Bulgaria: Regional media outlets dependent on local governments
By Zoltan Sipos, 15 September 2016
Between 2013 and 2015, 10 Bulgarian municipalities spent a total of 2.7 million Bulgarian lev ($1.54 million) – mainly to media companies and PR agencies – in return for positive coverage of their activities, an investigative series by news site Dnevnik.bg found.
According to the articles, the local governments of the five largest, excluding the capital Sofia, and five of the poorest cities in the country were found to be engaging in “corrupt practices” and displayed a disregard for “journalistic ethics and loyalty to the audience”.
Under the guise of using contracts to create advertisements, “job posting messages and other texts” – not only in publications but also for radio and television broadcasts – all 10 municipalities were found to be buying influence in media outlets and attempting to eliminate criticism, Spas Spasov, the author of the series, told Index on Censorship. The cities reviewed were Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse, Pleven, Stara Zagora, Shumen, Kazanlak, Blagoevgrad, Vratsa and Montana.
The data, which was obtained through freedom of information requests, does not claim to be exhaustive but provides an indication of administrative control over news in the cities covered by the investigative reports. “The idea behind the project was to reveal the deep crisis in which freedom of the press finds itself in Bulgaria,” Spasov said.
One visible trend in the series is that media content is sold at a discount to local governments who buy “wholesale”.
“The results of my investigation show that virtually all the media in the analysed municipalities are dependent on the public funding they get,” Spasov told Index. The lack of an advertising market outside the capital only strengthens this dependence on handouts from local government, he added.
He found that in many cases the money private media outlets receive from municipal administrations often covers the entirety – or at least a significant portion – of their budgets. In one case a source told Spasov that the entire salary of a journalist was covered by Vratsa municipal funding.
In the city of Varna some advertising contracts were signed by municipal companies that are monopolies that were not in need of advertising. Spasov said that this is a way to buy political and institutional influence in a media outlet.
Many municipalities were found to be contracting “advertising” and “promotional activities” through private media despite the fact that almost every municipality has its own municipal media, through which they already publish official announcements.
“Of course, there is nothing vicious in the practice of municipal administrations buying advertising in private media,” Spasov said. He does, however, stress that in order to avoid buying media influence, local administrations and government institutions should publish their advertisements only in media outlets that comply with the Ethical Code of the Bulgarian Media.
“This code clearly stipulates that all text covered by the contracts will be marked as sponsored content but this is not the current practice,” he said, adding that vague wording–phrases such as “other texts”–helps to disguise sponsored articles published as editorial content.
This is possible because Bulgaria has no law requiring print and online media outlets to label sponsored content they are publishing. Existing regulation only addresses television advertisements.
“Transparency of sponsored content is crucial for a functioning free press. It is vital that existing legislation on advertisers be reformed swiftly to include all media outlets in order to protect the public,” Hannah Machlin, project officer for Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom, said.
The investigation went on to find that many media outlets from smaller municipalities were created by political entities with the purpose of bullying their opponents in local government.
Spasov told Index that if the remainder of the country’s 256 municipalities were also to be investigated, “there should be no doubt” that the findings would be similar to the 10 which were analysed in his investigation.
Breakfast for the champion
The story of a marathon runner from a Roma neighborhood, for whom hunger is heavier than Django’s chains
By Spas SPASOV, 1 February 2013
His lips are cracked from the lack of vitamins. And when once, before a competition, they took him for a medical check up, the doctor was speechless. His hemoglobin levels were barely above the critical minimum.
„In sports we need a lot of money, but we don’t have it”,
‘s coach Nikolai Yankov explains hastily. “After a run, he needs to have at least one chicken steak. But when he gets home he eats bread and cheese, if they have cheese at all”.
After one of the laps on the running track at the Dobrich sports hall “Dobrotica” the chronometer has just measured 2 min 59 sec. “Wow, that was really cool”, shouts Yankov and points at the dial. “If you manage to get to 2 min 18 secs you’ll be able to compete in any competition in Europe!”
Later, while we talk, Dancho looks at his feet and nervously pulls the laces of his training shoes. He is sitting on the edge of the bench, as if he is considering getting up any minute.
Who is Dancho, you ask?
The Marathon Runner
Yordan Petrov is a national competitor in athletics. He trains in the “Dobrich 99” sports club. In May he will graduate from the sport school “Georgi Stoikov Rakovski”. Just last year he won 10 medals and two first places in competitions in Bulgaria and tournaments abroad. That makes him the third most successful athlete in Dobrich for 2012 and he has no competition in his school. At the national marathon in Sofia last year he won a bronze medal. Before that he has competed in the World Half Marathon Championship in Kavarna.
„I’ve been coaching Dancho for almost two and a half years”, says Nikolai Yankov. “His shyness and modesty are matched only by his talent and resilience. His favorite discipline is Steeplechase (3000 meters obstacle race), but I’m guiding him towards marathon running. It is there that he can develop and grow. If he trains as he does now, I’m absolutely sure he will qualify for the Olympics in Rio in 2016. But I’m afraid they might try and steal him from me. If they manage to tempt him with the short runs, they will destroy him!”
Yankov says he has never heard the boy complain. “I saw that he was thin back when we started training”, he explains, “but it was months before I realized he was starving. Since then I’ve been taking care of him like a father. He should have help”.
“And Then We Went To The Mall…”
On 20 January this year in Zheleznica, a village near Sofia, about 130 runners gathered to participate in a mountain race for Dancho’s benefit. “Just before the end I got lost on the track, because I have no experience”, he admits and looks down again. Only the best orientation athletes finish before him – the European vice-champion Kiril Nikolov and Petar Popunkiov. The sum they gathered was 977 leva (about 500 EUR).
Dancho interrupts this story urgently, to tell another one. “Then we went to the mall, what was the name… I’ve never been there before. We went with Niki Mihailov’s secretary (Nikilai Mihailov is the national football team’s goalkeeper). He bought me all the things for my prom – black suit, white shirt, shoes, everything… I must thank him!”
Up until last year the boy received a monthly stipend of 300 leva (154 EUR) from Mihailov.
The last he could save was 80 leva from his seventh place at the New Year’s cross in Pravec. For his third place as the best athlete in Dobrich’s rankings he received 450 leva (230 EUR). And that’s it.
This is where the dark story begins.
Emilia’s Melon Field
When he explains that he started school at 12 years of age, Dancho’s smile is almost guilty. He runs his fingers over his hair, cut very short and is offended by the question about how he managed. “What do you mean how! I managed. I’ve never let myself go! I was only ashamed, because everyone in my class were still babies… But it was what it was.”
A woman from the Roma neighborhood in Dobrich’s district “Izgrev” sent him to school. “She’s my aunt* Emilia”, says Dancho. Then he explains she is not really his aunt.
„She’s from the others, a Muslim, but we are Bulgarian gypsies and we’re Christian”, he explains. “We didn’t have any money and she gave us work. We’re seven brothers and six sisters. We worked, my mother and I, and the rest of the children who could, we dug her melon field and sold the melons in the summer in Sofia. She paid us and bought us three loafs and a salami. She taught me to work and then enrolled me in school.”
At first Dancho started training to play professional football. He was the fastest in the team. “I played ball, but my strength was in running”, he says and doesn’t even thing about the date. “On 23 March 2009 I went to train in the sports hall. I ran 6km for 4 minutes each”.
The first long distance he ever ran were the 16 kilometers between Dimitrovgrad and Haskovo. “This was the track”, explains Nikolai Yankov. “Dancho had a sort of anxiety about long distances. When he got to the finish he was a changed man. He had gained courage, he realized that he can do it. Right after that he became third in the Malko Tarnovo’s 8 km race in a forest. I couldn’t believe how fast he got into it!”.
Bate** Liubo’s Bakery
Yanov recounts how Dancho used to come to his morning exercises hungry. “I only saw him running. But when I realized what was going on, I asked one of our guys who has a bakery close by – bate Liubo – to give him something for breakfast. This is how the legend started that Dancho runs on one cheese pastry a day. In fact it was the lunch at the sports school which saved him. Otherwise, no way. Sometimes I give him some money to buy hotdogs. This is how our country is”, says the coach.
Before every competition Dancho receives a care package from bate Liubo’s bakery. Muffins and something else for the road. But they never lasted as intended.
“We spread them out, so he can eat one every day, but instead he shares them with the others”, Yankov almost shouts. “I can’t stop him, every time it’s the same thing. Several children travel together in the same train compartment and when he takes out his package to eat, he first offers some to the others. He feels uncomfortable to eat alone, he says. What am I to say to that?”
The Yellow Shoes
For the afternoon training in “Dobrotica” sports hall Dancho hastily but carefully takes off his brand new pair of yellow running shoes, with which he came. He catches with the corner of his eyes the envious looks he gets from the other boys that are around and quickly explains:
“They are from Niki, for snow, for the outside. But these are lighter”, he says and puts on his other, worn out yet also yellow running shoes.
The hall’s track is standard – 200 meters. Each training includes eight laps of 1000 meters. After each two fast ones – two slower ones, so he can recover.
“Just look at him, he has style and everything… It’s beautiful!”, Nikolai Yankov exclaims joyfully. “However for this type of exercise you need vitamins, minerals, and I can’t give them to him”.
He explains that one training camp at the base of the National Sports Academy in Belmeken costs 1000 leva (510 EUR). “Just the food and the expenses are 50 leva (about 25 EUR) per day. For twenty days, cause there’s no point in less than that – you do the math! Good thing we have Diakov, the headmaster at the sports school. Recently he took him on a training camp with the footballers in “Sportpalace”, near Varna. After that we went on another one with the athletes in “Kamchia”. I’m hoping this will be enough to get him a bit more on track. This is what we can do now to go forward.
But forward goes down a long and muddy street.
In the twilight you can see people who are coming home to the gypsy ghetto in Dobrich, they turn invisible. Almost at its end, one of its little allies turns into a steep slope down. At the bottom the darkness is even thinker.
“This is where I live”, Dancho points, but you can barely see anything ahead.
The national competitor in athletics shares a single room with his younger brother and his stepfather. It’s the only one that has survived while everything else around it has fallen to ruin. He shares with them something else – his dead mother’s pension and the child allowance.
“I had no idea he lived in such poverty” his coach whispers. “There is no water inside, no canalization – not-a-thing! Five months they were without electricity because they owed the electric company 700 leva (about 360 EUR). There were some good people who changed their old windows. Not that you can tell the difference much, but still…”
Inside it is warm and depressing. The big flames from the firewood lick the broken down cooking stove in the middle of the room, and from it comes the smell of burned fat. They are frying potatoes for dinner.
“Look, this is my mother”, Dancho points at a frame, which holds several pictures. She passed away in February last year. She had bleeding of the brain, “she was sick and that’s why she died”, he explains.
In another frame he keeps the pictures from his competitions. Near it, hanging on some nails, are his medals. But since we were talking about his prom I ask him about his suit.
„Oh, it’s with my aunt Emilia”, he says and gives me a bewildered look, as if I should have thought of it myself “How can I keep it here, it will get dirty!”
Before the prom he has his final exams. “I have a few 4’s*** in Bulgarian, but I’ll fix that”, he says. “I’ve decided to take an exam in Russian and in Philosophy. My strength is Philosophy – there I have only 6’s. In Russian I have one 6 and one 5”.
Holding two of his trophies, the marathon runner smiles for a photo. Behind him the flash rummages in the corners of the room and makes the poverty even more insulting.
After the charity run near Zheleznica they took Dancho to the movies. For the first time at the age of 19. There he saw „Django Unchained“.
* Aunt is sometimes used to convey close relationship with a woman, older than the speaker, even when there is no family connection.
** Bate is a used in Bulgarian to address respectfully an older brother and men/boys slightly older than the speaker, regardless of whether they are relatives.
*** The Bulgarian grading system is from 2 to 6, with 2 meaning “fail” and 6 meaning “excellent”.
Bulgarian Spring: Self-Immolations Highlight a Desperate Electorate
Protests over the last three months in Bulgaria have included several self-immolations meant to draw attention to corruption among political elites with ties to organized crime. But few expect Sunday’s parliamentary elections to change much.
The city hall in Varna is a hulking, late communist-era eyesore with mirrored windows and a concrete canopy above the entrance. People instinctively lower their heads as they walk in. Plamen Goranov set himself on fire on the plaza in front of this building, which seeks to turn citizens into subjects.
At a little before 7:30 a.m. on February 20, Goranov turned up in front of the mayor’s office carrying a gas canister and a banner. The city council should resign, he shouted before pouring gasoline over his body and setting himself on fire.
What happened next is still unclear. Did city employees truly react as quickly as possible and fetch a fire extinguisher? Was there a scuffle with security personnel?
In the ambulance, Goranov allegedly told a paramedic that his intention had been to stage a protest, but not to kill himself. Nevertheless, he died of severe burns 11 days later.
His friends have spent a long time searching for witnesses. About 20 people must have seen Goranov’s self-immolation, but no one is willing to speak openly about it. There are also video recordings of the incident taken by four surveillance cameras pointed on the square. But the authorities are withholding the video material.
Goranov was not the first or last person to set himself on fire in Bulgaria recently. Five other desperate men have also committed suicide by self-immolation, but the case of the 36-year-old was the most widely publicized. He had long been an activist against corruption and the abuse of power, and his intention had been to protest against the government.
„Plamen was our moral conscience,“ says Nick Todorov, a friend. Goranov was a mountain-climber who loved nature, Todorov recounts, as well as working occasionally as a window washer. He says that his friend tried to live his life without harming others, without becoming a burden on society and without destroying the environment. Goranov was also on the front line of the protests against the government that began in February.
Since Goranov’s his death, banners have appeared on the square in front of city hall. One reads: „You have inspired our courage and our love of freedom.“ On another banner, the word „Plamen“ is written in flaming yellow and gold letters. Plamen also means „flame“ in Bulgarian.
Goranov has become a hero for the protesters who have been demonstrating against the government for the last three months. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets nationwide, with up to 30,000 demonstrating in Varna, a large city and seaside resort on the Black Sea coast. Although they are ostensibly protesting rising electricity prices, their real target is the country’s corrupt political class.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov was already forced to resign in February in response to pressure from the street. Two weeks ago, a scandal broke that also weighs heavily on the former premier. A wiretapped conversation reveals that he apparently tried to cover up a corruption case. Bulgaria will vote for a new parliament this Sunday, but according to a poll by the news agency Novinite, some 41 percent of citizens are convinced that the election will be rigged. Indeed, there is little hope that it will bring real change. Borisov is running again, but the opposition is seen as being equally corrupt.
Organized Criminals in Control
Old boys’ networks left over from the communist era have divided the country among themselves. They dominate the parliament and government agencies, they secure the best contracts for themselves, they threaten the press and they are in league with organized crime. Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union, with a stagnating economy. Up to half a million Bulgarians have already emigrated.
The euphoria of 2007, when Bulgaria was accepted into the EU earlier than anticipated, has disappeared completely. The EU has just decided not to accept the country into the Schengen Area of border-free travel.
But Goranov’s death has shaken Bulgaria. Since then, residents of Varna have congregated every Sunday on the square where it happened to hold religious services. They have piled up stones to create a memorial for Goranov, drawing their inspiration from the poem „Gramada“ by famed Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov, in which villagers build a mountain of rocks in front of the house of their mayor to protest his alliance with evil forces, the Ottoman occupiers of the day.
Goranov also believed that Varna’s politicians are in league with evil forces. But, in this case, it is a company called TIM that controls the city. And more and more Bulgarians agree.
TIM reportedly stands for the first letters of the first names of its three main founders, former elite soldiers who started a security and personal protection company. The company’s logo includes the image of a Trojan horse.
TIM is said to have raised some of its starting capital with smuggling, gambling, car theft, prostitution and the drug trade, allegedly investing the proceeds in legal companies. It quickly grew into an empire. In a 2005 cable published by Wikileaks, the US ambassador described the cartel as „the up-and-coming star of Bulgarian organized crime.“
The number of employees at the TIM Group is estimated at about 30,000 today. The company owns shares in the airline Bulgaria Air, and it operates six television stations, Varna’s biggest newspapers and the company Chimimport, which deals in crude oil, fertilizers, chemicals and grain.
„Varna is a reflection of all of Bulgaria,“ says Spas Spasov, one of the country’s few independent journalists and an expert on the TIM Group. Since his magazine, Kapital, can’t afford an office for him, the 53-year-old works from home.
„Most politicians on the city council aren’t interested in Varna’s affairs. They just want to line their pockets,“ says Spasov. They know better than to tangle with TIM, the city’s largest and most powerful employer, he explains. On the contrary, says Spasov, almost every time there are public contracts to be awarded, they go to companies in the TIM Group at preferential terms and without a public bidding process.
Change without Change
Spasov is the chronicler of these scandals. TIM has left him alone so far and has only threatened him once, when one of the company’s executives sent the journalist the classic Chinese military treatise, Sun Tzu’s „The Art of War.“ In a handwritten note, the sender remarked: „You should not wage war with someone you cannot beat or you cannot turn into your friend.“
Spasov was undaunted and has continued writing, especially about Avenue No. 1, a typical case of corruption. It revolves around a park in downtown Varna that stretches along the coast. The park includes beaches with fine sand, waterfront mansions, landmarked cafés and changing rooms from the 1920s.
The city was in fact not permitted to sell the park, but the mayor and his staff came up with a solution for TIM. The legal status of the site was changed and the purchase price set at a ridiculous €50 per square meter (about $6 per square foot). TIM now plans to build a marina, hotels, luxury condominiums and restaurants on the site.
„We Bulgarians are no more corrupt than other nations,“ says Spasov. „It’s just that we didn’t have a real revolution in 1989.“ Then-dictator Todor Zhivkov was overthrown in a palace revolt. „But in contrast to Poland and East Germany, the old elites remained in power,“ Spasov adds. „They took on new names and seized control of the most lucrative government-owned companies.“
Plamen Goranov was apparently in despair over how TIM was taking over his city. Last summer, he and a group of friends organized a performance in Varna during which three worms – marked „T,“ „I“ and „M“ – devoured a golden apple. „It was supposed to symbolize the city,“ says Radostina Petrova, who witnessed the performance. An old refrigerator, cold and immovable, represented the citizens. „People were very enthusiastic,“ says Petrova, who is wearing a round felt cap that once belonged to Goranov.
„I’m shaken, but I’m not completely surprised that it came this far,“ says Petrova, who until recently was studying graphic design in the United States. Goranov had apparently become increasingly frustrated. When a crowd protested in front of the headquarters of the local energy utility, he said: „This doesn’t do anything. There is no one here. No one will even see us.“
Others claim that they also heard him say something like: „Perhaps I should set myself on fire.“
Ivan Vazov’s poem „Gramada“ turns out badly, at least for the powerful. The mayor is forced to flee, but the pile of stones keeps on growing.
Gravely damaged media pluralism
„The Economist„, Apr 23rd 2013
ONE of the most discussed issues in Bulgarian media is the topic of the deteriorating media freedom in the country. Consistently ranking last among European Union members the country keeps regressing. Bulgaria now ranks 87th in Reporters Without Borders’ latest annual Press Freedom Index, down from 35th in 2006.
“There is a growing concern that most of the media have retreated from their main function, to inform the public on relevant topics,” says Nelly Ognyanova, a Bulgarian media law expert. “The media is often serving political parties and various economic groups.”
Several calls from abroad underline Ms Ognyanova’s assessment: the American Department of State counts the “gravely damaged media pluralism” in the country as one of its most pressing human rights problems; the European commissioner for digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, wrote a letter to the then prime minister Boyko Borisov urging him to protect independent media. Matthias Höpfner, the German Ambassador to Bulgaria, is often quoted commenting on the “dangerous challenges” facing the media freedom in the country.
One of these challenges is the fact that “reporters continue to face pressure and intimidation aimed at protecting economic, political, and criminal interests“, Freedom House wrote in its latest “Freedom of the Press” report. The pressure comes from all sides, even from the state: in early April a journalist, Boris Mitov, was questioned by prosecutors in connection with an article of his that alleged a connection between the Sofia deputy city prosecutor, Roman Vassilev, and illicit wiretapping. Mr Mitov was pressured to reveal his sources. When he declined he was reportedly told that he could be jailed for up to five years for disclosing state secrets.
Last summer, Spas Spassov, an investigative journalist from Varna, received a more subtle reminder of the boundaries journalists should not cross: after a series of critical articles on a local business group, he got Sun Tzu’s“The Art of War“ in his mail. Included was a note quoting a passage from the book: “You should avoid those you can’t either defeat or befriend.”
Another distinctive feature of Bulgarian media is the lack of transparency of who owns it “Media ownership in Bulgaria is like a Matryoshka doll: there is always one figure behind the other,” says Orlin Spassov at Sofia University. For instance, New Bulgarian Media Group, a company with close ties to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a political party, owns numerous high-circulation newspapers and a popular TV channel. Before the parliamentary elections in 2009, the newspapers owned by the group were highly critical of the Movement’s political rival, the GERB party and its leader, Boyko Borisov. After GERB won the elections, the group’s papers changed their tone overnight and became strong supporters of Mr Borisov.
One Matryoshka doll behind, the New Bulgarian Media Group is largely financed by the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB). As it happens, in recent years the rather small private bank held a large portion of the funds of the state-owned enterprises in the energy, transport and defence sectors. This means, observers say, that the CCB is, in effect, financing the group’s media outlets, including the country’s highest-circulation newspaper, Telegraph, with public funds.
This is not an isolated case. Financial troubles in the media industry have left many outlets depending on public funds. (The advertising market has contracted by more than a third since 2008.) While there are no official subsidies for the press, according to Freedom House, the advertising expenditures of state agencies represent the second-largest source of advertising revenue for the print media. Since 2009, the state, through its ministries and government agencies, has directed over 28m leva ($19.5m) to private media by placing advertisements and launching information campaigns. Most of these funds come from the EU’s programmes. A telling anecdote is the case of a 25-year-old former employee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food who received €50.000 for the task of creating Facebook and Twitter profiles for promoting the EU’s Rural Development Programme.
“It is widely believed that by using public resources the authorities are securing media comfort,” says Nelly Ognyanova. “The EU membership did not lead to more media freedom. On the contrary, EU funds are increasing the rift between media close to the government and the rest.”
This rift is becoming especially apparent during election campaigns. Bulgaria is facing a snap poll on May 12th after the government resigned amid mass protest earlier this year. The (legal) practise of political parties paying for coverage becomes problematic since the paid-for political reports are rarely identified as such. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted on the previous election campaign in 2011 that “virtually all campaign coverage in the media had to be paid which resulted in a near-absence of editorial coverage of the campaign”. Not much seems to have changed this time around as the Council for Electronic Media, the independent media regulator in the country, has acknowledged.
Election coverage, opaque ownership structures and harassment of journalists are the main reasons for the deterioration of media freedom in Bulgaria. Some disagree. According to Tzvetan Vassilev, a banker, there is too much media freedom in Bulgaria. Mr Vassilev is the majority shareholder in the CCB.
Questions about the secret power
Bulgarian journalists have addressed а second letter to Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov inquiring about illegal tracking of conversations in the country
Dear Mr. Chief Prosecutor,
We turned to you on February 15, 2013, regarding a public statement of Boyko Borisov, the Prime Minister in the GERB Cabinet, claiming he could order the competent authorities to launch surveillance cases against any Bulgarian citizen – a statement perceived by the international organization Reporters without Borders as a destructive message that could have “disastrous consequences not only in Bulgaria but throughout the Balkans.”
We, who signed the letter, called upon you to order a probe to establish if such cases have been initiated on the instructions of the then Prime Minister and if they are, which services are conducting them, against whom, what are the cases exactly, and what is their procedural stage?
Our request touches upon one of the most painful problems in the country: bringing to light how secret power is used in Bulgaria.
We are yet to receive an answer, despite the fact you were precisely the one to declare you would be the guarantor of rule of law in Bulgaria and because you are the person having the authority to do so.
Meanwhile, the well-grounded assumptions of lop-sided use of special surveillance devices and of arbitrary use of the information obtained from them, led to a progressive deterioration of public climate in the country – we observe a dramatic collapse in the trust in institutions authorized to conduct investigations. This creates conditions for escalation of tensions and for stripping these institutions of legitimacy.
Despite numerous evidence of illegal use of special surveillance devices, the prosecution is not taking upon itself to probe the facts, and is, instead, searching for the sources of the tipoffs and threatens the whistleblowers. The latest such example of inadmissible violation of freedom of speech is the “invitation” to a journalist to reveal his sources.
Today, we turn to you again with the conviction that your directive to launch pre-trail proceedings is necessary for preserving stability in society.
These proceedings must establish:
Have the Prime Minister and former Interior Minister in the GERB Cabinet, senior employees at the Interior Ministry, and people from their circles conducted illegal wiretappings and have they ordered surveillance cases against Bulgarian citizens?;
Is it possible to apply legally authorized use of special surveillance devices on people who have nothing to do with any criminal activities?;
Is it possible that employees of the Interior have intentionally misled the Court by including in requests for the use of special surveillance devices the tracking of people with political or business aims?;
The abundance of information and tipoffs, published in the last three months, are not just legal grounds to launch pre-trial proceedings, but as they include concrete facts, they can be used as sources of evidence under the Penalty Code.
The journalistic publications, which are concrete, probable, and easily verifiable, leave no doubt the information available to you exceeds by far procedural standards which mandate the prosecution to launch legal investigations.
Our persistent request to launch pre-trial proceedings further stems from the fact this is the only possibility to secure procedural protection of witnesses as their revelations of the truth about crimes presume a dangerous confrontation with the “secret power.” In addition, the interrogations from a probe cannot be used in a criminal trial and the interrogated cannot ask the prosecutor to provide protection. This is possible only in pre-trial proceedings, which is of utmost importance for the whistleblowers and the investigators alike, and for civil trust in authorized institutions.
The huge volume of journalistic publications on the issue (over 300 since the beginning of the year) is a demonstration of the high-level of insecurity people in Bulgaria have to cope with, while your failure to react accordingly, in the absence of other functioning institutions, has the potential to increase the citizens’ negative attitudes towards the system.
Society, Mr. Chief Prosecutor, no longer believes in your office as there are founded suspicions it generates crimes and refuses to probe them. We fear that your inactivity or simulations of actions, especially in the current political moment, can expose you as an accomplice. For this reason, we insist on the removal from the probe of all individuals who are connected to the former Interior Minister; individuals whose names and professional careers are notorious among the country’s legal circles. We insist for the pre-trial proceeding to be assigned to irreproachable professionals. We wish to reiterate that your intervention is a must, as in this concrete case all boundaries of tolerance have been crossed, and because your continued inactivity would contribute to already existing suspicions of our European partners that in Bulgaria violations of human rights are being tolerated at the highest level.
Regarding the legal frame of the use of special surveillance devices, we assure you that we will call on the future parliament to establish an ad-hoc inquiry committee to conduct a complex probe of normative acts and their application in practice by all authorities, including the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Republic of Bulgaria.
Association for European Integration and Human Rights, Vesislava Antonovaq, Georgi Atanasov,,Ivan Bakalov, Emi Baruh,,Ivan Bedrov, Marin Bodakov, Rossen Bossev, Yassen Boyadzhiev, Silvia Velikova, Prolet Velkova, Mirela Veselinova, Petar Volgin, Petya Vladimirova, Svetlana Georgieva, Assen Genov, Stoyana Georgieva, Valya Gigova, Yonko Grozev, Yavor Dachkov, Mihail Ekimdzhiev, Hristo Ivanov , Assen Yordanov, Hristo Komarnitski , Stanislav Kostov, Lili Marinkova, Boris Mitov, Konstantin Pavlov, Polina Paunova, Rumen Petrov, Spas Spassov, Vesselin Stoynev, Svetoslav Terziev, Tsvetozar Tomov, Stoyko Tonev, Antoaneta Tsoneva, Koprinka Chervenkova, Atanas Tchobanov, Maria Guineva
The “Protestors on Eagle Bridge” win the “Human of the Year” 2012 Award
10 December 2012, Sofia
The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria, Toma Belev, Rosen Bosev, Radoslav Stoyanov, Spas Spasov and Bivol are among the others honoured in BHC’s annual awards recognizing the contribution to human rights and rights protection
The Protestors on Eagle Bridge were honoured with the first prize “Human of the Year” 2012 in the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee’s (BHC) annual awards recognizing the contribution to human rights and rights protection.
The awards were announced today, December 10th, the International Human Rights Day, at an official ceremony in Sofia.
“The protestors on Eagle Bridge are the “Human” this year. We recognize their outstanding ability to mobilize against a government that abuses not only its public power through private interests, but also its sovereign – the citizens, by allowing itself to take political and legislative decisions on behalf of their name and not in their interest. In such a way the government distorts the very basis of representative democracy – the approval of laws through parliament by us – the people,” said Margarita Ilieva, Attorney-at-law, Director of the Legal Defence Programme at BHC and Chairwoman of the Human of the Year award jury, at the ceremony.
“The individual protestor on Eagle Bridge showed to this dishonest government, that the Law is not their toy – an instrument for trade with the rich, but our pillar against the creation of a political system for the exploitation of the common goods for a minority of institutionally and financially empowered players, lacking any kind of moral respect for the legal order – at the expense of us all. The protestor on Eagle Bridge reminded the self-forgotten and arrogant, unpunished, temporary inhabitants of our institutions, that the power flows from us,” added Margarita Ilieva.
Besides the first prize “Human of the Year,” the jury presented two runner-up and three special awards.
The Association for European Journalists – Bulgaria and Toma Belev were honoured with the two runner-up awards.
The activity of the Association of the European Journalists (AEJ) – Bulgaria acts in defence of the freedom of expression, media independence and our right, as citizens, to receive information, that is untainted, not manipulated and serves us and the public interest and not private, political or corporate interests of certain individuals. The association has implemented a number of initiatives in the name of professional journalism, including a platform for data collection for the needs of investigative journalism and civil society projects. Every month, the association publishes a ranking for quality and non-professional journalism. In 2012, AEJ repeatedly signalled for unethical behaviour, inciting interethnic hatred and discrimination, as well as threats and pressure on journalists.
Toma Belev was the Director of the Vitosha Nature Park until February 2012, when he was removed from his post due to political and financial interests. The leading Bulgarian nature conservationist is one of the leading members of the coalition Let Nature Remain in Bulgaria, which encompasses nearly 50 non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, who are fighting against the threats to protected territories in the country. After his removal, Belev has risen as a natural leader in the green movement, a leading factor in the fight for the protection of Bulgarian nature, one of the strongest and most compelling voices in the debate surrounding the Forest Act.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the “Human of the Year” 2012 jury presented three special awards:
Rosen Bosev took the prize for overall contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights in Bulgaria. Rosen Bosev is part of the team at the weekly newspaper Capital since 2005. He was distinguished for this large array of outstanding texts, dedicated to the problems of the judicial system, rule of law and human rights in a democracy. He has been honoured three times with the Access to Information Programme Award for using the Access to Public Information Act.
Spas Spasov took home the special award for journalistic courage. Spasov is a correspondent for daily online edition Dnevnik and weekly print Capital in Varna. He is the author of numerous journalistic articles against racism that are important for the public interest. This year he sent a signal to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Bulgaria for the racist verbal abuse in the article “Боклуци“ by Kevork Kevorkian, stating that “the silence that follows such texts is full of concern, humiliation and is dangerous…and that sooner or later this silence will bury us.” Spasov is also the journalist that published consistent and critical work concerning the “First Alley,” for which he was threatened by the interest group TIM. Nevertheless, Spas never gave in and continued writing critiques like a true journalist.
(The members of the “Human of the Year” 2012 jury, who work at Economedia abstained from participation and voting during the review of the last two nominations.)
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Radoslav Stoyanov was named Activist of the Year. He actively used legal methods to defend the right of freedom of presence for non-heterosexual people in society – without harassment, without violence, without inciting hatred or discrimination. Stoyanov is a true human rights activist, who expresses solidarity for all the underprivileged in society and his activeness does not focus only on the rights of the gay community. In recent years, he participated as an initiator of over 10 cases for the public interest, against hate speech and other discrimination. What is more important, he is winning these cases with which he is contributing to generating a progressive, teleological case practice on the right to equality and social inclusion.
The winner of the Audience Award, which is the nominee that received the highest number of votes during the online voting competition through the site humanoftheyear.org, was also announced at the ceremony. The winner is the independent website for investigative journalism Bivol. The website was nominated “for the efforts of its authors in recognizing the exotic for the government principle of the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the active promotion of the independent civil society position.” During the voting competition, they received 1200 votes.
During the ceremony, the jury also awarded two certificates. The first one is “For Personal and Advocator’s Courage” and was awarded to Boyana Petkova, who one month after losing Mary, her second daughter, led the campaign for the amendment of the absurd and cruel provisions of the current Bulgarian legislation, according to which stillborn babies are treated as “biological waste” and are burned along with the other hospital waste. The second certificate, “Defenders of the Most Vulnerable” is for Susanna Musser and Attorney-at-law Toni Vladimirova – two women, dedicated to the fight for the welfare of children with disabilities that are living in institutions. They were recognized for their persistence in engaging the institutions, responsible for controlling other institutions, actively popularizing the right to happiness and development of abandoned children with special needs and working with devotion in hope that these children will find a home and love from real adoptive parents.
The “Human of the Year” are a symbolic token for the recognition of rights activism and there is no prize money associated with the awards.
Like every year, in 2012 anyone was able to nominate a person, group or organization on the basis of the publically announced criteria. The approved nominations where 32. The sought after deeds had to be (alternatively) of particular potential, a precedent in the human rights sphere, original and creative. The number of votes for the Audience Award was nearly 7500. The total number of visits on the humanoftheyear.org website and the Facebook profile pages for 2012 amounted to more than 183 000 (in contrast to 150 000 for last year and 15 000 in 2009).
You can find all nominees with their full profiles on humanoftheyear.org.
The initiative was funded by the Oak Foundation and Open Society Institute – Budapest. BHC wants to thank Club Studio 5, Marvin winery, Devin and its media partners: Mediapool, Svejo.Net, Dir.bg, Videlina as well as all the other organizations and people, who popularized and supported the awards.
German Ambassador Protests
against Interview Cuts
in Bulgarian Newspaper
October 30 2012 (BTA)
In a letter to the managing editors of the ‘Monitor’ daily, Petya Baharova and Todor Varchev, published on
the embassy website, the German Ambassador in Sofia, Matthias
Hoepfner, expressed surprise and concern because of the cuts
made in an interview of his published in the newpaper on October
According to the Ambassador, what was cut out was his
‘unequivocal criticism of the problematic structures in the
Bulgarian media landscape.’
Hoepfner says he was left with the impression that some of the
thoughts he had shared were puposefully removed to avoid a
critical clash with the subject of media freedom in Bulgaria.
According to him, the interview gives readers a warped idea of
his actual opinion of the political situation in the country.
The parts which were removed include one in which he says that
the concentration of ownership of media companies into the hands
of several persons only is very problematic. He also expressed
concern about the transparency of media ownership,
autocensorship of journalists, covert advertisement and paid
Showing understanding that some of the questions and answers in
the interview had to be removed due to limited space. Hoepfner
underscores that it was not published in the form agreed and its
meaning is distorted.
‘As a citizen of the European Union and thereby a member of a
community of values which adamantly supports the freedom of
media, I cannot tolerate attempts to suppress criticism,’
Hopefner writes. He also quoted George Orwell: ‘Freedom is the
right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’
‘Monitor’ is part of New Bulgarian Media Group owned by Irena
Krusteva, BTA recalls. She and her son, Delyan Peevski, VEO of
the group, are frequently accused of monopolising the media
market and far from transparent financing./PK/BR
SEEMO calls on Bulgarian police to investigate threatening messages targeting journalist
The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), calls on the Bulgarian authorities to investigate threatening messages received by Spas Spasov, a Varna-based correspondent of the national Bulgarian dailies Capital and Dnevnik.
On 31 July, 2012, Spas Spasov received a parcel by post containing a dedicated copy of an ancient Chinese book, The Art of War. The signed dedication read: “If you cannot make friends or win them, it is better to leave them alone”. In post scriptum, the note added: “The world is small and it cannot be governed from Singapore.”
The first part of the dedication referred, according to Spasov, to his investigation related to a construction project, while the second related to the newspapers’ publishers. The implication, he believes, is clear: Stop investigating.
Spasov told SEEMO that one day before the book arrived by post, his wife received a visitor: a representative from a local company connected to the construction projects investigated by Spasov came to her office and requested her home address. Indirectly and directly, the owners of several companies involved in the construction project threatened both Spasov and his family.
“I call on the Bulgarian authorities to take these threats seriously and investigate their origin. Journalists have to be protected and work in a secure environment,” SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said. “In a democracy, critical writing has to be accepted and journalists and their families cannot be threatened.”
The Civil War of Frank Abbas
The story of an unusual trip with an electric bus, which changed the life of the Roma in the ghetto at the outskirts of Varna
Spas Spasov, December 23rd 2011
“Every day I wake up with a worry, as if I would be on board of the sinking ‘Titanic’. There are so many people who are to be saved but there are not enough lifeboats. Who should be left behind and who should be saved?”
With the burden of this insoluble task the German Frank Abbas is trying to sort out the chaos in the Varna-ghetto by making his life a part of it for about eight years now .
He came to Bulgaria in 2004 to work for a trading company. But very quickly his life changed radically – he now lived in a street without name without having a permanent living place together with friends whose language he didn’t speak properly.
“When I came to Varna I deliberately kept my distance to the well-paid managers of German companies and their way of life”, Frank said. So one day he got on the electric bus No 82 for a trip to that part of the city a tourist would never find his way to.
“At first I couldn’t locate the ghetto in all the dust and dreariness of the concrete buildings”, Frank remembered. “A bit confused I tried to find the right direction and suddenly found myself in the middle of the ghetto. The surroundings weighed me down. When I was a small boy my Grandma often told me about the Warsaw Ghetto and I had to promise her not to be indifferent if I saw something like that. Don’t forget, she told me, history repeats itself because of the people’s passivity!”
Frank couldn’t sleep all night, the next day he looked for an interpreter with whom he again went to the ghetto. Before that he bought a football. “ Football is a team game, and so I tried to get in contact with the people without having to speak their language”, he said. It took me two half-times, until they were convinced that I was neither a social worker nor a policeman or missionary. It was only then that I noticed the ‘door’ for me being open.”
On the other side
To be closer to the people Frank decided to move into the ghetto and to live there.
“I had to prepare myself for that step and so I asked the the sisters of Mother Theresa’s order in Varna for help”, he said and added, that most of the sisters came from Calcutta. “I learned three basic rules from them: 1) to get vaccinated, 2) to eat and drink everything you are being offered in order to strengthen your immune system, 3) be prepared to get ill for all that, but never take antibiotics.
In January my life started again from the beginning – with the confidence and hope out of my faith.
I told the Roma that I am simply a German needing their help to survive in the ghetto”, Frank remembered. “You can’t imagine the astonishment when they heard this and the eagerness of them to help me finding firewood, a cupboard, a bed, food, two buckets for drinking and washing water.
For the first time in their life they were on the other side – they could help someone instead of asking someone for help.”
In the beginning Frank lived in the poorest part of the ghetto. In May he moved to a better place to begin the establishment of the “Paisii Hilendarski” organisation.
This part of the story he starts with a quotation from St. Matthew’s gospel. The verse he put his finger on was ‘someone who takes in a child takes in me.” “So I set up the first group of seven children”, Frank said. They were between 12 and 14. The ghetto is a jungle where a human being stops to be a human being. Life there is determined by primitive needs and powers,there is no corrective and no standard of comparison what so ever. Although I lived a very primitive life I was different to them, I successfully managed my daily life, and it was that they noticed. After I had
been waiting for some time I told them if I could manage my daily life they would be able to do that as well.
The boys who Frank had assembled around him are now 20 years old. In the ghetto they are his
voice, his police, advisers but also his critics if he makes mistakes.
The station “Jacob”
One morning it was raining cats and dogs on some old shoes piling in front of Frank’s door, They were just as wet as a street dog lying on the threshold. The boys had gathered, to organize the day’s tasks – Ahmed, Ilia, Pinko, Bacho, Verdi … The room has a low ceiling, it’s dim, dark and depressingly poor. They sit around a stove without a fire in it. They save firewood although it is just one week before Christmas
After one hour Pinko was told to set off with the dark blue dented minibus of the station to collect the children from school. Verdi will buy a Christmas tree and decorate it. Bacho has a meeting with the boys from the ghetto who are 16. He has to get to know everything about them. Ilia will drop in on some families who need help.
Every day one of them is determined to go round from house to house at 5:30 to wake up the children and take them to the assembly point. He has to get up very early, because the minibus can only transport nine kids but there are more than 60 of them.
In one of the schools Ahmed plays the role of an ‘interpreter’. He stays with the kids in the classroom during the lessons, cares for discipline and helps them. “The Roma have a special group feeling of their own, they don’t understand the communication system of the Bulgarians, this is why both groups feel a bit strange towards each other, therefore it is necessary to have a mediator for them.
In a half dark labyrinth of one of the ghetto houses steep stairs go up to a former bar room on the first floor where the children are being looked after after school. Here they do their homework and have coaching lessons in maths and Bulgarian to catch up their deficits in these subjects. Verdi cares for the stove which is made from on old barrel, and there is a parents meeting there as well.
“The aim of all what we do here is that the boys who are between 6 and 7 now will be able in ten years to live together with Bulgarians outside the ghetto without having problems with them.
Every day I pass the prefabricated buildings of the Bulgarians hearing reproaches of them against the Roma. At the same time they have no explanation for not getting organized themselves and keeping the surroundings of their blocks clean. Like the Roma they need to see that only a small domino has to fall to move the rest of them”, he explained.
By the help of another project of “Paisii Hilendarski” Roma families can get micro loans to build their houses with them. Afterwards they place their new house at a non-governmental organisation’s
disposal. In this way they can pay back their loan in three years. In one of these buildings a flat for protected living has to be fitted out for 18/19 year old boys having been dismissed from a social home. “That’s a pilot project which we start with 8 persons. These boys have to learn to manage their life themselves after having left the social home. This project is to last for 3 or 4 years, during this time a psychologist and an educator will live together with them in the house. “
Frank plans to register a company for dealing with wood. He intends to train those boys for this job who are interested in this kind of work. The next step is the participation of young Roma men in qualification programmes organized by the German government about which Frank has already had talks with the German embassy in Sofia. By the help of another partnership with the Kaufland supermarket company young Roma are to be integrated into the training programme of the company.
The open secret
The flash-light of my camera cast a shadow of mistrust on the boys’ faces. Frank explained to me:
“I have told them how organisations from Germany often send people to east-Europe to be photographed with Roma to use these photos to collect donated money. But this money doesn’t reach the Roma for whom it was donated. To exclude any doubts, his organisation is only provided with a budget which is necessary for its daily work. According to his own words Frank gets a salary of 700 Leva which he puts back into the budget. “We work together with the Bulgarian branch of the British foundation Trussel Trust “, Frank explained, “We also have a private sponsor – the German ecumenical order called CHRISTUSTRÄGER.” Although Frank doesn’t do any missionary work, the order finances 90% of the “Paisii Hilendarski” projects. The remaining 10% are financed by two German families who live in Vienna and in Moscow, but who want to remain unknown.
“Money is a great problem for what we are doing”, Frank says. Not a single project has been financed so far by the city of Varnay of Varna has some special methods to pocket money for supposed projects of integrating Roma’s. According to the reports of non-governmental organisations working in this field the corruption swallows up between 20% and 60% of the money earmarked for the integration projects. In this prize category Varna holds a top position and the name of the people who are traditionally profit from these projects are an open secret in this town.
Strategy and Tactics
The project Frank is working on at the moment is to give all Roma families from the ghetto with pre-school children the possibility to prepare their documents for registering their children for the coming school-year and to hand these documents in in time. “Everyone has to understand that Roma want their children to attend a school, but the educational system in Bulgaria has not the capacity to enrol them all. Some of them are enrolled fictitiously to fill up the school budget which is figured out on the number of pupils enrolled in that school. Without having had one single lesson these kids go through school from one class into the next higher one. So the teachers get some more money but the future of these children is spoilt”, Frank said.
The volunteers of “Paisii Hilendarski” are planning to install limited stations in the ghetto in coming May to fill in the forms there for the school registration and to help the parents to give the volunteers the power of attorney to represent them with the local authorities..
“Even if it is dangerous for them, the rhinos remain at their places, and under no circumstances they will retreat. I teach the Roma how they have to live”, Frank said, “the system of double standards for the Roma has to be blocked. That is a kind of civil war without stones, Molotov cocktails and any other kind of violence – but I will definitely win it!!!”
The text In German – here!
IT IS A SHAME NOT TO BE ASHAMED OF STATE SECURITY / DS/
“Dnevnik” newspaper. December 20 2010
By Spas Spasov
The turmoil about the news that 45% of acting and former Bulgarian Ambassadors and consuls-general had been working for the structures of the dissolved communist State Security / DS/ or Military Counterintelligence converted both President Parvanov and Prime Minister Borisov into an example of the Chinese philosophical concept of “ying-yang”.
The essence of this concept is the harmony which may take place between two seemingly contradicting forces, which mutually complement each other and may even flow one into the other and vice versa.
Three years ago the pseudonym Gotze, used by the head of state as a collaborator of the former Communist secret services, became a password to political lack of scruples. With its assistance and under its cover almost the whole family-political machinery of Zhivkov’s regime last phase
SHIFTED ITS INFLUENCE ACROSS THE BORDERS AND TOOK UP POSITIONS ACCORDINGLY
Also at that time, in the summer of 2007, three months before being re-elected to his second mandate, the head of state even allowed himself to lie and with the famous phrase “not a line, not a sign from me” practically “threw light “ on his hope of good results from the cleaning up of the archives. It would seem his last hope was based on such good results. It did not materialize though, and documents proved that Parvanov had been Gotze.
This logic renders the head of state’s persistent position defending anyone who has been affected by revelations of the Commission on dossiers understandable, but it is also destructive. The present words of Foreign Affairs Minister Nikolai Mladenov that the President “is the political umbrella over all State Security structures in Bulgaria” confirm that public secret, but do not clarify the picture entirely.
On June 30 2009 Boiko Borisov commented on the information that there were former State Security collaborators among the candidates for MPs from his party GERB. Then he said that this concerns only one person-Bozhidar Dimitrov, who was his friend and had his guarantee. A year and a half later the Prime Minister parted ways with the Minister without portfolio dealing with Bulgarians abroad and also with Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Pavlin Dimitrov because of their connections to State Security structures.
“That’s it – sociology: if the people give you pies, sweetmeats and wine, that means everything is O.K. “. This was what Borisov said last Sunday, when between the official inauguration of a road junction and the decision to accept the resignations of both key figures in the GERB Government he had to also comment on sociological data about the loss of confidence in the Government.
But the vivid conclusions about “the sociological pies“ do not conceal the fact that from now on the Prime Minister will have serious difficulties to return to the good humored boredom with which he previously avoided the problem of the secret past of people from GERB’s local structures, or from Government institutions.
After the news about the sizeable presence of the former State Security in our diplomatic missions abroad broke, the Ambassadors concerned echoed four words with which Parvanov covered himself three years ago:
“I AM NOT ASHAMED!”
This took place through a declaration published by the board of the Bulgarian Diplomatic Society. According to a part of its text, the blame lies with Law on access to and disclosure of documents and on making public the connection of Bulgarian citizens to State Security and Bulgarian Army’s intelligence services, passed by the 40th People’s Assembly/ Parliament/.
According to diplomats involved „services which worked for the national security abroad and had nothing to do with repression, denunciation and political policing” were added incorrectly in it’s text. This quote makes a banal addition to one of the first outbursts Parvanov made after the disclosures about diplomatic personnel.
Even before the text of the declaration had been publicized, Parvanov had succeeded in repeating the mantra: “In case, as I presume, these people had been doing a good job for the state, and as the state is one irrespective of who governs it, we have to suspend this process and the crusade to demolish statehood in all its structures, diplomacy included.”
Having said this, the head of state did not miss the opportunity to deliver one more blow to Borisov, asking why the Ambassadors of those times have been labeled as bad, while according to the Prime Minister himself Todor Zhivkov had been a good leader of the state. In this way, whether they want it or not, in the argument started between them, Parvanov and Borisov will have to specify their interpretations of what “state” means. According to Blackwell’s encyclopedia of political thought, “the state is an institutionalized representation of the people’s will”. And every time ‘the people’s will” has afforded assuming anyone’s ideas of political repression, the physical destruction of democracy and the economic strengthening of a dictatorship, a catastrophe has ensued. According to Blackwell again, Hegel was one of the first to formulate the difference between the state and “civic society”, the latter being the one entitled to guarantee the preservation of the democratic logic of state power. But the most aggressive attempt to delete the borderline between the two was made exactly by the totalitarian regimes of the last century. Both with Nazism and Communism, the state, hijacked by a single party, put society under
TOTAL CONTROL, TURNING THOSE WHO DISAGREE INTO VICTIMS.
Both systems ended up in catastrophe. That is why it is not possible for those who defended a dictatorship, who willingly worked for it and fought inside and outside its borders to achieve its goals to insist that they had conscientiously worked for “the state”. In this respect Parvanov’s and Borisov’s responsibilities oblige them
TO DECLARE CLEARLY THEIR OPINIONS ABOUT “THE COMMUNIST STATE “.
By the way, way back on January 25 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe / PACE/ adopted resolution N 1481. This resolution of the community where Bulgaria is also a member insists that the international denouncement of crimes performed by totalitarian communist regimes is a necessity.
Paragraph 13 of PACE’s resolution appeals “all Communist or post-Communist parties in its member states, which still have not acted, should put the history of Communism and their own past under review, clearly disassociate themselves from the crimes of totalitarian regimes and resolutely condemn those crimes – without any hesitation or delay”.
Instead of this, four years later and 20 years since the beginning of the so-called changes, Bulgaria continues with its internal debate the pros and cons of Communism and its repressive structures. Or put it in other words – to go on confirming that it is a “Trojan horse” representing the system of values of democratic Europe.
This text in Bulgarian – (Dnevnik Daily).
THE “ASSANGE” VIRUS AND THE SYSTEM’S REACTION
“Dnevnik” newspaper, December 14, 2010
By Spas Spasov
In the very eye of the “WikiLeaks” tornado, Jeffrey Kuhner, president of the “Edmund Burke Institute”, which is considered to be close to the Republican Party, publicized via the press quite a macabre message: “We should deal with Assange in the same manner we deal with other dangerous terrorist leaders”.
In this way he publicly reminded Government that, if necessary, Assange should be destroyed, thus going quite far beyond the border of “new conservative thinking”, which in itself is the reason for existence of this very institute. So Kuhner’s “encrypted missive” confirmed the fact that, from Washington through Moscow to Pyongyang,
ENCRYPTED POLITICAL THINKING
continues to resist any attempt at being “hacked”, for it is deplorably analogous.
Let us remind ourselves of “Abu Ghraib” prison and the scandal of 2005, which gave start to the woeful stardom of ranger Lindy England. Then, in a few months, numerous photos of naked Iraqis flew through the Internet. Thus the legend of US’ democratic mission in Iraq was irretrievably compromised, while ranger England successfully set off several responsive terrorist actions in which people were killed.
Paradoxically, after WikiLeaks publicized American diplomacy’s secret correspondence in the manner of a soap opera, it did not lose any of its shiny gloss. On the contrary! After the Assange attack, it certainly gained experience and accepted a useful lesson. In short, here is what it was all about: In order to believe in what the new generation of information consumers sees or hears, it has to have different guarantees veracity – an open code and free, unedited access to facts.
Nowadays disclosures about Berlusconi being a useless politician, about the greedy wife of Azerbaijan’s President being deprived of mimickry as a result of a stupidly performed face-lift, or even about the Pope being against Turkey’s acceptance into the EU are barely a great surprise or a real threat to anyone. Thus, when comparing the effect of the “England” leak with that of the “Assange” affair we should honestly admit that in the latter case the “Great Lodge” of world diplomacy overplayed its hand, generating unnecessary doubts of a guilty conscience.
“I will have Saakashvili hanged by his balls!” says Putin, speaking to his French colleague on the occasion of the foray of Russian troops into Georgia.
“Did you say you will have him hanged? “ Sarkozy says, not having heard well.
“Why not, the Americans hanged Saddam Hussein, didn’t they?” Putin replies.
“So do you want to end up like President Bush did?” Sarkozy deals his final blow.
“Well, you have a point there.” Putin capitulates.
This conversation, often cited as a classical display of diplomatic restraint, but also compromising the ones who speak, is at least 10 times more exciting than most of the secret cables made public by WikiLeaks. It did not result in international turmoil, though, for it was
leaked by an “official” source – one of Sarkozy’s advisers. Such jokes relieve the system from stress and enchant the audience with an edited sense of humor.
After that, it closes the door again and the conversation continues face to face, thus generating doubts of conspiracy. Exactly because of this – the impossible dialogue, the haughtiness and the often premeditated suspiciousness – the battle with the “system” has always ended up in the field of the abstract, of irrational urges and romantic motivation. From George Orwell through Jack Kerouac to the so-called Generation X of the late Kurt Cobain, the “system” has been satanized, derogated or neglected, but it has never been actually attacked.
This time around, the dissemination of documents about the “world conspiracy” to thousands of servers all around the world indicated that one cannot name it modern romanticism, or revolutionary exotics, which usually end up in a flight from reality.
Assange attacked, then felt vulnerable and insured himself. In this way, though, the ideologue of “WikiLeaks” made his first fatal mistake, which made even his former fans ask themselves who he really was –
A REVOLUTIONARY OR A TERRORIST.
Just before his arrest on charges of fornication and sexual violence, Assange threatened that, should anything untoward happen to him, a key would appear on the Internet, which would allow downloading of even more shocking documents through the biggest torrent ?? sites. This time around, he startled less the targets of his previous attacks than the ones who had already cried out “Hosanna”.
Questions started pouring down like stormy rain:
1. What would become of these documents if nothing happened to Assange?
2. How and why are the files hidden in sites for pirate downloading selected?
3. If he is innocent indeed, why should Julian Assange threaten his enemies?
4. What if he is just a petty blackmailer?
5.What are his values – his personal survival or truth at any cost?, etc., etc.
The attempt to position Assange accurately poses one more important question: what is the source of the information disseminated on his WikiLeaks platform? His halo of a martyr for a new information order still shines because of the forceful legend, that he himself breaks into servers and retrieves the information, which made first the Pentagon and then the US Department of State panic.
HIS IMAGE OF A HIGH-TECH ROBIN HOOD
Could be clouded in a second if it is established that the files were given to him for publication. “Can a journalistic instrument be as important as freedom of information?” was the question on the first page of “Time” magazine. It would be extremely discouraging if the answer is that it is the very idea of a new freedom of information that has been turned into an instrument.
Recently, the “New York Times” revealed that attempts to charge Assange with espionage have been going on without success for already half a year. The stumbling block turned out to be an interpretation of the law on espionage which took place a long time ago during the American war in Vietnam. According to it, only the source of classified information can be charged, but not the person(s) who publicizes it.
Now, Assange will most probably fall victim to another, somewhat bizarre but essentially reasonable theoretical postulate, this time of Swedish law. According to it, the damage to a condom in the process of a sexual act could turn any sexual contact into an unwanted one. Putting aside the piquant criminal context of the charges filed by two Swedish women against the hacker, this interpretation actually contains a strong warning to possible perpetrators.
It turned out that Assange was not prepared for his stellar moment, he had no vision about the future of his project, and ignored all security systems without having an alternative in mind.
Instead of shattering the system, he actually became a virus which set off all alarms. So now the dilemma is between the two buttons “quarantine” or “delete permanently”.
This text in Bulgarian – (Dnevnik Daily).
Dnevnik Daily, January 14, 2010
By Spas Spasov
In the end of 18th century the distinguished philosopher Jeremy Bentham introduced his designs of a Panopticon. Its social concept and architectural structure combined to represent the perfect prison. The building was designed to accommodate “the insane, the sick, convicts or pupils” allowing everyone to observe everybody else. Above all, naturally, was the ubiquitous eye of the Gaoler. The Panopticon surpassed the expectations even of its own creator, once it was clear that inside it no one would ever know the extent to which their behavior was controlled. At the end of his life Bentham delivered yet another manifestation of his eccentric genius. He wished to be mummified post-mortem! That is how his Panopticon designs and the idea of his own death fused together.
It was this grim story I remembered looking at the post-mortem photograph of Georgi Iliev* published recently by the newest red top weekly paper.
The media’s voyeurism takes over their true nature. The horrifying photo taken more than five years ago in the city morgue of Burgas, has a function no other than that of serving “eternal human joys – to observe a spectacle and tattle about it” (quoting Boyko Penchev). Way too trivially on top of that – too superficially, full of revolt and lacking all sense.
Such a publication, of course, may not be possibly be excused. Therefore, those who published it (and by all means those who look at it) must provide their alibi.
The chief editor of the paper made an appearance on a national television channel to share not one, but two streams of theoretical reasoning, namely:
1.The dead body of Iliev reveals the ugly truth about the life we’re forced to live, and journalism is simply obligated to tell it to its readers.
2. Placing the photo of Iliev’s dead body, taken immediately after the autopsy, is the delayed moral punishment for a Bulgarian mobster who managed to evade justice while alive.
Surely, both explanations are mere market fraud entirely void of value and meaning. The dead body may only be meaningful in certain contexts. Iliev was a piece of the ugly truth about our life, but only while he was alive. The post-mortem image, published five years after his physical death, “raises to the surface” nothing but information about the underground media world. Even worse! It compromises the ethics of journalism, replacing its functions. The photograph of an examined corpse, any corpse, may not be foisted upon readers masked as punishment. The act of lynching humiliates those who punish, because it’s the triumph of mediocre vengeance. But media should never be the platform of such vengeance.
This problem would have been even more complicated, had the photo not appeared in The Galeria newspaper, but in some of the semiofficial newspapers. Or had it been multiplied by other media in order to become a sensation, one that it was not. What never happened, though, by no means undervalues the risk of Bulgarian media becoming morbidly fascinated with the intimacy of voyeurism. No need to pick out any example – the papers are not on fire! Dissecting reports on every single detail of the Belneiski sisters’ death have been for years now the substitute of an actual investigation on the infirmity of our forensic expertise. How about the tears of widowed elderly people which after the tragedy in the Lake Ohrid on September 5th last year soiled all emissions of all newscasts telling one story – that Bulgarian tragedies are fathomless, and any attempt to “exhaust” the tragic domain is fruitless. Quite the contrary, profiting from them is quick and easy.
The assassination of Bobi Tsankov is the latest example of the situation previously described. Those cast in the same mould as him have been for several years now successfully inhabiting their niche of paranormal media hit. And as the fake always compromises the original – victim to that fell the investigative journalism. This is also a loss for the general public which ignorantly surrenders to be tricked, while the sound reason of the debate on the essence of information slips under its feet.
Comparisons The US TV channels’ broadcasting on October 4th 1994 of a video showing Somalis dragging the naked body of an American soldier down the streets of Mogadishu, left the public at large in shock. This soldier was one of five American army soldiers killed on the very first day of a large-scale UN peace keeping operation against the militia of Mohamen Farrah Aidid. Those who skipped the evening news saw the very same pictures on the pages of next day’s papers. Several days later President Clinton announced that having seen those photographs he had initiated an urgent reconsideration of his policy towards Somalia. The photographs stirred a nationwide public debate on the ethical consequences of media actions, and journalism textbooks give this case as a perfect example of how the media could influence US foreign policy.
In January 1995 the French weekly magazine Paris Match placed the late president Francois Mitterrand on his death bed on two of its inside pages. “I believe in the power of human spirit so I will never abandon you” reads the caption on top of each page. Another caption at the bottom of each pages read: „Dans la chambre nue, un gisant pour l’histoire“ („On display for history he lies in the bare room„).
„Placing the photograph in the magazine was an extraordinary aesthetic challenge”, says Editor-in-Chief Roger Therond. “But then again, five hundred privileged ones saw the dead body of the President. So? Why can’t everybody else do that?” A year later, in an interview about that photograph Therond said: “As a piece of photography it is simply magnificent (…) We used it to send a message to politicians: Worry not for what we say about you. Worry for what we know but say not!” On January 13th 1997 the City Court of Paris imposed a fine of FRF 100 thousand to Roger Therond because of that photograph. As controversial as it may be, it has taken its clearly positive place in the history of French journalism. It was only one year before that, in 1996, that The Noshten Trud newspaper in Sofia had published the postmortem photograph of the murdered former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov. Naked in the morgue. The price paid being a bottle of brandy to buy the night-shift orderly. Just as cheap a pathos was used in the drunken chatter about how ethical or not it was to have it published. Searching for the traces of the electronic copies of articles on this issue takes time and effort, while the result is tragic.
Roles and causes
Regardless of all efforts, after Jeremy Bentham was embalmed, his face had to be replaced by a special wax mask, while almost everything else was to a great extent preserved. This could have been Providence mocking the philosopher’s cynical idea of making prisoners exposed to observation from the outside and the inside. Probably that is the reason why even today those revolting exhibits of deformed wax figures bear the name of his stupendous project – Panopticon.
The appearance of yet another dead man on the pages of Bulgarian papers has, of course, nothing to do with the journalistic evidence of the ‘94 Mogadishu drama, nor does it have any relation to the aesthetic challenges that have rendered Paris Match a showcase of journalism, let alone the publicist vision of Roger Therond. The examples mentioned only outline the outer rings of Bentham’s structure. Enclosed in them is everyone: those whose meaningless deaths burden the newspapers pages, and those on whose conscience lie the empty bottles of brandy – the price paid for the missing meaning. The cells of this very same Panopticon, however, accommodate also the communities which had rather be amused by role-plays, than ardently supporting causes.
* According to Wikipedia – a Bulgarian wrestler and businessman, considered an important figure in the domain of organized crime in Bulgaria in the end of 20th and the beginning of 21st century.
Power and common people should walk on the same side of the street
Dnevnik Daily, February 14, 2010
By Spas Spasov
The initials A.P. and the nickname “The Tractor” made their first appearance in the news in the early hours of February 10th. A question mark was put after the initials taken from the Ministry of Interior’s press release implying they might stand for Alexey Petrov. From start to end – it all sounded like a quotation. Outside the quotation marks there was nothing but some background information on this most of intriguing of detainees.
Even the pets of the Dambovtsi brothers – the tigers and the leopard – could fit within the quotation marks, as well as the story about the nude stripper who jumped down two storeys at the sight of the SWAT officers, but luckily fell on the croupier. In this unprecedented situation even the prime-minister confessed he needed time to understand how come while chasing its enemies the state was faced with itself just around the corner.
That was only one of many absurdities. Falling victim to their inherited and forced paralysis, the media did the only thing possible – to repeat and cover. Instead of adding, explaining and guessing.
All the stories about reporters of big world-famous media arriving at the scene before the police are just so trivial. Remembering these stories on days like February 10th though is only edifying. The role of investigative criminal journalism is to get to the fact before, or at least, together with the investigators.
Just because investigative criminal journalism is not obliged to conform to official setting. It is often a stand-in, but most of all it is a safeguard that all the people vested in power act in line with logic, rules and laws and that everything they say is the truth and nothing but the truth. Furthermore, it has to provide for, encourage and guarantee the freedom of investigating journalists. Firstly, because they add value to its image. Secondly, because the monopole over information has always had its dark temptations.
With the paradox called “Octopus”, however, the media simply reproduced the surprise of the state. The media raised the same question as the state: “Now what?” Because, as unbelievable as it may sound, the arrest of Alexey Petrov and company rendered hundreds of newspaper pages, as many commentaries, television and radio reportages in the last few years meaningless.
The state itself with its entire allegedly stringent and orderly security system, the faces of news presenters without whom no news could have happened these last several years, and even some prestigious companies holding a serious market share were faced with the need to explain how they were not what they actually were. Or vice versa.
Good news and bad news
Whatever we may say now, the story about Alexey Petrov’s arrest and the confessions of all involved following his arrest, help draw up the definitive conclusion that the comfort zone wherein we’ve been living “in fear” is about to undergo a change. Possibly, a dramatic change. Regardless of its delayed denouement, it seems to be positive rather than negative for breaking the status quo irreversibly. The story, however, also has a second perspective.
Tradition has it that following the spectacular launch of the operation, the media were used in their sole capacity as speaking trumpets. Others were used as advocates. Those media which claimed no connections whatsoever to either SANS, or the underground, or Alexey Petrov himself, took over the role of prophets (asking questions about the arrest of Alexey Petrov a week before), and of defenders who were the first to spread the word about his alibi claiming he had worked for the state (which was also the main argument of SANS’ former consultant before the court two days later – editor’s note). Those who accused the state of being dirty from the inside only a week ago turned out to be the universal defenders of the same revolting sensation.
But even this story can be edifying.
A spot on the stand
Two days in a row all television channels covered the news related to the Traktor’s arrest, showing the same video. “Police! Hands behind your back! Behind your back, I said! Move slowly towards me!…Is there anyone else in the house?” We heard those lines several hundred times. And the viewings online of naked strippers lying on the floor must have broken the record.
The issue about the operation’s preparation and techniques was not followed-up. Let’s put aside the comment that the “staged” publicity of the “loyal citizen’s” arrest seems to collide with the statutory presumption of his innocence. More importantly, for decades on end the power in its most concrete manifestations has failed or has been unwilling to shed away the habit of controlled information “leak”. Thus the power is now standing the risk of compromising the notion of publicity – a tool it will be needing ever more often. For the sole purpose of distinguishing itself from its own shadow.
This inherited lack of proactive media deprived the Minister of the Interior of the chance to avail of the public energy of satisfied citizens rather than being left with the applause of a shocked audience. Borisov’s words “This is a war! Whoever holds …“ would not have been unfinished if the energy of people convinced that everything happened because the tolerance line had been trespassed and because of the pressure they had exercised had been there.
And this is important, because only this way the power and common people will have the privilege of walking on the same side of the street.
This text in Bulgarian – (Dnevnik Daily).
“ONLINE REVOLUTIONS IN AN ANALOGUE COUNTRY
“Dnevnik” newspaper, 19 January 2009.
By Spas Spasov.
The trouble with Bulgarian “revolutions” is that they never go all the way to the end, that they remain incomplete. That is why they copy themselves permanently as if using copying paper – conservatively, doggedly, getting paler and paler and becoming illegible. And they always start over again. With the passage of time though, another thing becomes clear. The abyss between the analogue country and the free “digitalization” of young Bulgarians will more and more make the latter face the impossibility of overcoming their heavy heritage – to finish what their parents failed to complete. The problem is serious as, in this way, the state and its citizens will go on communicating without success. Or even will not communicate at all, sinking into permanent suspicion and distrust. Just like total strangers. In this sense the romantic energy of students’ protest for “a change of the system” seems to be logically generated exactly by the feeling that “you cannot talk to these people/ the state/ anymore.
AN ALGORYTHM OF DESTRUCTION
The way in which the state, represented by the Ministry of the Interior, used the Internet to disperse the protesters in front of the People’s Assembly / Parliament, demonstrated three things:
First: The state treats the Internet as a means of tracking down ideas and intentions.
Second: To the state, the Internet is a hostile environment, which has to be kept at bay.
Third: To the state, the Internet has already become a vehicle for a cunning replacement of one reality with a different one. There are no serious arguments against the suspicion that the trick with the virtual threat of bombs exploding in front of the People’s assembly is in fact a conspiracy. Otherwise, the algorithm of destruction which followed orders to suspend the protest would not have been so arrogant. The analogue state used its loudspeakers as an alibi for the fact that it did not succeed in infomring the protesters in time that they had to leave. That is why it in no way attempted to use as a back connection the channel through which the bomb threat had been conveyed. And instead of reaching the ones it had to talk to at this moment, it preferred to chase them around in the bushes of Boris’s Garden. An episode from TV coverage explains to some degree the internal motivation of such behavior: A policeman orders a young man who is frozen with terror: “Lift your hat so that I can see your little eyes!” Although unwilling, the boy obeys. A blow with a baton follows, and another policeman asks, “Why the hell are you lifting your hat?”.
The state described in this way cannot be impressed with “peaceful forms of protest”. It does not presuppose their existence. But there is another aspect, which is even worse. By relying on a voice strengthened by loudspeakers, the state remains devoid of any other means of response to dissatisfaction apart from stones thrown at its institutions. It is exactly this type of conduct that will introduce copying paper after copying paper underneath the deplorable episodes of Bulgarian democracy.
A CONVESATION WITH “ZVEZDICHKATA” / “THE LITTLE STAR”/
During the first 24 hours of its existence, the site of the virtual protest, feelingfriendly.com, had registered 120 000 unique visits. In the peak hours of the protest on January 13 and 14 the number of users who declared solidarity with the young people gathered in front of Parliament was over 6,000, i.e., 3 times more than those physically present there. None of these figures were mentioned in the Government’s official commentaries though. These commentaries dwelt upon its motives in using “measured force” against the dissatisfaction of a part of its citizens.
Even the Prime Minister ignored the Net as a system of expressing sympathies or antipathies. But just several months earlier, enhancing his image, he flirted a bit online with “Zvezdichkata” – the 22 year old “Miss Buzludja 2008 Irina Yordanova , who had invited him to call her on a billboard under the windows of the Council of Ministers. In that case, the site of young socialists, red-bg.com, was used as a platform of communication. But this time around, the Premier stayed off-line, ignoring the protesting students’ persistent invitations. That was in no case a sign of insecurity. It is simple! The moment the state decides to use its repressive potential, it has no need of the Net’s liberal rules. Staying off, it fakes “non intervention in the internal affairs of the protesters”, but in reality it encapsulates their dissatisfaction in a virtual space. There though, the protests and the wish to change the Government or the system could successfully develop only and singularly in an option of Second Life.
Alas, it should be clear to students and fans of online revolutions that they live in a “first” life. Here, ugly avatars do not scare anyone. It is such a pity, but the half-drunk ultras in half-boots and scarves in the colors of the national flag are much scarier, while the emoticons with wrathful little faces and animations of bombs with smoking fuses are exactly as touching as the picture of cake one would receive by some friend on Facebook. In real life, attempts to change the system by out-of-system means generate tender patronizing at best, while spending days browsing feelfriendly.com or some of the protest forums degenerates into a pardon for a clear conscience for lazy citizens. The response of the gendarmerie and the police was beyond proportion, but a total and strategic success. Here is a comparison – the Sofia Police reported 150 arrested of 2,000 protesters over three hours. At the same time in Riga, out of 20,000 protesters, just 126 were arrested. There the turmoil lasted for several days and there was serious material damage.
In this way, healing its complexes of 1997, today’s drivers in the state machines seat violated the border and forgot the rule that beaten citizens never forgive. But they also delivered a lesson – this here is no Second Life.
This text in Bulgarian – (Dnevnik Daily).