Allegations fly in rows over financial issues at Bulgarian orchestra, opera and theatres

Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra is caught up in a row over a former conductor’s allegations of corruption, leading to denials and at least two threats of court action for defamation.

Separately, Bulgaria’s Culture Ministry has released the findings of audits showing serious financial mismanagement at the State Opera House in Stara Zagora, the Drama Theatre in Blagoevgrad and the Theatre and Music Centre in Kurdzhali.

At the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, recently-dismissed conductor Ilia Mihailov has alleged corruption in the handling of ticket subsidies, claiming differences between reports of tickets sold and actual numbers.

Mihailov also alleged that the America for Bulgaria Foundation was seeking to “control” the Sofia Philharmonic by influencing the careers of musicians through the programmes that it finances.

As quoted by left-wing daily Duma, Mihailov said that he would report the alleged state subsidy draining scheme to the State Agency for National Security.

He called for a financial audit, saying, “things are very simple, there are three people involved in the scheme, but we play in front of empty halls. When someone opens his mouth, he is fired”.

He alleged that people at the orchestra, whom he named, were protected because of their supposed political connections.

Orchestra director Viktor Stoyanov said that since he had been in charge of the Sofia Philharmonic in December 2014, it was run on a basis that was absolutely legal, transparent and in the interests of the institution.

Stoyanov dismissed allegations of “schemes” in the management and spending of finances of the organisation as absolutely false and said that he would take court action, given that Mihailov’s allegations damaged the reputation of the Sofia Philharmonic and fellow musicians.

In a June 4 statement, the Ministry of Culture said that Deputy Minister of Culture Boil Banov had lodged court action for defamation because of a series of slanders directed against him by Mihailov.

The ministry said that for the Sofia Philharmonic and other cultural institutions, the announcement of competitions for directors was pending and the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Culture would be conducting check-ups.

The America for Bulgaria Foundation, in a lengthy statement, distanced itself from the dispute between the management of the Sofia Philharmonic and Mihailov.

“We respect freedom and the right of everyone to express their opinion, but when it affects other organisations, such allegations must be supported by facts,” the foundation said.

America for Bulgaria said that it had supported the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra since 2012 and since then had worked successfully with all the management and staff of the national institution.

“At the same time the Foundation has supported initiatives and musicians of the symphony orchestras in Plovdiv, Varna, Rousse, Stara Zagora, Pleven, Razgrad, because we believe that quality art should be accessible to the public across the country.”

“The activities of the America For Bulgaria Foundation are transparent and all information on the 550 projects funded by us, including in the field of arts and culture, can be found on our website,” the foundation said, going on to list in detail the cultural institutions and musicians it had supported.

* Separately, the Culture Ministry published the main findings of reports of inspections at the State Opera House in Stara Zagora, the Drama Theatre in Blagoevgrad and the Theatre and Music Centre in Kurdzhali.

The ministry said that its inspection had found that the former directors of these institutions – Rashko Mladenov, Dimo Dimov and Petko Bonev – had not complied with the approved spending limits in 2014 and “had violated the requirements of the law on financial management and control of the public sector, and have not complied with the principles of legality and sound financial management”.

The ministry alleged that the three had committed offences under Article 102 of the Public Finance Act regarding their approved budgets for 2014 and the offences had continued in 2015.

According to the ministry, the Drama Theatre in Blagoevgrad has overspent by 502 783 leva in 2014 while revenues for the theatre last year were only 159 567 leva.

The theatre had revenue of 195 649 leva less than its reported costs and as of April 30 2015 had outstanding obligations of 71 353 leva.

At the Blagoevgrad Drama Theatre, there were 37 administrative and technical staff which, the ministry said, was “disproportionate” in comparison with its cast of 24 people.

There was a full-time actor who in the first half of the year had appeared in only two performances and in none in the second half of the year. Nevertheless, he had been paid the same remuneration in the second six months of the year.

For 12 of its 15 premier performances, the theatre had hired outside actors on civil contracts, “which further aggravates the financial situation,” the ministry said.

The State Opera in Stara Zagora had cost overruns for 2014 of 653 849 leva.

The Ministry of Culture described it as “the worst-performing among state music institutions in the country” having drawn only 30 000 spectators in 2014, just 6000 of them from touring.

By comparison, the ministry said, in 2014 Rousse Opera had 69 000 spectators, the operas in Bourgas and Plovdiv 53 000 spectators, the Music Theatre in Sofia had drawn 62 000 spectators and the Sofia Opera, 120 000.

The theatre in Kurdzhali had a budget of 652 057 leva and spent 889 218 leva. Its revenue was only 114 359 leva.

The ministry said that the theatre had a “significant” number of staff, adding up to 97, of which only 47 were actors and directors.

There were actors who had appeared only twice in performances during the year and cases where the actor had not appeared at all. At the same time, the theatre had hired actors from outside, the ministry said.

Given the short duration of productions and the low income from them, this was unjustified from a personnel and financial point of view, the ministry said.

The ministry highlighted a performance at the Kurdzhali Theatre in which a visiting director, set designer and actor had been brought in, for a one-off performance which cost 13 293 leva and earned 2220 leva in ticket sales.

The report on the three cultural institutions came to several findings, including that there had been gross violation of financial discipline.

Recommendations included not allowing productions and tours where the cost would exceed revenue, restricting the use of outside actors, intensifying publicity about performances “because the limited number of performances and spectators can hardly provide financing, even for salaries and benefits of staff”.

The report recommended finding opportunities for additional funding, by applying for sponsorships and renting out venues and premises.

The Culture Ministry said that inspections of performing arts institutions that had serious financial problems were continuing and the results would be published and accessible to the public and artists.

(Image: Robert Proksa/



The Sofia Globe staff

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