HARD SNOW FALLING IN BANSKO

by Christina Dimitrova

Threat of a man-made avalanche in Bansko

"Don't come to Bansko" - this advice, or warning, was posted on a Russian website by Bulgarians, shortly after the "bomb situation" at one of Bulgaria's top ski resorts last month.

"Don't come to the sea in the summer... Once Bulgaria had nice countryside, until the barbaric construction started a few years ago," it continued, expressing a growing concern over the damage to the environment that construction at Bulgaria's coast and mountain resorts is causing.

At the beginning of February, the situation came to a head when an environmentalist group, going by the name of "Ravnodenstvie", or Equinox, sent a letter to the Ministry of Environment and Waters. The group, which previously nobody had heard of, threatened to cause avalanches by setting off bombs above the ski slopes in Bansko unless the intensive construction work and the destruction of the environment in the area stopped.

This was branded an act of "eco terrorism" and environmentalist organisations rushed to distance themselves from Ravnodenstvie and condemn its actions.

A flurry of theories followed, speculating over who was actually behind the threat, and what their motives might be. Some identified a plot aimed at undermining and discrediting environmentalist organisations, while others pointed fingers at Ulen, the concession holders of the ski slopes and facilities in Bansko. A third theory alleged the involvement of the long arm of the competition from other ski resorts; a fourth vilified those who wanted to purchase hotels already up for sale in Bansko at cheap prices. Others blamed the Communists, the mafia, and Ivan Kostov - in various permutations.

For three days, the entire country watched the situation in Bansko with bated breath; some gloating, others distressed. No bombs were found and probably none ever will be; there never were any - it was all a hoax.

Thousands of leva were spent on bringing in army howitzers to trigger avalanches and set off the bombs in controlled explosions. Military experts stated that if any explosive devices had been planted, they would have been detonated by the blasts. Police officers and mountain rescuers sent up onto the slope in the blizzard to search for the alleged explosives put their lives at risk. And so questions remain: why were state resources - police officers, the army, howitzers, fuel and ammunition - used to save the day for a private company, and who is going to pay for them? Most likely, it will be the taxpayers who end up footing the bill, most of whom can't afford to go skiing in Bansko.

The Mayor of Bansko, Alexander Kravarov, became a media star overnight. He condemned the incident as an act of terrorism and declared that it was unacceptable to ruin the season in such a way in a resort full of 10,000 tourists, most of whom were foreign. The outraged mayor even started a petition in support of Bansko as a ski centre. National TV stations showed footage of distraught Bansko residents, crying not for the decimated mountain, but for the "ruined" weekend, in which the rooms for rent in their houses remained vacant.

Having briefly visited Bansko last year and the year before last, it is difficult to understand why anyone would want to go there anyway. It's overcrowded and overpriced, and the hotels are crammed so close together that views are of the hotel next door, not of the mountain. It's dirty, there are no pavements, no places to park, and it seems that the friendly residents of Bansko have disappeared and been replaced by greedy rip-off merchants. And this year, apart from lack of snow and bomb threats, the resort is also experiencing serious logistics problems such as power cuts, water shortages, and internet and telephone failures due to the poor infrastructure, which is insufficient to support so many consumers. Taking all that into account, the "Don't Come to Bansko" slogan sounds sensible enough.

The bomb incident, however, poses many questions, the most important of which are: "How did we come to this?" and "Is eco terrorism the last resort?" Internet forums buzzed with the Bansko incident, and on all of them, there was at least one person of the opinion that this kind of action was the only solution. According to this line of thought, the State has abdicated from its duties to protect the public interest, which in this case is the countryside, and as all legal means of trying to bring this matter to their attention had been exhausted, people had no way of being heard other than to resort to outright terrorism of this kind.

I tend to disagree with this, being of the opinion that one should always try to find a compromise. But in this case, deep down inside, I was enjoying the show, thinking that whatever was happening in Bansko served the greedy "investors" right.

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