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.
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.”
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.
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]”.
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.”
The Institute of Communications Studies of Macedonia started a new podcast about Balkan issues. In this episode dedicated to the prospects for EU accession of the Western Balkans, they invited four experts from different countries to share their views on the “EU future” of the region – Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Macedonia. You can listen to the episode and my contribution here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Verfassungsblogin which I showcase the pitfalls of this mechanism and the hypocrisy of the EU Commission.
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.
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.
Earlier this month I was invited to comment on Boyko Borissov’s latest ideas for constitutional reform by the Verfassungsblog. Those following the decline of Bulgaria’s rule of law and those who have respect for constitutionalism will not be surprised by my conclusions. Borissov is abusing the Bulgarian legal concept of a grand national assembly to prevent fairer elections. GERB’s proposal for a new constitution lacks merit. It is largely based on the current Constitution. The few amendments it introduces are of questionable value: they are ill-drafted or designed to deliver a blow to parliamentarism. You can read my full contribution entitled “A Grand National Assembly or Grand National Chicanery?” here.
Earlier this month, I wrote an article for the blog of the #FBPE movement (Follow Back, Pro-European) about the challenges which Bulgaria faces in the area of rule of law and why the mass protests started. The hashtag was first used by Mr. Hendrik Klaassens in response to Brexit, but it quickly transformed into a movement. Currently, FBPE is even a word defined in English dictionaries. I am very grateful that they are now turning their eyes to and following the rule of law crises in Eastern Europe. You can read my contribution “Bulgaria’s Ignored Rule of Law Crisis” here.
If you follow me, you know I often write about Bulgaria’s rule of law decay.