I spent a considerable amount of money on a new car recently. I then tried to buy a yearly vignette, the sticker you are supposed to have on your windscreen to prove that you have paid road taxes. I was told they sold those at garages, so I headed to one. This is what ensued.

The LUKoil garage in Zapaden Park told me only Shell and OMV sold vignettes. The OMV garage in Knyazhevo said they only had weekly and monthly vignettes in stock, not yearly ones. The Shell garage at Dragichevo said the State Roads Agency, responsible for printing and distributing the vignettes, had stopped printing yearly ones. The OMV at Dupnitsa said it was nothing to do with them.

Two days later I drove from Sofia to Plovdiv. The OMV just before Pazardzhik said they didn't know why there weren't any yearly vignettes. The Shell near Plovdiv said it was exclusively the DZI, or State Insurance Institute, that sold yearly vignettes. So I stopped looking for vignettes and I am driving on Bulgarian roads without one. I don't want to break the law, but I am determined not to spend around 40 leva more on buying several monthly passes until the end of 2007 instead of buying just one yearly vignette.

This episode reminded me very much of the Communist era when the state would penalise people by preventing them from fulfilling their obligations. Is the state now trying to blackmail citizens, especially non-conversant foreigners who can't be bothered to argue, into contributing a few leva more to the state coffers?

We all know that Bulgaria is now in the EU, and technically speaking driving in Bulgaria should be at least similar to driving in other EU states. If the yearly vignettes experience is anything to go by, however, Bulgaria fails on all counts.

Kevin T., Sofia

VAGABOND: During the holiday season, all these stickers seem to be in short supply at garages. However, they were available at Sofia's Central Post Office, perhaps because few people sought them out there!

The authorities, we were told, have received many complaints. Consequently, the state-run Roads Fund imposed a 100,000 leva fine on the two companies, DZI Trans and Bulgarian Posts, that had won tenders to sell the stickers in 2005 but failed to provide them.

The Roads Fund press centre promised to check the garages you cited. They added that vignettes are available at the agency's offices at 3 Macedonia Sq in Sofia; many Bulgarian Posts offices; and the Shell, OMV and Petrol garages that DZI Trans is supposed to supply. (Note that Lukoil is not on the list).

The rationale for selling them in post offices is another question. We advise you to try and get a sticker because the Interior Ministry will fine you heavily if they find out you are driving without a vignette. Sadly, you seem to be right in your conclusions.



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