Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry mounted a well-publicised “special operation” against crime in villages on February 10, a few hours before the government was to face a no-confidence debate in Parliament on security sector issues.
But Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetlozar Lazarov insisted in a breakfast television interview that the timing of the special operation and the holding of the debate were not linked.
The ministry telegraphed its intentions well in advance, with an announcement on February 9 about the special operation. A note on the ministry’s website invited the media to cover the start of the operation.
On February 10, most major television stations had reporters on the spot in various villages, interviewing villagers and broadcasting pictures of police and their vehicles. One Bulgarian-language website sceptically described the spectacle as “reality television”.
Lazarov said that the operation had been planned “since the autumn”.
It came against a background of a series of media reports on television over the past year about villages where residents’ houses are vulnerable to burglaries and vandalism because of a lack of local police. There have been reports of villagers hiring private security firms for patrols.
Lazarov, in a morning interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, promised that the first results of the operation would be seen “within hours”.
Large numbers of police and vehicles were deployed. Earlier unconfirmed Bulgarian-language media reports said that some of them had been redeployed from border duty to which they had been posted in late 2013 to contain the influx of refugees entering Bulgaria illegally across the Turkish border.
Speaking to BNT, Lazarov rejected claims that crime had worsened because large numbers of police were posted in capital city Sofia in response to the eight months of anti-government protests.
The motion of no confidence, the third tabled against the current Bulgarian Socialist Party government, was based on reasons wider than conventional crime.
Tabling the motion on February 6, centre-right opposition party GERB, formerly the ruling party from 2009 to early 2013, based it on what it called the high crime rate, the government’s failure to cope with the refugee issue and on smuggling.
The motion had no chance of success, given that ahead of the debate, the three other parties in the 42nd National Assembly – the BSP, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and ultra-nationalists Ataka – all said that they would vote against it.
Moving the motion, GERB MP Vesselin Vuchkov said that it was intended to force the government to correct its conduct in the field of security and public order.
He criticised the current government on a range of counts, including the abortive appointment of media mogul and MRF MP Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security, a move that resulted in mass protests by an indignant public, as well as rewrites by the current government of security sector laws that shifted power, especially over key appointments, into the hands of the parliamentary majority in an absence of preliminary public debates.
The government also came under fire for its handling of the refugee situation and other issues such as covert surveillance.
In a lengthy address, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev defended the government’s record on control of phone-tapping, refugees and other issues, using his speech to seek to deflect criticism back on the GERB government and its record in office.
Yovchev dwelt on the handling of the situation immediately after the July 2012 terrorist attack at Bourgas Airport, in which a suicide bomber and accomplices – later announced after an international investigation led by Bulgaria to be linked to the military wing of Hezbollah – killed Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver.
According to Yovchev, hours after the bomb explosion at Bourgas Airport, the site of the blast and the surrounding area had not been secured, there was “no communication” among institutions, and the entire cabinet of the time had arrived at the scene, “so that even the minister of finance was there, to step on clues”.
“It was public relations that was important, not human security. I was ashamed of my country at this time,” Yovchev said.
Seeking to defend the government’s handling of the refugee issue, he acknowledged that this had “caught the state and the system unprepared” but the government had drastically reduced the number of illegal migrants, drastically increased the number of those deported and had increased the capacity of the State Agency for Refugees, according to Yovchev.
As debate was heading for a close with a speech by GERB deputy leader and former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, MPs from the BSP, MRF and ultra-nationalists Ataka walked out in unison from the House, leaving Tsvetanov addressing only his party colleagues and the sole non-GERB MP left, the Deputy Speaker from the MRF who was presiding.
After Tsvetanov finished speaking, the GERB caucus held up signs directed at the ruling axis, with chants of “resign!”. The close of Tsvetanov’s speech was followed by the MPs from the parties of the ruling axis return to the hall.
(Photo: Interior Ministry press centre)