Bulgaria’s melodrama over education ministry drags on

Written by on January 31, 2016 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria’s melodrama over education ministry drags on

A few days after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov announced that he wanted the resignation of Todor Tanev as education minister, Borissov announced that he would appoint him as a special adviser once Tanev resigned – which Tanev has not yet done, while some uncertainty lingers over the nomination of Meglena Kouneva for the portfolio.

Borissov, after talks with Tanev, said that the education minister would hand in his resignation on February 1.

Should Tanev do so, it would be four days after Borissov publicly called for his resignation, amid controversy over changes to schools’ programmes and syllabuses. The days have been taken up by protracted negotiations within the Reformist Bloc, the centre-right coalition from whose quota Tanev was appointed to the Cabinet.

In a succession of discussions, Reformist Bloc leaders discussed a number of names, until late on January 29, that of Kouneva – leader of bloc constituent party the Bulgaria for Citizens Movement and already a deputy prime minister in charge of European policies co-ordination and institutional affairs, ultimately in charge of foreign policy – was reported as the “official” one.

This “official” nomination did take account of the decision being made in the absence of Radan Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, which unlike the rest of the bloc is now in opposition, but over the weekend there was some uncertainty about whether the Kouneva nomination would be backed by the “civil quota” component of the bloc. The “civil quota” is meant to involve non-politicians from civil society, or those without a specific party affiliation, in the bloc.

Bloc leaders were reticent about speaking in public about whether the “civil quota” would support Kouneva, with some reports indicating that it might not. Dissension could complicate matter given the Reformist Bloc’s internal rules about decisions on such matters requiring a two-thirds majority vote in support.

Several media continued to regard Kouneva as the official nominee, although she herself, speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio on the morning of January 31, declined to comment on her nomination.

The “civil quota” was due to hold a meeting on the nomination question on February 1. One of its members is Tanev himself.

Borissov told reporters on January 30 that he was prepared to wait a few more days for the Reformist Bloc to complete their final negotiations. He said that he wanted the nomination of the new education minister to be tabled in Parliament on behalf of his GERB party and the Reformist Bloc. Earlier, Borissov was reported to have told the Reformist Bloc that he would not appoint an education minister from his own party.

Borissov has said that he wanted the resignation not only of Tanev but also of Tanev’s political cabinet.

On January 30, he went on to praise Tanev and to say that he had asked him to serve as his adviser after his resignation. Borissov praised Tanev as “a very learned man, a professional”.

On January 31, Kouneva said that she would have a meeting with Borissov to discuss the nomination. She could not say when this meeting would take place.

Borissov said that Tanev and his team had failed to communicate to the public what they were planning to do. In recent weeks, there has been indignation among the Bulgarian public following reports about changes to the history curriculum, particularly in reference to the centuries of Ottoman rule in Bulgaria. There also has been uproar about changes to the literature programme – a controversy stoked in part by a number of inaccurate media reports on the issue.

But on January 31, while it had been reported that Borissov had asked Tanev to resign because of systemic problems in the education portfolio, Tanev responded in a television interview – the latest of several occasions on which he has given media interviews since his resignation was requested – that there had been “systematically bad communication, not systematic problems”.

Tanev, speaking to Nova Televizia, said that he was not fully aware of the motives for Borissov to have called on him to resign – a statement made even though he had held talks with Borissov a day before the interview.

Tanev said that he “suspected” that the problem was bad communication between his ministry and the public.

“I admit there are problems. The school curriculums were ready three years ago and such consultations were held with teachers with lots of money under an operational programme; (the consultations) lasted sometimes for days,” Tanev said. This meant, he said, that no one could prove to him that teachers had not until now known about the planned changes.

He told Nova Televizia that he had been about to break serious corruption schemes that had existed in the education ministry for years.

Tanev said that “the lawyers will say when is the time for resignation” but said that this would be as soon as possible and he would not interfere in the selection of his successor.

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