Year in review 2017: Bulgaria in March

Written by on December 12, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Year in review 2017: Bulgaria in March

Bulgaria’s Baba Marta day, March 1, 2017, is a rainy one. Still, people flock the streets in Sofia, happy that harsh winter, the coldest one in 69 years, finally lies behind them.

At Sofia’s ‘Mineralni Bani’, people purchase ‘Martenichki’. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

On March 1, the former Bulgarian Ambassador to the US, Elena Poptodorova, is being held for shoplifting at Warsaw Airport. In order to answer a phone call, she had stepped out of a Duty Free store while holding merchandise worth 381 euro.

More scandals, in this case real ones, break on the first day of March: President Radev appoints a former State Security staffer as his adviser. And Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission (CEC) orders two mass-circulation Bulgarian-language media to be fined for what the commission ruled were breaches of electoral laws.

On March 6, a controversy is growing over reports of the roles of Turkish officials in Bulgaria’s early parliamentary elections, including a cabinet minister and the appearance of Ankara’s ambassador in a political party’s election campaign video.

The Socialists are hoping for a positive “Ninova effect” in the March elections. Photo by BSP.

Ahead of the elections, party leaders outperform each other with big statements. On March 7, Kornelia Ninova, the head of the Socialist Party says, she would try to form a government, whether or not she gets the most votes.

Another case of pure xenophobia hits the news. In Belene, a municipal councillor by the name of Krassimir Todorov and a number of his followers complain about the presence of a Syrian family of refugees in the town. At a council meeting, he says the Italian Catholic priest Cortese, who accomdated the refugees, should have asked for permission. Cortese reacts by reminding the politician that the law does not force him to ask for permission. He also says Todorov threatened him.

Father Paolo Cortese received death threats in Bulgaria. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

This case ends with the refugees and Father Cortese leaving Belene, after the priest gets death threats. Leading Bulgarian politicians refrain from commenting on the case. Not a single one defends Cortese and the Syrian refugees. But in September, Cortese returns to Belene, in December he receives the ‘Human of the Year’ award by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

An argument about caretaker Prime Minister Gerdzhikov’s dismissal of Georgi Kostov as chief secretary of the Interior Ministry escalates in March. The Prosecutor’s Office in Sofia says on March 9, the dismissal had been lawful, and not political, as Boiko Borissov’s party GERB claims.

As many as 81 former State Security agents are candidate MPs. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

The month of March 2017 would not pass without yet another big scandal: The Bulgarian Dossier Commission says that 81 of the candidate MPs in the March 26 elections had worked for the infamous State Security in communist Bulgaria. The fact that hardly anyone seems to care much is even more scandalous than the scandal itself.

The next scandal of March 2017 is just as big: The Telegraf is a newpaper distributed to a national readership, which is owned owned by the controversial MP and business man Delyan Peevski. That daily distributes a free book called “Thieves of Democracy. They plundered Bulgaria” to its readers, in which two coalitions are being attacked, just days before the parliamentary elections. They are “Yes, Bulgaria!” and “New Republic”.

The Central Election Commission halts the distribution of the book, saying it violated a provision of the Electoral Code that forbids the use of materials that violate the decency, honour and reputation of candidate MPs.

Several scandals erupt around the elections in March. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

The scandals mentioned above were obviously not enough. The radical far-right “United Patriots” start blocking Bulgarian-Turkish border crossings, in order to stop what they call “electoral tourism”, caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov says there was no law to stop it. Still, the “Patriots” try to keep Bulgarian citizens from Turkey from exercising their right to cast their vote.

This is what an election winner looks like: GERB chairman Boiko Borissov.

March 26 is election day. Boiko Borissov’s GERB wins, followed by the Socialists. Businessman Mareshki’s Volya party also makes it into the National Assembly, along with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and the ‘Patriots’. Borissov forms a government coalition with the radicals. Hardly anyone complains about them becoming part of the government.

The election results give GERB 32.65 percent of the votes, the Socialists 27.2, the “Patriots” 9.07, the MRF 8.99 and Volya 4.15 percent. The other parties and coalitions do not manage to jump the 4 percent hurdle.

Year in review 2017: Bulgaria in February

Year in Review 2017: Bulgaria in January

 

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