Viktoria Marinova, a journalist who worked for a local Bulgarian TV-station, was found dead on Saturday, 6 October 2018, in her hometown of Ruse. She was raped and murdered. Most of her possessions, including her glasses, her mobile phone and her wallet, were gone. Motivation of the ruthless act is still unclear, although many suggest it was related to her work. What is Europe writing? Here’s a bird’s eye view to get you updated with the European media landscape.
Marinova’s investigation in EU-funds corruption
American news outlet CNN reported that Marinova was investigating “corruption involving European Union funds for the broadcaster TVN”. An EU representative told CNN that the EU is pressuring Sofia to “employ all efforts and resources to carry out an exhaustive inquiry and bring to justice those responsible.”
The third journalist killed in the EU within less than a year
On Twitter, Christian Mihr, Director of the German branch of Paris-based NGO Reporters without Borders, was quick to relate Marinova’s brutal murder to that of two other journalists killed in the EU: “After Ján Kuciak in Slovakia, and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, this is the third journalist killed in the EU within less than a year. All three were investigating corruption.” Italian newspaper Il Post added Swedish journalist Kim Wall (killed in August 2017) to these victims.
Journalist Viktoria Marinova. Source: BBC News
12 years after Politovskaya: Are we as bad as Russia?
While most European media outlets related Marinova’s death to the recent deaths of other European journalists, French newspaper Le Figaro reminded readers that the announcement of Marinova’s death comes 12 years after the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politovskaya. This may have a significant effect on Bulgarian public opinion. Just this Saturday, Politovskaya’s death was commemorated on Bulgarian national television; Russian politics receives more attention in the Balkan republic than in most other EU member states. Is Bulgaria in 2018 facing the same fall of press freedom as Russia did in 2016? The comparison has already been made in Bulgarian media.
Meanwhile, Kremlin-led news outlet Sputnik claims that Bulgaria’s interior minister, Mladen Marinov, “has insisted that there were no signs that Marinova’s death was related to her work.” This seems to be a deliberate misquotation. Marinov’s statement to the Bulgarian press was much milder: “The police still does not reject any possible version of the cruel crime.”
Bulgaria scores dramatically low in freedom of press
Bulgaria now ranks 111th (out of 180 countries) in freedom of press according to the World Press Freedom Index, set up by French NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF). This is not a drastic change compared to Bulgaria’s already dramatic score in 2017, when it was ranked 109th. Bulgaria is scoring the worst out of all EU member states by far. The second worst scoring member state, Bulgaria’s neighbour Greece, ranks 74th. RSF told BBC that Bulgarian journalists are “often subjected to pressure, from mere warnings to intimidation and physical assaults on themselves or their property.” However, Marinova’s employer, TVN, told the French press bureau that “in no way, under any form, never have we received any threats – aimed at her or the television.” Germany’s Tageschau wrote that Bulgarian journalists are demanding police protection for Marinova’s colleagues.
A blow to the EU?
The Higher Representative of the EU, Frans Timmermans, posted a tweet about “the horrendous murder” of “a courageous journalist.” His Twitter timeline was, however, dominated by criticism. Some of them were moderate (“What did the EU do when Bulgaria ranked 111th in press freedom?”), others accused Timmermans for having organised the murder himself (“you should be brought to justice”), and again others related the murder case to the George Soros conspiracy.
But not only conspiracy theorists are bringing Marinova’s investigation into EU-related corruption to the forefront. The Green group in the European Parliament wrote in a statement to Bulgarian newspaper Дневник (Dnevnik): “We congratulate the fearlessness and consensus of all investigative journalists who have exposed corruption in the EU and we will continue to support and work with the international community organisations that protect their needs.” Generally known for its pro-EU stances, the Greens have recently started to become the loudest voice against Brussels-related corruption. In August, it was one of the few pro-EU party groups in parliament urging the EU to put pressure on the Romanian government after the country faced massive anti-corruption protests.
Jules Ortjens is a student of Political Science who graduated from Humanities at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and currently studies EU-Russia Studies in Tartu, Estonia and Moscow, Russia. Having been active in Dutch politics for a while, Jules is primarily interested in how European politics is interpreted in different national public spaces.