Ahmed Dogan’s valedictory speech as leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms instantly became international news when a man pointed a weapon at him, producing the most dramatic event at a Bulgarian political gathering in many years – but conspiracy theorists are underlining that the event was dramatic precisely because, they allege, it was staged.
Initially reported as an assassination attempt, official statements on January 20 2013, the day after the incident, said that not only was the small-calibre air pistol incapable of having killed Dogan, but his assailant, Oktai Enimehmedov, had no intention of killing.
Online, people commenting beneath news stories reporting police as saying that the pistol had no magazine but contained three rounds greeted this statement with derision, asking how the rounds – of which two were said to be percussion – could have stayed in the weapon without a magazine in place.
Detractors of Dogan, who went down in a brief scuffle with Enimehmedov during the incident, posted mocked-up photographs online on Dogan receiving an Oscar for the performance.
Conspiracy theories aside, questions were raised immediately after the attack about security arrangements. Some of those at the conference said that they had been able to pass into the conference hall at Sofia’s National Palace of Culture without being asked to go through metal detectors or otherwise be checked.
Police, the Interior Minister and Prime Minister all faced questions about the role of police and the national security service. The response was that the organisers of the conference had made their own security arrangements, which did not involve police being inside the hall.
Media reports quoted Prime Minister Boiko Borissov as saying that practice at Bulgarian political events was not to have police inside conference halls, so as to forestall the impression that such events were taking place under police control.
As to the slow reaction of security, Borissov – earlier in his career, a bodyguard and owner of a security company – said that when politicians wanted to be close to the people and security were kept at distance, it was inevitable that reactions would slow, and that experience showed that over-hasty reactions could result in innocent people being killed.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page was set up calling for prosecution for assault of a number of people at the conference who leapt on to the stage and punched and kicked Enimehmedov as he lay on the ground after the pistol-pointing incident. Within a few hours, people signing up to the page meant that the petition for those who assaulted Enimehmedov had several thousand supporters. Prime Minister Borissov told reporters that he had been “disgusted” by the beating of Enimehmedov.
Enimehmedov is said to have told Interior Ministry psychologists during a lengthy interrogation that he had acted alone.
Official and media reports after the incident portrayed him as having previously been involved with the illegal drug trade and being unstable as a result of family problems. Depicting the 25-year-old as a “lone nut” is, of course, precisely the kind of thing likely to get conspiracy theorists rushing to their keyboards – but officials have insisted that he had said that he was acting alone.
No cries of the Bulgarian equivalent of “I’m just a patsy”, then, a la Lee Harvey Oswald. Enimehmedov is said to have told interrogators that he wanted to make a statement (in the self-expression sense) with the incident. Something about political input, although any coherent idea of what he meant remains unclear because he is said to be reluctant to speak in detail about his motives. To an extent, if he was just “making a statement”, Enimehmedov comes across as much more of an ink-hurling Marie-Louise Kwiatkowski than a knife-wielding Dimitri Tsafendas.
According to the Interior Ministry, Enimehmedov left behind a note before the incident, indicating that he expected to die and apologising that this meant that he would not complete his studies.
The charges that Enimehmedov were not clear by January 20, as he remained in 72-hour detention. Sofia police chief Valeri Yordanov said that in a case of a few months ago when a man had pointed a similar weapon at Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, prosecutors had decided on a charge of hooliganism rather than attempted murder because the air pistol was not capable of killing.
Meanwhile, in the unscientific realm of online forums, one person commenting underneath a story on the Dogan incident on a Bulgarian-language website launched an informal poll, asking readers to click whether they agreed or disagreed that the whole incident had been theatre – producing an ongoing result in which those who clicked to agree vastly outnumbered those who disagreed.
(Main photo: In translation, the text says, ‘a pistol without a magazine for an electorate without a brain’.)