Bulgaria Monthly Digest: nothing new on the southeastern front: corruption, poverty and discrimination in Bulgaria5 min read

 In Eastern Europe, News, Politics

– A Eurostat study published on January 15th  show that 32.4 percent of retired people in Bulgaria are at risk of poverty. Estonia (46 percent), Latvia (44 percent), and Lithuania (37 percent) are the only counties with higher shares on this indicator.

Almost one-fifth of working male Bulgarians are also at risk of poverty, other data published by European Statistical Office shows.

In 2017, the largest share of people in the EU who say they could not afford to heat their home was recorded in Bulgaria – 37 percent, according to a Eurostat survey published earlier in January.

– Elena Yoncheva, a prominent investigative journalist and MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has dominated the  headlines in Bulgaria over the last weeks. On January 22nd, Yoncheva was charged with  money laundering. The MP has been one of the opposition’s loudest voices against the government of Boyko Borissov, being particularly active in investigating corruption and conflicts of interest linked with key figures from the parties in power.

On January 31st, Yoncheva decided to “strike back” in response to the “political attack” on her by disclosing recordings incriminating the current Minister of Culture Boil Banov of misappropriation of European funds back in 2016, when he was Deputy Minister in the same institution. BSP received the personal recordings from a former employee as the Ministry.

– The European Commission published a report on January 23th titledInvestor Citizenship and Residence Schemes in the European Union”. The document outlines how some of the existing practices in Bulgaria of granting both “golden visas” – extended residency schemes – and “golden passports” – full-blown naturalizations – carry risks as regards to “security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption”. “Investor residence schemes, while different from citizenship schemes in the rights they grant, pose equally serious security risks to Member States and the EU as a whole,” the report underlines. Previously, a Bulgarian National TV investigation revealed that 114 Bulgarian passport holders had been (prior to receiving citizenship) blacklisted by Interpol.

– The International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted an Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation in June 2017. Although the document is not binding for any ILO member state, and it is not a subject to a ratification by any national assembly, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO-BNM), which is a junior partner in the governing coalition, and whose leader Krasimir Karakachanov, is vice Prime-Minister and Minister of Defence, publicly declared on January 25th that the document “must be stopped and returned” from its ongoing presentation in the Parliament. The reason for IMRO-BND’s reaction is the presence in the text of the document of terms such as “gender” and “gender perspectives”, the “application of which to all [policies]” is considered by the party “unacceptable”. Additionally, the Movement asserted that “There is, in the Recommendation, an open propaganda for the acceptance of the migrants as equal partakers in the labour market in the country, their and theirs children’s equal access to education and training, as well as [propaganda in favor of]  purposeful introduction of personal and labour rights to these categories of people”.

– At the end of his second year in office, the Bulgarian President Rumen Radev gave a press conference on January 28th to account for the presidential institutions work. In his speech, Radev announced possible presidential support for a hypothetical “new political project” if it adheres to his values. He also criticised the state of democracy in Bulgaria, supported Elena Yoncheva, and  expressed apprehension regarding the transparency of the procedure of purchasing new military jets for the Bulgarian army.

– Bulgaria has the highest corruption perception in the EU, Transparency International’s Corruption Index shows. In an interview for Bulgarian National Television on January 30th, Prime Minister Borissov’s chief of staff, Rumiyana Bachvarova, said that “it is a fact that the people reckon that there is corruption”, and that “the ranking is based on subjective sensations, not on objective facts”.

– Data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed by the portal EuroChicago on February 2nd suggested that the number of Bulgarian citizens currently living and working abroad totals almost 2.4 million – 400 thousand more than in 2011, according to information from the same source. The population of Bulgaria according to the 2011 census amounts to less than 7.5 million people.  

– The Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria on February 6th endorsed a statement expressing the country’s support for Juan Guaido as interim president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the government press office announced. Two days earlier, President Radev had written on Facebook that the proposed joint European position to recognize Guaido as president would not lead to a “peaceful solution” of the “political crisis” in the country.

– On February 6th the IMRO-BND’s press-center published a Concept for Changes in the Integration Policy of the Gypsy (Roma) Ethnicity in the Republic of Bulgaria authored, among others, by the Minister of Defence and vice Prime-Minister Krasimir Karakachanov. Among the proposals contained in the Concept, Balkan Insight reports, are to stop welfare payments if Roma refuse to work or send their children to school, or if they “demonstrate an expensive lifestyle incongruous with their socially disadvantaged status”. Other measures include eliminating “lone mother” status for Roma women and providing free abortions to Roma mothers with more than three children. IMRO-BND’s plan calls further for the destruction of unauthorized Roma houses and the total elimination of so-called ghettos by local authorities, while providing Roma with the opportunity to buy the land on which they live. Finally, the measures include a crackdown on so-called “Gypsy crime” in ghettos, with a specific focus on “ring leaders, phone scammers, prostitutes and beggars”. The propositions have alarmed human rights organizations, which are also a target of IMRO-BND’s criticism for allegedly “swallowing hundreds of millions of levs” in integration funds and “making matters worse”.

Main sources: Dnevnik (BG), Novinite (EN), Balkan Insight (EN)

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