Books on Bulgaria
Update No: 152 -
If 2009 was marked by
some quite important political events in
Bulgaria, the coming 2010 promises to be
even more interesting.
In addition to the economic and financial
crisis that unfolded in the poorest EU
member state in 2009, the Bulgarians also
underwent an election upheaval. At the
general election on July 5, the Bulgarians
withdrew their confidence from the
tripartite ruling coalition of the
Bulgarian Socialist Party, the National
Movement for Stability and Progress and
the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and
voted for the centre-right GERB political
party, led by tough-talking former Sofia
mayor, former bodyguard and former
interior ministry chief secretary, Boyko
The new strongman
The French newspaper Le Monde commented on
the July-5 vote in Bulgaria: "After twenty
years of hard transition, marked by mob
rule and rampant corruption, the
Bulgarians want a politician who will
establish law and order in the country and
they see this politician in the face of
“I am a man of methods. I am for direct
communication with the people and I am not
afraid of reforms,” the author quotes Mr.
Borissov as saying.
A double whammy
According to Mr. Stefan Popov, executive
director of Risk Monitor, two important
things happened in Bulgaria in 2009, the
first being the onset of the global
economic crisis and the second the change
of government following the general
elections in July.
As to the crisis, never before has
Bulgaria experienced a financial crisis in
the Western sense of the term, so this is
a useful experience for the Bulgarian
people and especially for small
businesses, he said.
"The people voted for GERB so as to get
rid of the mafia,' said Ivan Kostov, one
of the leaders of the Blue Coalition.
The conservative would-be in-laws are
Yane Yanev's conservative party 'Order,
Lawfulness, Justice, passed the
three-percent threshold just barely and
secured some ten seats in the 240-seat
parliament. Yanev garnered support for his
party on pledges to fight top-level
corruption and work for transparency. At
present, Yanev's parliamentary group does
not exist after one of his MPs decided to
Also, the scandals involving Bulgaria’s
state security agency encroaching upon the
people’s rights and freedoms have faded
away. This usually happens to all big
political disclosures in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s ruling party, the Citizens for
the European Development of Bulgaria
(known by its Bulgarian abbreviation as
GERB) has shed about seven per cent
support in the past few months to a
current 31 per cent, according to a survey
by the ASSA-M agency.
GERB came to power after winning about 41
per cent of votes in Bulgaria’s July 2009
national parliamentary elections.
In its first months in power, opinion
polls saw it soar in popularity, to the
point that some analysts suggested that
snap elections would see Prime Minister
Boiko Borissov’s party win an absolute
majority in Parliament.
But ASSA-M’s Mihail Mirchev said that GERB
now had 31 per cent, meaning about 300,000
to 400,000 supporters no longer stood with
However, those votes did not seem to have
Support for other parties was unchanged.
Sergei Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist
Party, formerly the majority party in the
governing coalition voted out of power in
2009, had 11 per cent.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the
party led and supported in the main by
Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity and which
served in the two previous governing
coalitions, had five per cent – as did its
bête noire, Volen Siderov’s
ultra-nationalist party Ataka.
The centre-right Democrats for a Strong
Bulgaria had 2.8 per cent and Yane Yanev’s
Order Lawfulness and Justice party – which
recently withdrew its support from
Borissov’s Government after a political
row – had 1.6 per cent.
The centre-right Union of Democratic
Forces, which is in coalition with the
Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria has 1.5
per cent, and the National Movement for
Stability and Progress, formed around
former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg but now
led by former cabinet minister Hristina
Hristova, had 0.4 per cent.
Speaking on December 22 2009, Borissov
said that in two months, his Government
had managed to achieve more than its
predecessors had in four years.
He said that GERB - which governs
single-handedly, having decided against a
coalition – would make Bulgaria look
completely different in four years, should
it manage to complete its term in office.
For the Borissov Government, there have
been a number of successes, including the
unblocking of European Union funds and a
recent high-profile operation in which
alleged members of a kidnapping gang were
Controversies that have attended the
Government recently included a decision by
Borissov to endorse a campaign by Ataka to
hold a national referendum on whether
daily special news bulletins in Turkish on
public broadcaster Bulgarian National
Television should continue. In the face of
widespread negative reaction to the move,
Borissov backed down.
The Government also has had to grapple
with the continuing economic crisis in
Bulgaria which, among other effects, has
severely constrained the Government’s
capacity to spend.
It has become clear to what extent the
crisis has affected Bulgaria. On December
16, Bulgarian National Bank figures showed
that foreign direct investment in the
country from January to October 2009 was
2.3 billion euro, substantially down from
the equivalent period of 2008, when it
added up to 5.8 billion euro.
In October 2009, FDI was only 11.4 million
euro, no more than two per cent of FDI in
Bulgaria in October 2008.
Up against the Insolents
A single episode can light up an entire
landscape - in this case of police
complicity with crime and corruption in
Bulgaria, the prevalence of which is
hindering its integration into EU
structures, three years after formal
According to Bulgarian media, four
policemen were thought to have backed the
organised crime gang ‘The Insolents’,
suspected of a series of high profile
kidnappings in Bulgaria in recent years.
As if describing a movie scene, BGNes said
policemen and the kidnappers allegedly met
in quiet cafes where they hatched plans to
trap the next victim. Reportedly,
policemen also provided gang members with
information about police radio stations,
so the gang could silence police radios.
They also taught them how to erase their
tracks, BGNes said.
In the kidnappings of Angel Bonchev and
Kiro Kirov, police radios were blocked
when the ransom in question was being
paid. In the case of Bonchev's kidnapping,
this was also the moment Bonchev's wife
was kidnapped by the gang, BGNes said.
Reports in Bulgarian media come at the end
of 2009 after Bulgarian Prime Minister
Boiko Borissov admitted, at an AmCham
business luncheon, that high profile
organised crime gangs in the country,
including ‘The Insolents’, had received
help from within the Interior Ministry.
Mobile phone records from the policemen
involved revealed the men had spoken
repeatedly with leaders of the criminal
group, BGNes said.
Police were currently preparing an
operation called The Insolents 3, designed
to close down the gang's operations for
Tracking the Crocodiles
The second high-profile organised crime
group, whose members have recently been
arrested and cited by Borissov as being
aided and abetted from within the Interior
Ministry, was the gang known as ‘the
Crocodiles’. Among those who had helped
the Crocodiles were not just road police,
but also high ranking officials who had
provided gang members with police
identities used in the armed robberies,
The Internal Security department at the
Interior Ministry was said to have
evidence that police officers had been
involved with the gang from its inception.
According to Bulgarian daily Standart, the
Interior Ministry was in no hurry to make
arrests because it wanted to secure
sufficient evidence to bring the suspected
corrupt policemen to court.
Bulgaria drops candidate for Brussels
The EU's Lisbon Treaty came into effect in
December, boosting the powers of the
European Parliament vis–a-vis Brussels and
the European Commission. The assembly is
flexing its muscles by refusing to accept
all the 26 candidates to be commissioners,
who have been under interrogation since
The first scalp, as it so happens, is that
of Rumiana Jeleva, foreign minister in
Bulgaria's centre-right government, who
was being proposed to be humanitarian aid
and crisis response commissioner.
She was subjected to sharp criticism from
the leftwingers, centrists and greens, who
abound in the assembly.
She is unfortunate in her country of
origin here. Bulgaria has become a by-word
for graft and the invidious implications
thereof. Her job would have certainly
involved being in charge of administering
massive disbursements of aid funds,
notoriously inclined to go astray.
It is no reflection on her personally. If
anyone takes the rap it is European
Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso,
who proposed her as a member of his team.
She is a symbolic victim of the assertion
of the assembly's new powers.