Bulgaria: Assoc. Prof. Ivo Indzhov Shares His Thoughts about Outgoing Year 2020

Society | December 18, 2020, Friday // 14:57|  views


At the end of the year Dnevnik.bg asked philosophers, political scientists, sociologists and observers to assess political 2020 and make predictions for 2021. The outgoing year has already been described by Time Magazine as the most horrible for our contemporaries. Was it possible to predict 12 months ago? Has anyone been able to predict the political crisis? Read how the 2020 is summed-up in the days leading up to the New Year. Today we offer you the answers of Assoc. Prof. Ivo Indzhov about the outgoing 2020.

 Has any of your expectations for 2020 come true? What of them has proved wrong?

 - I'm not surprised that politicians continued to take over the media. At the end of GERB‘s third term, the concentration of ownership in the media, their un-transparent funding, as well as the abuse of mass media power are increasingly damaging to democracy and the public interest.

The group of the private "NOVA TV" bought by the Domuschievi brothers-businessmen less than two years ago has become an outspoken pro-government machine. Recently, Channel 3 associated with Peevski joined this team, which also comprises the largest online group in Bulgaria.

It is interesting to see nowwhat exactly isthe scheme behind the upcoming sale of the megastructure to the owner of BTC – is it more political or rather commercial. Neither am I surprised by the imposition of pseudo-pluralism with a clear domination of the pro-government policy in public BNT.

And since I started with the media, I will go on with them. After a show of journalistic solidarity during the campaign for the local elections in 2019, I expected the guild to consolidate at least in the face of blatant threats and systematic harassment of journalists by politicians and ‘the strong of the day’, which is already becoming a sustainable practice. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Many journalists not only practise self-censorship, but already openly serve the corporate and private interests of media owners.

If the coronavirus pandemic was impossible to predict, is it true for the political crisis?

- The political crisis, especially on the scale in which it unfolded, could hardly have been foreseen. My expectations were for a relatively untroubled but protracted end of Borisov's third term. The return to Bulgaria of a critical mass of students from Western universities who fled the coronavirus pandemic, the increasingly frequent scandals involving the government and the plots already known since the beginning of July have become the factors, thanks to which the accumulated dissatisfaction with the "Borisov system", as Spiegel termed it, has transformed into qualitative changes.

Did the protests make sense and did they achieve anything?

- Although they did not achieve their main goals, such as the resignations of Borisov, Geshev and early elections, the thousands of protests against corruption, the conquered state and the arrogant style of government showed to "the world and home country" that the king was naked.

World-class media focused on what was happening in Bulgaria and began to assign it to the group of European hooligans, Hungary and Poland. The European Commission has come out with a moderately critical report on Bulgaria in the framework of the Union review of compliance with the rule of law in the Member States.

The European Parliament voted a scathing resolution on the deterioration of the rule of law, deepening corruption, the unhappy status quo of the media and the harassment of critical journalists in Bulgaria. Although a non-binding, this resolution is an expression of the new EU philosophy of linking EU funding to respect for the rule of law in EU countries.

The was forced to resort to panicky and populist actions that allowed to play for time and not collapse prematurely. Borisov took the resignations of several key ministers related to Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The pre-doomed draft of a new constitution and the convening of the Grand National Assembly was also put to use. The government loosened the strings of its election purse and started handing out money without a clear plan and strategy to get out of the coronavirus crisis.

Finally, the government, instigated by the IMRO, caught at aMacedonian straw like a drowning manand screwed up the start of negotiations on Macedonia's EU membership with absurd arguments related to history and folk psychology.

 How do you rate the president's behavior over the past year?

- As decent. For a long time, he was the government's only serious political opposition or, more accurate, their strongest institutional corrective. It was only in the autumn that BSP, which is trying to stick to election-time modus operandi, responded more aggressively on the opposition field.

Already in early February Radev announced that he strips Borisov's government of his trust because of an "organized offensive against civil liberties", lack of will for reforms and the fight against corruption, water crisis in Pernik and other serious issues.

The president played a strong role during the summer in encouraging - as far as powers allow, the anti-government protests and demands forGeshev's resignation. The "Thugs Out!" became one of the mobilizing slogans of the protesters.

For the first time, a Bulgarian president has made the most of his communication power : the right to address citizens, to dialogue with them and to take political stand from the point of view of the state and public interest. His behaviour during the protests greatly increases his chances to be elected for a second term, for which he does not have a serious competitor at this point.

What has surprised you in 2020 (as regards political environment)?

- The unsustainable state of protest potential of Bulgarian society: I initially underestimated it, and then overestimated it. I did not expect such a spontaneous explosion of civil discontent on an anti-corruption and moral basis. In recent years, I have "bet" on the inevitable social discontent as a factor for change – after all, Bulgaria is the country with the lowest incomes in the EU and with the highest degree of social inequality.

After the summer, however, when the protests achieved visible successes, I hoped they would become more wide-sweeping. That unfortunately didn't happen. While the majority supported their demands, conformists and inactive people maintained the status quo. Borisov's resignation has not become a fact, although at least once or twice he hung by a thread.

The main reason, however, is that Bulgaria turned out to be a specifically "conquered" country. "Borisov System" has oligarchs, and not only for highways, arms business, gambling, etc. But also for football and the media. These oligarchs exist thanks to public procurement contracts, EU funds and the state's support, but can be easily replaced with obedient ones if they turn from the right way and their business will become state-owned, as it happened with gambling. It's all a network structure.

I believe that the Prime Minister did not resign, in particular, to preserve most of these intertwined, even knotted interests. Moreover, the spending and absorption schemes for the lucrative billions of euros that will start coming next year under the new EU financial framework and the corona crisis package had to be taken into account too.

And what did not surprise you?

- The Bulgarian phony quarantine and especially the second, the "soft" lockdown. Even before the introduction of the state of emergency, I said that I do not trust the self-discipline of Bulgarians, but now I believe that many people will sabotage quarantine because it is belated and they do not trust the authorities.

During the first lockdown, however, there was some consensus between the government and people, they agreed to stay at home, but not so much because of the feeling that the coronavirus was very dangerous, but because they feared the unknown. Even then, though, it was clear how many ‘smart alecs’ were without masks or wore them under their noses - both in shops and public transport, and even in the corridors of power.

Now everything is even more loose: the restaurants are supposedly closed, and in front of them, apparently with official approval, there are long queues for a snack, and for a chat in company even. Malls don't work, but there are days when large retail chains outside them burst at the seams without observing any healthy distance between their customers.

Why is that? On the one hand, the Bulgarian is an individualist, even an anarchist. On the other hand, there is no authority to trust in case of public upheaval, and power is delegitimized and manages the crisis almost blindly. Moreover, on a systematic level, you can see what we know from before: that in our country "the law is a door in the field".

What is the key word of 2020, in your opinion?

 - The other day, I wrote on my Facebook page that word of the year should be the "open- close." In my view, it best reflects the government's highly inconsistent, failed policy of countering the crown crisis in all its aspects.

Does this crisis have positive effects and what are they?

- The positive effects of the political crisis have already been pointed out. People really saw that the king was naked. I think it has become abundantly clear that more serious changes in the state can occur with a higher degree of political mobilization, but also in organizational interaction between the main opposition formations. The informal structures like the Poisonous Trio or initiatives like Justice for Everyone, etc.  Cannot carryon their shoulders for several months the crowded protests if they do not have sufficient party support if sustainable funding is lacking.

It is time for the Bulgarian opposition to take an example from Hungary. In local elections, the main opposition parties in the major cities came together, nominated common candidates and defeated Orban's elected officials; the same format will now be applied for the 2022 parliamentary elections.

Furthermore, I think that, especially against the backdrop of the deepening coronavirus crisis, citizens are already realizing that radical reforms are needed as well as to win back in the name of public interest such important systems as health, education, public transport, social protection for workers. The Bulgarian civil society will have a future if it also takes root in the sleepy province.






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Tags: 2020, summing up, Ivo Indzhov


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