What’s up Bulgaria? Patriotic initiatives and blue helmets4 min read

Bozho Kolov

August 2018. At first glance, there aren’t too many things that could disturb the August calm in the Southeast corner of the European Union. News about tragedy, scandal and institutional dysfunction, however, are almost always concomitant cacophony to the mix of summer hits on the Bulgarian radio stations. So, here is a short recap of the recent processes and events in the Balkan country.

– On the 10th of August the national Commercial Register (the digital database of companies and non-profit legal entities operating in Bulgaria) went offline. Registering a new firm, updating information about an existing company or accessing previously uploaded data was impossible for more than two days. The reasons for the collapse of the system remain a mystery and no official explanation from the respective institutions has been given. The Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stated on the 14th day of the blackout: “If we are lucky we’ll have a Register by the end of the week”. The Register came back online on the 27th with the help of a “Japanese IT expert”, as Borissov underlined.

– On the 11th of August , in an attempt to set a world record for “the biggest mountain horo (Balkan folk dance played in big groups), some of the participating dancers organized by the Our home is Bulgaria foundation entered the protected waters of one of the Rila mountain’s Seven Lakes. A picture of the occurrence in the national reservate sparked massive outrage on social media. The Rila Lakes are glacial and they have no natural way of self-cleaning. The event is part of the wave of “patriotic initiatives” overwhelming Bulgaria in the recent year.

– The minister of Education and Science announced on the 14th of August that teachers’ salaries in Bulgaria will increase by 20% next year, causing the average salary to reach 1300 BGN (~650 EUR). Currently the minimum wage of pedagogues is 760 BGN (380 EUR) and the medium age in the sector is around 50 years old. Bulgaria faces multiple issues related to education, including Roma segregation and “underachievement in basic skills”, a European Commission’s report from 2017 states.

– On the 23d of August the Sofia City Court declared a verdict stating that the royal palace Vrana should be considered state property. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a former tsar (1943-1946) and a former prime minister (2001-2005), is currently living in the establishment. “[H]ow terrible it would be if they force me into a second exile”, the ex-monarch commented.

– On the 25th of August a bus incident near Svoge took the lives of 17 people and left 20 more injured. During heavy rain, the driver lost control of the vehicle and fell 20 meters off the side of the road. An analysis of the asphalt showed that its quality is far from satisfactory, the minister of Regional Development announced on the 28th of August. Additionally, the company responsible for the reconstruction of the road (completed in 2015) is considered by many to be close to the government. On a side note, around one-third of the buses in Bulgaria are not equipped with seatbelts, including the one in this fatal accident.

Six days after the tragic coach crash, three ministers resigned by request of the Prime Minister. Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, the Transport Minister and the Regional Minister all quit office and their resignations will be voted on in the Parliament on the 13th of September. The changes in the cabinet led to disagreements within the governing coalition, GERB (center-right party led by Borissov) – United Patriots (coalition of three right-wing populist parties), regarding the decision-making process. After an “extraordinary Coalition Council meeting”, in which the Defence Minister attended wearing a blue helmet, the coalition seemed to come to an agreement. 

In the beginning of the new parliamentary season the leader of the Socialists declared that the party is leaving the parliament and is going “to the people”. “We depart! We come towards you!” Kornelia Ninova announced from the tribune. The biggest opposition party is also asking for snap elections. However, the head of the parliamentary group of the governing GERB, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, underlined the commitment of the coalition to reach a full mandate (until 2021) and closed his speech with: “Bulgaria above all. Unity makes strength!”

The dates September 5th and 6th correspond with a number of historic events for Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city. They mark 133 years since the reunification of the Bulgarian Principality and Eastern Rumelia in 1885, the city’s holiday, and four years since the city was announced as European Capital of Culture for 2019. Ancient Greek, Roman, Medieval Bulgarian and Ottoman heritage preserved in one of Europe’s oldest still inhabited cities creates a unique atmosphere where more than 300 events will be hosted next year.

Main sources: Balkan Insight (EN), BNR (EN)Dnevnik (BG), Sofia Globe (EN)

Bozho Kolov is a Political Science graduate from Sofia. After working and studying in Poland and Romania he decided to continue his education in the EU-Russia master program at Tartu University, Estonia. His main research interests are Eastern European Politics, Church-State relations and Socialist monumental architecture. Besides politics he is interested in literature and theatre.