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News 31 Mar 17

Town's Move to Lose 'Protected' Status Shocks Bulgarians

An attempt by the authorities in the 'museum town' of Koprivshtitsa to do away with its 'protected' status has horrified many Bulgarians, starting with the country's President.

Mariya Cheresheva
The class school in Koprivhtitsa, built in 1837. Photo: Anelhj/Wikimedia  

News that local councillors in Koprivshtitsa – a picturesque historic town in central Bulgaria – have dismissed its new management plan, which guaranteed its protected status, drew concerned reactions from Bulgarian leaders including the President.

The Mayor of the town, Gencho Gerdanov, from Bulgaria’s leading party, Boyko Borissov’s centre-right GERB, on Thursday said the 11-member council had surprisingly scrapped the plan, drafted over three years, at a meeting held on March 17 in his absence.

“I will do anything possible, while I am mayor, to keep Koprivshtitsa as it is,” he said, adding that he had initiated a second vote on the plan, which will take place on Friday.

“Koprivshitsa does not belong to few councillors. Koprisvhitsa belongs to Bulgaria. Koprivshitsa is Bulgaria,” President Rumen Radev wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

The President said any compromise with Koprivshtitsa’s status as a “town-museum” would be an assault on Bulgaria’s national memory and cultural heritage.

With its well-preserved 19th century heritage, Koprivhtitsa, a town of less than 2,500 people, is among Bulgaria’s most popular historical and cultural attractions.

It boasts over 400 immobile cultural artefacts, 15 which are considered as having national significance.

Koprivshtitsa. Photo: Michael Desnoyelles/CC BY-SA 4.0

The town was given the status of a cultural and architectural reserve in 1971 and since then construction activities there have been limited to designated areas.

Koprivshitsa's councillors, however, claim that since the latest changes to Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act, the term “cultural and architectural reserve” does not exist any longer and they therefore want the status of their town modernized.

They called the new town management plan, which was mainly funded with EU money, too restrictive, and have demanded the creation of new residential areas, a motor-cycle track, a ski slope with a ski lift and a densely built industrial zone.

“The town is depopulated because its status has been unclear for 30 years”, the head of the council, Rashko Hristov, told BIRN.

He said that nothing could make him back a plan that would seal the future of the town for another 30 years.

Reports, however, have linked the move to abandon Koprivshtitsa’s protected status with the interests of a local businessman, Radoslav Yovkov, who has expressed an interest in investing in the area.

On Thursday, Yovkov, who was expelled from GERB for “undermining the prestige of the party”, confirmed that he has investment plans for the town-museum, but added that he has “never said that he would like to change its image”.

The attempts of the town council to change Koprivshtitsa’s status seem unlikely to succeed, as the final decision is in the hands of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture - which on Thursday stressed the need to preserve the town's heritage.


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