'VIP beaches'?

2010-08-27

A working group of Government ministries and coastal regional and municipal administrations is to consider changes to Bulgaria’s law on the Black Sea coast – and controversy has followed a reported proposal by Bourgas governor Konstantin Grebenarov to allow restricting access to beaches in front of hotels only to guests, barring use by the general public. The idea raised a storm of indignation from various voices who said that this would be in breach of Bulgaria’s constitution, which gives the state "exclusive ownership rights" over beaches. Among these voices was Kavarna mayor Tsonko Tsonev, who said that idea of dividing beaches so that some would be accessible "only by the rich" as discriminatory. "Under the constitution, all beaches are public property, they are the property of all Bulgarian citizens and we cannot forbid some of them use of the beaches just because they are poor," he told mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa. Writing in the same daily, history professor Dragomir Draganov asked "Is it that the constitution is not applicable in coastal areas?" As it was, Draganov said, some of those holding concessions on beaches broke the law and the constitution by putting up taverns on the beaches, operating paid parking areas and erecting barriers, in effect turning the beach into "exclusive private property". Summer 2010 has already seen some controversy about access to beaches. Media reports quoted prosecutors as describing fences blocking public access to the beach at Rusalka resort as illegal. Financial daily Pari said that while the idea of closing access to some beaches could make it possible for some resorts to offer higher-quality facilities and so attract wealthier customers, investors in tourism were likely to react badly because already Bulgaria’s beaches were too limited to accommodate the huge numbers of visitors and the large number of hotels that had been built recently. Speaking to daily Dnevnik, Regional Development Minister Rosen Plevneliev spoke out against the idea of what media reports called "VIP beaches". However, Dnevnik said, in January his deputy, Ekaterina Zaharieva, said that there were plans to have six different categories of beaches, with varying tariffs for access to them. Reports quoted Grebenarov as saying that next summer season, there would be "private beaches" at certain resorts and hotels, of the "all-inclusive" variety. But, speaking to Bulgarian National Television on August 24, he denied that he intended preventing Bulgarian citizens having access to beaches, saying that he wanted only to resolve the question of access to beaches. To a question, he rejected allegations that he was "lobbying for business interests". Minister without portfolio Bozhidar Dimitrov, who is from Sozopol, said that Bulgaria had 384km of coast, but with harbours, industrial facilities and military areas, only about half was accessible. "And if you close some beaches… I do not know what you will be able to say to the Bulgarian citizen denied access to much of the coast" he said. Various proposals have been put forward by officials for changes to the law on the Black Sea, to be considered by a working group, of representatives of the ministries of regional development, economy, finance, environment and the regional administrations of Dobrich, Varna and Bourgas.