To become Minister of Ecology – this is a great dream and a diligently planned goal for the “ecologist and eco-activist of the Republic” Toma Belev. Amidst the chaos of the protests, Covid-19 and the imposition of fines at the Black Sea coast for arbitrary scattering of tents and caravans in protected areas or straight on top of dunes and cliffs, the leader of the ecological discontent in Bulgaria has assumed a starting position with one big goal: to control the Ministry of Ecology. Regardless of whether the elections will be early or on time, it is expected that new people will rise to power.
Belev’s approach is not an easy one, because his friendship with Maya Manolova and her seemingly bold participation in favour of the freedoms for arbitrary rule on private properties in Bulgaria proved to be insufficient. The Constitutional Court confirmed that people cannot do as they please wherever they please in the country for the purpose of their “eco experiences”. The Constitutional Court rejected the proposal to allow camping at arbitrary places, regardless of whether they are private or exclusively state property and stated that camping should take place only on territories designated for this activity. Still, what is the green charge in Bulgaria and is it enough, at this point, to include in the “new faces of the new protest” a representative of a movement that, through screams and street manifestations, is blocking strategically important infrastructural projects in the country for decades to come? How to make ecology during a pandemic? Who will stand behind the image of Belev – almost a hero, always worried about the nature in the country?
The first stage of the marathon run to the control of the ministerial position is systematic and it began a lot earlier, in 2014. Toma Belev started to gradually overtake the Association of Parks in Bulgaria (APB), a non-governmental organization established in 2003 that repeats the functions and activities of the state park administrations but works for private interests. The structure includes legal persons representing eight of the 11 state nature parks.
Interestingly, the Association is registered for commercial activities in the protected areas which generate income and are connected to tourism and agriculture, marketing, advertisement policy, development of strategies and submission of project proposals in international programmes.
What does this actually mean? It means using property, exclusively owned by the state, for private purposes through the inside information that each of the directors of these state parks can provide or manipulate in the interest of the commercial association of non-governmental origin. The generation of profit from tourism would mean a distribution of tourist sites under the protection of close connections and activities in the mountains available only to persons close to the association. But this is just the beginning.
In reality a group of civil servants is capable of causing problems with its inactivity with respect to the nature sites it is required to manage and then giving an opportunity to the Association to save them by appropriating grants and any other possible forms of financing for this purpose. An iconic example in this respect is Toma Belev himself with his activity in Vitosha Nature Park. He insists even today that he has not lifted a finger with respect to the bark beetle that damaged more than 110 ha of old growth forests, because this is a biosphere reserve off-limits to human involvement. This means two things. First, the mountain will surely perish and then it will surely need funding to be revived. The greater the territories infested with this natural pest, the greater the required funding. And since the management of Vitosha Nature Park is doing nothing, who will look for such financing? The Association of Parks in Bulgaria.
While working as a civil servant, director of Vitosha Park and chair of the Association, Belev was also the head of the Management Board of the non-governmental organization Green Balkans which, in 2007, received BGN 9 million to determine the zones under Nature 2000 in Bulgaria. Coincidentally or not, 34% of the territory of the country are included. On the one hand, these lands are blocked for investments, and on the other hand if anyone is to perform any activities, including conservation of habitats, animal and plant species, this can only happen through the “protecting” NGO.
In fact, the great discovery of Belev is how to combine NGOs that can appropriate funds through one another. In 2013 the directorate of Balgarka Nature Park which is included in the Association of Parks in Bulgaria contracts Balgarka Union – 2011 for the preparation of an inventory of the biotic components of the management plan of Balgarka Park for BGN 340 000. Balgarka Union is owned by Ecological Centre EOOD, 100% property of Green Balkans represented by… Toma Belev, the World Wildlife Fund managed by Belev’s wife, Veselina Kavrakova, and a sole proprietorship of WWF – Marsileya EOOD.
Why shouldn’t Toma Belev become the minister of environment, since he’s already mastered the instruments for private management of a third of the territory of the country, designated by him and his close connections as land under NATURA?
To keep the fire going, on June 30, APB in cooperation with Balkani Wildlife Society announced a new contest titled Defenders of Nature to encourage the announcement of new protected territories and centuries-old trees. The invitation says that “the civil campaign is open for proposals for areas from the whole country to be protected for the future generations as national and human heritage.”
It is not a coincidence that Belev participates in the team preparing the Management Plan of Pirin. This plan prohibits the construction of ski slopes and a new cable car, but does not ban the extension of the road network in the mountain, so in summer months it can be visited by 4 thousand cars per day.
Belev’s exercise in funding appropriation is complete with counting of ground squirrels and vultures in exchange for BGN 7 million and protection of the red-breasted geese for BGN 50 million.
The attempt of Toma Belev to rise to power is underpinned by deep knowledge on the subject of provision of funds using all financial instruments available. And so, under a programme of the Council of Ministers, in March 2019 he wedges himself in a project worth BGN 70 thousand titled “Increasing the civil participation in the management of Natura 2000 and improvement of the management of the network of protected zones.” The programme has started on 27 December 2018 and is planned to finish on the same date this year. The funding is negligible on the background of the appropriated millions, but this is another step towards the building where ministers decide the policies in the country. The European idea for investment of 1 trillion Euros in the reduction of the harmful emissions until 2050 is also working in his favour. The distribution of this funding will reduce all red-breasted geese to green euglenas on the background of the money that’s coming. The price, as usual, will be paid by the end consumers of energy services, but during the preparations the money must be distributed correctly.
The planning of the big jump in the big money includes the distribution of tasks to close relatives. Belev’s wife, Veselina Kavrakova, enters the working group at the CM that is preparing the statutes of the Civil Society Development Council. And a civil society cannot be developed if it does not embrace ecological causes. It is not a coincidence that in 2006 Kavrakova was selected to manage the Bulgarian branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The WWF is one of the partners of the Association of Parks through the Danube-Carpathian programme in Bulgaria. Only this program is “releasing 50 000 young sterlets of endangered species of sturgeon with proven Danube origin.” Other participants are the Bulgarian-Swiss Biodiversity Foundation of Petko Tsvetkov, who used to be a co-chair of the Green Party, and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. All these organizations are members of the coalition For Nature in Bulgaria.
Exactly in this format in 2017 they file a law suit against amendments to the acting Management Plan of Pirin National Park.
The ecologists supporting Toma Belev are few in number but they are loud and would not hesitate to block whatever they see fit – the centre of the capital or any infrastructural project – and, thanks to their showy manifestations, to receive the attention of all media, while their thesis always sounds fair and benefitting the environment. It is not a coincidence that Belev’s main supporters are Yes, Bulgaria and Hristo Ivanov, who is prepared to do anything to remain in the visible loud space.
What does Belev count on in his preparation?
He has already built a financial empire that will totally support him and he will approach the ecological industry on all sides. APB can be left in secure hands, because the association already owns 32 ha of agricultural lands bought until 2011. According to the deeds, these are owned by a non-governmental organization.
Why is the minister’s position so important for Toma Belev and the Swiss funds surrounding him? In 2019 Katerina Rakovska from WWF’s management announced in front of the Bulgarian National Radio that her organization will distribute about EUR 100 million among the “green” organizations. This money is basically used to finance protests, the political party, regardless of its lack of popularity, and the handling of dozens of law suits.
In the name of the showy campaigns, public “happenings” are organized at equal time intervals: on beaches, cliffs, lawns, roads and building sites of national importance. It is the people around Belev who purposefully fuel the mind-set that anyone can settle anywhere on the territory of Bulgaria, because this is an “ecological choice”.
One of the major goals of Belev and company is to stop any planning of renovations of the cable cars in Bulgaria. Ridiculously, Belev says that he has nothing against such renovation, but since the process is connected with a change of the step in the installation of the support columns, this would be considered “new” construction and therefore it cannot be implemented. Strangely his opinion is relevant for the cable cars in the whole of Bulgaria, although he does not have the right to adopt positions regarding such infrastructures. Meanwhile the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office ascertained that out of the 120 cable cars in Bulgaria, 43 lack building plans. The main reason is that they were built more than 40 years ago. If any of these cable cars, however, needs to be renovated, the loud eco band will block the undertaking.
The topic of the lifts is indeed blocked by Belev and company – from Vitosha to Bansko and anywhere else, where there is a need of full renovation. The increasingly green leadership of the EU however does not interfere with ecotourism or the building of winter resorts in zones protected by UNESCO or any other mechanism for protection, but the youthful Bulgarian preparedness for constant protests against anyone and anything is working, more than ever, in Toma Belev’s favour. He is aware that exactly at this moment he can generate support by waving the flag against the construction of anything in the country.
Although he is currently a modest municipal councillor at Sofia Municipality opposing every project for renovation and repair of existing infrastructure in the parks or on Vitosha, Toma Belev is leading negotiations through his partner Hristo Ivanov for the position of Minister of Ecology that will allow him to control the whole funding intended for ecology. His employees, partners and goals are already clear.