Parties? No, Vested Interests Rule Bulgaria

Editorial |Author: Milena Hristova | September 14, 2011, Wednesday // 19:19|  views

Nothing happens quickly in Bulgaria. Except for shady deals, that is.

The thirteen-year-long labours of four governments to sell Bulgaria's cigarette maker Bulgartabac delivered a head-spinning result at a head-spinning speed this week. Bulgaria's privatisation agency sealed on Tuesday the deal to sell the company to a unit of Russia's VTB Bank to a virtually anonymous buyer and even before the Commission for Protection of Competition delivered its ruling.

Why the haste?

Unfortunately, it was not only the speed that made analysts and workers at the plant scratch their heads and also bang them on the table.

Obviously, with the upcoming elections just around the corner, time is running out for political friends and foes to form new informal coalitions and forge new allegiances. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms emerges as a key conductor, orchestrating the maneuvers.  As usual.

Back in February 2005, the Turkish minority triggered a political storm by flopping Bulgartabac sell-off deal and prompting a non-confidence motion against the government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg. Back then international observers commented that the political storm, unleashed by the flopped sale of the tobacco monopoly can be taken for a sign of a mature democratic system.

It is ironic that now, six year later, the successful privatization of the company can only be seen as a sign of the lack of a democratic system in Bulgaria, not to mention a mature one.

Because now there are no political parties, only vested interests.

The privatisation of the cigarette maker failed in previous years due to political wrangling and pressure from the ethnic Turkish party. Interestingly now, even though the party is not in power, it does not object to the sale.

Apparently a new and until recently unthinkable political coalition between the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the centrist party of Simeon Saxe-Coburg, has been forged only to be blessed by the ruling GERB party and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

This fact, coupled with the anonymity of the buyer, a network of offshore companies, hidden behind the Russian bank, only fuels speculations that the stakes are much higher. Thanks to Bulgartabac sale the ruling center-right GERB who has seen voters' support dwindling amid immense frustration with lack of reforms and ever increasing prices, actually secured the political backing of the Turkish party.

A predictable and prosaic ending of a scheme hatched to drive away strategic investors thanks to the insane requirements to the bidders, who talk in term of prices, not in terms of tobacco purchased by the local tobacco growers, many of whom are ethnic Turks.

And history repeats itself - Prime Minister Boyko Borisov comes out of the crisis stronger than before, bragging about the successful sale, the right-wing opposition supporters feel betrayed, while the continent's most successful Muslim politician, the leader of the ethnic Turkish party Ahmed Dogan proves yet again his abilities as the back seat ruler.

This is how the most difficult privatization deal of Bulgaria's transition, which concerns literally one whole sector, suddenly turned very easy. After thirteen years of failed efforts, it took the state just one week to receive and approve the offer of the sole bidder, and then sign the contract.

The anonymity of the buyer – kept with the utmost care – is another key issue.

It was only 24 Hours Daily, which dared to call a spade a spade, pointing out Bulgaria's Corporate Commercial Bank, believed to finance the media group of mogul Irena Krasteva, and Vinprom Peshtera as the mysterious buyer.

If true, this proves that in Bulgaria shady figures, backed by key political players, can afford play with political influence and dirty money, buy shares in large numbers or artificially prop up loss-making titles not because this is economically profitable. They are tempted by the prospect of using the media for money laundering or for promoting other economic activities from public tenders, public works, mobile telephony, energy, tourism, etc. The investments are made with the sole goal of turning the media into a tool for communication or pressure and... political influence.

The schemes are not complicated, not at all. Take another recent example - the other major and politically sensitive deal – the sale of steel mill Kremikovtzi.

Even though individuals are banned from trading in copper cables and elements from the infrastructure, the lucrative business is flourishing and nobody seems to control it.

Those who work legally say that the state does not control the market because there is a scheme, which involves the recently sold Kremikovtzi steel mill, where all those scrap will be soon heading to get melted and moulded and marketed out without a problem.

The people behind the scheme will pocket such huge amounts of money they will really make it big. Just like those behind Bulgartabac saga.

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