2 October, 2023
Vladimir Mitev (photo: Vladimir Mitev)

An interview on the media presentation of Victoria Marinova’s murder, on the state of press and violence against women in Bulgaria

Kamran Baradaran

Vladimir Mitev is a Bulgarian-Romanian journalist based in Rousse, a town on the very border between the two countries. He is the editor-in-chief of the Romanian website BARICADA Romania, which initially started as a Romanian language version of the Bulgarian portal by the same name. 

Below is the ILNA’s interview with this authoritative journalist about the anniversary of murder of Victoria Marinova, the Bulgarian journalist. This interview was published on 6th October 2019 on the site of ILNA. 

ILNA: In spite of the strange coincidence of Victoria Marinova’s death with investigations into the corruption cases of Bulgarian and Romanian officials, some have considered this to be political and some consider it accidental. What is your stance on Western news agencies’ speculation about Marinova’s murder case?

Victoria Marinova was a beautiful face from the TV screen, which was known in Rousse for an emission, where she presented interesting persons, good ideas and acts of compassion. Out of her job, she organised charity activities, which supported children in weak social position. However, she was not an investigative journalist, as she was presented in the first informations about her cruel murder. The reasons for this confusion and misleading announcement are different.

On one hand, she was killed immediately after the first issue of her new emission “Detector”, where a Bulgarian and a Romanian journalist from journalistic investigative organisations (Bivol in Bulgaria and The Rise Project in Romania) were interviewed. Earlier in the autumn of 2018 both journalists had been temporarily arrested by the Bulgarian police in the vicinity of the town of Radomir, while they were investigating abuses of European funds. The emission “Detector” told again the story of this arrest, so national and international media were tempted to make a connection between the new emission and the death, which followed a few days later.

On the other hand, in October 2018 and even today the Bulgarian society is in a state of crisis of trust in institutions. In these conditions any hypotheses or speculations, combined with the people’s shock from the cruel murder could easily lead to extreme and wrong conclusions.

The murder of Victoria Marinova was unrelated to her work as a journalist. But the wound it opened directed the attention of the whole world towards various problems of contemporary Bulgarian society – such as the violence against women, the citizens’ insecurity, including the journalists’ insecurity, corruption, interethnic tensions (the perpetrator is of Roma origin and after he was accused there were sentiments for vengeance, which are not observed in the same degree, when the perpetrator of a similar crime is somebody from the Bulgarian majority) and so on.

In journalism it happens that media, which apply high journalistic standards allow to be misled, when they don’t have a good knowledge of the local context and of the facts from places, which rarely enter international attention such as the city of Rousse. In my view this misleading interpretation showed that the countries and the regions, which are placed in the periphery of the international news circulation need to produce more English-language news about themselves. When somebody doesn’t know the local language and doesn’t have sufficient contacts in the zone or the domain he reports about, he/she may trust too much his limited informational sources and thus to allow to be misled.

We shouldn’t forget that Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU and has serious social problems. There is an opinion here that greater Western attention to our country could help for the the correction of problems, upon whose resolution few things have been done – problems such as corruption, the crisis in media, the violence against women. In this sense I understand why the death of Victoria Marinova was presented in the West as “murder of an investigative journalist”, who had been exposing high-level corruption.

Battles for social development take place in Bulgaria on daily level. But their protagonists feel that the country advances too slow or even that the situation is deteriorating. Many people probably feel that if we simply live and do what we have to, the necessary change to better doesn’t take place. It looks like there is a need of people-symbols, or heroes or martyrs, because we need a super effort in order to start moving in the right direction as a society.

ILNA: Bulgaria ranks 111th out of 180 countries in the field of press freedom. What is the reason for this low position for a European country? Have any steps been taken to improve the situation of press freedom in Bulgaria?

The reasons for the deteriorating condition of freedom of speech are too many and I can’t cover all of them in my answer here. For sure, it matters that an oligarchic social-economic model was established in Bulgaria. The interests of media’s owners to a large extent predetermine the editorial policy of their media. In their large part the serious nationally representative newspapers and media are owned or funded by oligarchs or are financed by the foundation “America for Bulgaria”.

Another reason is the collapse of trust in institutions, which is valid for collapse of trust in journalists as well. For many Bulgarians being a journalist automatically means that you serve the interests of an adversarial political, economic or ideologic lobby, that you are incompetent or mediocre. Many Bulgarians don’t read newspapers or don’t watch TV, because they are repulsed by the criminal or sensationalist approach of a number of media. Without their public, journalists are weak.

For sure, it also matters that the people who work in the TV and appear before camera have high salaries, which give them social status. But in its big part journalism is a poorly paid profession in Bulgaria. Many of the young people in this profession consider it very interesting, but at the same time depressing or devoid of future.

Even if we take only these three groups of factors, which influence the profession, we see that it is difficult to be a journalist in Bulgaria. Also it is important to say that solidarity among Bulgarian journalists is not at the necessary level. Instead of acting as a unified and conscious community in the protection of freedom of speech, we allow that political and economic factors divide us.

The recent suspension of the journalist Silvia Velikova from the air of the national radio and the temporary stopping of the signal of the national radio on 13 September 2019 showed that there are limits of abuse beyond which there is reaction. But the feeling of many of my colleagues is that politicians who deal with media and the regulatory bodies don’t have the necessary ethical and professional realisation to do good.

The answers to the many problems with the freedom of speech in Bulgaria are caught in a few directions. Legislative proposals by the Union of Bulgarian journalists have been standing in the Bulgarian parliamanet for more than two years with no further discussions on them by the deputies. The Union plays the role of a labour union organisation of the journalists in Bulgaria, but it was greatly weakend in the times of transition. Probably that is one of the explanations why its proposals are not discussed in Parliament and media attention for them is scarce.

Another organisation, which aims at the improvement of the media environment is the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria. It develops large-scale activity related to courses and seminars for journalists, programs on media literacy at schools, and many other forms of activity. Its advantage are the excellent connections with Western journalism organisations, schools, foundations, etc.

Both journalistic organisations organise and support protests of journalists and protect their interests in the relations with media bosses, the executive and legislative power.

I think that a part of the attempts for improvement of media landscape in Bulgaria are also the attempts at creation of new media, which are not subordinated to the dominating media model. I consider the media I am associated with – “The Barricade”, as one of these new media. The site is a journalistic cooperative and presents original viewpoints towards the events in Bulgaria and the world. It analyses them from the standing point of progressive values and the need for social change. The site is especially sensitive towards the topic of press freedom in Bulgaria.

These three attempts for change of situation with press freedom come from the journalists themselves. Unfortunately, the actions of the political elite of the country show that politicians from various parties don’t understand the problems of press freedom and are interested in media, which are maximally loyal to them.

ILNA: Some analysts see Marinova’s murder stemming from a bloody wave of femicide in Bulgaria. What structures in Bulgarian society reproduce this form of femicide?

The murder of women is part of the greater problem for domestic violence and violence against women. These are problems, which are related to the strong traditionalism of a part of Bulgarian population. The structures, which you ask me about, are related to the patriarchal, conservative and traditional thought. Between 2016 and 2018 the murders of women, perpetrated by their husbands, partners and close relatives have grown by 50%. In my view this is a sign that men in these relations have felt insecure in their role as men. As part of the world and the EU the Bulgarian society undergoes transformations, which erode the traditional roles of genders and put into doubt the archaic models of relations, which still exist. Unfortunately for the time being the tendencies are not encouraging. The problem with domestic violence and violence against women will continue to plague the Bulgarian society. My hope for its resolution is related to the modernisation and opening of Bulgarian society to the world. I expect that more people will understand that their models of behaviour are archaic and inmature, which will lead to corresponding corrections.

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