhidkov, director of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine. The fuel will be deposited in the Chelyabinsk depository in the town of Ozersk. Several trips from Bulgaria both to Ozersk and Zheleznogorsk are planned.
  • The most important thing for Bulgarian-Macedonian relations at the moment is that Bulgaria does not introduce visa requirements for Macedonian citizens, Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim said in an interview for the Skopje-based Dnevnik daily. Kerimbelieves that Skopje and Sofia use the same vocabulary in respect to NATO and EU integration. "We are prepared to exit the Balkan phase of bilateral relations," he says, adding that it is impossible to maintain Balkan-style relations with Bulgaria and European-style relations with Germany or France. Insisting on the rapid development of economic ties on the Balkans, especially in infrastructure, Kerim expressed his disappointment with the sluggish implementation of quick-start Stability Pact projects.

Matilda Nahabedian, 9 February 2001

Moving on:


RFE/RL's Bulgarian Section


Jan Čulík
Czech Census

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungary's Century

Brian J Požun
The Burden of History

Oliver Craske
The EU in Wonderland

Andreas Beckmann
Not So Green

Michael Brooke
Russian Invasion

Eleanor Pritchard
Who Are the Macedonians?

Štěpán Kotrba NEW!
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Andrea Mrozek
Who Needs Czechs?

Mihailo Jovović
Breaking Up is Easy


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