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Bulgarian Regions - Part 4

Unused opportunities in region of eastern Bulgaria

Photo: Pixabay

Eastern Bulgaria is divided into two planning regions framed by the lower Danube River to the north, the Black Sea to the east and Bulgaria’s southern neighbor Turkey. What are the specific characteristics of Eastern Bulgaria - north and south of the Balkan mountain range?

The interview with economist Adrian Nikolov of the Institute for Market Economics (IME) starts from the administrative center of the northeast - Varna, where over 336 thousand people live:

“The interesting thing is that Varna municipality is not a champion of the area in terms of salaries and employment. Devnya, known as the center of the chemical industry, retains its industrial leadership. It attracts workers from surrounding municipalities and maintains a vibrant, high-wage industry that provides good employment. (According to the IME, withinvestments of 92,300 euros per person, the municipality of Devnya has the highest foreign direct investments per capita; the average wage is 838 euros per month, which is more than the levels of Sofia and Plovdiv).

The problem is in the so-called mixed regions (where Bulgarians and Turks are living) - Razgrad, Targovishte, Silistra. So far, they have been lagging behind in terms of many of the economic recovery processes. The district center of Dobrich is also very interesting as it continues to maintain its strong agricultural profile against the backdrop of increasingly industrialized Bulgaria. Unfortunately, this keeps average wages low (505 euros at the end of 2019, according to the NSI). This is the big problem there as Dobrich has difficulties attracting workers from neighboring municipalities and districts because of the lower standard of living.

If we were to name local leadersthat push the rest of the economy of northeast Bulgaria forward, these are undoubtedly Varna - a tourist center and Black Sea port, a place for logistics and trade, and Devnya - a place of strong industry.

It is a curious fact that the northeastern region is more tied to Romania than to Bulgaria's economy and logistics.

Historically, however, the southeastern region of Bulgaria has always been associated with Turkey - a metropolis with a population of 17 million like Istanbul is a huge market. How much does this connection help the region and does it have other potentials?

"When it comes to the municipalities in the Burgas region, we have been observing very negative economic processes.

Yambol is a very interesting case. There, several large industrial investments have managed to push the city's economy forward quickly. (In additionto the traditionally strong agricultural sector, food industry and textile production, the municipality has been able to attract producers of automotive electrical equipment, hydraulic equipment, tools, etc.) But we're talking about a low value-added industry and this is part of the problems of this smaller type of economic centers in southern Bulgaria.

Sliven is different story – it is one of the places in southern Bulgaria that has remained away from the general trend of strong economic activity and where serious unemployment exists, especially among the youth. Burgas, as a regional center, fails to replicate Varna's industrial development model. Tourism is much stronger to the south, but it only creates temporary employment."

In this region of Bulgaria there is another specific area - Kardzhali in the Eastern Rhodopes, near the border of two neighboring countries Turkey and Greece. This part of Bulgaria is characterized by very interesting dynamics, the analystsays:

"In many municipalities, there is a strong rise in population as there is clearly people’s interest in moving to this region. Turkey's proximity is a significant factor as many Turkish companies are concentrated there. When the crisis in Greece was severe, part of the Greek business also focused on the region. But the mountainous terrain is a problem. Kardzhali is very difficult to connect with the rest of Bulgaria and somehow naturally the economic connection is stronger with northern Greece and Turkey than with the rest of Bulgaria.”

Can we seek for the simultaneous and even development of all Bulgarian regions? We shall be looking for an answer to this question in the continuation of the conversation with Adrian Nikolov in Radio Bulgaria’s series dedicated to Bulgarian regions.

English: Alexander Markov

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