Media freedom under threat in #Bulgaria

| October 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

The presidential elections in the poorest EU member state remain on the periphery of European media attention. These elections, however, are indicative of the state of a shattered Bulgarian political system that has nothing in common with the political alignment or representation of parties in the European Parliament, writes Nikolay Barekov MEP.

barekov

Nikolay Barekov MEP.

After the elections, the crisis in Bulgaria and the establishment of a buffer zone between Europe and Turkey will be on the agenda. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has made a fundamental error, caused by his desire to retain power at least as long as his mentor Angela Merkel. This is also due to his inability to assimilate, rethink, and react to the global agenda. Not surprisingly, he is the source of extremely negative comments and articles in prestigious journals, the most recent one was in Forbes magazine.

The basic technique for Borisov and his media service is to marginalize any author of criticism. As a result, the authoritative Forbes was described as the “writings of one blogger!” by the non-speaking English Bulgarian prime minister. Biased journalists, who receive their salaries from the prime minister, reviled the author as “corrupt and taking money from the opposition”.

The problem is that in Bulgaria there is no real right wing party like the Conservative party in UK, the Christian Democrats in Germany or Republicans of Sarkozy in France. The Bulgarian Prime Minister is not even a faint copy of other right wing eastern European leaders such as Viktor Orban in Hungary or Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland.

Borisov created his GERB party like the former Communist Party of the last and longest-serving communist dictator Todor Zhivkov. Borisov’s career began in the Zhivkov’s Communist party as an ordinary firefighter.  Then his strange biography goes through a very dark period, carefully hidden by the media in Bulgaria, until he appears as a private bodyguard of Todor Zhivkov.

I announced shortly before the Congress of the European Conservatives in Prague shocking evidence that 75% of senior management of GERB were senior members of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP), the most faithful satellite of the former Soviet Union.

By comparison, the true heir of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party (BSP), has a much smaller percentage of ex-communists in their management. Quite naturally, the GERB presidential candidate Tsetska Tsacheva is also a former member and party activist of the Communist Party and current Chairwoman of the Bulgarian Parliament.

According to deep analysis of leading political scientists, the roots of both major parties GERB and BSP could be found 25 years ago in the Communist party. It is argued that the deceased Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov, who was the last Bulgarian politician to be killed, had the idea to separate the party from the State Security (SS) by creating two parallel structured heirs – the left Socialist Party and the right – first UDF and after its decline – GERB.

It is a fact that representatives of the CSS (Communist secret services) killed Lukanov. It is also a fact that in all major Bulgarian parties there are people related to the former communist SS and the sinister Soviet KGB.

Most curious is the fact that agents who have served the communists in SS are in the top echelon of the two opposites – the party of the Turkish minority MRF and VMRO, whose leader and presidential candidate Karakacanov is former agent form the secret services.

Karakachanov already labelled himself as a right-wing politician, but he and his coalition partners were created in the laboratories of the SS. Today they are agents of influence for Russian President Putin. Extreme right Bulgarian nationalists have never condemned the Russian invasion of Crimea and did not support Ukraine.

Although he was advised by his EPP party in the European Parliament to cooperate with the European Conservatives and centre-right parties in Bulgaria being the party of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (EPP), and my party BWC (member of the ACRE) Borisov chose after winning the election to enter into coalition with illegitimate European parties.

He made a coalition with the party of former President Parvanov (extreme left) who directly protects the interests of Putin in Bulgaria and several smaller parties of Bulgarian nationalists who also gravitate in the sphere of Russian interests.

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov

Due to many corruption scandals in the government and resignations of MPs, Borisov and his party GERB is forced to rely on the votes of the extreme nationalist party Ataka, whose leader is known by European politicians and Bulgarian citizens for convictions for his hooliganism, his xenophobia, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. It is important to note that these parties do not belong to any serious European political family.

Against this background, the Bulgarian energy dependence on Russia increases and there is a lack of any alternative sources of gas and oil. There is a risk that in a few years Bulgaria will have to rely on Russian gas imported from Turkey, as Bulgaria currently owes Russia more than 500 million euro due to the stopped project for a nuclear power plant in Belene.

There is no real opposition to GERB in the parliament, but for the presidential elections two of the three main parties – BSP and MRF nominated strong candidates.

Along with extreme nationalists, they will fight for runoff. Some senior Socialists describe the left wing candidate Gen. Rumen Radev (former Bulgarian air force commander) as “cat in a bag” but for the ordinary citizens, he is an honorable man with a perfect career in the army who has completed numerous courses in NATO and the United States. In contrast to the rapid rise of Borisov with the protection of politicians, Radev has built alone his career and people like him for his direct speaking and uncompromising criticism towards the intellectually unsophisticated actions of the prime minister.

He has the best chances amongst the opposition to become a president. It will cause pre-term parliamentary elections, because the country is currently immersed in political chaos. Many soiled right wing voters declared that they would vote for the left wing Radev against right wing Tsacheva.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which is supported by the minority of Bulgarian Turks, is a member of the ALDE group in the EP and will be a decisive factor which will tip the runoff between left candidate Gen. Radev and candidate of GERB Tsacheva.

Like Putin, Borisov promised the Bulgarians stability, but instead delivers post-communist stagnation. During his almost eight years in power he has not taken any serious steps toward judicial or any other reform. Consequently, Bulgaria is the last country under constant monitoring by the European commission.

Huge loans that the government accumulated over the last two years will in 2017 to exceed 15 billion euro. This will be the first “right wing” government that governs in a left wing fashion, spending external money indiscriminately and leading Bulgaria towards financial collapse.

Special attention in Bulgaria should be paid to the judiciary and media freedom. Bulgarian media, large televisions and newspapers are practically dependent on the government. According to “Reporters without Borders – media freedom 2009” Bulgaria ranked in 68th place but in 2016 occupies 113th place. It means that during the governance of Boyko Borisov media freedom has collapsed twice. At the same time, he cynically stated that there was no “bigger democrat than him” and that journalists have no grounds even to think of one criticism of him.

The newspaper market is in full decline and last year a few of the oldest publications went into bankruptcy. Opposite to the serious press, some yellow newspapers are widely spread and instead of political analysis and commentary, deal with rumors and slanders against awkward to the government politicians. Tabloids acts as an image maker and PR of Prime Minister Borisov, who takes the law into his hands and ruins the image of every politician who opposes him.

To outward appearance, large television channels in Bulgaria are owned by Western media concerns, but the two national television’s editorial policy is managed behind the scenes by journalists close to the government. It will not be wrong to say that the key journalists who form public opinion in Bulgaria by two private TV (Nova TV and BTV) have a parallel business, sponsored by the government, often from EU funds.

It should be emphasized that the Bulgarian government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov buys media influence and journalists with EU funds. This happens because the lack of a stable economy stagnates the advertising market and virtually all private television channels operate at a loss and are not able to make any profit in order to support themselves.

Recently Borisov told journalists on TV, even without being asked, that one prominent Bulgarian oligarch and investor personally influenced the selection of the economic and financial team of ministers in the first government. The oligarch felt scandal and reacted immediately, but the above-mentioned journalists and the most media turned a deaf ear!

There are several major information sites that try to be a corrective to the politicians, but are obscured by yellow gossip news agencies, which are close to the government.

In media terms, the greatest critic of Borisov is the well-known caricaturist named Komarnitski. He publishes every day cartoons in a newspaper with a small circulation but enjoys great interest on the Internet. Absurdly enough, even with all his power the prime minister often gets nervous because of him.

It is imperative the European Commission continues the monitoring of Bulgaria in the field of media freedom because the money of the European taxpayer, as already noted, is being spent to buy media calm and criminal trade with influence.

In fact, the censorship in Bulgaria has reached North Korean levels. With regard to the “Chieftain” nothing can be said except only positive epithets and praise for his successes. On the other hand, for his diminishing opponents only discrediting, insulting epithets and qualifications are published.

In reality, in Bulgaria serious journalists are not challenging government power but “correct” already scrawny opposition by further crushing it. Journalists from major media attack i opposition leaders seen inconvenient for the government and constantly vaunt Borissov’s successes on the world scene.

The truth is that the campaign for the presidential election began with huge failure, namely the second nomination in the face of Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva for Secretary-General of the United Nations. With this ridiculous move Borisov devastated the chances of both Bulgarian candidates. Currently Bulgarian political life is a mixture of insults and invective mutual attacks between politicians, who are either in power or play the role of opposition.

The danger is that Bulgaria is serving as a bad example for the rich and developed European countries. In other words, not every country who joints the EU can achieve high democratic and economic standards.

Many analysts believe that Borisov is a puppet of the European leaders Juncker and Merkel. He calls them “bosses”. The danger is that Bulgaria will be turned into a buffer zone between Europe and Turkey to serve as “territory – reservoir” for refugees, who Erdogan is ready to overflow at any moment in Europe.

In order to stop Erdogan’s racketeering European leaders are ready to build a buffer zone between their countries and Turkey. Meanwhile Borisov agrees to offer his services as long as the Europeans do not deal with the lack of democracy, rule of law and failure to comply with European standards in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is emerging as a very bad example of a political class that enjoys the benefits of EU funds, but does nothing for the good life of its citizens. On the contrary, democracy is being ruined and the political elites became obscenely rich. The repressive state machine is often used to take the law in its own hands with inconvenient opponents. The confidence in all institutions is ruined.

The recent good news is that the Chief Prosecutor of Bulgaria has launched several investigations against key politicians from the major parties and brought charges of corruption against two energy ministers – one member of GERB and the other – the BSP. Does he have enough time and will he be able to resist the political pressure in order to come to complete the investigation of thefts and frauds?

It should be noted that the lack of a pluralistic media environment distorts the presidential campaign. Instead of talks on the main issues, we hear only insults and personal attacks.

No serious party or serious presidential candidate cannot respond to the key issues facing society, namely:

How will Bulgaria emerge from the severe political crisis and stalled reforms in the area of law, healthcare and public administration?

 Does Bulgaria have a response to the destiny drawn by European leaders destiny to become a reservoir for refugees and a buffer zone between Europe and Turkey?

Bulgarians only know that in order to please the “bosses” as Prime Minister calls them, and not be asked to account for grand corruption in the management of EU funds, the government is ready to do all what Europe asks them.

What will the response of the Bulgarian political elite be to the growing claims of Russian influence in Bulgarian politics and economy as a result of the aggressive expansionist policy of Russian President Putin?

Boyko Borisov and his opponents have contradictory policy towards Russia. Borisov himself often fawning and praising Putin from Sofia and on the contrary from Brussels acting as a hawk against him. This hypocrisy makes even his loyal American partners withdraw their confidence from him.

In fact, President Rosen Plevneliev who oppose Russia and Putin’s policies was suspended and removed from the election campaign for a second term by his own party GERB. It is interesting if the “European rulers”, as Borissov calls them – namely Chancellor Merkel, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the EPP Joseph Daul -, have asked Borisov what is his real policy towards Russia and the full energy dependence of Bulgaria on Russian gas, oil and uranium.

The oil market in Bulgaria is entirely dominated by the Russian company “Lukoil” and since GERB came to power after BSP, the Russian monopoly in petroleum remained at 100%

Bulgaria is a country with an aging population and is practically on the verge of a demographic disaster. Over 2 million. Bulgarians have fled their country for economic reasons. One third of the Bulgarian population today consists of Muslims and people of Turkish and Roma ethnic origin. This serves only as an ideological platform of ultra-nationalists, but none of the Bulgarian politicians actually debate this and do nothing with regard to this problem. The politicians rely on easily obtaining the votes of poor people and those of minorities.

Ahead of Bulgaria and its politicians are many unknowns. GERB is expected to lose the elections because of their unconvincing government. The pre-term parliamentary elections do not indicate that there will be a way out of the worst political gridlock.

Ten years ago, at the time of Bulgaria’s entrance into the European Union, the prominent British MEP, and rapporteur for Bulgaria, Geoffrey van Orden made the metaphorical comparison to Bulgaria as a swamp full of crocodiles. Billions of euros of European funds were spent since then, but the swamp became even more grim, the crocodiles grew enormously and began to eat each other…

It is expected that the economic and political crisis in Bulgaria will become such a problem soon as to cause debate in the European Parliament. The European Commission and the European Council will have to decide whether to apply precision surgery to Bulgaria in order to fight the corruption and oligarchy or to activate Plan ” B “, where Bulgaria is likely to be isolated and fall into the third category in the future EU.

Nikolay Barekov MEP is a former journalist of long standing at the most watched Bulgarian television bTV, political analyst, Director of News and CEO licensed from CNN News7 and TV 7, leader of the Political party “Bulgaria without censorship”, Member of the European Parliament, member of ITRE committee, deputy member of ENVI committee, member of Iran delegation.

 

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Category: A Frontpage, Bulgaria, EU

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