Thousands Rally in Sofia to Protect Vitosha Mountain

Society | July 6, 2012, Friday // 08:20|  views

Thousands of citizens marched Thursday evening in protests against the actions of the authorities in connection with Sofia’s beloved Vitosha mountain. File photo by Sofia Photo Agency

About 2 000 people gathered in downtown Sofia Thursday evening to rally against the notorious Vitosha Ski company, concessionaire of the ski lifts and other equipment in the nearby Vitosha mountain.

This time the rally had an official permit, issued by Mayor, Yordanka Fandakova.

The protest was provoked by the ongoing debates about amendments to the Forestry Act and the wildfire which burned for 5 days, devastating the natural reserve Bistrishko Branishte in Vitosha. The Interior Ministry issued an official announcement that the blaze is now under control, but many volunteers, who also took part in all rallies against the Forestry Act, insist that the organization was less than poor and the decisions of the authorities have actually prolonged the extinguishing effort.

The demonstrators are also outraged by statements of the owner of Vitosha Ski, banker Tseko Minev that the ski lifts on Vitosha will remain closed during the next season as they did last winter. They demand from the City Hall to reexamine Vitosha Ski's concession contract.

The Facebook page of the event further states that participants are standing firm behind the demand to drop the thorniest article 54 from the Forestry Act. The article postulated that ski lifts and other ski facilities could be built on farming land and in forests without the need to change the statute of these lands.

The demonstrators further oppose the information blackout about their discontent and rallies, imposed by many mainstream media in the country.

The rally started at 7 pm at the key intersection Orlov Most (Eagles' Bridge) and went through several main boulevards to the square in front of the building of the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the concessionaire issued a declaration insisting that the participants are not environmentalists, but people representing "certain business interests" and that Vitosha Ski has fulfilled all commitments under the contract.

The company proceeds to explain that halting the ski lifts at the end of 2011 has been imposed only over current legislation.

"The residents and visitors of Sofia do not deserve this absurd situation, but we are not responsible about it. We do wish to resolve the problem by obeying the law and we, as owners and as citizens, are the last people who would want to not have ski activities on Vitosha. It is absurd to believe that it would be humanly and economically profitable for us to watch how for a year now the lifts are not functioning and our staff has nothing to do," the statement reads.

Thousands of Bulgarian eco activists and other citizens opposing the Forestry Act staged week-long protest rallies in the area of Orlov Most after the Parliament passed the amendments to the Act on June 13.

The following Saturday the President issued a veto on all of the texts, which was passed by the Parliament on June 27.

At the beginning of December 2011 Vitosha Ski refused to turn on lifts and other ski facilities on Vitosha, on the grounds texts from the Forestry Act are making the activity illegal.

The old law mandated owners of such equipment and facilities to have an established "servitude" (a status for full-rights on the use of real estate) in order to clean and secure the lifts paths. Vitosha Ski was prevented from applying for it over them lacking an approved comprehensive development plan (PUB).

The company proposed a PUB for a new ski zone, but it was rejected because it included protected territories and because the environmental impact assessment was not done according to the rules. Vitosha Ski then attacked the decision of the Ministry of Environment and Waters in Court, but left their PUB unchanged.

The Directorate of the Vistosha "Natural Park" countered that the paths of the lifts can be cleaned without the servitude and through the rent contract. The Forestry Agency confirmed they were not against and would not interfere with the use of ski tracks and lifts.

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Tags: Yordanka Fandakova, mayor, wildfire, tseko minev, FIB, veto, president, Rosen Plevneliev, Constitutional Court, For Keeping Nature in Bulgaria, NGO, Forestry Act, parliament, tourism, lifts, Vitosha, ski, Vitosha Ski, environmentalists, protected areas, Yulen, march, protest, rally, snowboarders, skiers, winter sports, lifts, tracks


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