Bulgaria's Numerous Chief Secretaries: a Very Brief History

Opinions |Author: Angel Petrov | March 7, 2015, Saturday // 16:20|  views

Very few Chief Secretaries have been as "lucky" as now PM Boyko Borisov, who took the office for 4 years and quit in protest in 2005. Borisov is seen here minutes after leaving the post. Photo by N. Kotseva (Sofia News Agency)

Two festive days were followed by what initially looked like a small earthquake on Bulgaria's political landscape. Veselin Vuchkov, until Wednesday an Interior Minister, stepped down allegedly protesting over the cabinet's resistance to go on with top-level reshuffles at his institution.

Vuchkov maintained the Interior Ministry's Chief Secretary Svetlozar Lazarov should be dismissed, citing both legislative (related to newly-adopted Interior Ministry Act amendments) and "professional" arguments; an idea which Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had backed for months, but which he suddenly rejected in mid-February.

Unmistakably furious, Borisov rebuked Vuchkov for his "cop-like games" and for handing a resignation during a visit by FBI Director James Comey.

Following Vuchkov's surprising move, Borisov took again a U-turn, adopting his previous position that both Lazarov and counter-intelligence head Vladimir Pisanchev should leave their positions. The PM then cited his desire to avoid speculations of "back-room games" he is allegedly playing with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a party dominated by ethnic Turks to which some entities in Parliament attribute a significant portion of Bulgaria's problems.

"Avoiding accusations of backroom games with the DPS" - this sounds familiar, since it also happened last summer when Borisov's GERB party surprisingly withdrew its support from crucial budget amendments. Furthermore, the fact that nearly every government brings its own Chief Secretary at the institution.

But is there nothing to worry about?

Yes, there is. Even if we refrain from any political judgment.

Virtually, the Chief Secretary is the person responsible for running the Interior Ministry, which is Bulgaria's biggest employer and which is in charge of internal affairs, security and most emergency situations. He or she is supposed to be an expert and administrator who makes sure the ministry is running smoothly and caters for continuity in day-to-day work, regardless of a political change. He or she looks like the "Number Two", but under the law is actually supposed to be the institution's backbone.

Strikingly, there is no single list of Chief Secretaries available for a quick reference, anywhere perhaps with the exception of the Interior Ministry's own archives. Otherwise it would have been too evident how normal reshuffles are at the institution's helm.

Though a replacement sometimes coincides with the ascendancy of a new government, the two are generally unrelated. It turns out the number of Chief Secretaries appointed outweighs that of elected cabinets in Bulgaria's short recent democratic history.
Apart from Lazarov, there have been as many as 13 Chief Secretaries at the ministry since 1990, when Bulgaria was already treading into democratic territory.

Very few of them have spent more than two years (which is less than half their current term in office) on the post, with Georgi Lambov (who served under various short-term governments), Bozhidar Popov (1997-2000, during right-wing PM Ivan Kostov's tenure), Kalin Georgiev (2009-2013) and the current Prime Minister Boyko Borisov himself.

During the 2005-2009 "three-way coalition" alone, there have been four of them. This number includes PM Borisov, who served between 2001-2005 (under Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's government) and quit, shortly after the new cabinet was formed, over his dissension with a controversial proposal by then Interior Minister Rumen Petkov (virtually his supervisor at the time) including the reinstatement of key Communist-era State Security (DS) cadres in the ministry's management. Scandals of political natures also marked the resignations two others, out of the three, of which Valentin Petrov (2007-2008) spent only five moths in office.

Kalin Georgiev, who was appointed under Borisov's first cabinet in 2009, also failed to end its term and stepped down just days after a new socialist-liberal government was formed in 2013.

This DIY quick reference is a clear source of concern.

A closer look, one we will certainly take one day, shows the history of constant overhauls at this key - and extremely responsible - position bears resemblance to the history of Bulgaria's political scandals and vicissitudes.

Given the importance of the Chief Secretary's figure, they might suggest two things: that either the system works perfectly or undergoes permanent jolts persistently hindering reform each time there are reshuffles at the helm.

Given the situation in security here in Bulgaria, the answer seems quite simple.


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Tags: interior ministry, Chief Secretary, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgaria, Kalin Georgiev, Veselin Vuchkov, Rumen Petkov, Svetlozar Lazarov, Boyko Borisov, James Comey


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