The news that Boyko Borisov receives three times more letters than Sergei Stanishev did when he was Prime Minister should surprise no-one. A populist politician from his weightlifter’s shoulders to his tub thumping toes, he should expect that Bulgarian people, so long the victims of extraordinary situations, would temporarily forget their cynicism and believe that like some super-hero he will ride to their rescue.
Politics was easy in Bulgaria until Boyko appeared on the scene. Those people who voted, voted from inertia, voted according to old loyalties, without much hope that anything would change. Bulgarian politicians played the roles the Bulgarian people expected. They held high level meetings with criminals, bought up desirable tracts of land at knock-down prices and lined their pockets. This was nothing new. You only have to read Golemanov by St L Kostov to realise that things were exactly the same in the 1920s.
Still, something extraordinary happened in last summer’s Parliamentary elections. World weary Bulgarian friends who had sworn that they would never vote, went out to elect GERB and Boyko was returned with an unprecedented thumping majority. Boyko conducted the campaign with his most-popular-bloke-in-the-pub style. And just in case, you wondered if this down to earth, salt of the earth character was going to be too simple, he was flanked by the balding worried looking figure of the Prospective Home Secretary and the bespectacled keen and lean Prospective Minister of Finances. The fact that Boyko lacked a respectable education – usually so important to Bulgarians in clinching any argument – was ignored.
And on the face of it, things seem to be taking a turn for the better. One of the first of the new Governments acts was to abolish the aptly named Ministry of Extraordinary Situations. Every day there are new arrests of allegedly corrupt Judges and Magistrates. Operation Octopus has resulted in the investigation of the Heads of Internal Security, the Customs and Immigration Services, along with their links to organised kidnapping, highway robbery, drugs import and car theft gangs. Criminals with unlikely nick-names are either under arrest or being sought. The Hamster is singing like a Chicago canary. The Big and Little Margins are implicated in the latest street murder. The Crocodile and the Geyser had their alibis blown apart when the border policeman confessed to accepting a substantial bribe to state that they were out of the country when they were in fact tying a hapless Turkish driver to a tree..
All this hectic activity must be seen in the context of EU demands that the Bulgarian Government must be seen to be doing something about the problem of corruption if it is to receive the subsidies it so badly needs. As Boyko Borisov basks in the apparent glow of their approval, however, the slow corruptible legal system is letting him down. Once when Borisov was Home Secretary in the Tsar’s government, he famously articulated his frustration with the legal system: “We arrest them; you let them go.”
Things have not changed. High level criminals with smart lawyers, money and connections still know that they can thwart justice. Powerful corporations in league with town halls can steamroll ordinary citizens. Roman Romanov, head of Zekom, a company that has fraudulently occupied property bought by UK citizens in Bansko, was quoted in the Daily Mail: “All issues are to be resolved under Bulgarian law. This means only one thing – God Help You.’
In Burgas, relatives of an innocent couple killed in a drink-driving incident ten years ago on the Sozopol road, are still to see justice done on the perpetrator. This year in the latest twist of this typically protracted case, the presiding magistrate suffered a mysterious illness, thus preventing her from reaching the expected conclusion and sentencing. The whole affair now has to start from the beginning – allowing yet more opportunities for bribery and intimidation of witnesses.
The French Ambassador stated recently that without a proper legal system, you can have no democracy. There is little protection for the ordinary citizen when their interests collide with criminal, corporate or local government interests. At least after ten years of legal twists and turns, finally a Veliko Tirnovo court put the highly connected murderers of a Bulgarian student in Paris behind bars.
Those reading our blog will know that we too have become entangled in the Bulgarian legal system. In the unequal struggle between a financially pressed disabled pensioner and the Petrol Corporation allied to Burgas City Council, the Supreme Court reached the completely absurd conclusion that in the case of a perfectly sound property in the centre of Burgas, electricity and water supplies should be cut off to enable some unspecified repairs to be carried out.
A long haul Bulgarophile needs to share the pain and helplessness of ordinary people – also some of their naivety. Having attended a reception for Boyko Borisov in the London Embassy, where hundreds of Bulgarian emigrants jostled to have their photographs taken with the great man’s arm around their shoulder, we felt emboldened to write a letter to him. A copy of the letter and its translation can be found in our blog.
Well, we should have known better. We received a letter in reply, expressing regret for our difficulties but reminding us of that old chestnut beloved of all students of true democratic structures – the essential division of powers and the inability of the executive to interfere with the Judiciary.
So there we have it. Loud noises are being made about investigations and arrests. Former Socialist ministers and the President are squealing protests. New Gerb controlled town halls are getting on with their business of making money, And the Judicial system continues to crawl on to no satisfactory conclusion, while witnesses die or disappear.