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Bulgaria: Statehood in Crisis

In early April, a crisis that had broken out as a result of the exposed corruption in the circles of the interior ministry, exacerbated even further. The public was outraged by the fact that the interior minister Rumen Petkov had meetings with the Galevi brothers, who are allegedly among the biggest mafia bosses in Bulgaria. Secret services’ records of conversations between alleged traffickers, in which minister Petkov is referred to under the nickname of the Match Lighter, emerged.

As minister Petkov was unwilling to resign, a blogger started a short story contest, asking contributors to describe a scenario that would end in the minister’s resignation. On April Fool’s Day, the most popular joke was that Rumen Petkov has indeed tendered his resignation. The teasing made people laugh and made them feel nervous, as they all were in tense expectation of what was going to happen. The Bulgarian blogosphere was full of photos and collages of parodies of the official.

Cartoon of the Bulgarian Minister Rumen Petkov 1
Change your Match Lighter

Cartoon of the Bulgarian Minister Rumen Petkov 2
* 166 is the phone number of the police
Pictures: http://ntpavlov.blogspot.com/ СС 2.5

An electronic petition for Petkov's resignation was also started (BUL). An anonymous blog – entitled “The best from Rumen Petkov” (BUL) and “devoted to his outrages” – appeared.

It turned out that Petkov was not the only Bulgarian cabinet minister to have met with the Galevi brothers, who were under police surveillance. Health minister Radoslav Gaydarski had also had such meetings. In this connection Delyan Delchev writes (BUL):

A cabinet minister, deputies and a president of state, along with a bunch of journalists, attorneys of prosecution and the former mayor of the town (of Dupnic) […] qualified the Galevis as the businessmen “operatively interesting” [to the secret services]. The whole scenario around them is very interesting, starting from their being part of the ministry of interior structure. The chief secretary of the Bulgarian interior ministry has fallen, the minister is in a precarious position, the EU's funding has been suspended, and there are calls for investigation into the abuses of the State Agency for National Security (because it is not under the jurisdiction of the same minister).

One would think that this should make their lives more difficult… but it looks like a PR campaign is underway, a campaign that makes them not only “operatively interesting,” but also a couple of Very Important People to the people and the state.

[…]

And today we were told that the health minister had met with these “operatively interesting” businessmen in the presence of a mayor who was elected in an interesting manner, to promise a privatization of the hospital in the style of the Union of Democratic Forces’ management-employee buyout companies (RMDs) (do you remember this ultra unsuccessful method of privatization without money, which led to no successful privatization deal, just a free retreat of the state from its own assets, resold by a small camarilla, close to power, at a big profit), only this time it will be called something different, as the name RMD has negative connotations, who knows why.

One day [president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso] in person will meet them, negotiate and promise things to them, ‘cos, it seems, meeting the prime minister is a waste of time. These legitimate businessmen will then officially represent the state power.

The situation became even more intense when on April 5 president Georgi Parvanov defended minister Rumen Petkov before the media.

Radan Kanev writes in his blog, The Notes of the Reformist (BUL):

President Parvanov undertook a huge responsibility when he said:

“I know minister Petkov well and I know that he has the qualities, has the will power and he has shown, on the basis of the balance that the parliament will probably draw up, that he is able to carry out this reform [in the Ministry of the Interior].”

It is well known that Parvanov knows Rumen Petkov well. It is normal to know the chief of your election campaign. The opposite would be a surprise. It is customary to support the person who secured your election to the highest office in the state. It is understandable to take sides in an acute conflict between two wings in your own party. Especially if you are publicly known initially as a product, and then as a guarding angel, of one of the wings… And so, at least as it meets the eye, it is expected of the president to take a stand and take responsibility, regardless of how rarely he does that in principle.

And still, I doubt that Mr. Parvanov is aware of the meaning of his act. Living into his part of an untouchable political macho, he could not make a sound judgment in how crucial a moment he decided to take a side, or whose side he was taking.

For the first time for the past 20 years, the facts that were the holy of holies of the perestroika and the transition are publicly commented on:

The production and the traffic of drugs, the trade, the import and illegal traffic in excise goods were a business preserve of the Bulgarian state at least from the mid-80s (if not earlier). Whole departments in the secret services and the interior ministry used to devote their patriotic efforts to this illegal or semi-legal business, up to their ears in dirty contacts with mafias from all over the world. It is from these departments where the “moutri” of the transition come, this is where the origins of the “fat cats” in grey suits could be traced back to. It was a public secret that an enormous part of the “godfathers” of transition continued to work for the services into the “new” times, that they were recruited in order to preserve close links of subordination. […] Now everybody is talking out loud about the Galevis and Aleksey Petrov [a former member of SOBT, the Bulgarian special counterterrorism unit. After he left SOBT, Petrov was allegedly close to the mob. He was also the person who organized the meeting between the Galevis and the minister]. There is no difference.

Or briefly – for the first time it is openly said in the media that the dirty business of the secret services has never been privatized. It is in the “banned list” or precisely – the dirty business of the red mafia is “exclusive state property.” And the “exclusive state property is not for sale.” It is only lent on concessions. The titular holder remains the state through the interior ministry services, and the clauses are secret – a trade secret of the mafia. The concessionaires came and went (usually with their feet foreward), but the Contract was still in force, along with the secret of the trinity: state security–organized crime–ministry of the interior. A public secret, but still a secret.

Today the secret is gone. The ugly truth is before our eyes and it is so important that each public position measures up to it. One either supports the “operatively interesting” or is on the side of the operatively uninteresting. You either stand behind your sponsors or in front of the people who voted for you. You are either “a president of all Bulgarians” or “a president of the Galevi brothers.”

On April 7 Bulgaria was in shock as within less than 48 hours two murders were committed. The first victim was Borislav Georgiev, a director of AtomEnergoRemont, one of the major Bulgarian energy companies, and the other – Georgi Stoev, a former gangster, who, after retiring from the criminal groups, began writing books about the connections of the mafia to the power in Bulgaria. Suspicions arose that Stoev was murdered because he had information about Petkov’s connections with another alleged mafia boss – Mladen Mihalev-Madjo.

Delyan Delchev comments (BUL):

The murders have started.

It is interesting when “operatively interesting” businessmen begin meeting practically every member of the cabinet, the European Commission scolds us, and our guys look around startled, waiting to see if the whole thing will settle down within 3 days (10 days actually), and, naturally, the murders start, two within two days, and interesting at that. A person, involved in the energy dealings and a writer involved with the mob were shot down within a space of less than 24 hours. From the interior ministry and the cabinet there flew a comment, like an answer to a question, when the Bulgarian soldiers will be withdrawn from Iraq. One cannot help but think whether the two murders happen to be politically related. Somebody inciting them to destabilize the government. Or take advantage from the weakness of the government, in order to do it. Or just wipe out eyewitnesses and clear the way for new legitimate businessmen?

Ivan Bedrov adds (BUL):

“April 7, little before noon – the press center of the interior ministry announced a forthcoming media conference for the new identity documents. The last sentence informs briefly that minister Rumen Petkov will attend.”

April 7, a little after noon, the press center informs about the passports, but says nothing about the minister.

What could the reason be? The minister simply did not show up.

And what happened in the meanwhile? Nothing much. Just that Georgi Stoev, who has been writing for months stories about the crimes of Mladen Mihalev-Madjo, was shot in the head. And neither the ministry, nor the prosecution did anything.

There seems to be “heat” at the ministry, huh?

Veni G draws a parallel with the days of the murdered prime minister Andrey Lukanov (BUL):

Georgi Stoev’s murder reminded me of something I would rather like to forget. Younger people don’t know and the older don’t remember, but at the end of 1995 I publicly attacked the bright personality of Andrey Lukanov. In an interview for Free Europe I said that this person blackmailed me with a record of service and threatened me with an assault. I also said that he was the father of the “moutri” mob groups, of the bat-wielders. The “Great.” The future champion for truth Koritarov [a renowned TV journalist] censured my interview (it was on tape) and attributed that to the fact that he had no arguments to support my claims. Georgi Stoev brought the connection between BSP and the (organised) crime to light. And he got shot. Guess who did that? It’s not difficult. After Stoev’s disclosures about Gen. Lyuben Gocev, the latter said between his teeth “let him take his disclosures in the grave.” Well, the general’s order was obeyed. And me, generals, what do you plan for me?” [Gocev is a retired Secret Service general, who is, according to the murdered Stoev, the “eminence grise” of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and its connection with the mafia. Gocev was a minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s.]

The scandal spilled beyond the Bulgarian boundaries and attracted the attention of the European media.
In this connection Realpolitik writes (BUL):

To support our statements that Rumen Petkov is dangerous to the national security, in the foreign media and then in the Bulgarian ones, there appeared the information that, according to data from DANS (the National Security Agency), substantial profit has been made from (illegal) drug trafficking, and part of the money has been used to finance Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and the Christian militias. The biggest quantity of illegal drugs has been exported via the border checkpoints Kapitan Andreevo, Lesovo and Kalotina. The illegal business revenues have been laundered through a chain of bureaux de change at home or international money transfer offices. The sharp drop in the number of arrests, related to the production of synthetic drugs, has been attributed in the report to a leak in the interior ministry.

However, despite popular pressure, minister Petkov was still unwilling to resign. He declared that he would sue the media and the German investigative journalist Juergen Roth for libel. On April 6, the parliamentary internal order and security commission approved its report on the case, in which it notes that the meetings of Rumen Petkov with the Galevis were illegal, but did not recommend a replacement of the minister. And at the meeting of the ruling coalition (between BSP , MRF and NMSP ) it was decided that there would be no reshuffles in the interior ministry. Petkov himself said that he would resign, only not under “media pressure” but when decided. The people could not believe it and were in dismay at what was happening.

Radan Kanev writes (BUL):

The tripartite coalition was prone in front of Petkov, thus taking full responsibility for his outrageous actions. The question is WHY? And the answer is simple […] – because Rumen Petkov is an election campaigner and a treasurer to the BSP and president […] Parvanov. Because the head of state – a champion and father of the coalition – has already taken the responsibility for the actions of his associate.

In his blog, Konstantin Pavlov comments on the information published in the media (BUL):

“He [Rumen Petkov] did not do operative doings with the Galevis. He was rather accosting them in connection to forthcoming elections. There is no other reason that could make him meet (them), because he is not a fool. He knows that such a meeting could never remain secret.”

This can be read in an article in the Vseki Den publication. In fact, it looks like it was all about the commonplace vote-buying :). Relax, everybody, he wasn’t selling drugs in a kindergarten, right? And why this modesty – “for elections.” Let him tell which elections we are talking about here. Could not these be the elections for a “social welfare president” (Parvanov’s campaign slogan).

In protest, many bloggers placed a red dot on their blogs, symbolizing a red traffic light to the developments in the country.

The Sign of the Protest
The protest slogan: “Red light for the mafia in the country”

Thanks to the bloggers’ efforts, the public was informed about the protest on April 11, organized by Civil Initiative Justice under the slogan “The people against the mafia.”

The Protest against Minister Rumen Petkov 2
The Protest against Minister Rumen Petkov
The Protest against Minister Rumen Petkov 4
Pictures: Konstantin Pavlov CC 3.0

During the event, the organizers took a stand against the use of the protest for political ends and declared themselves against all public officials connected with the mafia. The demonstration was not numerous, which testifies to what extent people have lost faith. Although unhappy with the situation, they see no alternatives and trust no more promises. The opposition is weak and divided, and in the past the accusations Rumen Petkov faces today had been directed at its own leaders.

In this connection Veni G writes(BUL):

“At yesterday’s protest against the mafia state there hardly came some 200 people. Several tens of thousands turn out at similar protest in Spain. If we divide 500,000 – okay, let’s say 200,000 – by 200 the result will be the years it will take to for us to mature to measure up to the civil conscience of the Spaniards. Too long? A whole generation was sacrificed for the transition [in 1989], now it turns out that the next to generations are losers as well. Huh?”

And just as we were expecting that the things are to go from bad to worse, the news broke that on April 13 Rumen Petkov resigned. No kidding this time.

Borislav Tsekov thinks (BUL) that the reason for this is the “pressure, exerted by Simeon Saxecoburggotski and NMSP on [the prime minister] Stanishev and [MRF leader] Dogan to remove the leadership of the ministry with mafia ties.”

Probably the fact that during the last no-confidence vote on April 11, NMSP abstained and did not support its coalition partners, really has something to do with the withdrawal of the minister. NMSP indeed lost a lot in terms of voters’ support, after entering the power with MRF and BSP and is now trying to recover at least some of its former positions. However, even Petkov’s resignation cannot make people believe that the situation will change in Bulgaria.

Nikolay Pavlov writes in his blog Black station (BUL):

These days there is mayhem in the blogosphere: every other post is “Rumen Petkov resigned,” “The Match Lighter in gone,” toasts, enthusiasm. If extraterrestrials had landed in front of the National Palace of Culture, they would not have received so much attention. Well, I am not going to write about that. I see no point. I am more interested in where we have brought ourselves to, when the replacement of a totally failed minister (a totally routine procedure in the civilised world) should be welcomed in our country as the resurrection of Christ. To what extent have we accepted lawlessness and political impertinence as normal and unavoidable, that a belated denouement elated us so much.

Hurray, at last one of them got what he deserved, he got stuck in shit up to the ears and he had “his resignation tendered.” He would never do that himself, not without “an offer he can’t help but accept.” Do you remember “The Godfather”? If you don’t remember it, then you surely remember another Rumen – Rumen Ovcharov [the former minister of economy and energy, who also resigned after a political scandal]. The poor soul was first reduced in rank to a chairman of a parliamentary commission, and then was appointed to “finish through” “BulgarTabak” [Bulgaria's largest tobacco company]. The Match Lighter is no less “Rumen” than Rumen Ovcharov, you can be sure. He sure sold his head dearly.

As the journalist Todor Tokin said last night on Boyko Stankushev’s show – “a communist never resigns; he is transferred to a new position.” Nothing new under the sun. It’s only the code names that change in an unyielding operatively interesting scheme.”

His words turned out to be prophetical. A few days later Rumen Petkov was appointed to “be responsible for the personnel restructuring that is to take place in the government.”

Ivan Bedrov comments (BUL):

Now everybody who previously did not know that at Pozitano (BSP headquarters) Rumen Petkov is known as “the Boss,” surely knows who is at the head of the red parade. And if he finds some time to spare after the meetings with the Galevis or Madjo, he might give some attention to Sergey. And do a bit of cabinet reshuffling for him.”

The subsequent comments on the cabinet reshuffle are not favourable at all. Ivan Bedrov notes (BUL): “The prime minister did not even try to rearrange the graveyard. He just replaced the carnations with chrysanthemums.”

Meanwhile, the “minister's resignation” short story contest has ended. Ninety-four stories were submitted. The strangest thing is that in the winning story (BUL) Rumen Petkov does not resign, although everyone pleads with him to do that. And Peyo notes (BUL) that “nobody's imagination can match the reality.”

In a poll published on his blog, Ivan Bedrov asks: “How will things (in Bulgaria) get right?” The largest group of respondents (35 percent) are of the opinion that “things are not going to get right.”

And Konstantin Pavlov writes in another post (BUL):

“I am more and more in favor of the URGENT ABOLITION of the nation state as an institution that protects my interest…”

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