(MENAFN - Arab News) In rasovo in northwest bulgaria the most impoverished area of the eu's poorest country the village square is newly paved and some buildings have been whitewashed courtesy of development funds from brussels.
but there is no masking the fact that 25 years since the end of communism and seven years after bulgaria joined the european union life here is bleak — and getting bleaker.
'they re-did the square the children's playground the library and made a new sewage system" local rosa ivanova 78 a retired agronomist told afp. 'but there are no people!'
there are 'no jobs whatsoever for the young people... my kids ran away my house is empty — only me and three goats left" said retired bus driver stoyan naydenov 62.
'everyone either left or died."
under communism more than 4000 people lived in rasovo 140 kilometers (90 miles) north of the capital sofia employed by huge cooperative farms and factories.
now there are fewer than 1000 residents and those who remain are mostly old rattling past collapsed buildings along potholed streets in carts pulled by donkeys.
rasovo's spruced-up playground is devoid of children. schools in the area have been renovated but some have been forced to close as there are very few kids.
the situation is not much different in the nearby small town of brusartsi.
'there are no factories unemployment is pervasive" retired train driver zhivko yordanov 64 said.
'the only events are funerals."
in the regional centers of vidin montana and vratsa unemployment last year was between 20-22 percent — almost twice the national rate of 11 percent and double the rates of seven years ago.
the rural region bordering serbia and romania traditioally tops the tables with some of the lowest birth and highest mortality rates in the country.
economist yavor alexiev from the sofia-based institute for market economics said that much of the eu investment has failed to tackle the deeper problems.
some measures 'improve the environment and the infrastructure no doubt but do not influence the standard of living and people's incomes and employment" alexiev told afp.
in addition in a country long criticized by brussels for failing to tackle corruption and organized crime money earmarked for administrative improvements often gets 'syphoned off" he said.
in agriculture the mainstay of the local economy the hopes of small farmers for eu aid have been dashed with government data showing that 80 percent of farming subsidies have gone to six percent of farmers.
'whoever has some small patch of land has rented it to the big tenant farmers. there's three of them here farming all the land in rasovo and getting any subsidies there is to get" retired tractor driver rangel dimitrov 69 said.
optimism a year ago that an impressive new road-and-rail bridge across the danube into romania — paid for by the eu — would give the area a shot in the arm has also faded.
'there was a bit of a stir romanians coming to shop here during the first month when the crossing was toll-free. then everything died out" musician ira dimcheva 29 said in vidin.
bad roads in the region however have put truckers off. most of them still prefer to cross over the danube further east even if this means waiting for hours at ferryboat ports.
still with eu elections set for may 25 most bulgarians remain pro-european even if surveys find them unhappy about progress their country has made.