The Implications of Bulgaria’s Wiretapping Scandal

Earlier this month, I was invited to write a commentary about the raid which the Prosecutor’s Office orchestrated against the Ministry of Interior. The Prosecutor’s Office attacked the ministry shortly after the Minister of Interior Boyko Rashkov made public statements that the opposition had been illegally wiretapped after the start of mass protests in 2020, which, in essence, exposes the criminal activity of the Prosecutor’s Office.

I was compelled to tell the very sad tale of what Bulgarians who are inconvenient for the Prosecutor’s Office or the status quo endure. Framing, raiding, tampering with evidence, criminalizing facts which cannot constitute a crime, etc. are signature practices of the Prosecutor’s Office which flourished under General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. At this stage, the reality in Bulgaria is truly Kafkaesque.

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The Short-Lived 45th Bulgarian National Assembly

Believe it or not, many foreign scholars and civil society members are also interested in the abuses of Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. The mass protests against him and Borissov’s third government in 2020 made more people aware of the rule of law decay in Bulgaria.

Unsurprisingly, when the 45th Bulgarian National Assembly started functioning in April 2021, I received an email from a colleague asking me if it were true that Ivan Geshev would be removed from office.

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Elections and Drama

In my latest article for New Eastern Europe published shortly after the parliamentary elections which took place on April 4th, 2021, I discuss the importance of these specific elections, the likely scenarios, and the reluctance with which Boyko Borissov will eventually transfer power.

Even before the Parliament was convened, I argued: “In parallel, the opposition is fragmented, so while preferable, they may not be able to form a government either. This means that the most likely scenario is a caretaker government and new parliamentary elections this year.” I also contended: “The future may be uncertain at this stage, but the election results are actually a massive victory for Bulgaria’s civil society.”

You can read the full text of my article ‘Dramatic parliamentary elections in Bulgaria: will Borissov transfer power peacefully?’ here.

Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria

On 4 April 2021 or in 4 days, Bulgarian citizens will vote for a new Parliament. Unusual elections, considering Bulgarians have been protesting against Boyko Borissov’s government for 8 months and Borissov did everything possible to avoid early elections, which means these are the first parliamentary elections organized by a government led by Boyko Borissov. I have written an article for Res Publica about the incredibly high stakes which was published earlier today. I republish it here with the permission of the editors.

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Колосалният БВП в предизборната кошница на ГЕРБ

Предизборните кошници често са пълни с привидно вкусни плодове, които след избори се оказват кисели или даже – отровни. Днес ще ви разкажа за колосалния БВП от предизборната кошница на ГЕРБ.

Когато медии с претенции повтарят пропагандни послания без грам критика – noblesse oblige, както казват във Франция.

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Sexism and Violence against Women in Bulgaria

At the beginning of this year, I was invited to write an article about women’s rights for a project promoting independent digital media in the Central and East European region funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and coordinated by Notes from Poland.

My article titled “Sexism and violence against women. Will this nightmare in Bulgaria end?” focuses on the discrepancy between the promises of Boyko Borissov’s government to protect women from violence and the reality on the ground. Sexist attitudes, often deemed at the core of violence against women, prevail even at the highest ranks of government. Meanwhile, Bulgarian legislation provides very little protection for victims of such abuses.

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COVID-19 in Autocratic Bulgaria

At the end of 2020, I was invited to write a country report on Bulgaria about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on democracy in the past year. The report is part of a project facilitated by Democracy Reporting International, Horizon-2020 RECONNECT, and the Verfassungsblog which focuses on more than 70 jurisdictions.

My conclusions are rather grim. I argue that “the elections on 4 April 2021 are of pivotal importance for Bulgaria’s rule of law” since “Borissov has built a framework for abusing the COVID-19 challenges for political benefits”. I also make that case that “if he remains in power, he will surely take advantage of [the framework he has built]”.

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The Struggle for the Rule of Law in Bulgaria: My Interview for the Global Liberty Alliance

In February this year, Mr. Jason Poblete, President of the Global Liberty Alliance, a non-governmental organization in the USA which defends human rights, invited me for an interview. He was interested to learn more about the rule of law decay and human rights abuses in Bulgaria, including how and why I started my journey in defending human rights.

We scheduled the interview for March, but as it turns out, the timing was perfect because on the day of the interview, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee issued an unprecedented joint statement emphasizing that “…persistent corruption, declining media freedom, politicization of the judiciary, and other threats to the rule of law pose[d] serious challenges to the U.S.-Bulgaria bilateral relationship.”

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The Shenanigans of the Konrad Adenauer and Hanns Seidel Political Foundations in Bulgaria

A scandal which erupted in Bulgaria today motivated me to tell you the story of the illegal activity of two German political foundations – the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Hanns Seidel Stiftung. In the concrete case which appalled me, the Konrad Adenauer political foundation commissioned an edition dedicated to Bulgarian politics in 2020, hired an editor who is a respected journalist and approved all authors and their topics. However, it refused to publish the edition in the end because it deemed that the articles written by experts were “against the government”.

Of course, this is an example of censorship, but this censorship is just the cherry in a toxic cocktail which Bulgaria has been drinking since 2006 when Boyko Borissov’s GERB party was created. Let me give you its recipe.

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Публикуваните цитати от решението на ICSID недвусмислено показват, че България се е споразумяла със Суверенния фонд на Оман

Тази седмица Центърът за разрешаване на инвестиционни спорове към Световната банка (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, познат като ICSID) най-сетне публикува excerpts (цитати) от арбитражното решение по дело No. ARB/15/43 (Суверенният фонд на Оман срещу България). Те недвусмислено показват, че България се е споразумяла с втория най-голям акционер в КТБ.

Това решение касае всички български граждани. Българските данъкоплатци заслужават да научат колко са платили, за да компенсират щетите на Суверенния фонд на Оман. Въпросът, разбира се, не е само материален – очевидно, за да търси споразумение, българската държава индиректно признава вина по случая КТБ. Имайки предвид и ресурса, който беше впрегнат от правителството на Бойко Борисов, за да излъже българските граждани, и участието на медии с претенции като Дневник и КлубЗ в дезинформационната кампания, човек може да си даде сметка колко нездрава е средата в България.

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The EU Accession of the Western Balkans: The Perspective of a Neighbor

The editors of the Res Publica Blog – a project of the Institute of Communications Studies in Macedonia – recently asked me to share my views on the prospects for EU accession of Western Balkan countries, as part of the “Tales from the Region” blogging initiative. Considering how much ink has been spilled on this issue, I thought it was more appropriate to reason in the reverse – can the Western Balkans learn anything from the experience of new EU Member States like Bulgaria? I republish my article in full on my own blog with Res Publica‘s permission.

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On Bulgaria’s Notorious Veto on Macedonia’s EU Accession Talks

At the end of 2020, I was asked to share my thoughts on Bulgaria’s veto on Macedonia’s accession talks for EU membership for the Res Publica Blog – a project of the Institute of Communications Studies in Macedonia whose aim is to fight disinformation through research. The project is financed by the British Embassy in North Macedonia and publishes primarily academic writers. I republish my article in full on my own blog with the permission of the editors of Res Publica. As you will see, I do not share the views of the Bulgarian government – I find they belong to a different era.

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An Autocratic Christmas, An Autocratic Winter

Despite more than 160 days of protests, Boyko Borissov’s government stubbornly refuses to resign. Moreover, it has engaged in yet another assault against the rule of law. In my latest piece for the Verfassungsblog, I showcase how Borissov’s government is trying to mislead the European Commission that it has taken its concerns in Bulgaria’s report under the new Rule of Law Mechanism seriously. In essence, Bulgaria’s government has put forward an action plan consisting of various steps – many of them are irrelevant to the Commission’s concerns, even a greater number are anti-constitutional. You can read my piece titled “Borissov’s Latest Plan to Avoid True Reforms: On Bad Habits, the CVM, and the New Rule of Law Mechanism” here.

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An Interview for the Green European Journal

In late October, I was contacted by the Green European Journal, the independent publication of the Green European Foundation, which is one of the political foundations at an EU level. They wanted to learn more about Bulgaria’s longstanding challenges in the area of the rule of law. We talked for an hour about diverse issues – from corruption and rule of law decay, through rigged elections and scandals, to the future alternatives for Bulgaria, including the role of the Greens. I was surprised that they published our conversation almost in its entirety. You can read my interview here.

100 Days of Protests Exposing Bulgaria’s Rule of Law Decay

Bulgarians have been protesting against Boyko Borissov’s third government and General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev for more than 100 days. Beyond exposing the rampant corruption and the rule of law decay in the country, what have the protests achieved? Most importantly – what lies ahead, considering the European People’s Party continues to support its loyal autocrat? I ponder these questions in my latest article for New Eastern Europe – “Bulgaria: 100 days of protests”.

Surely, one of the longstanding problems of Bulgaria’s justice system, which the protests have also showcased, is the lack of accountability of the General Prosecutor, coupled with the excessive powers of the Prosecutor’s Office s/he leads. I was honored to be interviewed for a an episode of the new podcast of Verfassungsblog and the German Bar Association, “Let’s Talk about the Rule of Law”, about the role that prosecutor’s offices should have – their relationship with the executive, the checks and balances to which they should be subjected, etc. José Manuel Santos Pais, President of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE), Prof. Thomas Groß, and I had a fascinating discussion. You can listen to episode 5 of the new “Let’s Talk about the Rule of Law” podcast here.

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The Commission’s Rule of Law Reports: A Diagnosis or an Autopsy?

On 5 October 2020, the German Marshall Fund of the United States held a webinar dedicated to the first rule of law reports released by the European Commission under the new, much anticipated Rule of Law Mechanism. While the event was announced much before the publication of the reports, its title gave away the fears of rule of law experts – “Assessing the State of Rule of Law in the European Union: Diagnosis or Autopsy?”

I was honored to be invited to serve as one of the panelists along with Prof. Laurent Pech, Prof. Petra Bard, Anna Wójcik, who is the co-founder of Rule of Law in Poland, and Joachim Herrmann from the Cabinet of Commissioner Dreynders. As one could expect, the rule of law experts on the panel entertain very different views on the usefulness and the objectivity of these rule of law reports compared to the formal position of the European Commission. All of us seem to concur that the Commission spares hard truths for governments and that the reports rely heavily on euphemisms. I do believe that the criticism the Commission received was constructive and may benefit its own assessments in the future.

If you are interested in the debate, you can watch the recording on YouTube here. Prof. Pech discussed the general deficiencies of this mechanism while the rest of us critically evaluated the country chapters on Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria:

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When Standards are Dual

Bulgaria’s fiery summer of protests led to a stormy fall. Sadly, there is a bitter feeling of dual standards in the air.

The government is clearly uncomfortable with the protests, so it resorted to a shameful trick typical of autocratic regimes – violence. Sadly, the EU Commission chose to look the other way. You can read my article “Protests in Bulgaria: will the EU at least condemn the violence?” for The Brussels Times here.

In stark contrast to the nonchalance of the EU Commission, the EU Parliament took some interest in Bulgaria’s democratic backsliding. At a hearing of the LIBE Committee dedicated to the rule of law decay in Bulgaria, however, Commissioner Vera Jourova, whose portfolio includes values and transparency in the EU, was afraid to depart from her institutional point of view and maintained that Bulgaria had been making steady progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism which monitors the country in the areas of rule of law, corruption, and organized crime. You can read my article “On Coins, Parallel Universes and the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” for the Verfassungsblog in which I showcase the pitfalls of this mechanism and the hypocrisy of the EU Commission.

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An Explosive Summer

The mass protests in Bulgaria of 2020 will be remembered for many reasons – the persistence of citizens, the fact that right-wingers and left-wingers stand together against corruption and autocracy, the police violence, the arrogance and political games of Borissov’s government and his GERB party and, sadly, the silence of EU institutions.

In August, I published my article entitled “Protests in Bulgaria: EU values, wherefore art thou?” with New Eastern Europe. I showcase the ambiguous reaction by EU institutions towards the protests and the dual standards regarding the rule of law which become more and more visible.

I was also interviewed for the Talk Eastern Europe podcast in early August about the protests and the perspectives ahead. As the hosts noted, Bulgaria is rarely covered by international media, so few people abroad are aware of the gravity of the political disaster which struck. You can listen to my interview here.

If you follow me, you know I often write about Bulgaria’s rule of law decay.

You can find a list of my blog posts and some of my articles for the media here! You can follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass!