Bulgaria’s public broadcasters and people from the theatre world have spoken out against nationalist Patriotic Front MP Slavi Binev becoming head of the National Assembly’s committee on culture and the media.
Binev is a sports academy graduate, exponent of taekwondo, owner of a pop-folk nightclub and from the 1990s was shareholder in companies in the entertainment, construction and security businesses.
Formerly with Volen Siderov’s far-right Ataka, for which he was candidate for mayor of Sofia in 2006, Binev has a track record of nationalist politics. He was an MEP for Ataka, retaining his seat after quitting Siderov’s party and founding his own which recently he led into the Patriotic Front coalition.
Controversially, some Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy, at a ceremony in Rome, conferred on Binev the centuries-defunct title of Archon (essentially, a pious lay supporter of the church) in what was to become a series of this title being awarded to controversial business people. The church’s governing body declined to recognise the conferring of the title.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) issued a statement after it emerged that Binev was to head the parliamentary committee on culture and the media, recalling that in 2012 it had complained to the European Parliament, the European Broadcasting Union and Bulgaria’s Council for Electronic Media about an incident in which Binev and his supporters sought to storm the public broadcaster’s building, allegedly using obscene language and shouting insults while doing so.
“We hope that with this choice, Parliament will not undermine the role of public media in upholding professional standards and principles of journalistic freedom of expression,” BNT said.
The statement was endorsed by Bulgarian National Radio, while on his weekly television talk show, BNT presenter Boiko Vassilev made a statement to-camera objecting to the election of Binev to head the committee.
While not mentioning Binev by name, Vassilev said that the election of the parliamentary committee on the media was of someone who confused freedom of expression with their personal media service and “attacked with fabrications and insults everyone who refuses such service”.
In a statement, the Youth Theatre described the election of Binev to head the committtee was “another manifestation of contempt for artists”.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, Minister of Culture and other senior state office-bearers, the Youth Theatre said, “the appointment of Binev is another manifestation of contempt and arrogance towards us, people of culture.”
The letter said that there was no difference between this appointment and that in 2013 of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security. It was the latter appointment, subsequently withdrawn amid widespread public outrage, that triggered mass public protests that eventually would play a key role in the resignation of the BSP-MRF ruling axis government.
The Youth Theatre said that Binev’s appointment as the head of the committee was not only an act of mockery, “but also a tragic misunderstanding of the role that culture should play in a democratic European country”.
Theatre director Viktor Chuchkov wrote on Facebook, “this is a humiliation for Bulgaria and each of us personally” while the president of the Union of Actors, Hristo Mutafchiev, also expressed anger at the appointment.
Meanwhile, the Binev appointment as head of the parliamentary committee compounds existing tensions in Bulgaria’s culture world, after some protested against the return of Vezdhi Rashidov as culture minister in Boiko Borissov’s new government. In the previous government in which he was culture minister, from 2009 to early 2013, Rashidov irked theatre people with cutbacks of theatre facilities across the country, while keenly pursuing the controversial and costly “Bulgarian Louvre” project.