Spectre of beggary looms over Bulgaria

As the lev sinks, people are desperate to convert savings into dollars, marks, or table lamps, writes Tony Barber

Wages have halved in value since the start of the year. The lev, the national currency, is falling by the hour. Even sausages are too expensive for some shoppers.

Bulgaria is languishing in its worst economic crisis since its Communist edifice began to crack in 1989. President Petar Stoyanov, newly installed in office, told European Union leaders last Wednesday that Bulgaria was in danger of defaulting on its $10bn (pounds 6.25bn) foreign debt.

The Bulgarian National Bank admitted last week it lacked the resources to control the crisis. "The BNB alone will not be able to contain further depreciation of the currency, galloping inflation and deepening destabilisation of the financial system," a statement said.

There is almost no money left for importing fuel and grain. The International Monetary Fund is withholding a $115m credit because it says Bulgaria's Socialist (ex-Communist) government has failed to introduce meaningful economic reforms.

Actually, it is hard to say whether Bulgaria has a government or not. Zhan Zidenov, Prime Minister since 1994, was forced out of office last December after Mr Stoyanov scored a decisive presidential election victory over one of Mr Zidenov's Socialist colleagues.

Then mass street protests broke out against the Socialists in early January as students, workers and opposition politicians demanded fresh parliamentary elections. Thousands of miners and public-sector workers were on strike yesterday, and demonstrators closed the main road to the border with Greece for the third day.

Since the Socialists are still the largest party in parliament, Mr Stoyanov asked the Socialist Interior Minister, Nikolai Dobrev, to form a government. However, sensing the depth of public hostility to his party, Mr Dobrev has been in no hurry to carry out his task. He mused yesterday that the best solution might be a coalition government that included the anti-Socialist opposition.

Meanwhile, the crisis gathers pace. Monthly inflation in January is thought to have hit 50 per cent. Annual inflation in 1997 is predicted to reach 3,600 per cent.

The lev, which stood at 70 to the dollar one year ago and 495 at the start of this year, was quoted on Bulgaria's interbank market yesterday at 1,730 to 1,900. Its collapse has gutted thousands of people's savings.

Long queues have formed outside banks in Sofia as people withdraw their deposits. They hope to convert them into dollars or German marks before all is lost. So worthless is the lev that some Bulgarians are investing their money in cheap electrical appliances. A table lamp may hold its value better than a wad of leva.

Mr Stoyanov, visiting Brussels this week, said the Socialists bore much of the blame. However, he pointed out that Bulgaria had suffered from the international sanctions imposed on Iraq and former Yugoslavia, which used to be two of Bulgaria's closest trading partners.

"I will be unfair to my fellow-countrymen if I pass over in silence their justified disappoint- ment, when the sacrifice Bulgaria made in the years of sanctions against former Yugoslavia remained on the sidelines of world attention," he said. He estimated Bulgaria's total losses from the sanctions at $6.5bn.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer is recr...

Langley James : IT Support, Bradford £16k - £22k

£16000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Langley James : IT Support, Bradford £16...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager / Invoice Finance £75k OTE

£40000 - £50000 per annum + £75,000 OTE Car+Mobile : h2 Recruit Ltd: Business ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager-Managed Services-£80,000 OTE

£45000 - £80000 per annum + £80,000 OTE + Car,benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Busine...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital