The illegal construction in the Strandzha Natural Park began and ended before the very eyes of all institutions.
Thousands of people gathered throughout Bulgaria this past July to demonstrate their overwhelming commitment to Strandja Nature Park, after the Supreme Administrative Court declared its creation invalid. Tzarevo Municipality launched a court case against the designation order of Strandja Nature Park, together with “Crash 2000,” a company constructing illegal buildings near Varvara village, after authorities stopped construction in March 2007.
The problematic ruling, which makes no sense from either a moral or legal point of view, put private interests ahead of those of the Bulgarian public. A great citizens’ movement galvanized in support of the Nature Park. Protesters gathered on the streets, crossroads were jammed, thousands of signatures were collected (including those of famous Bulgarians). In addition numerous events were held, including concerts, discussions and films, highlighting the enormous cultural and ecological value of the area.
The people demanded that the Bulgarian government adopt an order stating that past proclamations for protected areas cannot be appealed in Court. During the summer, this story was of great importance. Everyone was asking: what can I do to save Strandja? Politicians, mayors, and ministers finally met with environmentalists after ignoring their calls to adopt measures to protect natural areas for the past year. The pressure paid off. In just a week, activists gained enough support to pass the order. The Supreme Administrative Court’s decision, still in the process of appeals, was overturned because of the new legislation.
This is great news for Strandja Nature Park, the largest protected area in the country (116 068. 5 ha). Located in the southeastern section of Bulgaria, the area is truly unique. In the foothills between Europe and Asia, ecologies emerged that are exceptional to Europe. In particular, the deciduous broad-leaved forests with laurel undergrowth. Protected territories in Strandja’s boundaries include a biosphere reserve, as well as 29 other sites of natural and cultural significance. 404 vertebrate species were identified, making it one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country.
The cultural and historical heritage of Strandja furthers its designation as a protected site. Differing from other Parks in the country, 21 settlements occur within the boundaries of the Strandja NP. People co-exist permanently with Nature here, and some of the settlements within the Park, complement the natural ecosystems. In these communities, traditions, habits, and a dialect unique to the region are maintained. The riches of cultural monuments from all historical epochs, adds value to the natural regions. In 1992, the park was one of five areas of priority for the Environmental Action Plan for Central and Eastern Europe, making it a site for numerous initiatives for conservation and sustainable development.
The success of the campaign provides optimism that an active civil society can promote public interest and maintain areas of environmental and cultural importance in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, there is still much to be done for protection of Strandja. Although it has regained its protected status, this does not mean that it is safe. The Tzarevo municipality was consulted for the development of the Strandja Nature Park’s management plan in 1995 and showed interest the plans for sustainable development and nature conservation. Since 2003, the Tzarevo municipality has completely reversed its formerly supportive attitude. Now the local government sees Strandja as a barrier to development in the region. Currently, it is blocking approval of the Park’s most recent management plan.
The illegal complex built by “Crash 2000” is maintained on the territory of the Park, protected by private guards. A good demonstration of a real commitment of Bulgaria’s protected areas and their corresponding legal status would be the demolition of "Golden Pearl" complex. That"s why the campaigns here are continuing - it is the only way to stop legalizing illegal hotels that are maintained in protected areas after their building.
In September, another demonstration was held on the border of the Park. The group then enacted a mock destruction of the “Golden Pearl” complex. Then, around 70 people joined hands along the Strandja boundary to show their solidarity to the Nature Park. This action shows the way for a sustainable future for a region of unparalleled natural and cultural beauty.