Bulgaria: “When You Sack the Person of the Year…”

In the summer heat, when Bulgarians are joking that not having air-conditioning on public transportation is genocide, in between earthquakes and the end of university exams, a huge scandal burst on July 12 when the Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Judge Miroslava Todorova [bg], the head of the biggest and most powerful magistrate union, the Union of the Judges, and a harsh critic of the Supreme Judicial Council.

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC, Висш съдебен съвет) found Judge Todorova guilty of delayed reaction: the 20-page document justifying her dismissal alleged significant delays in prosecution in three distinct trials. She, however, is not the only judge to delay motives: one of the SJC's members has done so in 43 distinct trials without undergoing any punishment.

Over the past months, the Union of the Judges (Съюз на съдиите) has been developing sustained criticism against the SJC: last year, for example, it called [bg] all members of the SJC to leave in order to solve the unprecedented crisis in confidence that Bulgarians vow to their judiciary. During her speech after being awarded [bg] the “Person of the Year” prize, Judge Todorova also made it clear the SJC threatened the integrity of the whole judicial system.

After the announcement of Judge Todorova's dismissal, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog and organizer of the “Person of the Year” competition, issued a press release [bg] condemning what it refers to as “a state behaving as a mafia punishment team.” A wide range of mainstream and independent news outlets have echoed [bg] the opinion that Judge Todorova's dismissal is entirely political [bg].

The reactions following the news of Judge Todorova's dismissal were of furor and outrage. On her blog “Печатни грешки” (“Typos”), Polina Paunova wrote a post [bg] titled “When you sack the Person of the Year…”:

Когато уволниш Човека на годината казваш, че искаш само свои хора. Когато уволниш Човека на годината всичките ти клетви в демократичност са само вкисналата гарнитура към милиционерската подметка, която сервираш като основно ястие в празната чиния на малоумния народ.
Когато уволниш Човека на годината уволняваш човека. Това е.

When you sack the Person of the Year, you say that you want only your people. When you sack the Person of the Year, all your oaths to democracy are only the sour garnish to the militia sole that you serve as a main dish in the empty bowl of the stultified people.
When you sack the Person of the Year, you sack the human. That's it.

More or less at the same time and entitled nearly the same way, blogger Ivan Bedrov — who was also a member of the jury that requited judge Todorova — wrote [bg]:

А иначе Мирослава Тодорова била уволнена, защото забавила написването на мотивите по едно дело и заради това то било прекратено. Ако има нарушения, те трябва да бъдат санкционирани според правилата –- справедливо и по еднакъв начин за всички. Не сте чули обаче други съдии или прокурори да са уволнени с подобни мотиви. Не сте чули да има уволнения и за връзки с мафията, и за съмнителни сделки, и за необяснимо богатство. Няма и да има. За разлика от уличните мутри, мутрите с имунитет отстраняват противниците си процедурно.

Otherwise Miroslava Todorova was dismissed because she delayed writing motives in one case and that is why it got interrupted. If there are violations, they must be sanctioned according to the rules — fairly and in the same way for all. But you haven't heard about other judges or prosecutors being fired with similar motives. You haven't heard about any dismissals because of links with the mafia, suspicious transactions and unexplained wealth. There won't be such. Unlike street thugs, thugs with [political] immunity remove opponents via procedures.

In her post “Something just happened…”, Antoaneta Tsoneva writes [bg] about the implications such a disciplinary measure against a magistrate has on the political scene:

Правителството си направи самоатентат. […]
Властта атакува фронтално демократичните принципи вече три години и няма как да произведе правов ред – произвежда произвол и диктатура. […]
Ако политическите сили не осъзнават, че участват в заговор срещу гражданите, значи стават предатели на интереса на гражданите.

The government just committed a suicide attack. […]
[The people in] power have been frontally assaulting the democratic principles for three years now and are unable to produce legal order — [they just] produce arbitrariness and dictatorship. […]
If politicians don't realize that they participate in a conspiracy against the people, then they become traitors to the interests of the citizens.

A Facebook group [bg] calling for a protest on Friday, July 13, kicked off immediately. The mobilization reached unprecedented proportions when the majority of the judges in the capital city of Sofia postponed their trials for July 13 to join the protest against Judge Todorova's dismissal. Alongside with the protest, many unions and NGOs oppose [bg] the Council's arbitrary decision.

In a statement [bg], the Union of the Lawyers in Sofia not only condemned the SJC's action but also reminded how much it goes against the Council's fundamentals:

Висшият съдебен съвет е призван да създава условия за проява на професионализма, безпристрастието и необременената правна мисъл на българския съдия. Наместо това с акта на налагането на най-тежкото наказание – уволнение към съдия Мирослава Тодорова, дръзнала да споделя и да се бори за своята независимост – ВСС не само създава предпоставки за никому непомагащите хаос и безпринципност в системата, но и предава – за пореден път – доверието на обществото, което му е възложило мисията да създава условия за предотвратяване на подобни нарушения, а не да налага показни наказания на работещите и мислещи хора от съдебната система.

The Supreme Judicial Council has to create conditions for the onset of professionalism, impartiality and unencumbered legal thought in the Bulgarian judge. Instead, the SJC's act of imposing the heaviest punishment — the dismissal of Judge Miroslava Todorova who dared to fight for independence — not only creates a prerequisite for the pervasive chaos and unscrupulousness of the system, but also constitutes a treachery — once again — to the public confidence, which has assigned SJC with the mission of creating conditions to prevent such offenses, and not of imposing penalties on high-profile workers and thinkers of the judiciary.

Such a surprisingly strong backlash didn't leave the government silent. The Prime Minister Boyko Borisov declared Judge Todorova's firing is “a provocation against the huge effort we put into improving the image of Bulgaria” before the European Commission report on Bulgaria's progress in the independence of judiciary comes out. In an attempt to clear the government from involvement in the case, the Minister of the Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov stated that he had never had any personal conflict with Judge Todorova. This is a blatant lie [bg], though: a few months ago, Minister Tsvetanov claimed that Todorova served the mafia, which led her to sue him for defamation.

Themis gets kicked out of the courthouse. Cartoon by Trayko Popov (http://trayko.eu/) published on various outlets and the Facebook group Occupy Bulgaria.

Themis gets kicked out of the courthouse. Cartoon by Trayko Popov (http://trayko.eu/), published in various news outlets and on the Facebook group Occupy Bulgaria.

The scandal continued with the reaction of the the Minister of Justice Diana Kovatcheva. She is a non-voting member of the Supreme Judicial Council and reacted positively to Judge Todorova's dismissal. The general uproar seems to have made her change her mind. In a 180°-degree toss, Minister Kovatcheva declared [bg] that the SJC had to review its decision.

Such a declaration didn't improve the situation: the Minister was presiding the Council's meeting where the disciplinary measure against Judge Todorova was taken. Interestingly, the Minister's turnaround was announced live during an interview with Judge Todorova, who responded by expressing her disturbance that the Minister, a representative of the executive power, was trying to make the SJC change a sovereignly adopted decision.

This weekend, finally, witnessed [bg] the last (for now) imbroglio. On Saturday, July 14, the SJC issued a press release announcing its agreement to review its decision (as asked by the judges during their protest) during its plenary session next week. The announcement was removed on Saturday evening. In a sudden justicentric zeal, the Minister of Justice said on Sunday morning on National Radio that she would call an extraordinary session of the SJC on Monday morning to discuss the rules of imposing disciplinary measures in cases similar to Judge Todorova's. This announcement had a different sound [bg] for the independent outlet “Legal World”: “the Minister is organizing a public prosecution for Judge Todorova […] without an opponent since the format is a Council's meeting.”

In a letter [bg, .doc] to the Minister of Justice, judge Todorova wrote that the debate about disciplinary measures to be taken by the SJC cannot be initiated by a member of the executive power since it is in striking contrast with the very legal basis of the country. Judge Todorova announced she would file a complaint against the Council's decision against her, qualifying it as the “unlawful, issued in material breach of the administrative rules in a process of misuse of the authority, and contrary to the intent of the law”.

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