The Bulgarian Downtown and the Roma Neighborhood – Two Different Worlds in One Yambol

| Hristo Hristov,

For reasons unknown, Mayor Georgi Slavov agreed to meet with me, but later did not wish to speak with me. I appeared in his office at the appointed time. I tried to begin a conversation. I asked him what was happening at the moment with the Roma expelled from Apartment Block 20. The mayor’s answer was as follows: “They’re all grown-ups, let them take care of themselves. You’re asking me questions like a journalist. You’re conducting an interview. I thought you were coming here with a proposal about how to solve the problems with the Roma. You’re an organization, right? So do something, suggest a program, there’s no point in just talking.” I realized that the conversation wasn’t going to go anywhere. I left after five minutes. Shockingly, the municipality’s expert on ethnic questions, Nina Atanasova, rushed to apologize to the mayor for setting up the meeting with me. “I didn’t know you were going to ask the mayor questions, I thought you were coming with a proposal. Mr. Slavov, if I had known, I wouldn’t have set up the meeting with Hristov.”

After striking out at the mayor’s office, I decided to go to the heart of the problem, the Rayna Knyaginya Neighborhood – Yambol’s Roma quarter. I quickly received support from several people and wound up in the center of the neighborhood.

It turned into a circus. People gathered around, complaints were flying from all sides. Some people were getting upset. I hardly managed to hear a few people out. Ten minutes there seemed like an eternity to me. I requested to my colleagues that we leave, as we had nothing to say to the people there. They were looking for answers to their questions – while I was looking for those same answers from others.

Dossier
Georgi Slavov, mayor of Yambol and district leader of the GERB political party

With a mere three public tenders, only halfway into his term the mayor had racked up nearly 14.5 million leva in debts for Yambol. For one year alone, the debt of 6,334,528 leva owed to private companies represented more than half of the municipality’s annual total income. The contracts were signed between September and November of 2008, when the crisis had already hit Bulgaria.
Nearly 3.6 leva had to be paid for little more than a kilometer of new water mains, while the other millions would be sunk into the city dump and put towards drastically increased costs for cleaning Yambol. Twenty city councilors alerted the Chief Prosecutor, the director of the State Institute for National Security, the director the State Financial Inspectorate and the chairman of the National Auditing Agency (Tema).

At the end of October 2010, the Yambol Regional Court convicted the mayor of abuse of power and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment and banned him from assuming governing duties for six years. As mayor of Yambol, he was found guilty during the period of September 2008 to March 2010 of causing more than two million leva in damages to the municipal budget in carrying out a public tender with the aim of benefiting a private company Diana Commerce I LLC of Yambol.
The Burgas Appeals Court repealed Yambol Mayor Georgi Slavov’s conviction and sent the case back to another panel of the Yambol District Court for review.

Two other charges have been filed against Georgi Slavov – for abuse of power in breaking the Law of Public Tenders in the renovation of the Diana Sports Stadium, which incurred losses of nearly 30,000 leva to the municipality, and for abuse of power in the publishing the municipality’s informational bulletin (Dnevnik).


Why was Block 20 a target?

Appetizing Business

The mayor of Yambol paid a company from Smolyan 120,000 leva to destroy Block 20. The mayor offered the project to the company from Smolyan without holding a public tender in advance, but simply by invitation.

The mayor simply gave the Smolyan firm the 400 tons of iron from the destroyed Block 20, as well as the construction waste and concrete, which were them sold for road repairs. The decision to give away the materials was made solely by Georgi Slavov and without the knowledge of the municipal council.

The Smolyan-based company gave the 400 tons of iron to its partner firm Margarita from Yambol; the latter then sold the metal for nearly 200,000 leva.

With the money earned from the iron, a month after the block was destroyed (October 15), the owners of Margarita participated in a tender and won the right to buy a whole floor of commercial space (on the first floor) in the building of the Bakadzhik Factory in the center of Yambol.

Arbitrariness

  • The mayor deprived the 53 owners of apartments in Block 20 of a home.
  • He deprived the Roma legally living there in municipal housing of shelter.
  • He deprived the municipality of 145 municipal dwellings.
  • He will dig into the municipal treasury and pay the owners of the apartments 1.5 million leva.

Political Games

In destroying the block, the mayor

  • aimed to stockpile political dividends for winning votes in the upcoming local elections;
  • aimed to clear his name before voters by distracting the local community’s attention away from the dubious schemes he was involved in and from the legal cases against him for embezzling millions of leva.

 

Roma and Yambol Municipality – Victims of Mayor Georgi Slavov’s Arbitrariness

Engineer Naskov Stefanov, chairman of the Yambol Municipal Council:
The mayor illegally and illegitimately destroyed Block 20

The mayor made a single-handed decision to destroy Block 20. He bypassed the decision by the municipal council, which stipulated that general meetings should be called of the residents in the Rayna Knyaginya neighborhood and that definite decisions should be made as to what to do to improve these blocks.

Slavov cunningly tricked the Roma and the municipality by destroying the owners’ homes and depriving the municipality of municipal housing.

He knew that if it were put to a vote in the municipal council, his proposal to demolish the block would not be approved. That’s why the mayor went around the municipal council and took advantage of his right to declare that the block was collapsing on its own and to declare a state of emergency along with that. That’s how he engaged the services of the Interior Ministry, the energy company, the water and sewage company to go along with the plan.

In the name of the 53 owners of apartments in Block 20, the lawyer Reni Ruseva filed a case in the regional court. The court ruled in favor of the owners. In the court of second instance at the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), a three-member panel upheld the regional court’s ruling. Now Mayor Georgi Slavov is appealing before a SAC five-member panel.

The basis for finding violations on the part of the mayor of the Yambol Municipality are the viewpoints of the designers and builders of Block 20 – engineer Dimcho Nenchev and Alexander Petrov – who state that the building was exceptionally sound and stably built.

After the demolition of the block, a temporary committee of seven people was created in the municipal council to look into the case of the block’s demolition.

The committee’s research confirmed that the mayor illegally and illegitimately demolished Block 20 without a decision by the MC. The report they prepared is 40 pages long. Following a decision by the MC, this report was sent to the prosecutor.


 Engineer Alexander Petrov, designer of the block:
Block 20 was the soundest building in Yambol

The only proper procedure for undertaking such urgent measures for the demolition of Block 20, if the building was indeed collapsing, would be to commission an inspection by experts and to have the block destroyed by a decision from the municipal council.

But the mayor took matters into his own hands, since he knew the block was stable and that he had no right to demolish it.

The justification for tearing down the block and for declaring a state of emergency cannot be based solely on records of inspections of a few apartments. In this case there were many violations, since no inspections were made of all the apartments, the technical blueprints and the block’s partitions. The designers and builders of the block were not sought out and consulted.

All evidence indicates that from the point of view of its construction, Block 20 was in very good condition and was one of the soundest buildings in the city. It took them a lot of effort to tear it down. They cut, smashed and pulled in order to tear it down.

This is a political act. Because all three of the blocks – 18, 19 and 20 – in the Rayna Knyaginya neighborhood are legal. The fact that the mayor is incapable of keeping order and ensuring security and employment for people is due to his own negligence.

To say nothing of the fact that he destroyed 53 families’ very own homes; they are now living in tents.

He did not want to apply for European programs to secure a future for these people, but rather he told them to go to hell.

It is even worse than a political act, it is genocide in the 21st century.


Kanyo Kanev, municipal councilor from the Our City Coalition:
The demolition of the block is a bigger crime than the stolen 10-15 million leva

I am already serving my second term as a municipal councilor and for several years I have been proposing that the municipal council solve the question of the Roma quarter and Block 20. My colleagues and I had the idea of creating a municipal police force of local people who could take care of maintaining the housing fund, the hygiene of the neighborhood and the culture of co-existence. This would also decrease unemployment by hiring people as part of social programs to clean up in the neighborhood. Thus they would be economically useful for the municipality and the state. We proposed building a public bath in the neighborhood, with children who go to school having priority access. But the Roma here are considered 10th-class citizens and no one wants to pay them any attention.

The reasons for the problem with the Roma do not stem from the Roma. They are restricted terrain-wise, isolated from society. In my opinion, tearing down Block 20 is not a political, but rather a criminal act, enjoying the political protection of certain people. There were levers and conditions according to which the Roma could have lived and taken care of their blocks. There is no way these blocks could be left for years without a collector, technician or employee of the municipality going in and demanding order from the Roma. Imagine a collector not going into a Bulgarian block for several months and garbage trucks not coming by, what would happen? Exactly what has happened in the Roma neighborhood.

All the procedures tied to the demolition of Block 20 are riddled with violations. The waste, concrete and iron were given away without an auction. The firm that demolished the block was selected without a public tender. Now, if the owners sue the municipality, as they most certainly will, the mayor will have to use Bulgarians’ money to pay damages of 30,000 leva each to at least 53 families. When we add in the fact that the mayor paid the company 120,000 leva to tear down the block and gave them the iron and concrete free, how much money did the municipality lose thanks to his arbitrariness?...

The demolition of the block is a bigger crime than the stolen 10-15 million leva. There is one giant paradox that few people know. The mayor was elected with a large part of the Roma vote, but he went and kicked them out of society.