30 November, 2023
Behind the grey facade of Bulgarian reality lies the Gordian knot of state institutions that baffles observers (source: Pixabay, CC0)

Bulgarian prime minister’s parading with the names of Laura Kövesi and the European Prosecutor’s Office cannot compensate for the inability of the Bulgarian state to purge itself

Vladimir Mitev

Thus ended an “ordinary day” in European Bulgaria. All arrested members of the opposition left custody without being charged. 

On 18 March 2022 around 9.30pm, some 24 hours after the arrest of several leading opposition members, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office gave a press conference to assert that there was nothing to substantiate charges of extortion against former prime minister Boyko Borissov, former finance minister Vladislav Goranov and Borissov’s PR Sevdalina Arnaudova. 

During the day, I read several Facebook posts, including from some Romanian MEPs, stating that Laura Codruța Koveși (LCK) had virtually put Borissov in jail – which would have been a major blow in the name of justice and order. During the day, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry initially announced that the European Public Prosecutor’s Office would have jurisdiction over Borissov’s case –  which the internal ministry later denied. The report that Menda Stoyanova, former head of the GERB budget committee, was in custody turned out to be fake – but was widely spread in English in the international central media.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office turned out to be the competent one, since it is not a question of misuse of EU funds, but of accusations of blackmail by the oligarch Vasil Bozhkov, who is in exile in Dubai. It is curious that the first witness in the preliminary investigation launched by the police through an extraordinary procedure (in which the police took the unusual step of replacing the prosecution) was Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who, as we understand from the press conference of the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office, confessed to his conversations with the LCK about the Bozhkov case. Furthermore, Sevdalina Arnaudova stated that the arrested trio were not questioned at all. 

What is the point of all this? What is the point of Borisov, a notorious figure with many sins, becoming a victim? What is the point of the LCK being drowned in Bulgarian controversy by fake news? What does the Bulgarian state gain from yet another demonstration of its helplessness?

The government communication that followed confirms that the institutional rift in Bulgaria continues. Instead of explaining why it made so many mistakes in its noble mission to capture Borissov and end his political career, the duo Kiril Petkov-Boyko Rashkov (the prime minister and the internal minister), chose to accuse Bulgarian prosecutors of inaction. It has been known for years that there is even an international problem with the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office, as this article on the Verfassungs blog, signed by a relative of fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, shows. But the government’s actions give the impression of two things – a) the government believes that the problem can only be solved by force and b) the political current in the government does not have enough might to solve it. 

In the absence of might, what the accusatory current in Bulgarian politics has done is to use Laura Kövesi and the European Prosecutor’s Office in an attempt to involve them in the political and oligarchic contradictions in Bulgaria. Presumably the new Bulgarian Prime Minister has learned something from his conversation with Laura Koveși that would be useful to him in his internal political battles, and in the absence of sufficient political experience he has decided to be the first witness in the preliminary investigation? How fair would such an approach be if viewed from Luxembourg (the seat of the EPPO)? 

The question of change in Bulgarian politics is becoming more and more elusive. On the one hand, we have the Bulgarian state unable to deal with its corruption, having been ”captured” by oligarchic forces, which makes it look for intervention and search for dynamics from outside. On the other hand, we still do not know what form the change proposed by the Change Continues Party will actually take and have to note that it doesn’t even have the structures of a living party. Is it just a question of replacing the Attorney General with another one? We just don’t seem to have the mindset, the culture or even the political constitution to articulate what we want to move away from as a society and where we want to go. 

When we seek support from outside, we are actually inviting some Western institutions and leaders to sink into our contradictions, destroying their ability to play a positive role. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office should not be seen as a weapon of one politico-oligarchic current against others; its role is to fight all, not just some….

The dispute between the government and the prosecution seems set to continue and sadly testifies to the helplessness to which many local and international players have sunk. The case of Borissov’s arrest raises many questions about how exactly change takes place in a specific society like the Bulgarian one. My feeling is that a real, tangible, and longstanding change requires change agents to be clearer about how the contradictions of, and obstacles to, Bulgarian modernization can be resolved. But at the same time, my guess is that these change agents would like to detach themselves from these Bulgarian contradictions so as not to fall into the bitter struggle of the traumas that perpetuate them. Above all, we need people who see the contradictions and powerlessness of the Bulgarians from the outside, but have the keys to influence them positively. 

This leads us to the conclusion that Bulgarian politics is still somehow a mixture of Europeanness and the East. If you want to do good in Bulgarian society it does not seem enough to take the side of ”good” against ”evil”. There are structural and universal problems in it – such as this inability to define and implement change, to give birth to a new and more modern society. In Bulgaria we all feel depressed by an enemy, which is part of society by way of interiorization – either Russia, or Soros, or NATO, or the EU, etc. Being Bulgarian seems to be par excellence to have a trauma, a powerlessness and to complain that the other, your brother on the opposing political side doesn’t let you enjoy a full life. How is this going to be resolved? 

It seems that it is not the elimination or replacement of people, but the resolution or redefinition of the Bulgarian contradiction that will bring change. And this resolution of the contradiction requires deep understanding, and conditions in which it can evolve and resolve itself through its own dynamics. Or be redefined so that it can generate and internalize energy and evolve again based on its dynamics. If one wants to be an agent of change in Bulgaria, one should first of all be generous, to give, to grant, to lower fences, to open spaces so that the dynamics of the world can flow. Thus we gradually come to understand that the bitter struggles between all kinds of Bulgarian elites prevent a wider integration of the country into the international community, keeping it apart. And Bulgarian society needs to be given a real understanding of its essence, not just prescribed to enter the world as a gallery of fans or proxy.

In short, we, Bulgaria’s well-wishers, have a lot to think about.

Photo: At a midnight press conference on March 18, 2022, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov (center) and Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov (background) explained Borissov’s failure to be indicted by the resistance of the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office (source: YouTube)

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