Bulgaria: ‘Corrupt but carefree’

Written by on December 29, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria: ‘Corrupt but carefree’

Bulgaria will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union within 66 hours after this piece was published. From the perspective of Bulgaria itself, this event is bigger than it is for Brussels, Paris or Berlin, since the Presidency has generally lost some of its excitement by now. But Western Europe does notice it.

In the case of Bulgaria, the Presidency is seen as an opportunity to look at this small country, eleven years after it joined the European Union. Larger publications from Germany, England and other EU countries started sending reporters to Sofia. “Go down there and see what you find.”

What they do find is not entirely new, but the verdict is pretty much unambiguous. Bulgaria was “corrupt, but carefree to the EU”, the German weekly Zeit writes.

“They managed to patch the potholes on the way to the airport. Horse-drawn carriages are supposed to disappear from the view of the city. Even the National Palace of Culture (NDK), a decrepit bunker, was renovated just on time, for 22.5 million euro.”

To the Zeit publication, the biggest problem Bulgaria has, the corruption, can be shown using the NDK: “The prosecution started official investigations against its former director, who is suspected of having abused tax money”, its article reads.

At the NDK, workers were putting up more EU Presidency signs on Thursday. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

The German daily Handelsblatt is far more gentle. Yesterday, it gave readers “Five things you should know about Bulgaria”. The first “thing” is the country’s history. Yes, the Thracians, the Turks, Serdika and all of that. Then, as the second point, the paper lists “challenges”. Bulgaria’s economy was growing, but still the country was the poorest in Europe.

Bulgaria’s EU friendliness is the third point the Handelsblatt makes. A total of 77 percent of Bulgarians supported their EU membership, the article says. “Thing” number four is the Cyrillic alphabet Bulgaria uses. Now to the fifth and last piece of information about Bulgaria: It has “long beaches and good tomatoes”. True.

Le Temps, a daily from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, also explains Bulgaria using the NDK, which was “not only the symbol of a difficult past but also that of the errors of the present. Corruption, for example.”

The Guardian published an article with the headline “Cloud of corruption hangs over Bulgaria as it takes up EU presidency”, which says anti-corruption campaigners feared Brussels was going soft on Sofia, while the presence of “far-right minority parties” in the Bulgarian government also raised concerns.

“According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU”, the Guardian says. The publication quotes Ognyan Shentov, the chairman of the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia: “No one [in Bulgaria] is prosecuting political corruption, there are no ex-government officials in jail. We have reached a stage of state corruption which we describe as state capture.”

Photo at top of page by Imanuel Marcus.

Bulgaria’s EU Presidency: High road and low road

 

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