Bulgaria 1 Year after the Cabinet Change - Men in Handcuffs, Tigers in Cages

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | September 30, 2010, Thursday // 11:15|  views

This week Bulgaria's top cop, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, paid an official visit to Brussels in what turned to be another star-studded performance of a Bulgarian politician on the European stage.

The Bulgarian Hall of Fame began in the now distant January with Rumiana Jeleva. Remember her? She was Bulgaria's Foreign Minister and nominee for the new European Commission, and was forced to withdraw from both after a poor performance during her hearing before the European Parliament. Jeleva failed so miserably that a coalition of Liberal, Green and Socialist MEPs united to make it clear they would not accept her.

The remake was quick to follow – by the end of the same month, Bulgaria's Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, delivered a speech in Germany, in the presence of 300 guests of the conservative political Foundation "Konrad Adenauer." Parts of it were quickly uploaded on the popular internet video sharing site You Tube, poking fun at Borisov's description of his cabinet's efforts to fight organized crime.

Much of the famous speech revolved around police operations and arrests with the latter being glorified while scared witnesses and judges were blamed for the lack of effective verdicts.

"For the first time now the organized criminal groups cracked and began singing in jail; they go and show – here, in this field, there is a corpse, here somewhere we buried him. My colleague Tsvetanov digs and uncovers a corpse. And it is not a coincidence that our jails are now full," Borisov shared with "Konrad Adenauer's" guests while laughter was heart in the background.

Eight months later, the much lauded Tsvetanov stumbled across the opportunity to repay his guru for the praise and to bask in his own spotlight. He managed to stir strong attention in Brussels with statements that in 2007 Bulgaria was not ready to join the EU; the decision to allow its accession was a political one, and Roma communities breed most of household crime in Bulgaria, the latter words deemed unacceptable by the European Commission.

Sure, Roma can be blamed for many offenses, but the logical question here is: what about the rest  - corruption, mafia, and abuse of EU funds? Was this a demonstration of the Minister's utter unpreparedness for EU-level political talk or his sheer disregard for what is acceptable in Europe for the sake of the expectations of the audience at home (after all, elections are around the corner)? Or the sad combination of both?

One event, however, went almost unnoticed - the conference titled "Bulgaria – One Year after the Cabinet Change," organized by the Hans Seidel Foundation where Tsvetanov delivered a speech.

Before an audience of Members of the European Parliament, representatives of the European Commission, diplomats and EU employees, and in a true sequel of his boss' "Konrad Adenauer" performance, the Minister went on naming 60 significant special police operations, displaying for the flabbergasted guests scores of pictures of men in handcuffs, a tiger in a cage, seized guns, and detainees laying on the ground

The show, per Tsvetanov's own words, deemed to erase Bulgaria's negative image abroad by impressing the guests with the new strong political will to fight corruption and organized crime. No word on the lack of even one effective sentence (the judicial system took the blame, as usual) or the failure to implement even one real reform. Evidently, eight months after Borisov's famous speech, Bulgaria still has nothing to brag about but corpses in the fields and jam-packed jails.

On the positive side, Tsvetanov spared the interpreters some trouble by having the police operations' codenames running in English on a wide screen behind him – The Octopus, The Impudent, The Gunsmiths... Certainly a step ahead of his leader, who often challenges translators with his unique style, defined by some as down to earth, sincere and direct, by others as ignorant and illiterate.

Actually, for older Bulgarians, such talk is not so unique for its strong reminiscence of ex Communist Dictator, and Borisov's spiritual leader per his own admissions, Todor Zhivkov. A recent prime example - the Prime Minister's description of the First Lady, after he met with US President Barack Obama: "Michelle is a very beautiful woman, with pleasant personality, strong presence, tall, she has lost weight – all dolled up." The statement multiplied in Bulgarian media and even prompted self-organized contests among internet forum participants for the best translation, especially of the Bulgarian version of the "all dolled up" expression.

At the same time, latest polls in Bulgaria show Tsvetanov is still the most popular minister and Borisov enjoys high level of approval – evidence the Ancient Greece's, the Enlightenment's and ever-current belief that literacy is a condition for democracy does not hold water in Bulgaria.

While Brussels is still recovering from the latest Bulgarian dog and pony show, back home things are shaking. Only a day ago, Health Minister, Anna-Maria Borisova, surprisingly resigned, becoming the second person to step down from the post in just six months. The reason – collapse of the health care sector and a stalled reform; the cause – her plan to introduce hospital copay with Borisov saying the idea might be good, but the Minister failed to consult with the PARTY, breached PARTY rules and lost PARTY trust. (Rings a bell anyone?)

Meanwhile, Bulgarian doctors, a number of experts, and ordinary people actually blame Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, for the crumbling health care system over his stubborn refusal to release the funds slated for it, using them instead for the filling of the fiscal reserve hole.

Also on Wednesday, it was reported that a scandal broke during the cabinet's meeting with a number of the otherwise docile GERB ministers attacking Djankov, outraged by the cuts in budget 2011 for their institutions, impeding their normal functioning. The only Ministry, which received more subsidies (BGN 50 M) instead of cuts, was the Interior one, with Tsvetanov still voicing dissatisfaction and asking for 1 B.

In another move, the Bulgarian prison system got an injection of BGN 8 M. In the dire straits called Bulgaria 8 million would not go far, but it is all about priorities, isn't it?

And Todor Zhivkov comes back to mind with an old joke – a member of the Communist Politbureau (cabinet) asked him once: "Why did you order more allowance per capita for prisoners than for college students?" to which Zhivkov replied: "You and I will never go to college, but I am not so sure about jail."

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Tags: Rumiana Jeleva, EC Commissioner, Boyko Borisov, Germany, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Brussels, Brussels visit, official visit, official trip, Hans Seidel Foundation, organized crime, corruption, GERB, Cabinet, Roma integration, Roma, organized crime, European Commission, EC, prison system, funds, Budget 2010, budget 2011, Justice Ministry, Council of Ministers, Anna-Maria Borisova, health minister, resignation, Prime Minister, Bozhidar Nanev, doctors, hospital copay


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