Thursday, January 27, 2011


My district is called Zaharna Fabrika, which means Sugar Factory. It was named after the first sugar factory in Bulgaria, built in 1898 by the Belgian Solvay company. At that time, it was located at a railway crossing 4 km away from the city of Sofia. The city grew and eventually reached the factory. In the early 1940s, the district was built as accommodation complex for the factory workers.
The sugar factory itself stopped work decades ago. I have never seen it working, but have always liked the simple beauty of its buildings. It had the status of a cultural landmark. Unfortunately, Bulgarian government after 1989 abdicated from its duty to protect cultural and historical landmarks. Officials perceived democracy as an opportunity not to spend time and efforts on performing standard government functions, the functions that justify the very existence of government. Law and order deteriorated, education deteriorated, landmarks were sold away to private individuals and companies. In theory, the law required any owner of a landmark object to care for its maintenance. However, there was nobody to execute the law. Predator "investors" started buying landmarks and deliberately letting them to deteriorate by all means short of openly calling a wreckage crew. After some time, the landmark in question reliably turned into ruin, its disappearance was documented and the owner was free to do whatever he wished on his cleared land.
On Jan. 7, the Trud daily reported on its 2nd page:
"Greeks are appealing a fine for the Sugar Factory
The owners of the former Sugar Factory in Sofia are appealing in court the fine of 100,000 lv. (about EUR 50,000 - M.M.). It was imposed on them by the Municipality of Sofia because the building was dangerous. In December 2009, collapse of a concrete plate in the factory killed two Roma (Gypsies - M.M.). The Greek company TAB Real Estate, which owns the building, says that the fine is too high..."
I remember that day in 2009 (it was actually November, not December). My mother in-law came back from shopping and said, "I have passed by the Gypsy ghetto, people had gathered there, women were crying. Something has happened. Let's watch the TV news to find out." The same evening, TV channels reported that three young Gypsy men, two brothers and their brother in-law, had gone into the sugar factory building to collect iron pieces to sell them for scrap (many unemployed Gypsies try to feed themselves and their families in this way). However, the iron rail they took turned out to be a supporting part, so the building collapsed over them. The brother in-law managed to escape, but the two brothers were buried under the ruins and later found dead by the rescue team. gives their names as Dimitar and Stefan and their ages as 31 and around 40.
It was immediately reported that the owner was a Greek entrepreneur who not only failed to take the measures prescribed by the municipality to strenghten and guard the building but actually encouraged the local Gypsies to remove metal parts from it in order to accelerate its deterioration. The quotes below are from a Nov. 19, 2009 report by the BNT TV channel:
"Two brothers die in Sugar Factory building collapse
...Minko Gerdzhikov, Deputy Mayor of Sofia, said, "Owner of the building is TBA Real Estate (most other sources give it as TAB - M.M.). This is a Greek company, the owner's name is Kafalis. At present, he is hiding from us, does not want to speak. He is clearly aware that he is guilty of negligence. On the other hand, he apparently wanted this property not as a sugar factory but as a piece of land to be used by him for other purposes. I was informed by police sources that the owners even encouraged those living in the vicinity to demolish the building."
The locals quickly found whom to blame. The victims' sister said, "My brothers came to earn 5 leva, to buy food for themselves and their children, because they are unemployed. The owner came himself here in front of us and told us to demolish the building and told the police not to harass us, but policemen gather and only want money from us. They stop our horse carts and take 20, 30, 50 leva and this is why my brothers died here."

In October 2009, just a month before the tragedy, BTV channel reported that the cultural landmark could collapse any moment.
I would not lay any blame on the poor Gypsy men who struggled to support their families. You cannot realistically demand respect to cultural heritage from people who are hungry. And after the owner himself told them it was OK to demolish, how could they realize they were doing something wrong? I am sorry for them and their families, and I think the owner is guilty, and also our authorities.
I wanted to have the Greek nationality of the owner confirmed before writing this post, so I waited for quite a lont time. You see, it is dangerous even to report the truth in these matters, because it spawns xenophobia, let alone trust on rumous and unconfirmed hearsay evidence. Still I would not put "Greek" in the title as Trud did. One could assume that all Greeks have invaded Bulgaria en masse to destroy our heritage.
I wonder, what would happen to Mr. Kafalis (or whatever his name is) if he had tried the same business plan in his native Greece? Greek authorities would push him down a mouse burrow, as we say. And I think any government must deal with its nationals destroying heritage, whatever country they choose for their evil deed. Cultiral and historical heritage belongs to all of the world. And there is no hope to preserve it without international cooperation, exactly as it is impossible to defeat corruption without ensuring international transparency.
I made the first photo shortly after the tragedy, in January 2010. You see the collapsing builsing, and also the open unguarded gates. Anybody could enter there, any poor Gypsy scrap collector or bum seeking refuge or playing child could become the next victim. The next three photos are from July 2010. I made them to preserve the image of the Sugar Factory which I like so much, because it continues to deteriorate. It is already in a worse state that shown in the photos, and I guess it will be levelled to the ground in a few years. The last photo, like the first one, shows the crime scene. At least, the so-called owner has made it inaccessible. There is a fence and the gate is locked. Some minor buildings of the Sugar Factory complex have not been bought by TAB Real Estate and have remained outside the fence. They are illegally occupied by Gypsy families who maintain them as they can, and they are the only parts of the cultural landmark likely to survive.

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