What’s Going On In Bulgaria And Why

Jul 22, 2020 No Comments by
Technology moves on; but can politics change in Bulgaria?

In these weeks of drama and turmoil in Bulgaria, there has been no satisfactory explanation in the Bulgarian-language media, nor in the foreign media, as to what is happening in Bulgaria and why.

So I turn to Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the sofiaglobe.com to make sense of it all. With many people coming to Bansko this summer (now rules have been relaxed for UK citizens). Clive has kindly given me permission to reprint his patreon-only piece which I think will equip you with the information you need to understand what is going on and why. Read on for Clive’s view:

Much of what I have to say will be anecdotal. Some, analytical.

It is time for the outside world, at least that outside world that understands English, to understand quite what the drama is about. There are many nouns one may deploy – frustration, anger, among them – all rife with emotional connotations, and correctly so.

The fight is against the pervasive, informal power of organised crime, of oligarchs, if you will. Against a cartel of political forces, which, irrespective of the share-out of seats in government and the National Assembly, serve the same master. Against the dark-clad outstretched arm that bars passage. Against a cabal that knows no loyalty to any political colour, but seeks only loyalty to itself.

Herewith anecdote. 

About 18 years ago, when first I came to live and work in Bulgaria, one evening on a pavement on Sofia I was making my way to an engagement. Suddenly, I found a small phalanx of dark-clad, earpierce-wearing, burly men barring my way on that public pavement, bidding me to halt my passage.

I did not; I am no hero, but I am of the lawyerly sort, who brooks no bar by those of no greater esteem than me. That said, I also sensed that those who sought to bar my way had no reason lawful, or quite possibly unlawful, to do so. I strode forth.

I passed unhindered, because in my determined stride, those who expected obeisance and compliance found none, only defiance. I passed the first rank, the gap for the car to pass, and essayed my slim way through the next.

In the fact of my refusal of those outstretched arms, the Cerberuses knew not what to do. And so I went on my way.

I found out, much later, that the passage that I had breached was reserved to the exit from the driveway of one Vassil “The Skull” Bozhkov. That residence, in these years, would become well-pictured on television screens, as in a show of television images to its own purposes, the current office of Prosecutor-General carried out its high-profile raids, confiscations, ever ready with an image and a comment as it its endeavours.

That pavement, once so sacrosanct and protected against the likes of powerless pedestrians such as myself, now was the station of armoured police vans, television cameras, and media allies of the establishment breathless in their accounts of the boldness and meaning of it all.

Let us, for the moment, visit the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. There, in an imposing pile in a place called Rosenets, is what in popular lingo is the seraglio of Ahmed Dogan. He who is the founder and honorary president of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. He who has been announced to have been Agent Sava of State Security, in the communist era. He who, while a philosophy major, gained a million leva in consultancy fees on a hydro project, not quite in line with his purported academic expertise.

On the beach where Dogan’s pile stands, Hristo Ivanov, a minor politician, landed, and was barred. A Bulgarian citizen, barred from a Bulgarian public beach, and in his barring, Ivanov’s point was made. The rule of law upholds the constitution, and that constitution holds for Bulgarians that which is Bulgarian; but in the Bulgaria in which Dogan holds sway via his much-vaunted business circles, in the Bulgaria in which his illicitly private beach is defended from Bulgarians by other Bulgarians on the public payroll..not so much.

Active fellows, these prosecutor-generals, these chiefs of the Interior Ministry. On their websites, we read of busts of grandmothers and grandfathers with marijuana plantations, of busts of illegal narcotics at various borders, of high-profile, heavy-handed busts of petty (literally from the Bulgarian “everyday” crime) in various villages. 

Those of us who have lived longer here have tracked the prosecutions of various politicians, once out of power, for alleged malfeasance in office. The trials drag on, the accused treat it all with a whimsical smile, and when it reaches the appeal stage, a matter of years, it all comes to naught. The merits of the accusations, it seems, amount to naught.

Now, and again I shall be anecdotal, and ask you to picture this, in these balmy days of July 2020. The Covid-19 crisis has propelled any number of formerly expatriate young Bulgarians back to this country. They look with cynicism and skepticism (and let us remember, those are two different things) on the state of matters in Bulgaria. They are young, they have no party affiliation, and for them, it may be that the heady nostalgia and blue flags of the former post-communist past are a matter only for the fond reminiscences of their elders.

They have returned, many of them, from countries elsewhere in the EU, countries perhaps no more perfect in rule of law than this one, but countries where a higher standard of living, or at least, higher standards, prevail. Home, and receiving the media in their mother tongue, they look on a Prime Minister who rambles incoherently, a Prosecutor-General of questionable ties (but unquestionably, a flat cap), a very-long-discredited alternative in the face of the socialist (formerly communist) opposition, and the strident excesses of those who cloak in patriotism their vile views.

Thus they are out in the streets, shouting for change. They are not alone. They are with those who were on the same streets in 2013, in 2013/14, and will be again. 

Bulgarians have been promised much. They were offered the promise of Nato membership, achieved in 2004, and truth be told, it has been a guarantee against the excesses of Putin’s Russia. They were promised the clubbiness of EU membership, and it came in 2007, with its principles of freedom of movement and labour, though those have proved permeable. Now they are promised the prospect of euro zone membership, though that may be a matter of convenience rather than prosperity (crossing the border to holiday into Greece will save you time at the forex bureau; it will not improve your spending power).

Understand this: In those shouts of “resign!”, in the risk that the street will be exploited, subverted or ignored, lies all the manifold frustrations of the Bulgarians. Perhaps they will abandon hope, thus contributing to the diminishing demographics of the country; and perhaps the corrupt and venal establishment hopes they will; but as for now, before they are gone, they are there.

Thank you Clive. Please support independent journalism today from just €5 per month: go to patreon.com/thesofiaglobe.

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About the author

I enjoy tech, apps, entrepreneurship, podcasting and collaboration with others. I love travelling as well as skiing, hiking, MTB, paragliding, cooking and good food.
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