A single checkpoint open and all other 12 closed, a queue of over 50 cars, no lights and no information whatsoever about what was going on: this is how Bulgaria, the new EU member, welcomed the people who wanted to drive into the country from Turkey through the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint on 28 January.
Unlike Turkish customs, who take only two minutes to check your car, (Marhaba!, Pasaport! and Tamam!), their Bulgarian counterparts have never been very fast, especially when it comes to lorries. This is why I was not particularly worried by the five-mile long lorry queue approaching Kapıkule. I thought I would drive through Kapitan Andreevo through the EU-only counter, smile at the customs officers and continue on my way to Sofia.
It didn't work like that.
“Where are you coming from?” an officer asked after we had waited for 40 minutes without the queue moving an inch. The cars in front of us were from both EU and non-EU countries. Shortly before that my girlfriend had been to the checkpoint to discover that all the customs officers (about 10 of them) had unloaded two cars and were examining them thoroughly.
“Where do you think I have come from when I am on the Turkish border?” The officer failed to understand both my irony and the clarification, “From Istanbul” and asked a second question: “Are you a family?”
I don't know how my negative answer helped, but we really didn't expect to hear “Drive to the front of the queue, you don't have to wait because of these arms, cigarettes and drug traffickers!” We heard the same sentence – and the same kind, albeit indignant tone – from the border police at the checkpoint. Meanwhile his colleagues were checking a third car.
I still wonder how they knew that unlike the people in front and behind us, we were not “arms, cigarettes and drug traffickers”. Possibly because our car was a little more expensive than the others?
The watchfulness with which the Bulgarians guard the external border of the EU is admirable. But I still wonder how the lack of any information and any lights at the checkpoint contributed to security.
Dimitar Todorov, Sofia