A Bulgarian Story

02/07/2008 by Christopher Buxton

Once upon a time, two old ladies were presented with a large house in the middle of Burgas. It had been restored to them following the fall of Communism. Let’s give them non Bulgarian names to protect the innocent. Cherie Wolf and May Shepherd.

Cherie’s father, Jack, had built the substantial house in the late 1930s. It consisted of three floors, an attic and cellars. Beaten and tortured till he was yellow, Cherie’s father had seen all his lands and buildings confiscated in the name of the people in the late 40s.

So you can imagine Cherie’s excitement when after years of poverty and discrimination, she and her sister-in-law, May, were handed the title deeds of her father’s old house.
In spite of some internal damage and difficult tenants, the house was in good condition, which was as well since Cherie had no money for expensive repairs.

May sold her half of the building to a large Russian firm, whose boss is now in a Siberian prison. But in spite of the little street filling up with black sedans and shaven headed wrestlers, Cherie was determined to keep her share of her father’s house. It still has her father’s name carved into the stone entrance slab. Cherie had seen enough of the harsh new world of crashing banks to know the security of property. So with a minimal pension and significant care needs, Cherie let her half – a shop/fast food outlet on the ground and two offices on the second floor. After time Cherie found she had enough money to share in the repair of the roof.

Meanwhile – as happens in these cutthroat days, the Russian boss fell foul of the new Putinocracy and the enormous firm was split. A Bulgarian firm with Russian connexions took over the other half of the building.

Its boss was and still is Mr Dimo Podlev. Dimo, a sharp economics graduate, son of a Communist General and protege of the one time party elite, became the boss of one of the richest companies in Bulgaria. We have given him a Bulgarian name to protect the guilty. He was obviously very talented but it took more than talent and ruthlessness to get where he now is. He is sparing and modest in his speech. He told me that “above him there is only God.”

Mr Goshko Rutzov was and still is Dimo’s main man in Burgas. He inhabits the towering hotel Dimo has bought and looks like a Roman Emperor. While Dimo is slight and prickly, Mr Rutzov is effusive and stuffed with social niceties. His office is packed with expensive presents from grateful clients. He acts with the confidence of a man with photos of his yacht on his office wall. But he has been seen to grovel in front of important Russians in the hotel foyer.

A year ago Mr Rutzov became very concerned about the state of the shared building. Suppose it was to fall down! Over the last year he has spent thousands on more and more “experts” to prove the building dangerous. He even tried to bill Cherie after the event – to pay for experts she had never heard of.

A commission from the town hall came to inspect the building and despite tremendous pressure from a perspiring Mr Rutzov could find nothing wrong.

This did not stop the morally responsible Mr Rutzov from sending Cherie’s tenants expensively produced reports from his paid experts to impress upon them the need to evacuate the dangerous building. His aim through sensational graphics was to scare the tenants away and cut off Cherie’s only source of income.

Behind all this lurked Mr Dimo Podlev, his desire to have the 1920s building knocked down and have in its place a prestigious modern block which would be entirely under his control. Last year he and God sent Cherie an ultimatum. Either sell to him or agree to take a 25% share of the new building but lease all control of that share to him. Cherie consulted with her friends and came up with a counter-proposal. This was met with six months of silence. Mr Podlev had very important negotiations in Israel.

In the last two months Mr Rutzov has brought in commission after commission. Cherie sits in her badly repaired flat, not knowing what will happen next as neither Mr Rutzov nor Dimo Podlev feel the need to talk to her – the sole surviving child of the house that Jack built.
Who gains the most from this? Why lawyers of course. A frightened Cherie has consulted a lawyer and now has to find 2,000 leva.

This David and Goliath story will continue.