Letter to the editor: Bulgaria’s environment needs heroes

Posted by in Broadsides, Dispatches

Before I left Bulgaria, I (rather quickly) wrote up a letter on the train trip from Melnick to Sofia concerning the state of Bulgaria’s environment and the need for a strong civil society to step forward and preserve and protect one the most beautiful places on the planet. It was printed in the August 8th edition of the Sofia Echo, an English-language weekly newspaper in Bulgaria. They also published it online here. The photo above is a graphic of what the once-wild, camping-friendly Sunny Beach on Bulgaria’s Black Sea now looks like, as does much of the coast line. And where prey tell is all the sewage from these monster hotels going? Hmmmmm….

Dear Editor:

As my Bulgarian wife persistently reminds me: it is difficult to impress a Canadian with nature outside of Canada. Indeed there is some truth to this statement, just as we Canadians do not exactly revel in showcasing our lengthy, rich history (one that is, for the European settlers who brought with them the gift of genocide for the inhabitants of the lands from James Bay to Santiago, a mere 200+ hundred years young). Yet travelling throughout this magnificent country, the rose of the Balkans as it were, I cannot help myself but to find fault in her modest words.

Bulgaria is breathtakingly beautiful. Whether it is the many tranquil mountain villages, stoic monasteries, golden fields, ancient ruins, soft sandy beaches, or tightly packed (with culture, history, people) metropolises, this land is rich in ways Canada can never dream of. But on this second extended visit something has plagued my view of the rolling green hills, sandstone pyramids, hot beaches and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests. It is a blight on this landscape that has cultural, political and ecological ramifications. Bulgaria is covered in discarded refuse.

Plastic bags swim alongside me – sometimes accosting me – in the warm and inviting Black Sea. Broken glass (the effect of which is presently displayed as a cut along the length of the bottom of my big toe), cigarette butts and packets and bits of metal, paper, rubber and plastic make up a hideous mosaic of material fragments woven in with ancient grains of sand that cradle the Bulgarian coastline between a free-for-all of wild west hotel development. Coca Cola, water and beer bottles peer menacingly out of bushes alongside forest trails hundreds and even thousands of metres above the sea. Newspapers, fast food packaging and cardboard pieces speckle the sides of country roads. A toxicity of unwant borne from want not only spoils the field of view nearly everywhere I turn, but is seeping into the soil, corrupting an ecologically diverse and robust land, while proclaiming evidence of apathy and ignorance.

I understand fully the implications of some hot-headed Canadian arriving on the Balkan peninsula and screaming ecocide at a nation newly minted on Western business, a nation confronting and embracing an imported culture of excess after a long and painful period of imported repression. But trading hotels for wild beaches, trading the collective attention of preserving the land and culture to billboards and celebrity pregnancy, trading Soviet repression for Western-style unchecked pillaging, is not just on this visiting Canadian’s mind. A new wave of environmentalist, conservationist, eco-minded Bulgarians is stirring here, and they have a big, ugly job to undertake.

In a country whose government is more concerned with padding their own corrupt pockets with both EU transfers and taxpayers’ leva, political representatives cannot be trusted as the guardians of the environment. A strong civil society is needed, and as Bulgarian citizens confront illegal and environmentally destructive development in nature reserves and on the Black Sea, they will inevitably confront a society that seems to view garbage as someone else’s problem. Canada is no perfect pick-nick to be sure, but in the process of ravaging soil for metals, razing forests and polluting waterways, we (the royal we, as in “many of us”) have also developed a counter-active ethos (counter to pillaging, that is) around our natural environment.

Growing up on the west coast on Vancouver Island it was ingrained in me from a young age that “one always leaves the beach or campsite cleaner than how one finds it”. Now of course I recognise this utopian postcard I am painting is imperfect and flawed – Canadians continue to show reckless abandon and ingracious malice for their beaches, forests, animals and water systems. But enough of us act as stewards, that is as responsible members of a species connected to every living organism around us. And we expect the same of our government who often act on behalf of corporate interests instead of the sanctity and preservation of the natural world. But when they do rule against green, we are there, just as protesters in Sofia were in front of Ministry doors this July demanding action against rampant development on the Black Sea. We show we care with action. With action we teach new generations new attitudes as well.

Throwing garbage into our natural environment is an act of negligence. Picking up discarded refuse is a political act that leads by example. Campaigning against eco-corruption amounts to civic participation and cultural heroism. Bulgaria belongs to no human being, it is “owned” by natural forces and humans remain guests on its mountains, seashores, and countryside fields. As more and more Bulgarians head for Turkey’s and Greece’s cleaner seaside vistas, more and more Bulgarians need to look into their own natural environment and see not only what is there to be enjoyed, but what is there to be preserved and respected. It is, after all, nature we need to impress, not Canadians.

Ezra Winton