There are likely to be several issues in the campaign ahead of Bulgaria’s October 2022 early parliamentary elections – relations with Russia, energy and Russia’s war on Ukraine among them – but there is one starkly symbolic.
It is one that the Kiril Petkov-Assen Vassilev We Continue the Change (WCC) and the Democratic Bulgaria coalition, as partners in the ousted government, are especially keen to point to – the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint, as a symbol of the fight against corruption.
In late May, the Petkov Cabinet cancelled the contract with private firm Eurolab 2011 for phytosanitary checks of lorries entering Bulgaria from Turkey at Kapitan Andreevo, a contract that had been in place for 10 years.
It was alleged at the time that the company had no video recordings of lorry inspections in the past decade.
The company, which denies wrongdoing, took the matter to court, and in July the Supreme Administrative Court reinstated its business at the checkpoint.
Before that court ruling, in June, then-Prime Minister Petkov said that personal security had had to be assigned to then-deputy agriculture minister Ivan Hristanov – in charge of the border checkpoint case – because Hristanov had received threats to his life over the termination of the contract.
The Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint returned to the headlines in recent days, amid reports of tensions between people from the company and staff of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency at the checkpoint.
Bulgarian National Radio quoted food safety agency head Hristov Daskalov as saying that the company had brought “many young, healthy and strong men” who had occupied the platforms where loading and unloading takes place.
The result was hundreds of lorries being blocked at the checkpoint.
Gendarmerie were deployed to enable the food safety agency staff to carry out their duties.
Caretaker Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev visited the checkpoint on August 7, telling reporters: “Each side accuses the other of various illegal actions, including the presence of individuals from the private company who threaten physical employees of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency”.
According to Demerdzhiev, the situation had been brought under control and the processing of lorries was proceeding “normally”.
There was, in parallel on August 7, no further information following a report by Bulgarian National Television on Saturday night that the website of the food safety agency had been brought down by hackers.
For WCC, there is much to be read into the case of the checkpoint – notably that all that went before is an indictment of Boiko Borissov’s GERB and its near-decade in power.
In a statement on August 7, WCC said: “Something very important for all Bulgarians who want to live as citizens of a democratic Europe and to be able to travel freely in the EU – the end of the private monopoly of Kapitan Andreevo brings Bulgaria one more step closer to Schengen – a priority of the Petkov Cabinet”.
WCC described state control over the border checkpoint as an “important victory”.
The party called for the company to be sanctioned over the blocking of the work of the food agency staff at the checkpoint.
“WCC recalls that for 10 years, the GERB government turned a blind eye to the private monopoly and the numerous problems at the largest land border in Europe and entrance to the EU – despite the signals from European institutions and MEPs,” the party said.
“We ended the scheme that allowed the state to be the golden goose for a select few.
“We made mafia, lobbyist and political circles uncomfortable with our actions. We brought statehood back to the border at the cost of threats, bribe offers, smear campaigns and the overthrow of the government …and the Bulgarian citizens paid for the private interests with the next election,” it said.
WCC said that the tightening of laboratory control that began on May 20 was irreversible “so that people will never again have suspicions they are putting on their table fruits and vegetables with an increased content of pesticides”.
Democratic Bulgaria (DB) also repeatedly has referred to the issue.
DB’s Ivailo Mirchev, in an interview with Bulgarian media in June, also pointed the finger at GERB, saying that the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint, there had been corruption for 10 years “and only the current Cabinet had the courage to stop it”.
After the Petkov government was ousted in a vote of no confidence in June, DB co-leader Hristo Ivanov listed the Kapitan Andreevo case as among the motives for the ouster.
“The underground world is consolidated, they act with precision to overthrow the government, to stop the inspections at Kapitan Andreevo and continue all the frauds in the state that went on during the time of the previous administrations,” Ivanov said.
GERB has not been especially vocal on the Kapitan Andreevo matter.
In June, Miroslav Naidenov – a former agriculture minister in a Borissov government – told local media that the company had been chosen through a procedure by the food safety agency, and he had no hand in the matter.
Naidenov, of course, hardly speaks for GERB. He quit Borissov’s party to found his own, Basta, several years ago, although after Basta was obliterated in the 2014 European Parliament elections (getting about 1700 votes), Naidenov declared for GERB.
According to Naidenov, the state had never lost control of Kapitan Andreevo, but now the laboratory – which he said had operated under seven ministers in 10 years – was being “used in a political battle”.
Well yes, Naidenov’s not especially revelatory point that the checkpoint is being used in a political battle is one that few would attempt to counter.
Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint, as a symbol of the wider issue of the fight against corruption, is a handy, easily understandable emblem for what WCC and DB are trying to convey.
Again, no one need imagine that corruption will be the sole issue in Bulgaria’s October elections – there is a raft of issues to wrangle over – but nor need anyone imagine that this is the last time that the reformist parties will be adamantly pointing to that checkpoint.
(Photo: Border Police)
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