Varna Architect Kalina Pavlova vs. TIM: Being Brave Is Not Being Fearless, but Act Despite Fears

Interview |Author: Maria Guineva | January 19, 2012, Thursday // 14:07|  views

Varna architect, Kalina Pavlova. Photo - personal archive

Meet architect Kalina Pavlova – often called "The Civic Face of Varna." Besides being young, vibrant, beautiful and talented, Kalina is known for her civic activity; for her determination in the effort to make public urban plans of Varna Municipality; for the litigation to protect the right to access of information, and her struggle, along with several Varna associations, against the construction of the so-called "Alley One" in the picturesque Maritime Garden.

In the summer of 2009, several days after the announcement of the official results of the parliamentary elections and GERB's rise to power, residents of the Black Sea capital learned from the media that the former Governor of Varna, Hristo Kontrov, has sold five waterfront parcels with a total area of 117.7 decares to "Holding Varna. The deal between the State, represented by Kontrov and" Holding Varna" was signed on June 15, 2009.

The reported land price in the transaction is BGN 11.8 M, i.e. the Holding has paid about EUR 50 euros per square meter of the five coastal parcels. It emerged soon that private investors, with the help of the municipality, are trying to build a new town on Varna's shoreline on an area of nearly 1 000 decares - 7 hotels, about 500 food and drink establishments and another 300 retail outlets, which will employ about 3 000 people. The plan is for the investors to build and manage the infrastructure, while the facilities and the commercial sites would be rented.

Kalina, together with the Association for Optimization of Justice and Administration (SOPA, which in Bulgarian means stick), "Green Varna," "Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds," the Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development, which she later joined as a member, the "United Civil Society" and The Greens party, organized a subscription and a declaration opposing the deal and requested its annulment.

Details of the deal remained hidden while Kontrov was Governor. The new Governor, Dancho Simeonov, appointed by GERB, though reluctantly, finally showed the contract with acts for public-private ownership of the land plots on "Alley One," but refused to make available other documents from the deal. Simeonov claims that he personally reviewed the documents as did the legal department and both did not find anything wrong.

At this point, local activists began a search for previous acts for this same land - according to an act from 2000, the entire territory was designated as exclusive State property. By law, to change the status of an area from exclusive State to public (State)-private ownership, there must be a decision of the Council of Ministers, however, according to the official Council of Ministers response, the government never passed such decision.

SOPA and The Greens contest both the choice of buyer for the State land and the deal. The main objections target the transparency of the deal and the low sale price of the land. It turned out later that "Holding Varna" participated in the contract as a holder of Certificate for Class A Investor – holders of such certificates enjoy preferential choice as buyers without public tenders and competition, which is considered an incentive measure and State assistance under the Encouragement of Investments Act. In exchange, the Holding is committed to invest EUR 73.1 M in "a complex providing a wide range of public services related to treatment, recovery, rehabilitation, staff development and training of personnel in the tourist sector, organizations of seminars, forums, conferences, information services" etc.

SOPA and The Greens party filed legal claims against the order of the Regional Governor, which designates Holding Varna as the buyer in the deal, and against the Class A Investor Certificate. One of their most important arguments against the deal is Regulation 800 from 2008, of the European Commission, according to which the preferential sale of State land cannot be an act of stimulation of investments.

We should mention that Kalina is not only proactive and tireless; she is brave. Because behind "Holding Varna" stands the powerful Varna group TIM – the same one, which investigative German journalist Jurgen Roth called "the most modern form of organized crime," and former U.S. Ambassador in Sofia, James Pardew, in a classified cable sent to Washington in 2005 – "the new leader of Bulgarian organized crime." This is a group shrouded in mystery, almost nothing is known about it, and nearly no one speaks about these people.

"Alley One" is far from being the only cause of the young architect – she has filed dozens of legal cases against various institutions, which refused her access to public information. For example, she sued and sentenced the Varna Municipality for concealing information about the new general urban development plan, OUP, which has since then been published on the City Hall's website.

For this hard battle and the victory, in September 2009, Kalina was honored by the Program "Access to Information" - she was awarded by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the jury the title "Person of the Year 2009" for outstanding civic courage in her fight for public interests in Bulgaria. In 2011, she received the "Golden Key" of the Program "Access to Information," again for outstanding civic activity associated with the general urban development plan of Varna Municipality, the construction of "Alley One," and the fight for participation of citizens in decision-making. Kalina Pavlova was also nominated for Person of the Year 2011.

She ran in the last local elections for mayor of the city, endorsed by The Greens party. From a total of 17 participants in the race, and although no one gave her a serious chance, Kalina won the impressive 2 853 votes and was ranked eighth among the candidates. Just days ago, she became a member of The Greens.

Despite all this rich biography and activity, she is only 32-year-old. Kalina is a graduate of the High School of Mathematics in Varna and the University of Architecture and Construction in Sofia. She has worked in architectural firms in the Varna Municipality. She is currently a freelance architect.

But not all in Varna are her fans and followers – there are two terminated prosecution probes against her. The first one was based on claims that she had requested money from "Holding Varna" to stop the subscription. The second was filed by ten shareholders in the Holding, claiming that she is committed to and works on a competitive project, from which she is to benefit personally and professionally. The said project is funded by the Dutch government. Titled "My Beach," it aims to prepare a comprehensive vision for the development of the Black Sea coast. Kalina has participated in it as an expert since the time she worked for Varna Municipality. approached Kalina with several questions.

Kalina, how did it all start for you? What made you become such active citizen?

The fact that the general urban development plan, OUP, was designed in the dark, and on top of it, turned into a non-regulated profitable business of the design company, part of the group TIM, and I could not remain indifferent.

You managed to make OUP publically accessible, but are also disagreeing with its content. Why?

OUP of Varna Municipality is the first development plan of the total urban level designed exclusively for private rather than public benefit. Even the Communist regime has not left us more obvious examples of unjust and irrational planning of the territory. Although the law expressly forbids individuals to commission and finance general development plans, Varna's OUP is funded by and prepared for the benefit of private individuals and companies. The Mayor of Varna stubbornly turns a blind eye to this. There is no way for us, citizens, to agree with an OUP designed to benefit specific individuals: providing environmentally hazardous activities, and also planning a number of unnecessary, expensive to implement events.

How far are you with OUP?

We, the six active about the issue Varna NGOs, appealed the Environmental Assessment of OUP Varna, exposing irregularities in the financing of the plan and its dangerous and reckless expectations – a high-speed highway in the city, construction in many forest areas, artificial displacement of the protected area Kazashko, and the planned, even denser, construction on "Alley One." We are also leading several legal cases against the inaction of the Mayor of Varna to fully assemble the file on the plan with the schemas prepared on a private order, and thus to detect and recognize the illegal funding of the OUP. The Access to Information Program is also involved with the case and provides legal assistance for us.

You applied, unsuccessfully, for the post Chief Architect of Varna. What happened?

By requests to access information on the job contest, through which the chief architect of the municipality was appointed, we exposed once again the Varna City Hall for engaging a chief architect without holding a competition, as required by law. This forced the municipality to declare a contest for the position. However, there were no other candidates than the already acting, though without competition, Chief Architect - Peter Yordanov. The Union of Architects in Varna animatedly commented that none of the experienced and respected architects in the city were willing to participate in the contest and work in the conditions created by Mayor, Kiril Yordanov. I decided to, at least, create some competition for the post by joining as a candidate and to test the system. Fairness of this competition would be a first step towards recovery of the system reproducing the negative urban practices of OUP Varna, and the overall process of granting construction permits in Varna.

The contest was held through a test, but two members of the jury – architect Lilyana Kutsarova, whose husband Nikolay Nikolaev is a long-time TIM associate, and architect Georgi Minchev, designer of the plan for "Alley One," by far could not be called impartial jury members, though they had completed written declarations of impartiality to the applying candidates. Architect Georgi Minchev also oversaw the compilation of the test for the contest. In these conditions, the acting Chief Architect won the post with excellent results, and I had 5 out of 3 admissible mistakes. It is also interesting that despite this excellent result on the test and supposedly proven knowledge of the legal framework, the chosen Chief Architect to this day has not taken any actions against the illegal practices in Varna Municipality's OUP.

The contest's procedure spun through the Court system – the Varna Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court did not launch the case at all on merits. They ruled that despite evidence of partiality of the jury members, I have no legal interest to contest the competition. Here we are already facing the absurds of our judicial system that hurdle our efforts to establish law and justice. So, with the help of SOPA lawyers, I filed an appeal with the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

End why did you decide to run for mayor?

I made the decision because I think it is important to show people that we can implement desired changes, including by participating in the structures of power. Thus, the civil society in Varna gave explicit signs that it can nominate new leaders to replace those acting politicians, failing to deal with the problems of society.

How do you see the mayoral race in Varna, which triggered so many comments and headlines in the media? Are you happy with the results or disappointed?

The success of civil society in this campaign is undeniable. It succeeded in establishing the principles of transparency and citizen participation, and the mayoral candidates had to comply with them even in their election campaigning. I noticed with satisfaction that all candidates used slogans for change, borrowed precisely from the citizens' battles in recent years for transparency and accountability of the Municipality, for combatting corruption and for discontinuation of deals unprofitable for the Municipality.

But during the campaign it emerged that not all candidates were authentic fighters for change and civil rights. For example, Mareshki who presented himself as the front-runner of a new positive change, was in fact acting Councilor with some notorious record. Another skillful manipulator was candidate Dobromir Dzhikov. As Mayor of the Vladislav Varnenchik district, he was an accomplice to the administration of Mayor Kiril Yordanov to disguise alerts of activists, during public hearings, that the OUP is funded by private individuals. However, Dzhikov's campaign decided to focus precisely on the "active citizens." But the way it was done showed the manipulative character of the campaign he was leading. A supposedly independent NGO launched a campaign under the slogan "Active Citizens" by interviewing people in order to encourage higher turnout. Subsequently, it was found that the organization was located in Dzhikov's election headquarters and the bracelets and promotional materials, distributed during the interviews, were actually Dzhikov's materials. Thus, active citizens, who completed the survey, including me, almost turned Dzhikov's supporters and voters.

So, a new challenge emerged before our civil society and each voter – to be able to recognize among the many candidates during elections, those who are the authentic champions of change and those who are just puppets. This proved an extremely difficult challenge in the conditions of paid media coverage of campaigns and at extremely high prices, set by the government. In these conditions, only candidates who could pay received a platform for campaigning. And in this campaign, not only nominees of subsidized by the State parliamentary parties, but also many others, proved as having the necessary funds. It is not uncommon for wealthy firms and corporations, with interest in preserving the status quo rather than change it, to be behind them. After all, they have made profits precisely through this status quo. This leads to a sinister suspicion that well-funded challengers for the mayor's post, playing the role of champions of change, but playing it quite falsely, as Mareshki and Dzhikov for example, were actually dummy players. Through them voters can be deceived and diverted and ultimately the status quo is preserved. Election results, which made Kiril Yordanov Mayor for a fourth term and cemented the status quo, only reinforce that suspicion.

Against this background and with almost no funding, the eighth place for me is definitely a good result. Inevitably, with its further development, the civil society will impose not only trends in electoral battles, but will also manage to nominate individuals, who will unite enough voters for real participation in the power.

What do you tell those, who claim that all your activity stems from the attempt to benefit others, not TIM, from the lucrative parcels in the Maritime Garden, you being one of them, or that you have asked money to stop this activity?

The protests, in which I participate, aim to reinstate the legal status of ownership of "Alley One," from private ownership of TIM to public-State property, with free access to citizens. No one else could benefit from this except citizens themselves and our country as a whole. It seems to me that the diligence to cover-up this case, and to intimidate and discredit those citizens involved, already attracted so much attention to the TIM group and politicians in power suspected of ties with them, that a reasonable outcome for all of them would be to rather recognize the nullity of the deal and end the case.

Tell us about the case in the Sofia Administrative Court over "Alley One," President-elect and former Regional Minister, Rosen Plevneliev, and his former Ministry?

As Regional Minister, Rosen Plevneliev had many responsibilities and authority over the "Alley One" case. The Member of the Parliament, Ivan Kostov, made an inquiry before him regarding the legality of the deal, to which Plevneliev replied with the following: "Of course, I have ordered a detailed probe of the procedures, carried out and controlled by the Regional Ministry. Currently, this probe is in conclusion stage; but we are not done yet. For the time being, there is no information on significant violations in the procedure." Later, when I requested access to this probe, to compare it with ours, I received an official answer from the Regional Ministry, that "the requested information was not kept at the institution," meaning that there was no such probe or it evaporated in thin air. This was an absurd situation. The probe, ordered in person by Plevneliev, was non-existent. For this reason, together with the Program for Access of Information, we filed a legal case and attached as evidence the transcript from the Parliamentary session with Rosen Plevneliev's words that he has ordered such probe. Despite the evidence, during the trial, the representative of the Ministry insisted that such probe had not been ordered. With this, he was directly casting doubt on Rosen Plevneliev's words, making the presidential candidate look like a proven, cold-blooded liar. The Court was stunned by the developments and set a deadline for the Ministry to clarify its position. At the end, at the next Court session, the Ministry came up with a statement that there was some probe, but, after over a year, it had not concluded. We are now expecting the rule of the Sofia City Administrative Court, and we hope it will sentence the Ministry to provide access to all documents from the deal of "Alley One," up to the last stage it had reached. The Ministry, however, will have a formal opportunity to appeal the rule before the Supreme Administrative Court, if it is unfavorable for them, thus our access to the conclusions and actions of Rosen Plevneliev and the Regional Ministry in connection with "Alley One," can be further delayed in time, if this is the cabinet's goal.

This is just one of the many legal cases over "Alley One" – are there any developments; what have you achieved?

True, there is countless litigation on the "Alley One" case. Most of it is over access to information. In addition to access to documents, preceding the deal, we have a number of cases for access to information about measures undertaken by different authorities to probe the deal. These cases will end up being crucial, because the Supreme Administrative Court issued a final rule that citizens and civil organizations have no legal interest and cannot challenge deals conducted by the State, even if the sale of exclusive State property is at stake. Such legitimate side can be only power structures like Ministries, Regional Governors, or the Prosecution. So, we must entirely count on institutions for the protection of our rights. This makes our actions to find out their actions or inactions even more important and decisive.

At the end of October, members of SOPA and other the NGOs, which oppose the project, traced the coastal line in the "Alley One" project's zone. At the time, Holding Varna requested police assistance to halt any other unauthorized trespassing in their property. What was the goal of this tracing?

The purpose of the tracing was to show exactly where the authentic beach line of Varna was located before the construction of piers - spurs. We invited Regional Governor, Dancho Simeonov, the Regional Prosecutor and the two mayoral candidates in the upcoming runoff for this demonstration. As already emphasized, the protection of our citizens and interests of law depends entirely on these gentlemen, since they are representatives of institutions, legitimate before the Court, to challenge the illegal deals of the State. If the Governor and the Regional Prosecutor had come, they would have personally witnessed how the representatives of Holding Varna themselves admitted that their property is located in front of the authentic beach and on the built piers - spurs, i.e. on territory impossible to be acquired by private individuals. Although the Governor and the Regional Prosecutor did not come to this demonstration, of course, they learned the facts from the media, and yet, we have not heard of them finally taking any action to declare the nullity of the deal; to the contrary Holding Varna is being issued all sorts of permits.

At the end of November, the Regional Governor of Varna, Dancho Simeonov, signed the project for securing a slope in the Maritime Garden, which is deemed as giving the green light to the controversial "Alley One" project. Now what?

The way for us, citizens, is clear and from here on – we will continue to fight so that the institutions admit and comply with the nullity of the deal with "Alley One." Establishing and declaring the nullity of the deal does not have a deadline, so time is available to us. Of course, we wish for the institutions in Bulgaria to do their work conscientiously and within a foreseeable timeframe, so we are considering collective actions against the damaging inactivity of our institutions to declare the nullity of the deal.

The truth is, however, that this part of the Maritime Garden is quite neglected, and gives grounds to those who support the project to argue that it will change its image positively. We all know about the shacks along the Varna beach. What do you think should be done at this site?

Before being sold for small change to TIM in 2009, the territory was still managed by TIM as concessionaires for 9 years. This shows that we cannot expect this group to make something better of the territory or to yet realize its "Alley One" project. These facts also reveal the entirely speculative nature of the transaction.

In addition, the project for construction of "Alley One" is funded by TIM; protects their interests; was designed in 2002, and no longer corresponds to the 2008 Black Sea Coast Development Act. I think this project should be reconsidered, including by a referendum with citizens.

Is it true that you have received a notarized birthday card from one TIM's founders and key member, Marin Mitev?

Yes, it is true, accompanied by a bouquet of flowers. We even joked at home that there might be a hidden camera inside. And the unprecedented smear war that flared during the elections campaign showed that secret camera shots and their mounting is just the next method of intimidation, discrediting and breaking the will of active citizens, whose causes threaten corporate interests and politicians linked to them.

Who are TIM for you?

A corporation, refusing to obey the law, hiding behind corrupt politicians.

Are you scared?

There is no way to not feel at least some fear, however, the brave are not those who do not fear, but those who act despite these fears, by overcoming them and managing them. This is precisely what we achieved in Varna – we overcame the fear by forming an active civil society from many NGOs and active citizens working in partnership, helping each other.

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Tags: Kalina Pavlova, Alley One, TIM, Hristo Kontrov, Regional Governor, Dancho Simeonov, Kiril Yordanov, Varna, Varna Municipality, City Hall, Holding Varna, Access to Information, OUP, Rosen Plevneliev, claims, court, Chief Architect, elections, mayor, Mareshki


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