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Bulgarian shoppers find bargains in Turkey as lira struggles

Shoppers in masks look through piles of fabric.
Bulgarian tourists shop Dec. 24 at a bazaar in Edirne, Turkey, near Bulgaria’s border.
(Emrah Gurel / Associated Press)

Bulgarian shoppers are crossing Turkey’s western border in packed cars and buses, taking advantage of a declining Turkish lira to fuel their shopping sprees.

Their first stop is the currency exchange, and then it’s off to the markets and grocery stores in the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne.

On Christmas Eve, the city’s Turkish marketplace was packed with shoppers from Bulgaria. Hatice Ahmedova said she left at 3 a.m. to get on a bus that would take her over the border to Edirne, exchanged 200 Bulgarian leva (about $116) to get 1,150 Turkish liras and began shopping.

Gulfiye Osinova, 60, was also there to find gifts for her children and grandchildren, saying that Bulgaria was much more expensive.

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Turkey is in the throes of an economic crisis with official inflation figures above 21%, affecting the prices of food, fuel and household items. But for the Bulgarian shoppers, the grocery stores are a bargain, and they leave the country with their trunks packed.

The lira has experienced its most volatile month in December, declining almost every day and finally hitting an all-time low of 18.36 against the U.S. dollar on Dec. 20, when Turkey’s currency lost more than 60% of its value against the dollar this year. Tourists have benefited from this decline.

The lira has rebounded since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced new financial tools to protect lira deposits against currency fluctuations, and closed the week at 10.83 against the dollar.

Bulent Reisoglu, president of the Ulus bazaar cooperative in Edirne, said the number of foreigners has quadrupled over the last few weeks.

“Parking lots are filled with Bulgarian cars. It has become almost impossible to see Edirne or Istanbul license plates,” he said. They “are shopping as if they are crazed, not knowing what they are buying and buying five or 10 of the same with the logic of selling it or thinking they won’t find these again.”

Shoppers were also coming from neighboring Greece, converting euros into liras. One shopper, Esra Molla, said she was happy to be buying gifts for her family and herself.

Despite the lira’s rally in the last week, the currency has still lost nearly 40% of its value this year, triggered by Erdogan’s insistence on lowering interest rates, which currently stand at 14%. Established economic theory says high inflation can be lowered by raising interest rates, but Erdogan argues otherwise. Under his new economic program, Erdogan wants cheap credit, high exports and big growth.

With Turks waiting for bread in long lines in the cold this month, the decline of their buying power amid price hikes has been painfully visible. Erdogan has urged businesses to lower their prices as the lira stabilizes, but there’s no sign yet they will be replacing the hordes of Bulgarian shoppers in Edirne anytime soon.


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