Bulgaria: Racism is what unites us
Bulgaria is a racist state. This is not a grand statement neither for Bulgaria, nor for most states. Racism is a problem throughout the western world. But it is safe to say that while western states struggle with systemic and especially structural racism, Bulgaria is open and blunt about its hate towards – in particular – the Roma population. This hate – and this is a key point – is not a hate towards a people or a group of individuals, for Bulgaria does not really entertain the notion that the Roma are in fact complete human beings. Instead it often thinks of them as a blob of bodies, which is useful during election times but otherwise mostly takes up space, social welfare and free electricity. And they are definitely not ‘Bulgarians’, as people naturally talk about (they) the Roma vs (us) the Bulgarians, whereby making it clear that Bulgarian full citizenship is inevitably ethnically bound.
Bulgaria has a vice prime minister, who just ordered the destruction of 250 people’s houses in the middle of winter. A request that was executed in a manner of days because when it comes to the state destroying Roma houses, it suddenly becomes a well-oiled machine, with no trace of the administrative handicap, which is otherwise incapable of keeping a simple server running, renovate a single street properly or sell electronic vignettes.
Earlier this week in the small town of Voyvodinovo near Plovdiv two young brothers got into a fight with a military officer. The officer claims he was attacked by the two men unprovoked, the two men claim the former slapped one of them, and they reacted – admittedly – disproportionally. The officer was admitted to the hospital with a broken hip bone and swellings and broses in his head. This should be a crime like any other and be decided by the court, and if the court finds the defenders guilty, it should rule on a punishment. But since the two men are Roma, the punishments have already begun, and since – as mentioned – they are not perceived as individual human beings with individual will, the guilt is allocated to the collective, and punishments is aimed at the whole community.
There are numerous ghettoes in Bulgaria. The people living in ghettoes, as far as they are ghettoes, are trapped inside by and in poverty. There is no official statistic or map of these places or the number of people living in them, but different studies have been carried-out throughout the years, following the collapse of communism. A more recent study by Rumian Sechkov from 2013 has identified at least 320 ghettoes across the country. In 2014 another study conducted by the international consortium FAS 2013 concluded that the total population of people living in ghettoes is 400’000. The actual houses in these areas are very often illegal. So are the houses in the ghetto in the small town of Voyvodinovo, where the two brothers in question lived with their families.
Vice PM and co-leader of the far-right nationalist coalition partner the United Patriots, Krassimir Karakachanov (who is also Minister of Defence) reacted almost immediately to the incident and went on site to meet with local authorities.
“The gypsies in Bulgaria have become exceptionally audacious and the patience of the Bulgarians is running out”, he said.
And later made another key statement packed with pre-Holocaust racist goodies, which should be prosecuted:
“The reality is that there is the need for a whole program to be developed dedicated to solving the gypsy question. The people should not have to put up with a part of the population, which only has rights and refuses to acknowledge it also has responsibilities and must uphold the law.”
He also explained several days after that the reason there is no political will for solving the gypsy problem is because of fear from “the media, pseudo-human rights’ organizations and fear of the bureaucrats in Brussels”.
In a rant, which took the length of a short lecture “one part of the population”, he also called for the houses in the ghetto in the town to be destroyed. When asked where would the 250 people, who live there go in the middle of winter if they have no houses, Karakachanov bluntly replied to the journalist:
“Take them in in your house.”
The civil society organization Edinstvo – Haskovo (Unity – Haskovo) filed a claim against Karakachanov for discrimination at the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. It is still unclear whether the claim will lead to proceedings yet. Regarding this and other verbal criticism of his remarks as being too strong, Karakachanov said:
“Actually, my reaction was very soft. I tried to be very diplomatic and mindful of the fact that I am vice prime minister in this cabinet, if not for that, I would have said many other things.”
And while the mayor of Voyvodinovo, Dimitar Toshev was reluctant at first, pointing out that “you can’t destroy houses where over 200 people live”, this didn’t resonate much neither with the vice PM, nor the mayor of the Maritsa Municipality, Dimitar Ivanov, of which Voyvodinovo is a part of, who ordered the houses be demolished. Heavy excavators were immediately on their way and by the end of the next day 5 houses were destroyed. Another 10 will be demolished right away for – ironically – posing a risk to those who live inside and passers-by. The authorities will have to wait the two-week right for appeal for the rest of the houses, as the justification for their removal is only for being illegal.
Karakachanov is still going on about how a ‘certain part of the population” (whom he never refers to as people, citizens, most often as ‘part of the population’, and gypsies at most) “must learn to uphold the law.” It seems cliché enough to be unharmful but, really, what does he mean? The law is not only the law, but also what happens when you break it. There is a system of procedures in place to balance off offences because people do break the law, and actually there is nothing extraordinary about this. But if we take into account the dehumanization and blunt racism, it makes more sense. The thing is, Karakachanov holds the bar much higher if you are Roma. It’s not that if you break the law, the system finds you guilty and appoints a punishment. You plainly do not have the right to break the law and expect due process. And people in power like Karakachanov will find a way to destroy your house and the houses of all your family and neighbors, and leave them on the street in the middle of winter, all in less than a week and finish off by explaining how he was soft on you. Because you have no rights, or at least you shouldn’t have. Right up until just before the next elections when your vote will become a valued commodity. And a very good reason for those in power not to implement any real policies that might sustainably help people out of the ghettoes.
In other news:
The Bulgarian government chooses the F-16
In a historic decision the Bulgarian government decided to go ahead with the purchase of new F-16 Block 70 Viper fighter aircrafts, manufactured by the American Lockheed Martin. The modernization of the Bulgarian air forces was delayed several times in the past several years. As a result, Bulgaria, who is a member of NATO since 2004 still uses the old soviet fighters MIG 29 and pays millions to Russia in maintenance and repair costs. The cabinet’s decision to purchase F-16’s now lies in the realm of Parliament, which must approve it. The cabinet also requests of Parliament to allow for the future contract to circumvent some of the requirements from the Bulgarian side, which are mandatory. This way the conditions of the project will be changed in the period of implementation.
The main rival of the Americal offer was the proposal from Sweeden’s SAAB for Gripen fighters. In order to better their chances the company proposed two additional aircrafts, totaling at ten, instead of the initial eight, for the same price but with less equipment. However, additional equipment would require new contracts and tenders.
The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced earlier this week that Washington is committed to tailor the specifics of the final deal for the F-16’s to Bulgaria’s budget and operative requirements.
The final terms will be decided over bilateral negotiations between the two countries.
Meanwhile the Bulgarian Socialist Party is firmly against any negotiations between Bulgaria and the U.S. for the F-16 ‘s. BSP’s leader Kornelia Ninova held a press conference, in which she declared:
“[This government] has inflicted many heavy blows on the rule of law in Bulgaria, but the resolution for the decision for the new aircraft is а new low and the end”, she said.
BSP’s position is not surprising. It plainly follows President Roumen Radev’s remarks from last week, in which he described the negotiations between the U.S. and Bulgaria as a „triple blow against Bulgaria”. Radev won the presidency as an independent with the support of BSP in the last elections. His criticism has chiefly to do with the fact that the American fighters will be more expensive than the initially allocated 1,8 billion leva including VAT.
Apart from BSP, the pro-Russian far-right nationalist ATAKA, which is part of the ruling coalition, will also vote against the decision, so will another pro-Russian parliamentary party, VOLYA. The likely scenario, however, is that the decision will pass the parliamentary vote with the votes of the largest ruling party, GERB, Minister of Defense Krassimir Karakachanov’s VMRO, and Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The vote is expected next week.
In the meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the White House and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton commended PM Boyko Borissov for his decision on Twitter for choosing the F-16. According to unofficial information if the Parliament gives its go-ahead, this would secure Borissov a visit to the White House and a meeting with U.S. president Donald Trump.
Boyko Borissov requests the Mobility Package to remain after the elections for European Parliament
PM Boyko Borissov has made a request to the chairman of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani for the vote on the new rules for transport carriers, which the Bulgarian carriers continuesly protest, to be held after the upcoming European elections are over.
The two discussed the situation surrounding the new Mobility Package 1 over the phone when Borissov made the request. The European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism passed one of the three initiatives in the package this week.
Meanwhile Bulgarian, Polish and Romanian truck drivers took to the streets in Brussels to protest the package. The package requires for drivers to return home every four weeks, which drivers and companies claim will bankrupt them. The package also provides new rules for how the drivers’ salary is calculated, which is also a key issue for the protesters.
The protesters are clear that the measures in the Mobility Package will damage the sector severely in the remote parts of Europe like Bulgaria.
In Bulgaria, virtually the whole government and opposition alike expressed their support for the drivers’ protest in Brussels. President Roumen Radev and the Bulgarian Socialist Party declared their support on Tuesday. Radev met with carrier companies and declared:
“I am with you. Precisely such justified demands as yours are the reason for all Bulgarian institutions to become united in their support for you”, Radev said afterwards.
Later the government’s press-office released an official statement backing the protest. Transport Minister Rossen Zhelyazkov announced he will be attending the demonstrations as well.
Transcripts from bugs in the trial against former mayor of Mladost Dessislava Ivancheva and her deputy Bilyana Petrova manipulated
The transcripts from special investigative tools, which are part of the body of evidence in the trial for bribery against the former mayor of Mladost Dessislava Ivancheva and her Deputy Bilyana Petrova have been manipulated in a way, which changes the meaning entirely. Petrova was the one to inform about key differences between the recordings and the transcripts. For example, a sentence by Petrova, which is transcribed as “I don’t want 10%”, was originally “I don’t want for the kids to go to the center”. The two sentenced bare phonetic similarities in Bulgarian. Petrova explained the context in which she said the words, which has nothing to do with the trial at all but occurred during talks about a math school teacher, who resigned in 2017.
Petrova claims that there are many instances of such falsifications.
Dessislava Ivancheva and Bilyana Petrova are on trial for receiving a 70’000-euro bribe in for issuing a construction permit. They remained in jail till last Christmas, totaling 8 months behind bars without conviction. The Specialized court released them under house arrest three times; twice the Appeals’ Court reversed the decision. The head of the Supreme Court of Cassations appointed a special panel of three Supreme Court judges to review the proceedings, due to suspicions that the Appeals Court’s reversals were unjustified, which the three judges probe confirmed.
Ivancheva and Petrova filed their case to the European Court for Human Rights a few weeks ago. The claim concerns the way the two were arrested, when they stood handcuffed in the middle of a busy intersection for over six hours in the heart of Sofia’s center back in April, and the horrific conditions of the cells they occupied for eight months.
Head of Supreme Court of Cassations, Lozan Panov will keep on perusing possible wrongdoings in the arrest of Dessislava Ivancheva and Biliyana Petrova
The head of the Supreme Court of Cassations Lozan Panov
The head of the Supreme Court of Cassations Lozan Panov will request from the prosecutors in the Supreme Judicial Council to give its opinion on the scandal regarding the inquiry into the since removed mayor of Sofia’s district of Mladost Dessislava Ivancheva and her deputy Bilyana Petrova. Panov’s request is for this to be included in next week ‘agenda of the regular meeting of the council.
The reason for Panov’s request is the unprecedented decision, made by the Specialized Prosecution for materials from Ivancheva and Petrova’s trial to be withheld as regards to an inquiry appointed by Panov himself. This was in late November. Before this the head of the SCC tasked three judges unrelated to the trial to review the proceedings and especially as regards to the Specialized Court of Appeals reversing the decision by the Specialized Court to release the two defendants under house arrest. The two women are now under house arrest but after the decision going back and forth three times, which effectively extended their time spent in jail over a month, totaling in over eight months.
The prosecutors’ superiors decided to withhold relevant documents from the judges reviewing the proceedings arguing that the release could affect the decision pending by the Specialized Court of Appeals.
Panov attacks this argument, however, as entirely unjustified and ungrounded legal-wise and accuses the decision as an “unacceptable attempt of institutional influence over the court [which violates its independence]”.
Eventually, the inquiry, which Panov appointed was carried out. It found that the Specialized Appeals’ Court had made violations in producing the decision for the two women to remain in jail.
The Supreme Judicial Council will have its regular meeting on Wednesday when Panov’s request will be processed.
The head of the National Road Infrastructure Agency resigns amid e-vignette chaos
The head of the National Road Infrastructure Agency Svetoslav Glosov resigned this week, following three previous resignations from other officials, responsible for the implementation of the e-vignette system, which took off last week with a series of errors and bugs. PM Boyko Borissov requested the three previous resignations early last Saturday, and they were submitted immediately. Glosov resigned after a meeting with Borissov as well. The PM requested this resignation also.
“The PM strongly criticized [the way the system was launched], he expressed his deep dissatisfaction and demanded responsibility be taken. Glosov’s reaction to this was to submit his resignation.”, Regional Minister Petya Avramova, who was also present at the meeting between Glosov and Borissov, told the media.
From what Glosov told the media, he conceded to submitting his resignation without argument, and accepts the responsibility arising from the ‘difficulties’ the launch of the new system has led to. Glosov maintained at first that there is nothing out of the ordinary wrong with the system, and as much as there are issues, they are within normal for launching any new system of this scale. Last week he admitted there might be some problems with the system
The largest parliamentary opposition the Bulgarian Socialist Party, however, repeated that they will not be satisfied unless relevant ministers resign.
Bulgaria won’t enter the Eurozone before 2022: Valdis Dombrovskis
The European Commission Vice President for the Euro Valdis Dombrovskis
Bulgaria will not enter the Eurozone before 2022, the European Commission Vice President for the Euro Valdis Dombrovskis said, the Bulgarian National Radio reported. The timeframe depends of how Bulgaria preform in the upcoming probe of the banking system, which is a condition for the country to join the European Banking Union and the so-called ‘euro waiting room’, which will occur in one day.
According to Dombrovskis Bulgaria has a chance to enter the waiting room in mid 2019.
“In order for this to happen Bulgaria’s application must be approved from all countries in the Eurozone and Denmark, which is a member of the mechanism, and by the European Central Bank”, Dombrovskis added.
If and after the country enters the euro waiting room, at least three years must pass before it becomes a full member of the eurozone. The first two years have to do with meeting the Maastricht criteria, and the third – with assessing the achieved results and preparatory work.
За честна и независима журналистика
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