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News from Bulgaria / May 17, 96
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From: Embassy of Bulgaria <firstname.lastname@example.org>
EMBASSY OF BULGARIA - WASHINGTON D.C.
BTA - BULGARIAN TELEGRAPH AGENCY
17 May, 1996
 TRUST IN INSTITUTIONS WANESSofia, May 16 (BTA) - Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski topped approval ratings in April. He is the only politician who inspires more confidence than mistrust. Pirinski enjoys the support of 84 per cent of the electorate of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, 20 per cent of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces and 22 per cent of non- partisan voters, according to the April nationwide opinion poll, condicted by BBSS Gallup International.
There is almost no change in the rating of Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, who comes second on the list, approved by 40 per cent of the respondents. Former caretaker prime minister Reneta Indjova also ranked among the first three politicians in April. She led President Zhelev by one point; he enjoyed the confidence of 32 per cent of the respondents. The study shows the same percentage of approval for exiled Bulgarian king Simeon II, who lives in Spain.
According to the study, President Zhelev is approved by one third of the population. Older people and small town residents are least happy with his performance. He is more popular among those aged between 41 and 50, with higher than secondary education and among Sofianites, the study shows. According to the figures, confidence in the President has dropped to its February levels.
The opinion poll shows a drop of confidence in other institutions. Within four months the Government lost five points from its rating. In April the Cabinet was approved by 30 per cent of the respondents and disapproved by 48 per cent. Workers, officials and the unemployed are most critical of the Cabinet's performance, and it is most popular with the elderly.
In the past four months Parliament lost nine points of its rating. It was approved by only 19 per cent of the respondents and disproved by 57 per cent. Together with the judiciary, this institution is at the bottom of the approval scale, according to the study.
After a brief rise in approval in March, the two large trade union amalgamations, the Confederation of Indepentent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Podkrepa Labour Confederation, returned to their February rating, which is respectivelly 18 per cent for CITUB and 12 per cent for Podkrepa. The army and the church still enjoy approval (respectively by 60 per cent and 46 per cent of the respondents), but the general downward tendency is valid for them too.
The rating of the national electronic media also dropped. Within a month the Bulgarian National Radio lost eight points, and in April reached its lowest rating since November, 1995, the study shows. The 58 per cent approval is the lowest rating of the television over the last four months.
In April the daily "Troud" lost four points from its March rating but still topped the list. "24 Chassa" lost eight points in April, hitting a four-month low. The two top-circulation papers are followed by "Standart News" (21 per cent), "Douma", the daily of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, (18 per cent), "Demokratsiya", the daily of the Union of Democratic Forces (13 per cent), and the weekly "168 Chassa" (12 per cent).
 STRUCTURAL REFORM"Sixty-four companies are to be closed down; social tensions there escalate" runs the headline of a front-page article in "Douma", the daily of the ruling Socialist Party. The workforce of the loss- makers is discontented, according to dispatches from around the country published in "Douma". Some of the enterprises due for liquidation are subject to privatization, says "24 Chassa" quoting Deputy Prime Minister Doncho Konakchiev. Bulgaria will be liable to foreign exchange crises until its economy becomes competitive, says central bank Governor Lyubomir Filipov in an interview in "Bulgarska Armia".
Liquidation costs less than rehabilitation, says Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Mincho Koralski in an article in "Pari". The IMF will sign a lending agreement with Bulgaria only after the Government backs up words with deeds in the field of restructuring, IMF Mission Leader to Bulgaria Anne McGuirk told MPs of the largest opposition force, the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), on Wednesday, the UDF "Demokratsiya" daily reports. Bulgaria, which is on the brink of financial and economic catastrophe, is signing a capitulation agreement with the IMF and the World Bank because of the Government's monetarist approach to the transition process, says Krustyo Petkov, President of the influential Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB), in "Troud".
The Energy Committee is opposed to the quick sell-off of coalmining companies and thermo-electric power stations, "Pari" and other dailies quote Energy Committee boss Konstantin Roussinov as saying at a meeting in Varna on Wednesday. Roussinov said the Cabinet's decision to close down mines was ill-advised, "Pari" says. "Pit closures are unjustified in many cases. People will chuck coal at anyone who tells them they are laid off," CITUB Vice President Ivan Neikov said at a news conference after Wednesday's meeting of the Tripartite Cooperation Council, consisting of employers' organizations, trade unions and cabinet representatives.
Unnamed MPs of the BSP-led parliamentary Democratic Left said bank liquidations may start in late June at the earliest, "Standart News" says. It is likely that the National Bank of Bulgaria (BNB) will authorize mergers between state-owned and private banks, the daily says. "Banks which suspend payments for a week will be put into liquidation" runs the headline of an interview in "Troud" with Borislav Stratiev, Head of the BNB Legal Department.
An IMF memo of March marked "confidential", concerning Bulgaria's banking sector, said the State Savings Bank would be transformed into a commercial bank within five years, while other banks would be closed down, says a front-page story in "Continent". According to unconfirmed information, the World Bank will provide the 70,000 million leva needed for the closure of loss-making banks, the same story says. The jumps of the dollar and the bread shortage of the last few days are about to strip the Videnov Cabinet of the last traces of confidence at a time when the BSP badly needs social support for the start of structural reform, says another story in "Continent".
 PRICES GO UP"Food prices broke all records in 15 days" runs a front-page headline in "Standart News". The daily quotes Wednesday's report of the National Statistical Institute, saying that food prices rose by 6.3 per cent in 15 days, the largest increase in a year. Referring to the 6.2 per cent rise in the cost of living in 15 days, "Demokratsiya" says soaring prices are a disaster to the defenceless Bulgarians.
The dailies write about the rise in the price of yoghurt made by the Danone-Serdika joint venture. The price of beer made by Bulgaria's oldest brewery in Shoumen (Northeastern Bulgaria) also rose. Bottom-of-the-range joints at the Sunny Beach resort (on the Black Sea) offer a beer and a sandwich from upwards of two dollars, says "24 Chassa".
"The dollar keeps a stranglehold on culture" runs the headline of an editorial comment in "24 Chassa". The world may hear soon that Bulgarians cannot watch foreign films and take part in international competitions because of the jump of the dollar against the lev, the story says.
 COAT OF ARMS BILL ADOPTED ON FIRST READINGSofia, May 16 (BTA) - First-reading discussions of the national symbols bill triggered heated debates. The Government-sponsored coat of arms featuring a lion witout a crown was supported only by the MPs of the Left. The opposition abstained from the vote. The national emblem proposed by the Government features a gold lion rampant against an escutcheon gules, as specified in the Constitution adopted in 1991.
122 of all 240 MPs voted for the new bill at first reading. Prior to the voting, the majority rejected a proposal of MP Dimiter Ivanov of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) to reinstate the coat of arms used until 1947 when Bulgaria was a monarchy. The first- reading adoption of the bill was accompanied by scandals. By the end of the voting UDF MPs Vassil Mihailov and Dimiter Ivanov and the tellers exchanged blows, because the former were not admitted to the rostrum. Heated arguments were triggered already at the beginning of the debates on the bill due to procedural disagreements. The MPs were twice given a break.
In the beginning of the discussions UDF MP Svetoslav Louchnikov proposed that the consideration of the bill be postponed by a week, so that the political forces reach a compromise. He was joined by the representatives of the opposition Popular Union and ethnic Turks' Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
"This is an issue on which there has never been a consensus and the Left thinks that the time for negotiations is over," Socialists' Floor Leader Krassimir Premyanov said. He recalled that the other parliamentary groups had categorically rejected the Left's proposal to settle this question after amending the Constitution. Premyanov said that following the first-reading adoption, consultations will be held to improve the design of the Government-proposed coat of arms. "However we will adhere to the Constitution ruling that the lion should be crownless," he stated.
Arguments over the national emblem started already right after the fall of communist regime in 1989. Dozens of designs were made, some of which were submitted to Parliament for discussions, but the political forces did not reach a consensus and Bulgaria still uses the coat of arms of totalitarian times. The most sensitive issue is whether the lion should wear a crown or not.
One of the earliest designs, which enjoyed comparatively large support, belonged to painters Georgi Chapkunov and Kiril Gogov and it bore a slight resemblance to the coat of arms used in the Kingdom of Bulgaria. However, this and certain other designs were rejected. The cabinet of Lyuben Berov (which was in office in 1992-1994) moved to Parliament a design of a coat of arms featuring a gold lion against escutcheon gules, surrounded by two other lions, oak branches and a ribbon bearing the inscription, "United We stand, Divided We Fall". After the Socialist Party won the December 1994 parliamentary elections, the Socialists Government moved to Parliament a national symbols bill under which the coat of arms has a crownless lion. This prompted heated political and public arguments. The opposition insisted on a crowned lion symbolizing Bulgarian traditions of the time before the communists' seizure of power. In late November 1995 UDF backed the idea to reinstate the coat of arms of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom (1879-1949). The proposal was included in the Parliament's agenda. Shortly before its consideration President Zhelyu Zhelev supported the idea for a crowned lion in a special address before the MPs. After this the MPs of the Democratic Left voted the withdrawal of this issue from the agenda and proposed that consultations be held first, aimed at reaching an agreement. However, the consultations did not turn successful.
 WILL PARLIAMENT VOTE NATIONAL COAT-OF-ARMS?"Coat-of-Arms to Be Voted Today," reads a front-page headline in "Douma". The leadership of the parliamentary group of the coalition in power is urgently recalling MPs from abroad to take part in the vote for the project, tabled by Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, "Demokratsiya" says.
Three bills on the national coat-of-arms will be put to the vote today, says Chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Culture MP Ivo Atanasov of the BSP, interviewed for "Zemya". The crown in the coat-of-arms (for whose inclusion the opposition insists) was rejected already by the Grand National Assembly, Mr Atanassov reminds. If the Government had consulted the commission more than a year ago, a better design for the coat-of-arms would have been suggested and the problem would have been already settled, says MP Atanasov, quoted by "Douma".
The opposition will not take part in the vote and will check the quorum in the plenary hall, "Continent" writes. It is absurd to believe that the coat-of-arms will be voted before the end of May; this may be done in the beginning of September the earliest, "Standart News" quotes unnamed experts as saying.
The dailies write about the Clean Air Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly yesterday. Under the legislation the drivers of cars which pollute the air with poison gases are subject to heavy charges. The authorities encourage neither sales of new cars nor bettering the position of the Bulgarians; the legislation seeks to do away with the drivers in the country and the MPs have no qualms in voting it, because their Mercedes cars do not pollute the air, says a signed commentary in "Standart News".
 KOZLODUI N-PLANTThe shutting down of the oldest 440-MW reactor of the Kozlodui nuclear power plant (on the Danube) started on Wednesday night, the dailies write, quoting sources from the plant. It will be fully de-linked from the power grid on Friday. The reactor will be tested under a memorandum signed last autumn between the Energy Committee, the National Electric Company and the European Union. "Standart News" says Bulgaria will lose some 5 million dollars from the shut-down before the end of the fuel cycle.
"Bulgaria acted on its commitment to shut down Unit One of the Kozlodui plant on May 15, a month before the end of this year's fuel cycle. This is an act of goodwill though the EU has not signed a financial memorandum on compensating Bulgaria for its additional expenses. We accept the tests as a way of proving the unit's safety, but the pressure for its early shut-down is unacceptable, there being no technical or safety grounds for this," says Energy Committee boss Konstantin Roussinov in "Continent".
"Standart News" reports that Bulgaria will surely receive the promised ECU 26 million in compensation because the EU has signed all documents. The daily quotes Wednesday's statement by Jean Trestour, head of the Bulgaria and Romania section of the European Commission. Energy Committee First Deputy Chairman Roumen Ovcharov says in an interview in "Troud": "We are getting ECU 20 million in compensation for the shut-down of Unit One."
"24 Chassa" quotes Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development Roumen Gechev as saying that "if international experts find that the reactor is up to standard, it will be restarted; otherwise it won't. We'd better have electricity rationing rather than take risks".
 BANK FAILURESThe dailies report that the amendments to the Banks and Lending Act adopted on Tuesday were gazetted in an extraordinary issue of the State Gazette on Wednesday and entered in force. Thus regulations on bank failure are already in place.
Today the National Bank's Governing Board will discuss the liquidation of some commercial banks and ways to stabilize others, "Continent" says. Cabinet representatives may attend the meeting under the National Bank Act, "Douma" says. "Banks which suspend payments for a week will be put into liquidation," Borislav Stratev, Head of the central bank's Legal Department, says in an interview in "Troud".
 OVER 2.7 MILLION BUY VOUCHERS, DEADLINE EXTENDED AGAINSofia, May 16 (BTA) - The mass privatization registration desks at the post offices will probably be opened once again but for not more than ten days, said Mass Privatization Centre chief Kalin Mitrev. This will be the last chance for those wishing to take part in mass privatization.
The registration period will be extended by parliamentary resolution authorizing the government to extend the deadline for a second time. The new deadline has not been announced yet and will depend on the speed of privatization funds registration.
Over 2.7 million have bought voucher books since the start of registration on January 3, 1996. This is 44% of this country's population aged 18 and over. Over 200,000 voucher books were bought on the last day for registration May 8, alone which is 7% of the total number of sold books. Then some registration desks worked till midnight, according to the Mass Privatization Centre.
The latest sociological surveys show that 60% of adult Bulgarians are inclined to take part in mass privatization and 15% are hesitating. Therefore the Mass Privatization Centre expects 1-1.2 million more to buy voucher books.
 CONTRADICTORY TRENDS IN EMPLOYMENTSofia, May 16 (Andrey Sharkov of BTA) - In late April unemployment in Bulgaria was 11.0%, which was 0.4% down from a month earlier. The redundancies to result from government-planned closures of 64 state-run companies will push joblessness up to 11.7%, the Head of the National Employment Service Milcho Dimitrov, Deputy Labour and Social Affairs Minister, told a press conference today. The companies to be closed down as a result of the beginning structural reform now employ 25,383 people, Deputy Prime Minister Doncho Konakchiev told a press conference yesterday. Not all will be laid off, with some jobs to be created in the structural reform programme itself. The Head of the National Employment Service today ordered the establishment of special teams to study employment problems in closing firms, he told the media. By May 29 information will be available that will make it possible to cushion the social impact of the closures, Dimitrov said. Now different restrictions and legal gaps prevent people made redundant from receiving additional benefits in case of closures, but the Council of Ministers legal department is working on this problem, Dimitrov said. All companies on the list have more assets than liabilities, and employees will probably be able to collect the benefits provided by their contracts and the Labour Code, he also said.
Unemployment, on the decline since February, is still falling, the National Employment Service announced today. In April it fell 2.7% from March, to 422,215 people. The number of jobless women declined 3.3%, and of men 2%.
The Labour Ministry has launched a one-year experimental programme to cut down youth unemployment, the Ministry announced several days ago. Young people who prove enterprising will be eligible for a 2 million leva loan (some $20,000) to launch a private business, Dimitrov told BTA. This will provide a living to some 5,400 young people, Ministry officials believe.
April usually sees a seasonal rise in labour demand, Dimitrov told the media. Job advertisements rose 15.2% from March, to 17,373. Demand was highest for unqualified people and lowest for specialists. Pressures on the labour market diminished in April, with 24 people vying for a single job, the Service's Press Office said. The two poles are Sofia, with five people competing for a job, and Rousse region (northeastern Bulgaria), with 77 people.
Unemployment benefits paid out in April hit 329,143 leva, 2.3% less than a month earlier. Benefits were paid to 110,603 people, 2.2% less than in March. In April, 17,160 were employed under the National Employment Service temporary employment programme, which was 27.6% up from March 1996 and 30.8% up from April 1995.
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