Bulgarians Protest Against Pension Changes, Spending Cuts

Thousands of Bulgarians marched and rallied in the capital Sofia today and blocked traffic to protest spending cuts and a government decision to raise the retirement age.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov reduced farm aid, cut services and workers from the state railways and raised the retirement age one year from 2012, instead of 2021 under a pension changes started last year, to contain the impact of the euro area’s sovereign-debt crisis.

“We are not numbers in a balance sheet,” syndicate chief Plamen Dimitrov said at the rally. “These are real people behind these numbers who deserve a better life.” Protesters carried an effigy of Finance Minister Simeon Djankov demanding his resignation.

Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest country in terms of economic output per capita, weathered the global crisis without borrowing from international lenders. The country aims to narrow this year’s budget gap to 2 percent of gross domestic product and 1.35 percent in 2012.

Some 18,000 people won’t be able to retire next year as planned if Parliament backs the government’s pension plan, which will help cut the 2 billion lev ($1.4 billion) deficit in the state pension fund by 28 million lev in 2012 and 121 million lev in 2013, Labor Minister Totyu Mladenov said Nov. 28.

‘Delayed’ by a Decade

“Reforms in the pensions system and the railways have been delayed by more than a decade,” Djankov told reporters in Sofia today. “If we don’t carry them out now, they will be much tougher for everyone to do later.”

Hundreds of farmers throughout the countryside blocked key highways for several hours as they went into a third day of protests against government cuts in subsidies by 230 million lev next year. The farmers will get vouchers to buy tax-free fuel next year as a compensation, Djankov said.

Dozens of trains also stopped between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. today as railway workers went on strike for the seventh day after the Bulgarian State Railways EAD said it will dismiss 2,500 workers and cancel 150 train lines by the end of the year to secure a 460 million-lev loan agreement from the World Bank.

The railways’ losses in 2010 amounted to 218 million lev, while its debts to banks, suppliers, tax authorities and in wage arrears amounted to 817 million lev, Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski said on Nov 23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Konstantinova in Sofia at ekonstantino@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

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