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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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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Why Do EU Politicians Avoid Discussing Bulgaria’s Rampant Corruption and Lack of Rule of Law? Dissecting the Silence!

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?

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All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts

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.

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Vlog Post: The Presumption of Guilt in Bulgaria

Contrary to the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and Directive 2016/343 on the presumption of innocence, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office consistently applies a presumption of guilt!

Spectacular televised arrests, violence against suspects, destruction of proof, and simulation of trials are common in the country.

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Criminal Corporate Raiding in Bulgaria

Criminal corporate raiding and legal nihilism are concepts coined to reflect Russian reality. Yet, the illegal takeover of private businesses and selective prosecution are common in some EU member states like Bulgaria, too. Of course, Bulgaria, which is currently presiding the Council of the EU, isn’t the average newcomer. In contrast to other former-communist countries in Eastern Europe which made their way to the EU, Bulgaria didn’t face a revolution. The Bulgarian communist regime fell under the pressure of its own weight – one wing of the omnipotent Communist Party trumped another. And this made all the difference.

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Vlog Post: How Bulgaria Retaliated Against an Application under the US Magnitsky Act

In my article “How to Purge a Scholar? A Guide to Bogus Interpol Notices from Bulgaria,” which was covered by mainstream Bulgaria media and read tens of thousands of times, I showcased Bulgaria’s deliberate abuse of Interpol notices for political aims. In addition to the frightening Red Notice, which Bulgaria’s prosecution uses to publicly lynch inconvenient people, Bulgarian authorities have added a new tool in their rich arsenal for political repression–Interpol’s Diffusion notice. Read More

Видео пост: Браудър, Магнитски и две “Дифузии”

В моята статия „Как да затриете учен? Прокурорско ръководство по свинщина“, която бе широко отразена в българските медии и прочетена десетки хиляди пъти, обърнах внимание на грубата злоупотреба на българската прокуратура с бюлетините на Интерпол. Освен прословутата „Червена бюлетина“, която прокуратурата използва най-вече за публично линчуване на неудобни хора, българските власти са прибавили и ново попълнение в зловещия си арсенал за политическа репресия – така наречената „Дифузия“. Read More

How to Purge a Scholar? A Guide to Bogus Interpol Notices from Bulgaria

When I read that Russia issued an Interpol warrant for Bill Browder for the fifth time, I was deeply disturbed. Author of Red Notice, Bill Browder campaigns actively against authoritarianism. He lobbied the US Congress to enact the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the US Government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses. The Magnitsky Act made Russian officials quite upset: they have been trying to trap Mr. Browder via Interpol for a while. Read More