Saturday, December 29, 2007

Aftermath of the 2007 local elections, part 3: Ahmed Dogan

This post will be the last about the past local elections (the previous one dated Dec. 12).
Ahmed Dogan is the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms DPS, a.k.a. "the Turkish Party". I have blogged about it in one of my earliest posts on Apr. 4, 2006. On Dec. 12, I wrote about Dogan's treacherous role for Bulgarian democracy. The Black List of destroyers of Bulgarian nature defines Dogan as "godfather of the Bulgarian wood mafia responsible for most wildfires in the country (and, hence, also for several deaths of firefighters in the line of duty)" owning "over 300 hotels built semi-legally in or in close vicinity to protected areas".
Bulgaria has an ethnic Turkish minority and also a Bulgarian-speaking Muslim minority. According to Wikipedia, Muslims are now 12.2% of the Bulgarian population and 9.4% of them are ethnic Turks. (We've had until recently some Turkish-speaking Christians, but they have blended with the Bulgarian Christian majority.) Unlike Muslim minorities in other European countries, which are composed mainly of recent Mideast immigrants, Bulgarian Muslim minorities are remnants of the Ottoman era. I have blogged about their origin in my last year's post Convert to Islam, or else.
After Bulgaria was granted independence in 1878, the authorities have made various attempts to re-integrate the Muslim minorities. Most of these attempts were done in an incredibly stupid way, without any respect to the people involved, and were counter-productive in the long run. The approach to the Bulgarian Muslims was especially aggressive. Bulgarian writer Chudomir in one of his stories describes how their names were changed to Christian ones. The main character is a photographer sent to a Muslim village to help the urgent preparation of new identity documents. Unable to cope properly in the short time given to him, he chooses four typical faces - with and without moustache, with and without a beard - and multiplies them for the ID papers of all residents, rebutting their protests that the photos don't look much like them. The story itself is fiction (I hope!), but it is true that the Turkish names of Bulgarian Muslims were repeatedly changed to Bulgarian ones and then allowed to be returned back. I've read (can't cite a source) that there were 7 (!) rounds of such renaming until the Communist regime took the job seriously in the early 1970s. By this time, the early resistance against the Communists had been completely crushed and forgotten, and it seemed that their rule would have no end, so people didn't protest, no matter what the regime was doing.
Encouraged with his "success" with the Bulgarian Muslims, the dictator Todor Zhivkov in 1984 proceeded to change the names also of the ethnic Turks. In the previous years, he had pampered them with a sort of affirmative action, hoping that they would express their gratitude by exporting Communism to Turkey; but they were of course very far from such intentions. So Zhivkov decided not to tolerate The Others any longer, after they weren't serving his purposes. It is very likely that the renaming was a rehearsal for an eventual similar move in the Soviet Union, where the authorities were worried by the population growth and separatist sentiments of Muslims. At any rate, it is unthinkable that a Soviet satelite like Bulgaria would do such a serious move without first receiving a go-ahead by Moscow.
The renaming of Turks was a fiasco. Because they had stayed a little aside from the mainstream political and economic life, their spirit wasn't completely crushed by the regime. So they mounted protests, which were cruelly suppressed. Many civilians were killed (the exact number isn't known to this day). To their credit, the Turks didn't resort to violence. There was only one terrorist group which bombed railway stations and trains themselves, preferring the compartments for mothers with young children. The terrorists were eventually arrested and convicted. It is notable that of the three main group members sentenced to death, two were also members of State Security, the secret service of the Communist regime. This made my mother hypothesize that they had actually been ordered by their employer to plant the bombs, duped with false promises of immunity and then sacrificed. A far-fetched conspiracy theory? Maybe, but this explains well how the group was able to organize its activity so quickly, and also why it was the only Turkish terrorist group. This incident also illustrates how the otherwise isolated Turkish minority had its elite ensnared in the tentacles of the infamous State Security.
In 1989, new protests by ethnic Turks forced the Communist regime to allow them leave the country, which was generally not considered a right of Bulgarian citizens. It is in fact quite possible that the regime itself provoked the protests, wanting to get rid of the Turks. However, here Turkey also had its word heard. It had its Bulgarian population ethnically cleansed long ago (understandably, after these Bulgarians had served as casus belli), but wouldn't accept all Bulgarian Turks, because then it would have no occasion to mess with Bulgarian affairs. About 200 thousands of ethnic Turks emigrated to Turkey in the summer of 1989 before the door closed. The ethnic Bulgarian majority, while looking at the Turks with suspicion and using the situation for its own material benefit (e.g. by buying cheap homes from the emigrants), still didn't show much nationalistic enthusiasm and silently refused to join the dictator's game. This saved Bulgaria from the fate of neighbouring Yugoslavia and weakened the regime, helping its fall in the autumn of 1989.
Ahmed Dogan, a philosophy graduate, tried some political activism in the late 1980s on behalf of his ethnic Turkish people and was jailed. I remember signing a petition for the release of "Medi Doganov" (the Bulgarized version of Dogan's name) in late 1989, without knowing who he was. He was released before the year was over. Unfortunately, he had been recruited by State Security under the alias "Sava". This fact is beyond doubt and Dogan has actually never tried to deny it. I don't know whether the recruitment happened while he was free (and, hence, having the option to refuse) or during his imprisonment. In the latter case, no reasonable person would blame Dogan much. However, recent Bulgarian history has shown that State Security agents, no matter how excusable the circumstances of their recruitment may have been, remain agents for life, continue to serve their masters in one or another way and do immense harm to our fragile nascent democracy.
In late 1989 and early 1990, two important events shaped the emerging Bulgarian multi-party system. The first one was the foundation of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, or DPS (Bulg. dvizhenie za prava i svobodi) by Dogan and other ethnic Turks, most of them also State Security agents. The second one was the acceptance of proportional representation, rather than a majority one. Fresh from the one-party dictatorship, few Bulgarians knew the plagues of the proportional rep system. As we know now, it usually fails to produce a good majority of votes and, hence, a stable government. Instead, coalitions are made based not on common political goals and principles but solely on the wish to stay in power and the necessity to make some government. These coalitions too often depend on some small party extorting its partners and changing its political bedfellows like a whore. And if the population isn't homogenous, the proportional representation system encourages tribal vote. This was exactly what happened in Bulgaria. Although the major parties tried to lure the minority vote by making concessions to the Turks and including their members in the lists, almost 100% of ethnic Turks and a large percentage of Bulgarian Muslims keep voting for DPS no matter what.
It is difficult to explain why the ethnic Turks invariably vote for DPS even after its harmful role became evident. In my Dec. 12 post, I wrote how Dogan betrayed the first democratic government in the new Bulgarian history. Later, he gave his supports to governments dominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (i.e. the recent oppressor of the Turks) and heavily influenced by organized crime. A friend of mine who, unlike me, has lived among ethnic Turks, thinks that they vote for DPS so that "to show their strength to the Bulgarians". I don't think it is a very wise way to show strength; it is akin to showing strength by making a hole in the hold of a ship you are travelling in. The DPS policy has a major contribution to the chronic Bulgarian poverty and I don't see how this poverty could end unless DPS is de-fanged by introduction of majoritarian representation system.
Another reason underlying the pro-DPS vote is the tobacco industry. Our ethnic Turks and Muslims traditionally live in isolated, rather backward regions. In many of them, growing tobacco is the main means of living. The poor quality of our tobacco and the primitive methods used in its growth and processing makes the industry unable to survive without being heavily subsidized. Our authorities, instead of letting it die a natural death and supporting the Muslims integrate into mainstream economy, choose the easy path by continuing the subsidies. And DPS has a major role in it. In fact, it should be expected to stay in the way of the integration of our Turks and Muslims, because if properly integrated, they are likely to stop voting for it.
Yet another reason to vote for DPS is the hope that if not I, the actual voter, then some relation of mine will benefit from the party. While keeping the majority of ethnic Turks and Muslims in poverty and isolation, DPS serves well the minority elite by giving undue protection to ethnic Turkish business and securing positions for Turks in the administration. This of course means that companies owned by Bulgarians (and other minorities) are unfairly driven out of business, Bulgarian government employees are fired to make place for (often less competent) Turks and sinecure positions are created in government agencies especially for Turks. These processes are most evident with regard to natural disasters. Recently, a special Ministry for disaster management policy was founded and given to DPS activist Emel Etem. In English, it is called "Ministry for State Policy for Disasters and Accidents", making journalists joke that it actually works to cause and perpetuate disasters, rather to control them. And this is too true. The Ministry serves mainly to syphone taxpayers' money into Turkish-owned companies that allegedly would do work to prevent similar disasters in the future but actually just take the money and don't do the work. Next time the disaster comes, the same companies receive money again. Besides, too many government positions with key role in disaster control have been given to DPS to provide its incompetent activists with comfortable lives. Unfortunately, while during the Communist era ethnic Turks were known for their hard work and professionalism in various crafts, the DPS activity has made Turkish names synonymous with incompetence and corruption.
However, I don't want to hypothesize extensively about the thoughts and motives of Bulgarian Turks and Muslims to vote for DPS. They are generally silent; they don't speak with us, don't speak to us, don't even speak at us, except by their votes. After reading Muslim blogs for years, I know much more about the mindset of Libyans, Iranians and Egyptians than about our own Turkish compatriots. So I fear that I may write something injust that I would regret later.
Anyway, even if Turks and Muslims want to vote for other parties, it is doubtful that they will still have the opportunity. Inofficial reports say that in Muslim-majority regions, the local DPS authorities have effectively put the secrecy of vote to an end, so Muslims are just forced to vote for DPS (or leave the region). Some even report that DPS forces Bulgarian Christians to vote for it, though I don't know whether it has gone that far. Also, DPS has from the beginning used rogue Bulgarians as activists in an attempt to conceal its tribal nature. A good example is Fidel Beev (note the first name!), DPS Member of Parliament and actual feudal owner of the mountain resort town of Velingrad. He is to appear before court on Jan. 25. He is accused that in 2004 as Mayor of Velingrad ordered the municipality kindergartens to be supplied with fuel by his company Beevi Bros at a higher price in violation of the law (source: Today, in Bulgarian; you can see there a photo of Beev, left).
Besides the ethnic Turks who have remained in Bulgaria, DPS relies also on the votes of those who emigrated to Turkey in 1989 or later and have double citizenship. At election time, buses bring many thousands of these emigrants to Bulgaria to cast their votes. So they have their word on the fate of a country in which they do not live, work, bring up children or pay taxes. To their credit, many of them say that they regard Bulgaria as distant past and wouldn't mess with its politics but are pressed to vote by the Turkish authorities. With its large population and geopolitical importance, Turkey is unfortunately a regional power (translation: a bully state forcing its interests down the throats of its neighbours). And it gives whole-hearted support to Ahmed Dogan and DPS. You European fools who seriously consider letting Turkey join EU, please take notice! Details about the "election tourism" can be read e.g. here.
The moral of Ahmed Dogan is so low that you may step over it without even mentioning it. Every time when he doesn't receive what he wants, he stresses that he guarantees the peace in Bulgaria and threatens with civil war. Unfortunately, Bulgarian politicians give in, although (as I pointed above) our Muslim and Turkish people actually haven't shown any inclination to violence even in their hardest times. After 1989, surviving members of the 1984-85 terrorist group built a memorial to the three executed members. Yes, the same wonderful guys who put bombs on trains, placing them between toddler seats. Dogan resisted all attempts to bring down the monument, saying that it must stay. It was recently destroyed by Bulgarian nationalists; I don't know whether it has been reconstructed. In his personal life, Dogan first married a girl half his age and then abused her, which resulted in a scandalous divorce. This not only didn't harm his political career but he later remarried without problems.
Because of his permanent success, Dogan is often praised by journalists and other commentators as being a "great politician" and "very clever". My opinion is that, while he is indeed intelligent, he owes his success not as much to his intelligence but to occupying in time a good ecological niche. If I have a subscription to unconditional ethnic vote of 10% of the population, plus the support of a neighbouring country, I guess I could also become a great politician!
Boozed by his success and impunity, Dogan in recent years began to make more and more blunders. His advisers try to control the situation by saying after each blunder that Dogan, as a philosopher, expresses deep thoughts that cannot be properly understood by simple-minded people like us. As I blogged on Apr. 4, 2006, he e.g. openly stated that "DPS is surrounded by a ring of companies" (Bulg. obrachi ot firmi). This fact was of course known to everybody in Bulgaria, plus all serious foreign observers, but it is another thing to hear it in plain text from the horse's mouth!
After this autumn's elections, Dogan made another blunder. Defending himself and his party from the allegations of vote buying (used by DPS to supplement the voluntary ethnic vote, the forced vote in majority-minority regions and the "tourist vote" from Turkey), he described vote buying as "a European phenomenon" (Bulg. evropeysko yavlenie). This outraged some Europeans and also the US ambassador. These bad Americans are messing as always!
These elections also marked the first challenge to Ahmed Dogan's authority since 1989. Former DPS Minister of Agriculture Mehmed Dikme applied to be elected as a Mayor in the Municipality of Ardino, where he had broad popular support. However, Dogan showed his force by directing to Ardino the buses with election tourists from Turkey. This way, Dogan's nominee was elected against the wish of the locals. Dikme unsuccessfully appealed the result. Part of the story is covered in English here.
Do you understand now why I put on my rubber gloves when blogging about Ahmed Dogan? Politicians aren't too charming in general, but this person disgusts me. Former rightist Prime Minister Ivan Kostov appropriately called him "the curse of Bulgaria". And I don't see any realistic prospects to have his sinister shadow removed from the Bulgarian political life. Although the recipe is rather simple: introduction of majority rep system, re-inclusion of ethnic Turks and Muslims in the lists of mainstream parties and honest dialogue with the minorities in question. As for the local DPS rule in majority-minority regions, I see no solution other than evacuation from these regions of all Christians, plus all Muslims who pursue their well-being by hard work and competence, rather than by connections, corruption and tribal activism.


Sara Tobes said...

Hi Maya,
interesting blog about Bulgarian Turks. It would be useful to have some sources to back some of the claims you make because as of now, they are nothing more than just pure speculation. As a researcher, I have a hard time taking any of this seriously. Could you refer me to some of the sources that this is based on, even if you don't want to provide citations?

Thank you.

Maya M said...

Sara, because I have written here quite a lot of things, it is difficult for me to figure exactly which of them interested you most. Could you please be more specific, and I'll try to find some references.