- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
Ever heard of Dolna or Gorna Sekirna? Few people had, until the mainly elderly residents of these remote hamlets caused a stir by electing a teen as their leader.
Two weeks ago, few people besides the locals knew about Dolna and Gorna Sekirna, two small villages in southwest Bulgaria, let alone had any idea that people there were voting for a new mayor. Elections in such tiny communities rarely excite anyone but the candidates and their relatives. This time, however, it was different.
The election of Lachezar Lazov as mayor of Dolna and Gorna Sekirna has made national news and put the villages on the map. Lazov, who will turn 19 on Thursday, is Bulgaria’s youngest ever mayor. “Now we [Dolna and Gorna Sekirna] are famous nationwide,” said Ivan Stavrev, chairman of the local branch of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, in the nearby town of Breznik. The Socialists nominated Lazov for the elections.
At the end of last month he beat his rival, Snezhana Ilieva, of the center-right National Movement for Stability and Progress, in a close runoff election, winning the ballot by 87 votes compared to 71.
Many local residents, most of whom have known Lazov since he was a child, are delighted to have the youngest mayor in the country. “He’s young, very capable, just perfect. He has a lot of work to do, but he’ll do his best,” Petrunka Rangelova, 79, told Balkan Insight.
“Lachko [short for Lachezar] is our boy and we support him”, said Kalinka Deyanova, a 58-year-old woman who works in the store next to the town hall, giving him a warm hug.
Ironically, the country’s youngest mayor will govern villages in which there are almost no young residents. Most of the 200 or so people in Dolna and Gorna Sekirna are elderly. Children and people under 20 are only spotted during summer or over weekends when they come to visit their grandparents.
Like many other Bulgarian villages, the two villages have experienced waves of outward migration. After the end of the one-party system, even more people fled for the city, as jobs in villages became scarce.
That’s partly why Lazov’s election is seen as striking a precedent. His explanation is simple: “I love my village and want to make it a better place to live”.
Lazov’s youthful start in politics has come as a surprise to him, as well. Until recently he was just another high school boy about to graduate, who wanted to go to college and study public administration. The thought of running for mayor hadn’t crossed his mind until three months ago when a group of BSP activists from Dolna Sekirna urged him to run.
It took him a week to make up his mind and accept. According to him, the choice of party came naturally. “The BSP is the party of my family, of my father, my grandfather and my grandmother… they’re all members of the BSP,” he said.
Lazov says he will take his mayoral duties seriously, fully understands his responsibilities and intends to address people’s concerns. When it comes to money, however, his hands are tied because the two villages don’t have their own budget; responsibility for money is in the hands of the local authorities in Breznik.
Although Lazov acknowledges this, he is determined to do his best to make people’s lives better. “I don’t promise miracles, but I will work to solve the problems,” he told Balkan Insight.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the youngest or the oldest mayor. What matters is doing your job,” he added, sounding wiser than many more experienced politicians. One week since Lazov officially took over his office in Dolna Sekirna, he has already met with the local community to discuss their most urgent demands.
They want solutions to concrete problems; the provision of more garbage bins, better infrastructure in the village, keeping the post office open, and securing a few dangerous buildings.
First and foremost the locals want cell phone coverage for the whole village. At the moment, reception is very bad and calls can be made only at certain spots around the village. This is a serious problem for the villagers, as most homes don’t have a landline, either.
“The most urgent need is to provide decent cell phone reception. When my mother got sick in the middle of the night, I had to go to the other end of the village where there’s a cell phone coverage to call an ambulance,” Deyanova said.
The mayor hopes that in two months’ time people will be able to use their cell phones where they want. His fame appears to be paying off and benefiting the villages already; a local mobile phone operator has called him and offered to build an antenna to provide the necessary coverage.
A local businessman has also offered to help with the roads, donating up to 150 cubic metres of rubble to pave one of the lanes in the village.
Stavrev thinks Lazov has the potential for a bright future in politics. He even has a plan for his career advancement. First he should serve three terms as a mayor of Dolna Sekirka, so he can gain some experience, then become a mayor of Breznik and finally become a member of parliament.
Lazov, however, seems more cautious. “I would only run for a second term if I managed to solve some of the problems in the village,” he says.
Donors spent hundreds of thousands of euro building a new museum in Gjirokastra - but the results were questionable and it ultimately closed over an ideological dispute.