Bulgaria Monthly Digest: real estate scandal, and the far-right gathers4 min read

 In Eastern Europe, News, Politics

– On March 21st , for the second time in one month, doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers, and citizens protested against low pay and poor working conditions in the public healthcare sector in Bulgaria. This time, in addition to country-wide demonstrations, central boulevards were blocked in Sofia, and in Dobrich around 30 nurses collectively submitted their resignations.

– Following investigative reports from the Bulgarian service of Radio Free Europe, the deputy chairman of the ruling GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) party on March 28th resigned from parliament. Tsvetan Tsvetanov’s resignation was just the most significant among a wave of other high-profile resignations, including those of Minister of Justice Tstetska Tsacheva, Deputy Energy Minister Krasimir Parvanov, and Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva. RFE/RL and bivol.bg news website found that Tsvetanov, Tsacheva, Parvanov, Koleva, and GERB parliamentary deputy Vezhdi Rashidov had all purchased luxury apartments in the posh Iztok district of Sofia at prices that were 30 percent to more than 50 percent cheaper than market value. Tsvetan Tsvetanov remains GERB’s chief campaign manager for the European Parliament elections.

– The three parties forming the United Patriots coalition, the junior partner in the GERB-led government, registered separately for the upcoming European elections. Due to numerous tensions in the nationalist block the leaders of the three parties did not come to an agreement on a common list of candidates. A poll by Alpha Research conducted between March 22nd and 26th suggests that current MEP Angel Dzhambazki from the party of Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov has the highest chances for re-election in the European Parliament (EP). In 2017, Dzhambazki was accused of anti-Roma hatred and a petition called for the EP to sanction him, although nothing came of it.

– Dozens of kilograms of cocaine have been seized by Bulgarian and Romanian authorities in the Black Sea since April 5th. The drug has been found floating attached to life jackets near coastal resorts and its value so far is estimated at 36.5 million EUR. Tourist bookings in the Shabla region skyrocketed in April, Nova Varna reports.

– Bulgaria’s Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal found former mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district Dessislava Ivancheva guilty on April 15th on charges of soliciting a bribe, and sentenced her to a jail term of 20 years, the Sofia Globe reports. On April 9th, however, one of the main witnesses, Petko Dyulgerov, whom prosecutors had identified as an intermediary in the alleged bribery, withdrew his testimony saying that it had been made under pressure from prosecutors and with only one public defender present. In Dyulgerov’s words, he had been promised a release in exchange for ‘a proper testimony’, Dnevnik reports. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev said in an interview for the Bulgarian National Television that the withdraw had been expected because “that is what all defendants do, that is what also gypsies do in trials”. Dessislava Ivancheva won the 2016 local elections in Mladost as an independent candidate against the ruling GERB. She was one of the faces of the protests against excessive construction in the district which happened earlier that year.

– Tensions in Gabrovo, central Bulgaria rose after video emerged of an incident in a shop in which three men assaulted an employee, the Sofia Globe reports. Beginning April 9th, anti-Roma protests took place in Gabrovo for a few consecutive days resulting in clashes with the police and injuriesvandalism, and burning houses, and were followed by many Roma leaving their homes to spend time elsewhere. The candidate and current MEP Angel Dzhambazki wrote on Facebook: “In Gabrovo three primitive animals, inhabitants of the gypsy neighborhood, almost killed a shop employee. Without a reason. Just for fun. The animals should be sentenced severely. […] The gypsy neighborhood in Gabrovo must be destroyed”.

– Leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES) and current MEP from Bulgaria Sergei Stanishev is fifth in the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) candidate list for the European Parliament elections. Stanishev, a former leader of BSP and a former Prime Minister faced difficulties getting his name on the list at all since current party leader Kornelia Ninova wanted him omitted. After more than eight hours of meeting on April 14th the leader of PES was placed below the journalist and his ex-partner Elena Yoncheva – the leader of the group – and the Head of the President’s cabinet Ivo Hristov, who resigned from the position after the announcement of his candidacy.  

– On April 21st, far-right organizations from Germany, France, Poland, Czechia, and Hungary gathered in Sofia to inaugurate the establishment of a ‘union’ called “Fortress Europe”. Some of the key goals set by the ‘union’ in its programme declaration are “the complete liquidation of the influence of Marxism, the Zionist lobby, the Masonry, the left parties and organizations, jihad groups”.  The event was hosted by the Bulgarian National Alliance.

Main sources: Dnevnik (BG), The Sofia Globe (EN)

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