“Our protest is for the Pirin National Park, but also against corruption at all levels, against dependent politicians who wouldn’t like to obey the law. This is also a protest against lawlessness. Because the Pirin Mountain and its saving are a symbol of all this!” These are the words that “For the Nature” coalition, unifying several environmental organizations, use to appeal to all Bulgarians in this country and abroad to join the protest against the 12/28/2017 decision of the Council of Ministers which provides a possibility for construction works on the territory of the Pirin National Park. The NGOs also want the resignation of Minister of the Environment and Waters Neno Dimov, also the revealing of the actual owner of the Yulen Company and an international audit of the concession with the participation of the civil society.
In response Minister Dimov assured Pirin’s defenders that no hotel and spa facilities would be built, but sports infrastructure only. The plan’s change also allows water catchments for drinking water. However, the environmentalists state that the decision of the cabinet weakens Pirin’s protection by opening the gate for logging of centuries-old forests. Pirin is also the home of bears, wolves, wild goats, rare screech-owl and woodpecker species and also of over 70 endemic plants, 30 of which can only be seen there. That is why no compensatory planting can make up for the disastrous impact on Pirin nature. It is also the only national park which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Over 1,000 written statements and more than 100,000 letters from citizens from all over the world have been submitted to the ministry of environment and waters in defense of the park:
“We see in dozens of European cities, but also in Australia Bulgarian citizens who live there stepping out in the streets and organizing protests on their own in support of Pirin,” says environmentalist Borislav Sandov. “This comes to reveal the still existing sensitivity of the Bulgarian diaspora on these issues, which is essential. It means that Bulgaria has to do a lot more for the popularization and preservation of that heritage, in order to stay in touch with Bulgarians abroad. I hope that this global support and the one of our partners with the EP will result in the solving of the case with Pirin. Then the really important issues of tourist development will be part of the agenda. In fact ski services and facilities here are much more expensive than across renowned European resorts, but accommodation prices and entertainment prices are much lower. So, Bansko has being turned into a cheap alcohol destination, just like Sunny Beach and all its vices that no one dares to discuss.”
Many have been fooled and think that the protesters jump against ski tourism development, as the focus of true problems has been deliberately replaced by the claim on green light provided for the construction of a second lift only. Most of the protesters are young people who are into skiing or snowboarding, or mountaineering and are in love with nature. They have many times touched its wildest forms, far away from pubs and fancy hotels which have been taking it all over step by step. Bansko used to be a calm little town once, with cozy and clean houses. Mountain fans saw it as the end of civilization and from there they could start climbing the second-highest peak in Bulgaria – Vihren (2,914 m).
“Locals who lived on round-the-year tourism, related to the Pirin Mountain now no longer have their place there,” says Borislav Sandov. “The monopolization of the tourist sector and the ski area affects all of this. The small picturesque town has now lost its authentic image with the typical Balkan small houses, tasty home-made food and beautiful nature, which is a pity. Bulgaria’s winter resorts cannot compare with the Alps in terms of the angle of inclination, height and length of their slopes. Pirin is 100 times smaller than the Alps and we do not offer quality which reflects our cultural identity, i.e. we work against ourselves. Furthermore, the logging of the forest creates prerequisites for erosion and floods. That was why the local Glazne River overflew and flooded everything around some time ago. The greatest the logging, the huger the disastrous impact of floods. Casualties are possible too.”
The protests have been ongoing and the future will show how this story will end up.
English version: Zhivko Stanchev