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.Read More
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.
In January 2020, Transparency International reconfirmed Bulgaria as the most corrupt EU member in its authoritative Corruption Perceptions Index. This is a good, but sad occasion to inform you about my latest media articles:
- In December 2019, I warned that Bulgaria was sabotaging the work of the future European Public Prosecutor in an article for Euronews. As you can imagine, the government was quite unhappy and responded with a libelous article published in their favorite tabloid (24 Chasa). If you cannot attack the argument, attack the author.
- In February 2020, I raised concern about the water crisis in Pernik, which I deem to be an illustration of what the lack of rule of law leads to, in an article for New Eastern Europe. The health and safety of more than 100,000 European Union citizens is at peril as a result of incompetence and negligence, but international media and EU policy-makers ignore this disaster.
- In February 2020, I showcased Bulgaria’s 10-year cat-and-mouse game with the Council of Europe in an article for the Verfassungsblog. Bulgaria has been refusing to comply with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights for a decade because it requires a reform of an institution which experts consider one of the biggest threats to the rule of law – Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office.
All of these events provide further evidence that Bulgaria is a rule of law crisis in all but name – an argument I have made for the EUobserver in 2018. Sadly, this is possible because of the complicity of EU institutions.
For the latest updates on Bulgaria’s rule of law, follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass!
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
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.Read More
Here are three articles on three different subjects which evidence the lack of rule of law in Bulgaria:
- Can you undermine the recommendations of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) by pretending to comply with them? My article “CVM Here, CVM There: The European Commission in Bulgaria’s Legal Wonderland” for the Verfassungsblog;
- What can we infer about Bulgaria’s rule of law from a live streamed meeting between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the Commissioner for the Rule of Law Frans Timmermans? My opinion piece entitled “On the Price of Horses and the Rule of Law in the EU” for New Eastern Europe;
- Can you serve as a judge in Bulgaria in violation of the requirements to become a magistrate? My article “A Judge Born in the USSR: How a Judge’s Citizenship Became Relevant for Bulgaria’s Rule of Law and Judicial Self-Governance” for the Verfassungsblog.
If you are interested in daily updates on Bulgaria’s declining rule of law, you can follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass
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.
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.
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.Read More
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:Read more
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”).Read More
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?
As a scholar with a research interest in the rule of law and as a Bulgarian citizen, I have been asking this question for a long time. For the sake of giving credit where credit is due, it is worth mentioning that the European Greens tried to raise concern about Bulgaria’s rampant corruption at the start of Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in January 2018 by publishing a critical report and by directly confronting Bulgaria’s Prime Minister on the matter at the European Parliament. However, they have progressively quieted down.
To be fair, the Greens are not in a position to do much either. Yet, what about the EPP, the Progressives or ALDE which is known for its motto “Values First”? These are the three largest groups at the European Parliament and all of them have members from Bulgaria.
At the end of August 2018, I carried out an improvised Twitter survey to see if my followers shared my worries (Figure 1). 36 people voted and 2 users who missed the deadline to cast their vote sent me separate comments, as we will see below.
So let’s see what the survey found?Read More
On 23 August 2017, I launched radosvetavassileva.blog to shed light on the lack of rule of law, the systemic and deliberate human rights abuses, and the rampant corruption in Bulgaria (most corrupt EU member according to Transparency International!). For one year, my approach towards analyzing these pressing issues has been predominantly legal: I have commented current events from the perspective of the legal framework, including Bulgaria’s international obligations, I have explained inconsistencies in case law, and I have raised concern about dangerous law reforms aimed at transforming Bulgaria into an autocratic State.
If you live in a democracy, however, it is surely difficult to imagine the full range of consequences and long-term effects of abuses in countries like Bulgaria. In turn, if you live in Bulgaria, maybe it is hard to visualize how the abuses other people experience affect YOU personally.
This time I will demonstrate what the lack of rule of law and corruption ‘look like’ with 10 simple graphs/tables. I will start with the more visible and direct consequences and move towards the more indirect effects, which are equally disturbing.
“Bulgaria’s Prosecution applies Bulgarian law according to which the guilty ones become accused and that is the purpose of criminal proceedings.” Sadly, this was a comment before the media made by Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov in light of an accusation Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office raised in 2017.
Bulgaria is an EU member and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, haunted by totalitarian tradition, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office applies a presumption of guilt – a major abuse of fundamental rights, which has severe consequences for suspects and accused alike.
The shameful practice of criminal corporate raiding has recently gained new ground.
Do you know…
- what it entails?
- in which countries this illegal practice prevails?
- which institutions are usually involved?
- any examples from Bulgaria?
Знаете ли, че според ООН, България е страната с най-бързо свиващо се население в света? Информирани ли сте, че България е с трето най-високо ниво на смъртност в света според ЦРУ? Наясно ли сте, че повече българи работят извън граница, отколкото в България? Осведомени ли сте, че българите масово сменят гражданството си?
As you may or may not know, every six months one of the Member States of the European Union assumes the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (also known as Council of Ministers). In practice, this means that the current government of the presiding Member State determines the agenda of the aforementioned Council, sets a work program aimed at enhancing the policies of the European Union, and chairs the planned meetings.
While most Western commentators focus on Brexit, something much more troublesome is taking place on the East end of the European Union (EU)—the rise of modern European “dictatorships.” Many former-communist countries, which are now members of the EU, are restoring the repressive practices typical of times gone by. In 2015, for instance, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker famously greeted Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban with “Hello, dictator.” Whereas Juncker was probably trying to demonstrate his famous awkward sense of humor, the joke is on millions of EU citizens whose fundamental rights are consistently abused by East European “dictators” like Orban. Paradoxically, nonetheless, these modern dictators have more tools in their arsenal for targeting political and economic opponents compared to their communist predecessors—European law and international treaties. In other words, you have failed democracies which misuse national and supranational legal instruments alike for political vendettas and often—purges.
While Hungary is one of the examples which is often discussed in the media, by far, it is not the only EU state, which suffers from a democratic deficit. Although contexts differ, democratic values are also challenged in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, etc. What is striking and worrisome, however, is EU institutions’ dual standards on the rule of law and human rights, in particular. Read More