Interview with Anton Iliev, Head of European Projects Directorate in the Bobov Dol municipality.
Just Transition: How affected is the Bobov Dol municipality by the closure of the last underground coal mine in Bulgaria?
Anton Iliev: Underground coal mining in Bobov Dol has taken place since 1891 and, throughout the years, it has been a major branch of the local economy and of great importance to the region.
The main reason for the closure is the fact that the underground mining is a very labor-intensive and expensive process. Difficult conditions and large water inflows make it hard to mine, drastically increase production costs, and lead to unprofitable underground extraction as a whole. The lack of finance for the maintenance of the mine leads to the inability to provide normal safe working conditions for the employees.
A substantial part of the working population has benefited from coal mining, but this trend has been decreasing in recent years. Bobov Dol is the most affected municipality in the region, as it bears all the negative consequences: increased unemployment, lack of alternative employment, loss of the working force – as the active population is leaving the town and villages, the impossibility of urgent diversification of the economy, the absence of a central authority capable of solving the problem, etc.
JT: What impact do you expect on employment and the economy as a whole?
AI: The main consequences of the closure of underground mining on employment and the economy are the lack of investments in other sectors, the shift of labour resources to more attractive regions and even outside the country, the depopulation of the municipality, a reduction in the number of educational institutions, the restriction of transport connections with other settlements. Over the last 2-3 years, 1,000 people have been made redundant from their mining jobs, which led to a huge shock on employment and the economy.
JT: Do you see potential for the “Just Transition” vision in the region and will you mobilise the community to get involved?
AI: Yes, “Just Transition” really has potential, but each of the coalfields needs to be analysed and studied in detail. It is necessary to understand well the problems and the current situation in order to suggest concrete and up to date solutions. The Bobov Dol municipality will always support initiatives and opportunities for improving the living standards of the population, so it will actively support the participation of all stakeholders – public sector, business organisations, NGOs and citizens. Nevertheless, the central government must play a key role in the development of the economy of the regions, by implementing specific investment mechanisms.
JT: What economic and employment alternatives would there be in Bobov Dol with the right investments? What is the potential of the region?
AI: The Bobov Dol municipality is located in southwestern Bulgaria, close to the border with the region Kyustendil. The total area is 206.2 sq. km, which represents about 11% of the territory of the region. The municipal territory borders on the north with the municipality of Radomir (Pernik region), on east with the municipality of Dupnitsa, on south – the Boboshevo municipality, on southwest with the municipality of Nevestino and on west with the municipality Kyustendil (Kyustendil region). The population of Bobov Dol municipality equals 7,952 inhabitants, 5,177 of whom live in Bobov Dol, representing 65.1% of the population, and the remaining 2,775 inhabitants live in villages in the municipality, which means the rural population represents 34.9 % of the total population of the municipality. The land resources on the territory of Bobov Dol municipality amount to 206171.94 decares*. In the structure of land use, the agricultural fund is predominant – 134380.587 decares (63% of the total area). Of these, the arable lands are 99356.758 decares. and pastures and meadows 35023.829 acres. The forest fund occupies 55490,018 decares (26% of the total area).
At present, the Bobov Dol municipality has comparative advantage for attracting investments in the following areas: low land and property prices; low labour costs; availability of a free labour force; availability of resources for the light industry, including food, textile, shoe, processing, production of elements, materials, parts, etc. There is untapped potential in tourism.
The municipality’s strategic location is a strong advantage from the point of view of attracting investors – about an hour away from the capital – Sofia, and between Pan-European Corridor 4 in direction of Thessaloniki (Greece) and Pan-European Corridor 8 to Skopje (Macedonia) – Tirana and Durres (Albania) – Bari (Italy) – a major prerequisite for the development of logistics centers.
1 decare= 1/10 of a hectare