Earlier this month, I was invited to write a commentary about the snap parliamentary elections in Bulgaria which will be held this Sunday, July 11th, 2021 for the Res Publica blog. I republish my commentary in full with the permission of the editors. Will we say bye-bye once and for all to Boyko Borissov’s autocracy?Read More
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.Read More
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]”.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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!
How do you find writing inspiration? I often get inspired when I debate topics with others. Recently, a new opinionated follower on Twitter lectured me on how people in Bulgaria live better than before because they spend more and travel more. When I asked her which people she had in mind, she sent me some articles from Bulgarian media whose quality is questionable to say the least.
I am certain that there are many people who fall for this play with data, which is borderline propaganda, so here is an article about Bulgaria’s economic model, which is anchored in promoting poverty. Some myths propagated by Boyko Borissov’s government should be shattered once and for all.Read More
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.
Here are the two latest articles I wrote for the Verfassungsblog:
- Earlier this week the European Commission published the latest CVM report on Bulgaria in which it identified significant progress which could justify the termination of the mechanism for this country. Does this report reflect reality and, more importantly, how can we explain the lack of objective assessment in the report? You can read my article “So Why Don’t We Just Call the Whole Rule of Law Thing Off, Then? On Tomatoes, Tomahtoes, and Bulgaria’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” here.
- Bulgaria took legislative hooliganism to a new orbit last year when it used a Directive on the access to a lawyer as an excuse to revive a totalitarian practice: secret arrests. While those following the decline of Bulgaria’s rule of law like me were not surprised, it is disturbing that the European Commission has turned a blind eye to this development and to Bulgaria’s deliberate violations of the Directive for 6 years. My reflection upon Bulgaria’s and the European Commission’s failings in my article “How an EU Directive on Access to a Lawyer Became a Weapon for Secret Arrests” here.
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:
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.Read More
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!
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.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.
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.
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
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?