The week: Beware the Greeks

The week: Beware the Greeks

Bulgaria and the Greek energy miracle, UK nukes and US nuclear power, Bansko's future

Things are moving so damn slow here, complained a foreign investor this week. He is contemplating an exit mostly because of other issues, but in a moment of honesty, he cited changes in the way of life in Bulgaria and other parts of the region. Despite rising salaries, the only place with visible changes, he said, is Sofia. This is not how the rest of the region looks and feels, he claims.

That's certainly true and even in the way the cities feel and look, it's not entirely true. We would argue Bulgaria has made significant progress in the past decade and feels completely different from pre-EU days.

And yet, we can't argue with the fact that everything here happens awfully slowly and takes A LOT of time. Inexplicably long.

Take energy. It's a fact of life: If you want a stronger economy, you need a stronger energy industry to back it up. The rapid green transition in Europe is shaking these processes up, leaving many countries in the midst of huge problems with decarbonization, decommissioning of old plants and finding the perfect energy mix.

Bulgaria, which is way behind others in modernization terms, should be able to use that to its advantage and leap-frog, pivoting to the new standard. We have a lot to lose: we were the powerhouse of the Balkans, balancing the grid, exporting electricity to everyone, even Turkey. So we need to sustain that and should do whatever necessary, right?

Well, not if you forget about the competition. In a story this week, we explain how Greece, a long-time laggard in the energy sector, seems to have found the right formula and is slowly, but steadily, taking over the markets of the whole region. The southern country has managed to put together its first-class marine infrastructure, the developing grid and the bright new renewable energy options. There are a ton of new things happening across the border: HVDC cables, gas interconnectors, LNG terminals, offshore wind etc,

There is enough evidence that Athens could soon devour the Bulgarian energy market and industry. Sofia is no longer the electricity balancing force, its coal plants are simply too expensive and despite the growing use of solar, there is not much that Bulgarian governments have allowed to be done in terms of achieving a modern green energy mix.

While we have been importing electricity, because the business looks for a cheaper alternative in an increasingly interconnected market, Greece has been overly productive in recent months, perhaps surprising even themselves.

This is a good example of how slow & timid dooms you even if you have the advantage. Bulgaria might well turn out to be the Nokia to Greece's iPhone.

This newsletter is helped by

Martin Dimitrov, Monika Varbanova, Mary Ivanova and Evgeni Ahmadzai

Politics this week:

The civil war in the Prosecution

The murder of Martin "the Notary" Bozhanov (which we covered in our last newsletter) revealed a criminal network of dependencies in the judiciary, but also beyond - in the realm of politics - exposing the uncomfortable truth that institutions act as racketeers to the business and ordinary citizens.

A day after acting Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov told the Supreme Judicial Council that now is not the time for a witch hunt , on Wednesday the entire leadership of the Sofia Regional Prosecutor's Office resigned. The four district deputy prosecutors distanced themselves from their boss, Nevena Zartova. In the end, Zartova herself also resigned.

It's all Greek to her

Zartova has long been seen as a puppet for the ex-PG Ivan Geshev and Sarafov has set his sights on her for quite some time. Yet the scandal came in handy: on the same day, 24 chasa newspaper published an interview with a prominent Greek businessman, manager of the company that owns the local IKEA franchise and Sofia Ring Mall, where he talked about a blatant extortion by the group around the murdered Bozhanov, hinting that it was linked to Zartova.

She denied the accusations, saying her subordinates were "the only ones who dared" prosecute the Notary. Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg that is gradually coming out - the network for coercion has had protectors higher up, both in the prosecution (as Zartova hinted in an interview on Thursday) and, very likely - in politics.

The rotation might be spinning a bit too fast

The revelations are so scandalous, concrete and far-reaching that someone inevitably has to be held accountable. The question is if the status quo will once again manage to sacrifice the pawns alone, or whether there is any possibility for someone up the chain facing justice. The thing is - with the government rotation coming, the so-called reformist powers can't afford to turn a blind eye.

Speaking of which: Peevski (et al.) go after passport-sellers

After WCC-DB's Atanas Atanassov raised the issue of Bulgarian passports being sold to citizens of ex-Soviet republics and an investigation by Mediapool, which uncovered more than 4,000 such people acquiring Bulgarian citizenship using "obviously" forged documents, Parliament launched a special committee to check a possible corruption scheme to grant Bulgarian citizenship to Russians.

Of course, there was no more 'upright' MP to sponsor the launch of this committee than MRF's Delyan Peevski, who was put on the US Magnitsky sanctions list, along with his "lieutenant" Ilko Zhelyazkov for, among other things, his role in a scheme that allowed foreigners to get a Bulgarian passport after paying a bribe. Otherwise, the story is hardly surprising - Bulgaria has a long history of issuing passports to foreigners - predominantly from the ex-Yugoslav republics and especially N. Macedonia, and Capital weekly has written about it for years.

Look who's back! David Cameron drops by

The ex-British PM and current Foreign Secretary visited Sofia. An awful lot has changed since Cameron's last visit - back in 2015, to witness the wall on the border with Turkey. His visit back then will forever be remembered in Bulgarian political folklore with the phrase of then-PM Boyko Borissov "three popes have patted me on the head".

Now Britain is out of the EU, Borissov is no longer PM and Europe has a bigger problem than Turkey - namely Russia.

We've got your ass nuke-covered

One can only hope Cameron (who met Mariya Gabriel, but also Borissov), promised Bulgaria a nuclear defense shield, since the UK is the only country in Europe currently offering such a service. With France being very selfish with its own nukes, the Eastern countries will feel more than a little scared if Trump returns to office.


Figures: 2999

Levs or 1500 euro Is the average wage in the capital according to the data of the National Statistics. In the country it is 2,173. This is a 13% year-on-year growth, or double the inflation rate during the same period. The highest salaries in the last quarter continue to be in the IT sector (4,852), the energy sector (3,278) and the financial sector (3,086).


The inflation rate of the country as of January, as it continues to decline year-on-year. Still not low enough to get us into the eurozone by next January, though.

150 million levs

The additional subsidies for the agricultural sector agreed by the government and some of the major sectoral organizations over the weekend, which led to the end of the new wave of farming protests.


Bright consulting

The Bulgarian software company was acquired by the US Virtusa. The company has a 2 mln.levs profit for 2022 and around 140 people in Sofia, with 15 mln. levs in revenue.


Doverie holding Will get a 12 mln.euro dividend from its Moldovan bank Moldindconbank. Doverie now owns 78% of it and it is the most significant investment of the holding company.


We enter US orbit, officially

Bulgaria has already made an important decision, which will cost at least 25 billion levs - we've written about it some time ago. We're speaking, of course, about the two new nuclear units in Kozloduy.

This week the Energy Minister Rumen Radev and Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Energy Andrew Light concluded an intergovernmental cooperation agreement on the project to build a new nuclear power plant.

Radev said a price of more than 14 billion $ will be "a red line" for the country, though this is hardly true: he didn't seem to know whether he's speaking about dollars or euro, and also, there is not a single nuclear project which has gone as planned.

But all in all, the deal is important, because it puts Bulgaria firmly on track to join a US sphere of energy influence, marking its official break with Russia's.

Watch out for:


Abdulrahman al-Khalidi

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee issued on Monday an open letter to the Interior Ministry and the National Security Agency (DANS) with a request to stop the extradition of Saudi dissident Abdulrahman al-Khalidi, whose application for asylum in Bulgaria has been rejected. He has been detained for two years in the temporary accommodation home for foreigners in Busmantsi. Al-Khalidi claims that, if he is returned to Saudi Arabia, he will face execution for his links to dissident groups in the country.

Iilyan Filipov

The owner of the biggest transport company in Bulgaria - PIMK, and builder of the new stadium in Plovdiv was caught on camera hitting and insulting fans and workers at Botev football club. Filipov apologized, while the club said this is the result of him trying to take over control. Not the end of the story, we will assume.



Our newsletter visited the most famous Bulgarian ski-resort last week, to witness the FIS World Cup. Truth be told, the event was organized impeccably, and this is by far the biggest sporting event here, as it gathers all the top-athletes in their field and is broadcasted live around the globe. There are only a handful of locations included in the Alpine World Cup schedule and Bulgaria sure benefits from being on that list.

But the real revelation is Bansko itself. While the resort suffers from a bad image in Bulgaria - because of its overdevelopment and oligarchic interests, it's fair to say Bansko reached peak weirdness some time ago and is slowly becoming normalized.

Several years ago most new buildings stood empty and silent - a ghost city to remind of the golden rush pre-Big Crisis. Yet a new initiative to turn it into a global nomad hub, some new money to refurbish those old buildings and turn them into apartments for post-Covid ski-lovers who might work from a distance, a dash of Balkan and British ski-tourists and voila - you have something resembling a typical European ski-resort.

If this trend continues, it will surely normalize Bansko to an even greater extent. What's working in its favor is the fact that unlike ANY other Bulgarian village or city, the new buildings all follow the same code - semi Bulgarian, semi Alpine.

This is not an invitation to go there. Yet. But it's coming up on the map rather strong.

Word of the Week:

EGN - EGeNe or Unified Citizen Number

Bulgaria stands almost unique in Europe for being one of the first countries to implement a codified numbering of its citizens. Its EGN system was applied in the mid-70s (when China was still trying to get people out of villages, let alone track them). Each citizen gets a unique number which can identify him with 100% certainty.

Unless, as it turned out this week, he or she didn't change it. Up to now, we admit we didn't have a clue that was even possible. Yet the killed Notary (see above) did indeed use another EGN and the Regional Ministry, in charge of the system, explained you could change it through a court decision, if you bring witnesses to certify you were born on a different date. Thousands of Bulgarians actually did so, mostly before EU entry in 2007 (possibly to get rid of black stamps in passports).

There you go, another day in the fairy land of infinite possibilities.

Things are moving so damn slow here, complained a foreign investor this week. He is contemplating an exit mostly because of other issues, but in a moment of honesty, he cited changes in the way of life in Bulgaria and other parts of the region. Despite rising salaries, the only place with visible changes, he said, is Sofia. This is not how the rest of the region looks and feels, he claims.

By using this site you agree to the use of cookies to improve the experience, customize content and ads, and analyze traffic. See our cookie policy and privacy policy. OK