Mediapool Weekly: October 20 – October 26

Protesters demand Vice PM Valeri Simeonov’s resignation after obnoxious comments regarding children with disabilities but he will likely keep his post, Ministry of Interior silent about a black man getting beaten meters off its official building

Commentary:

The grotesque cynicism of the weak in power

 

Late last week vice PM and one of the leaders of the far-right nationalist coalition United Patriots, which is GERB’s coalition partner in this cabinet, Valeri Simeonov referred to mothers of children with disabilities as “a group of loudmouthed women with supposedly sick children”.

Parents with children with disabilities have been protesting effectively since June 1, demanding that Parliament pass and enact a bundle of three bills of amendments regarding people with disabilities. After one of them was passed last week, Simeonov spoke on a politically close TV network, SKAT, about why he opposes the bill. During this interview he made the comments.

After the interview received wider attention, it led to the immediate demand of Simeonov’s resignation by the protesters and the wider public.

The wording is more than outrageous and reviles layers upon layers of why Simeonov is entirely unfit to be in a position of power in any public office, at least in a democratic state. The thinnest layer is the apparent and very retro sexism, even by Bulgaria’s standards. But second is the very straight forward implication that these parents pretend to have children with disabilities in order to “advance their purely materialistic aims” (also in the same interview).

The implied disbelief whether the children are in fact with disabilities (“...supposedly sick children”) received focused public attention. Simeonov went out to reject the claims, arguing he was misunderstood. And of course he must have been because – as he explained – he is not a monster, he has eyes and he can see clearly that “these children are with obvious disfigurements, deformations and apparently… abnormal, having such movements and tics, these kids… I am not one not to notice that”.

Simeonov is known for his outbursts. It is frequently portrayed as almost charming by his colleagues: it means he is passionate and blunt. Somehow this should pass as an excuse and positive in the sense that he does not lie, he is truthful to the Bulgarian people.

He is truthful and that is not on its own a bad thing. But the problem with Simeonov is not whether or not he communicates his ideas with honesty. It is the ideas themselves. After a meeting with the coalition partners Simeonov made a statement he termed an apology, which he began by stressing he is saying the following under pressure from the coalition partners. They made him do it.

That is, if anyone had any doubts about the true content of Simeonov’s beliefs, and might of affiliated some of it to bad wording interpreted out of context, they may rest assured that, no, this is indeed what he believes, word for word. By the way, Simeonov has had such outbursts in the past about people of color and especially Roma people, once referring to them as “beastly human look-alikes”. But then again, so what. The very public comments did not stop the government from appointing him chairman of none other than the Council for Ethnic and Integration Issues. This week he nearly got appointed to chairman of the National Council for People with Disabilities. The government backed out of this one at the very last second, likely out of fear of the protesting wave, but mind you not out of concerns of his fitness to deal with these issues, given his views. The most dangerous thing this government does regarding to Simeonov’s almost otherworldly views is precisely dismissing the ideas for their content and spinning his attitude as being brave by voicing one’s unpopular opinions on TV.

But it isn’t brave. And not only because slurs at ethnic minorities, women, people (children!) with disabilities and really anyone who is not a white male, is below any standard and should make him immediately unfit for office andeven prosecuted for at least half of the things he has said in public.

It isn’t brave because Simeonov – if at all aware of how obnoxious and plain unacceptable his views are in a democratic society – does not care to throw them for one reason alone. He is confident he will not face any political consequences, for PM Boyko Borissov has his back, seemingly always. It appears more and more that Simeonov is the key to the cabinet’s stability, and that is true even by Borissov’s own account.

Borissov is so obsessed with ‘stability’, the word has gained a slang life of its own in everyday Bulgarian life, integrating the cartoonist way any question and any problem finds its explanation in ‘stability’. This obsession has long since crossed over the pathological threshold. Borissov and his political circle repeat the word so often and on any ocasion that it has long since been deprived of any real meaning, becoming this government’s ‘42’ but with the added comical value of actually acting as though it is saying something.

When asked about the daily protests demanding Simeonov’s resignation Borissov, with a note of irritation in his voice, said the other day:

What do you want me to do? Resign myself instead of Simeonov and to throw the country into chaos?”

A rhetorical question, no doubt, but still – carrying a false premise. The only thing in risk here is Borissov holding on to his power. Why would Borissov’s resignation lead to chaos for the country? The notion is designed to instill fear when in fact the only thing under threat would be this cabinet’s continued ruling status, nothing else. The country would be just fine.

If I request Valeri Simeonov’s resignation, this would collapse the entire structure, such an act will cause the government to fall.” – he added.

Of course, this is Borissov’s only incentive. It is keeping himself in power at any cost, at least till the is over. For this he is dependent on his coalition partners who obviously know this all too well.

It might be that going out of one’s way to keep one’s power is not so unusual. But in this case there are several important aspects reveal the scope within which actions to that effect are inconsequential. That scope reaches far beyond any trace of democratic process, and exist on the realm of the one-man rule.

Borissov is open about doing everything for the self-serving purpose of keeping the stability of the government. This is sometimes linked to the country’s wellbeing but overall Borissov points to problems that don’t affect his power directly less and less.

This has become the norm and unfortunately what is expected from the weakest in power. Borissov is a hostage of his coalition partners, and the people are captives of the one-man leader’s obsessions.

Borissov’s incentive may be power, but the people’s must become keeping the government in check and stop giving into false fear. If there is any way to promote a decent political process, it begins with demanding accountability and not letting every fault slide because every such instance lowers the bar further down to a point of non-existence.

In other news:

 

Two out of three bills of amendments for people with disabilities now passed

 

Parliament passed on its first reading the second bill of amendments concerning people with disabilities. The amendments are for the Personal Assistance Act and is the second bill out of the three, which protesting parents of children with disabilities have been demanding.

MPs voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill with 174 votes from across the political spectrum.

The previous bill that Parliament managed to pass concerned amendments to the People with Disabilities Act.

This leaves Parliament to pass one more bill: the one concerning the Social Services Act.

Meanwhile, the protests, demanding Vice PM Valeri Simeonov’s resignation continue. Protest organizers issued a statement expressing their satisfaction that the process of passing the bills is progressing, but underlined that the demands for Simeonov’s resignation will not be weakened by this.

We will continue protesting because of the public insult Vice PM Valeri Simeonov made [against us] and in his explanations [following public backlash] actually made even worse slurs. I’d forgive a construction worker if they called us invalids and abnormal but [a forgiveness] is unthinkable in Simeonov’s case,” said one of the protesting parents, Maya Stoitsieva, cited by BGNES News Agency.

The National Network for the Children also demanded Simeonov’s resignation via an official letter to PM Boyko Borissov on Monday.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is reportedly contemplating suing the vice PM for discrimination because of the comment that the mothers of children with disabilities are “a group of loudmouthed women with supposedly sick children.”

 

Ministry of Interior silent about a black man getting beaten meters off its official building

 

The Ministry of Interior has been keeping silent for almost a month about an incident, in which a black man was beaten after a football match in center of Sofia, meters away from the official building of the ministry. Leon Kofi, a British citizen was attacked on September 29 after a Levski-CSKA game. Levski and CSKA are the biggest football rivals in Bulgaria and most of their matches are accompanied by excessive police and other security, as clashes between the two groups of fans clash heavily with one another. The hard core fan bases of both teams are notorious for their neo-Nazi convictions.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a Bulgarian human rights watchdog, first alerted about the incident. They have taken on Kofi’s case and his representation in court. According to BHC Kofi was beaten up by 50 football fans. The first one to approach Kofi was wearing a mask and took him to the ground, following which the rest of the group approaches and begin to kick him. BHC stressed that while the beating was happening the assaulters made racist slurs to the victim.

According to the victims own account police officers, who were employed all around the area because of the match, witnessed the beating but did nothing to intervene.

After the beating the Kofi was taken to two hospitals, both of which rejected to admit him, regardless of the obviously critical state he was in. Eventually he was admitted in Pirogov Hospital, where he underwent operation and recovered for two full weeks.

BHC will argue in court that the attack is under racist pretense. They assured to maintain this, as, BHC reminds, the Bulgarian courts frequently mask the racist motives behind such crimes and rules them as regular assaults, omitting any notion that the crime is based of racist motives.

The press brief by the Ministry of Interior after the match made no mention of this incident. On the contrary, the brief states in definite terms that the police had not allowed for any violations to take place before, during or after the match.

Later the Ministry only confirmed about another incident but has still made no mention about the beating of Leon Kofi meters away from its building on the day of the Levski-CSKA match.

 

According to official statistics: 91% of murders of women in Bulgaria have been done by men

 

Five GERB MPs introduced a new bill of amendments to the Penal Code Violence against women in Bulgaria, which criminalizes the heaviest forms of domestic violence. The bill’s list of motives includes some devastating statistics.

91% of murdered women have been killed by men. 2/3 of women murders took place in their own homes.

Over 35% of homicides and attempted homicides of women have been done by a current or former intimate partner of the victim. In 25% of the cases the perpetrator was the victim’s relative. Only in 9% of cases of homicide the victim and the perpetrator did not know each other. Every fourth woman in Bulgaria has been a subject of domestic violence.

Bulgaria rejected the Istanbul Convention several months back under intense and almost unprecedented pressure, both public and political. It was deemed “un-Bulgarian” and secretly aiming at destructing core traditional family values. The convention was not put up for voting in Parliament by GERB likely due to fear of losing key political support. Instead GERB submitted it for review in the Constitutional Court, which ruled the convention unconstitutional. It is worth noting that besides far-right nationalist parties, the left Bulgarian Socialist Party also opposed the convention, citing similar arguments and also that Bulgaria has perfectly good laws, dealing with the problem of violence against women.

This rings most untrue even just at looking over the bill of amendments. The bill introduces for the first time necessary but basic points of regulation, targeting domestic violence, which means that the issue has easily been ignored as such by the legislator. Coupled with the statistics, cited above, the fact that those statistics were compiled for the first time ever for the purposes of the bill, and that according to the Bulgarian human rights watchdog the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee just 19 women have been murdered this year alone by men, often intimate or former intimate partners, demonstrates quite clearly that Bulgaria lacks legislative and policy tools to combat violence against women.

 

The Prosecutor’s Office launches probe into the largest renovation project in Sofia on Graf Ignatiev street

 

The Prosecutor’s Office has launched a probe into the largest renovations’ project in Sofia this season, which generated an almost unprecedented backlash due to its extremely poor quality mostly execution-wise. The company, which is in charge of the renovations, GP Group made headlines on their own recently following extensive investigative reporting by Bivol.bg, who put them at the center of an elaborate and deeply rooted corruptive scheme involving EU funds fraud.

The non-governmental activist organization Save Sofia, who actively pressure Sofia Municipality about numerous misdoings in the local government and raise awareness about them, spread information claiming that the design of the tram route was changed after the tender had been won, which – if true – would be a violation of the Public Procurement Act.

The change in the initial project concerns what type and quality of materials for vibration isolation to be used in executing the project. An interesting fact is that one of the companies, which failed to win the tender lost it precisely because they had proposed to use the materials that in fact are being used now. Save Sofia has also notified the European Anti-Fraud Office about the case.

Meanwhile the municipal administration began looking into the documentation of another renovations project, which is underway. The reason the administration gave was that the project is done by the same firm and the project manager is the same person, Roumen Borissov. After examining the documentation – but only due to mounting public outrage about the issue – the administration has discovered misdoings in it as well.

 

Environment Ministry wind lawsuit against Bansko ski zone concessionaire Yulen

 

The Ministry of Environment and Waters filed a lawsuit against the company Yulen back in April, 2015, which just ended with a verdict favoring the Ministry but the owed amounts will not be paid due to expired period of prescription. The Minisry’s sued Yulen, who is the beneficiary of the concession of the Bansko ski zone in Pirin National Park, back in 2015 for failing to pay a five per-cent fee from the concession value as per a previously signed contract. Yulen claimed that they do not owe the amount and argued it is included in the concession fee.

Now the Blagoevgrad Regional Court finally ruled in favor of the Ministry but only a small part of the total amount will be paid out due to the prescription period. In total, the Ministry’s claim totals at nearly 180’000 leva, including interest, but the actual sum Yulen will pay will be a little over 45’000 leva. The lawsuit covers the period between 2005 and 2013. It remains unclear how this decision by the court will affect the years following 2013.

Yulen has two weeks to appeal the decision.

 

The third no-confidence vote against the cabinet fails

 

No surprisingly, the third Borissov government managed to survive its third no-confidence vote, which took place on Wednesday. The largest parliamentary opposition the Bulgarian Socialist Party introduced the vote to Parliament, this time for the government’s failure in the health sector. 99 MPs voted in favor of the vote, from BSP and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Against the vote voted MPs from the ruling coalition (GERB and the United Patriots) and the party VOLYA.

The leader of GERB’s parliamentary group Tsvetan Tsvetanov took the floor after the vote to point out that the government had just received the largest support compared to the previous two no-confidence votes.

The debates over the vote took place last week and lasted about three hours, during which time BSP presented its policy reform proposal for the health sector, which includes extreme regulatory measures of the health market.

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