Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bulgarian protests, summer 2013

Delyan Peevski, photo cropped from the site of the 24 chasa newspaper.

This long-overdue post was my duty as a Bulgarian citizen, while other, more worthy Bulgarian citizens are out in the streets and squares, again, for the well-being of their children and their country. Right now, as I am writing, protesters are clashing with police in front of the Parliament. Last night, someone I know was detained and they did not allow him to make a phone call until the morning, driving his family to panic. I have no idea how these protests will end; I can only hope at success, and at as little violence as possible.

Nearly half a year ago, in January, our strongest political party - the Bulgarian Socialist Party (then in opposition), started the story. To understand the modern history of Bulgaria, you must know that it is dominated by the influence and interests of Russia. Unfortunately, we are still so much in the grasp of Russia that each government opposing its policies invariably falls from power. And the Troyan horse of Russia in Bulgaria is the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which whole-heartedly serves Putin and the Russian energy mafia. It collects votes from diehard communists, the security apparatus, employees of "businessmen" who have started their business with capital from the party, and, most importantly, a large group of retired people, unemployed poor, working poor, stay-at-home mothers and others whose personal situation makes them hate the free market and who would vote for the Satan himself if he would promise to give them a little unearned income taken from other people's earned incomes. (Of course not all in such a situation "sell" their votes and souls - but an alarming number do.)

Some of the worst excesses of the Socialists are done in an unholy alliance with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms DPS, a.k.a. "the Turkish Party". The leaders of this party and its members of Parliament, be they ethnic Turks, Bulgarian Muslims or Bulgarians of Christian origin recruited to conceal the party's tribal nature, are characterized by even lower ethics than the Socialists and by personal fortunes and informal power that cannot be accounted in any decent way. To my opinion, leaving all other factors aside, the steady presence of this party on the Bulgarian political scene dooms us to lag behind otherwise similar Romania in prosperity, democracy, rule of law, human development, and every other aspect you can imagine.

The previous government of Boyko Borisov, for all its defects, made some serious attempts to put the interests of Bulgaria above those of Russia. In particular, it announced it would not build a second nuclear power plant (at the town of Belene) which would benefit only Russia. This project, marred from the beginning by special interests and corruption and completely uncoupled from the real energy needs and the market situation, has so far consumed EUR 1 billion and is expected, if continued, to double the Bulgarian debt and to enslave the Bulgarian taxpayers with debt repayment for decades to come. However, the socialists made very successful propaganda that our electricity is expensive because this plant has not been built. In late January, they organized a referendum in which only 20% of voters took part but from those who voted, 60% supported the power plant construction.

Wide-scale protests started in a suspiciously short time, initially directed against the high January electricity bills but then quickly turned against the government. I know that the West perceived these protests as just another result of the "bad" balanced budgets. I guess that too much information is lost to observers who do not speak the local language. The mere fact that early elections were demanded despite regular elections scheduled for June, shows much. Moreover, some of the protest leaders (e.g. Angel Slavchev, link in Bulgarian), turned out to be socialist and pro-Russian activists. Unfortunately, the winter protesters were successful and brought resignation of government and early elections as they wished.

After the elections, the former ruling party won most votes but still not enough to form a government. So, currently we have a government formed by the other 3 parties elected in Parliament - the socialists, the ethnic Turkish party and the Ataka party of nationalist extremists. The leaders of all three parties know well that in a normal society, they would never see the Parliament from within; therefore they regard the Bulgarian nation as a sheepish flock ready to tolerate everything, and use their "democratically" acquired power with stunning arrogance.

You would expect the Socialist leader Sergey Stanishev to become Prime Minister, but this did not happen. Instead, the economist Plamen Oresharski took the post. Years earlier, he had tried to make a political carrier in right-wing Union of the Democratic Forces, the main opponent of the Socialists at that time. Bulgarians do not trust such colour-changing politicians, and for good reason, because they rarely have any resemblance to Winston Chuchill and we have not seen anything good from them. And our grim expectations came true very soon, while the government was still nascent.

After Oresharski's government was inaugurated on May 29, the first damn thing it did was to state its intention to build the Belene nuclear plant (the Prime Minister himself said it on May 31, link in Bulgarian). The second damn thing the government did, as the New York Times put it, was to try to shift blame for the 2012 Burgas bus bombing from Hezbollah (by the mouth of the foreign minister Kristian Vigenin on June 5). And the third damn thing the new rulers did was to appoint Delyan Peevski as head of the security apparatus. This passed in Parliament on June 14 and then the nation exploded.

Let me give a short biography of Delyan Peevski, translating from his page in Bulgarian Wikipedia and copying from the New York Times report (by M. Brunwasser) After political appointment in Bulgaria, rage boils over. Peevski (32) started his political and business career back in 2001, at the tender age of 21, presumably propelled by his mother Irena Krasteva, head of the Bulgarian national lottery and now owner of a "media empire, which includes roughly 40 percent of the print market in Bulgaria, the biggest printing press in the country, the fourth-largest television broadcaster, the distribution company for about 80 percent of the country’s newspapers and many other media outlets, according to industry watchers" (quote from NYT). Peevski has no official share in this empire but helps his mother run it.

In 2001, in his second year at law school (the Southwestern University, a diploma mill), Peevski joined the then-ruling National Movement Simeon II party and was appointed Secretary of Parliament and head of Bulgaria's largest Black Sea port at Varna. In May 2005, Peevski became examining magistrate in Sofia, although the law requires a minimum of 2 years lenght of service for this position. This was just another step in his career of appointments in the public sector without having the credentials required by law. Five months later, under the government of Sergey Stanishev, Peevski was appointed as deputy minister of government policy to disasters and accidents, responsible for the State Reserve service. He also became member of the agency issuing licenses for arms trade.

In 2007, prosecutors started investigating Delyan Peevski into possible abuse of office. Hristo Lachev, head of the national tobacco holding Bulgartabac, complained that Peevski had demanded from the holding to make deals with companies close to him. Peevski was fired. However, the investigation was terminated due to "lack of evidence". (As the NYT report mentions in passing, the European Commission has long criticized Bulgaria for failing to prosecute a single high-level public official.) After that, Peevski was restored to his positions as examining magistrate and deputy minister.

Peevski's career took a new turn in 2009, when he switched from the Simeon II party to the Turkish party DPS and was elected in Parliament from it. (The NYT with its usual political correctness omits the fact that the Movement for Rights and Freedoms is the party of our ethnic Turkish minority.) Since 2009, he has been a member of the Parliamentary commission for national security and public order.

So this man was appointed to head the powerful State Agency for National Security, "a sensitive state position in charge of fighting the most serious crimes, a job that includes access to classified information and the power to order arrests and wiretaps... A week before Mr. Peevski was elected to his security post by the Parliament, the law for the position was changed in an apparent attempt to qualify him despite no intelligence experience and just seven months in the state investigation service. Deputies from the Bulgarian Socialist Party were informed of Mr. Peevski’s candidacy only 30 minutes before they were pressed to vote for him, said Georgi Kadiev, one of four Socialist lawmakers who abstained. “As members of Parliament we are supposed to protect national security,” Mr. Kadiev said in an interview. “Instead, we ourselves became threats to national security.” " (from the NYT report.)

I advise you just to try Peevski's name on Google Image Search - the way he looks will tell you a lot! Above, I have posted a representative image of him. A US friend of mine with whom I exchanged e-mails about the situation in Bulgaria commented, "That guy Delyan Peevski looks like a thug and a creep. I can't believe he's a "media mogul" - isn't that a job that requires some sort of charm? If I saw him across the room, knowing nothing about him, I'd be keeping an eye on him. Doesn't seem a very reassuring appointment for that head of security!"

However, this time the arrogant ruling oligarchy crossed the line. Less than 12 hours after Peevski's appointment, tens of thousands of citizens gathered to protest. The rallies continued the following days, while EU and NATO officials expressed their dismay. Finally, on June 19 the Parliament was forced to cancel its own decision and to remove Peevski from his position. The rulers themselves had to admit they had made a mistake. When asked why Peevski had been appointed in the first place after being fired earlier by the Socialists themselves because of the corruption charges, the Socialist leader Stanishev said that, looking at Peevski, he had seen a man who "had passed through a very strong personal catharsis" (see this short YouTube video - even if you do not speak Bulgarian, you will be impressed by Peevski's body language, and by the laughter following Stanishev's words.)

After this first victory, the protesters went on to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Oresharski himself. They have been demonstrating daily for 40 days already. Even though Peevski was forced to step down, the civil society of Bulgaria has seen enough of Oresharski's government and does not intend to give it any more credit.

Another scandalous appointment by this government was of Petar Kirov as deputy transport minister. Kirov also did not have any credentials for the post. Moreover, there was conflict of interests because his father Volodya Kirov was former director of the Executive Agency "Automobile Administration", and current head of a hazardous materials transportation training center within the system of the Transport Ministry. The corruption in Volodya Kirov's agency was exposed by a journalist who bought from it a license for bus driver despite having never spent a minute behind the wheel of a bus (report in Bulgarian). The Transport Minister Daniel Papazov said, "I am not interested in who his father is. I learned that he had once been head of the Executive Agency "Automobile Administration", but this does not matter. The man is fluent in English, he has all the necessary certificates and a personal recommendation from Commissioner Hahn". This was somehow duly translated and brought to the ears of Johannes Haan, EU Commissioner for Regional Policy. He of course denied to have recommended Kirov Jr. and demanded apology from Minister Papazov but, as far as I know, has not received it.

A new Ministry was created by the current ruling majority, the so-called Ministry of Investment Projecting (I know it sounds idiotic in English, but it is not my fault - it sounds idiotic also in Bulgarian). Conservationists and transparency activists warn that it was created to be a source of corruption and to allow building in protected territories. They also criticize the appointments of Chavdar Georgiev and Burhan Abhazov as deputy ministers of environment and agriculture, respectively. Both are known as lobbyists for selling parts of protected territories and for building golf facilities in them (source in Bulgarian).

On Monday (July 22), the new government offered just another proof of its potential for harm. The Parliament endorsed a revision of the national budged proposed by the cabinet, bringing the deficit from 1,3 to 2% and including new debt of EUR 500 million. I hope that I have convinced you that this government has to go, immediately. When rulers behave like this, the fact that they have been democratically elected becomes irrelevant. To those who still would consider it relevant, I would remind that Hitler also came to power in a "democratic" way.

Today, the protests escalated and protesters besieged the Parliament to make it difficult for its members to leave peacefully.

UPDATE: Much of this post was edited today, July 24. The police finally brought the members of Parliament out in a bus after pushing the protesters back. This happened at 4.30 AM. Many protesters and at least one policeman were injured.

Update 2: Reporters were also beaten by riot police and their equipment was destroyed. The camera of Ivan Bedrov, a well-known journalist, can now record only sound - the display and the optics are in pieces. At least three other reporters named Fikov, Momchilov and Draganov complain that they have been beaten. Momchilov's camera has also been damaged. All of them claim to have been attacked after clearly presenting themselves to the police as journalists doing their job (link in Bulgarian). Our riot police invariably state that they act with restraint and strictly within the law but, strangely, always try to prevent reporters from documenting their admirable behaviour!

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