Could Football Be a Litmus Test for the Rule of Law? My Latest Article for Euronews

Were you shocked by the racist abuse at the Bulgaria-England Euro qualifier? I never thought I would combine my interest in football with my concern for Bulgaria’s rule of law, but I felt compelled to take a stand. I have a huge admiration for people in professional sports because sports illustrate many of the qualities we aspire to – commitment, discipline, and hard work. Most of all, sports inspire us, ordinary people. The name of the game for true fans will always be football, but in Bulgaria, corruption is the bigger game. My commentary for Euronews entitled “Racism at the heart of Bulgarian football is becoming a litmus test for the rule of law” can be found here.

Месията от Брюксел, който няма да се появи

Никой не е признат за пророк в собствената си страна. Затова се изненадах, когато българска медия ме покани да напиша коментар на тема по мой избор, защото редакторът харесал материалите на блога ми. Предложението дойде в седмицата, когато бе публикуван нелепият доклад по CVM за България, който съм критикувала многократно, та се замислих – вярват ли още сънародниците в Спасители, оракули и др.? „Месията от Брюксел, който няма да се появи“ – първата статия, която специално написах за българска медия.

From a CVM Report Which Scandalized Civil Society to Secret Arrests Soviet-Style

Here are the two latest articles I wrote for the Verfassungsblog:

If you are interested in daily updates on the rule of law in Bulgaria and the EU, follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass.

More reactions to Bulgaria’s CVM:

Vlog Post: The Failure of Bulgaria’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM)

In this video post, I explain how and why the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) failed in Bulgaria. When Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, they did not entirely fulfill the criteria on the rule of law. That is why, they were placed under this mechanism, so that they could catch up with other Member States. Twelve years later, little progress (if any) has been achieved.

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From von der Leyen’s visit to Bulgaria to Bulgaria’s Ministries of Truth

Here are the two latest pieces I wrote for mainstream media which expose the continuing crackdown on human rights in Bulgaria:

  • “Bulgaria: Why did von der Leyen endorse bad politics?” for the EUobserver. I dissect von der Leyen’s unjustified praise for Bulgaria’s government which leaves many questions left unanswered both in Brussels and in Sofia;

You can follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass!

Bulgaria’s Government Attacked Me in a Special Press Release on a Friday Night because I Exposed Its Lies

On 11 and 21 August 2019 I published two posts on my personal blog in which, through legal reasoning, I showcased how Bulgaria’s government purposefully misinforms the general public about the outcome in a case against Bulgaria before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) (SGRF v Bulgaria, Case No. ARB/15/43). Some of the few independent media which are left covered the second post in Bulgarian, which attracted public attention. On Friday night, 23 August 2019, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance published an unprecedented press release on its website in which it attacked me and my blog (Figure 1). Instead of providing a substantive answer to my legal opinion, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance said that my claims were “speculations” crafted by me and my father.

I have never heard of a state institution issuing a special press release about somebody’s academic blog post on a Friday night. As a scholar, I was not impressed by their ad hominem comments whose underlying purpose, it appears, is to attempt to discredit me before society as a whole. My father has not participated in the drafting of my articles: he has his own website where he publishes his criticism against the regime.

I do believe, however, that this press release constitutes harassment and that it is aimed at intimidating me. This serves as further evidence of the lack of rule of law in Bulgaria. In this post I summarize:

  • the government’s lies which attracted my attention
  • the research I have carried out
  • why the government is afraid of the truth
  • how harassing critics is a national policy

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Министерство на финансите или Министерство на истината?

Когато известният професор по конституционно право Wojciech Sadurski публикува книгата си Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown (Конституционният разпад на Полша), полското правителство го обвини в клевета. В научните среди се коментираше, че реакцията на полското правителство показва безсилие и служи като поредното доказателство, че демокрацията в Полша боледува. Малко по-късно полското правителство нападна докторанти от Университета в Краков, които се бяха осмелили да напишат критичен коментар относно проекта за нов наказателен кодекс на Полша. Порица ги, че разпространявали невярна информация. По принцип, характерно за авторитарните режими е да заклеймяват експертното мнение, което не пасва на партийната линия.

В този план, бих искала да коментирам прессъобщение на Министерство на финансите, публикувано в петък вечерта (23.08.2019 г.), което е посветено на моя личен блог. Самият факт, че се отделя такова внимание на личен блог в петък вечер от държавна институция, говори за паника и немощ. Съдържанието на съобщението заслужава анализ, тъй като ясно показва, че съответната институция съвместява две функции – Министерство на финансите и Министерство на истината. Истината, която им харесва и която им е удобна.

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! How Bulgaria Deliberately Misinformed the General Public about the Outcome in ICSID Case No. ARB/15/43 (SGRF v Bulgaria)

In my previous article entitled “An Arbitration Mystery and Bulgaria’s Rule of Law: How Arnold & Porter Gave Away the Existence of a Secret Deal”, which I published on 11 August 2019, I explained how Arnold & Porter unwittingly disclosed that Bulgaria and the State General Reserve Fund Oman (SGRF) secretly settled their dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) over Corporate Commercial Bank (Case No. ARB/15/43). I also underlined that there would be more clarity about what happened behind the curtain after we learned on what grounds ICSID declared the case “concluded”. On 13 August 2019, the arbitral tribunal rendered its Award and the case was indeed marked as concluded.

Shortly after, Bulgaria’s corrupt government engaged in yet another mass disinformation campaign in which it claimed it won the case. However, the full procedural details of the case as published on ICSID’s website, coupled with Arnold & Porter’s statement about the case, prove that the parties settled and just asked the arbitral tribunal to record their settlement as an Award and rule on costs.

The Bulgarian government relies on the fact that an average person does not have a background in international arbitration, and Investor-State arbitration in particular. Luckily, not only ICSID itself has made a move towards better transparency by making the procedural history of each case public, but also many scholars have delved into ICSID’s case law and practice and have shed light on the application of ICSID’s procedural rules. This article may get technical, but if you are curious about this case, bear with me.

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An Arbitration Mystery and Bulgaria’s Rule of Law: How Arnold & Porter Gave Away the Existence of a Secret Deal

Almost two years ago I started radosvetavassileva.blog to expose Bulgaria’s deteriorating rule of law. Sadly, the situation has exacerbated, so there are even more topics to write about. Inasmuch as I dislike this development, the only way forward is to keep denouncing the abuses and the rampant corruption. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me, everyone who follows my blog and all wonderful people who have gotten in touch to provide feedback and give me ideas.

To celebrate my blog-versary, I decided to shed light on an ICSID arbitration case which is more interesting from a rule of law perspective than from an arbitration perspective. The moral of the story is that spreading false information or half-truths eventually catches up on you no matter whether you are a famous law firm like Arnold & Porter, Bulgaria’s central bank (the Bulgarian National Bank) or Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance. One definition of half-truth is “a statement that is only partly true, especially one that is intended to keep something secret.” This seems to be Arnold & Porter’s case in this scenario.

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Paradoxes of Bulgaria’s Rule Of Law

Here are three articles on three different subjects which evidence the lack of rule of law in Bulgaria:

If you are interested in daily updates on Bulgaria’s declining rule of law, you can follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass

European Elections 2019 in Bulgaria

How did European elections 2019 go in Bulgaria? I was honored to be interviewed by New Eastern Europe for their podcast “Talk Eastern Europe.” You can listen to episode 13 dedicated to #Euroelections2019 in Poland, Lithuania, and Bulgaria, which features my contribution, here. If you believe you know everything about Bulgaria, I encourage you to listen anyway because there are valuable comments on Poland and Lithuania.

In retrospect, as I was interviewed shortly after the elections, we did not discuss election manipulations in much detail. If this is a topic which is of interest, you can take a look at my article “8 Worrisome Charts on the Grim State of Bulgaria’s Rule of Law.” The methods and the lies continue to be the same.

Bulgaria’s Dangerous Flirtation with the Far-Right

While Manfred Weber vows to save the European Union from nationalists and populists together with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Borissov, he forgets that GERB is in a coalition with three far-right parties. Xenophobic rhetoric and policies have become common in Bulgaria and the ghost of corruption lurks behind. My latest piece for New Eastern Europe can be found here.

If interested in the rise of the far-right on an EU level, you can read my comments on the Orban-Salvini meeting for Expresso (Portugal) here.

Isn’t It High Time for Skillful Leadership at the European Commission?

European elections 2019 are on the horizon. In February this year, Prof. Demetriades and I had the chance to comment on why they are hugely important for the rule of law debate in the European Union. Unless there is better leadership at the European Commission, the EU will drown in the sea of populism and far-right nationalism. You can read our opinion piece for Euronews here.

Is Bulgaria’s Rule of Law about to Die under the European Commission’s Nose?

While the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court Lozan Panov laments the disintegration of the country’s rule of law, the European Commission praises the country’s progress in the same area. What is the price of complicity?

On 17 April 2019, the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court of Cassation Lozan Panov was the keynote speaker at a yearly event dedicated to court independence. Since his appointment as the highest-ranking judge in Bulgaria, Panov has been outspoken about the abuses to which he has been subjected because he refuses to comply with political orders. The speech he gave at this conference, however, stands out due to its pessimism.

You can read my article dedicated to Judge Panov’s speech for the Verfassungsblog here.

8 Worrisome Charts on the Grim State of Bulgaria’s Rule of Law

In my article “All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts,” I showcased how corruption and the crackdown on human rights and freedoms have detrimental and far-reaching consequences for Bulgaria and for the EU. Since the article attracted much interest, here are 8 more charts, which may be helpful in understanding what went wrong in Bulgaria and which add new nuances to the rather grim picture of the current state of the country’s rule of law.

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How to Harass Inconvenient Opponents of the Government: Bulgaria’s Playbook

Since a Twitter thread I started to draw attention to this dreadful topic attracted interest, I think it is time for a more detailed guide to understanding the mechanisms of harassing inconvenient opponents, which Bulgaria’s government traditionally employs.

Bulgaria has a long, sad history of framing people who are inconvenient for some reason – prosecutors, judges, businessmen who do not support the government, journalists who do not portray the government in the light it wants, civil servants who refuse to follow ludicrous political orders, etc. Unsurprisingly, it has lost hundreds of cases before the European Court of Human Rights because of violations of the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. The practice, however, seems to have intensified in the past five years under the nose of the EU Commission, which is supposed to monitor Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

Here is a prototypical scenario:

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A Wish for Christmas: My Petition before the European Parliament

If you follow my blog, I am sure you know that Bulgaria faces systemic challenges in the area of rule of law and human rights. In May this year, I drew attention to Bulgaria’s deliberate breaches of the presumption of innocence, including show arrests, media trials in coordination with Bulgaria’s authorities, framing of people for political reasons, etc (see my article “Spectacular Televised Arrests, Media Trials, and Abuse of Process: The Presumption of Guilt in Bulgaria”).

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Frans Timmermans and Bulgaria: What EU Values?

Without much competition, Frans Timmermans was selected as the Spitzenkandidat of the Party of European Socialists (PES). His campaign is based on the defense of EU values. In principle, EU values are defined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and include democracy, the rule of law, the respect for human rights, etc.

Yet, the fact that Timmermans currently serves the First Vice -President as well as the Commissioner for the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Juncker Commission ultimately raises the question about his achievements in the areas of rule of law and defense of human rights.

Juncker’s Commission (to be understood as President Juncker, Commissioner Timmermans, and Commissioner Jourova who have a say in these matters) has already been criticized for its relaxed and overly diplomatic approach towards the rule of law crises in Poland and Hungary. As a scholar with an interest in the rule of law challenges in Bulgaria, I cannot help but notice Timmermans’ silence on my country either.

If you follow my blog, you probably know that Bulgaria is in a very poor shape – it was downgraded to a semi-consolidated democracy by Freedom House, it is considered the most corrupt EU member by Transparency International, it was ranked 111th in the world based on freedom of speech by Reporters Without Borders, etc. If you did not know the rule of law in Bulgaria is in a deplorable state, consider reading my article for the EU Observer “Is Bulgaria the EU’s next rule of law crisis?”

However, despite red flags by reputable indices as well as numerous letters of complaint, which have been sent to Timmermans from Bulgaria, he never expressed any concern publicly or took any action to prevent the further decay of the rule of law.

In an attempt to shed some light on Timmermans’ disturbing nonchalance, I carried out an opinion poll on Twitter.

Shall we see what the survey found about his silence?

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Manfred Weber and Bulgaria: Is There a Dual Standard on the Rule of Law?

Manfred Weber is a changed man. In May 2018, he warned that people should not “point fingers” at Orban who was not a “bad European.” After months of turning his eyes away from the Hungarian rule of law crisis, on the day of the vote on the activation of Article 7(1) of the Treaty on the European Union against Hungary (12 September 2018), he did a 180 degree turn. ‘Today I will vote in favour of triggering #Article7. I have always been in favour of building bridges and I want to continue to do so but yesterday I didn’t see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his EU partners and address our concerns. #Hungary,” he posted on Twitter. Four days later, Financial Times reported he was already concerned not only about Hungary, but also about Poland, Romania, and possibly other countries.

If you follow my blog, however, you probably know that Bulgaria’s democracy and rule of law are in a critical condition (if you do not, consider reading, for instance,  All You Need to Know About Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts). So, while I appreciate the evolution of Weber’s views, I am troubled that he did not mention Bulgaria as a country he is worried about. Manfred Weber is running for President of the European Commission, so his opinion, fickle as it may be, can have huge consequences for the rule of law debate, which will surely continue to haunt EU institutions.

Is there something I am missing from the big picture? I carried out a Twitter survey to find out how Weber’s awkward silence on Bulgaria could be explained.

Shall we see what the survey found?

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