The current government in Bulgaria and the GERB party must be removed from power, says National Assembly of Bulgaria Vice President Kristian Vigenin (pictured). In this interview he drew parallels between the protests in Bulgaria and Belarus. Mr Vigenin pointed out that the current Prime Minister Boyko Borisov came to parliament only twice this year and his actions are unconstitutional,write Polina Demchenko and Vladyslav Grabovskyi.
In the Morning Block on the BNT TV channel you claimed you would become the “inner voice” of the protesters in parliament. What is this voice?
The main demands of the protest are the resignation of the Boyko Borisov government and the chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, also the holding of early elections, which must be organized by the service government. We declared that we, as a party, as a parliamentary group, will be the voice of the protesters within parliament, and since the time we support their demands with the parliamentary instruments that we have at our disposal, we are trying to support the demands of the protest.
Mr. Vigenin, did you take part in the protest?
I and a lot of my colleagues are participating in the protest rather more than citizens. In fact, we act as a link between the protests on the streets by the people and the parliament. For the first time, a very broad form is demonstrated between representatives of different from each other, formations, which, together with the support of the president, want real changes in Bulgaria, that the motto passed through the first protest, is relevant to this day, the forces of ”Mutri” are out!”.
(It is worth noting that the credo said by Kristian Vigenin, is translated as “Bandits out!”; or “Down with the bandits!”; The word “mutra” has its own meaning in Bulgarian, which can be roughly translated as a classic bandit from the nineties.)
We believe that this semi-mafia model of government that has been built in Bulgaria, the model that the mafia controls all institutions, must be overcome, and for this to happen, the current government and the GERB party must be removed from power. This is the overall picture.
And if the GERB party does not stop existing, does not resign? What the reaction of citizens might be to your mind?
The protests have been going on for three month, people do not get tired of protesting. It is more and more difficult to hold on to the authorities, because apparently it is closing in on the defensive, in isolation. At the same time, it is becoming more and more difficult for them in parliament, as we, as the second largest parliamentary group, decided not to register, in fact not to participate, but rather to sabotage the activities of the National Assembly.
Several times it was not possible to recruit the required number of deputies by the beginning of the meeting, since at least 121 people’s representatives were presented to attend. And they are increasingly counting on political forces. For example, on September 16, the parliament, after all, began working, as we gathered. But even then, the president’s activities were on the edge.
We were here, but did not register, and one of the other political groups did not register neither. In such an environment, when the protests outside and the fickle work of the Assembly inside, it is believed that the GERB will not survive for long. But we still have to wait and see the outcome. In addition, the politician added that today the opinion in parliament is very dependent on one small formation, whose chairman was sentenced to a 4-year term in parliament for extortion and racketeering. This sets the mood for itself in parliament.
The Bulgarian president said that the current Cabinet of Ministers is the role of the Prime Minister’s attendants. Do you agree with this statement?
In fact, this is so, I said that the management of the GERB party has turned into an appendage of the executive branch. Parliament executes everything that the government orders, specifically the prime minister, the chairman of the GERB party. At the same time, the prime minister does not come to report to parliament.
The questions that we introduce into the quality of control in relation to it are deviation. This year, Boyko Borisov came to parliament only twice, although the prime ministers came to the country literally in a week and answered questions from the people’s representatives. Borisov’s actions are unconstitutional, since the supreme body in Bulgaria is the National Assembly.
And how does he remain prime minister without fulfilling his duties?
This is how he understands his responsibilities and does not think that he should notify the Bulgarian parliament. Usually, when there are comparatively important questions, Boyko Borisov sends someone from the deputy prime ministers, but he thinks that he is “above that”.
One gets the impression that the so-called “game” is designed to ensure that President Rumen Radev is re-elected. Is it so?
The President is still the most popular political figure in Bulgaria. Protests began in defense of the presidential institution when the chief prosecutor sent his subordinates to the presidency. People perceived this as an encroachment on the presidential institution and an encroachment on the president himself.
Rumen Radev is not shy and not afraid to point out the mistakes of the Prime Minister and the executive branch in general, to point out problems in the system. Of course, those whose mistakes he points out do not like this. They are doing everything they can to push him into the corner of the political arena, but they fail. People, including representatives of right-wing political formations, see hope in him. They believe that he can overcome this oligarchic, mafia model of government in Bulgaria.
How can you characterize the system that is currently built in Bulgaria?
I think that the citizens of Ukraine would easily understand it, since I see that the Ukrainian and Bulgarian systems of government are similar. I am not talking about any specific political situations in Ukraine, but I am talking about the fact that in fact big business and oligarchy control management. I believe that this hinders the development of the country, and we must get rid of this.
In Ukraine, in 2014, Kiev hosted the Revolution of Dignity - Euromaidan. It all started with the same peaceful rallies and protests, and ended with the “Heavenly Hundred”. How to prevent such a sad outcome? After all, judging by the mood of your protesters, they are not going to retreat.
Similarities can be found in both situations. But, I do not think that we have the prerequisites for the escalation of protests. I believe that the fact that Bulgaria is a part of the European Union, the long traversed path in democratization, and the establishment of institutions will help us cope without violence. But one cannot deny the fact that one day violence happened in our country, first of all, by the police, which, in truth, was unexpected for the citizens of Bulgaria.
I believe the violence was deliberately and deliberately provoked by the government. They did this in order to scare the protesters and remove the barriers and barricades that were built at several intersections in the center of Sofia. Of course, here in Sofia, the protests are not as large-scale as they were in Kiev in 2014. The tents, which were dismantled by the police, gave additional motivation and confidence to people that they can achieve something more. Now these barriers are gone. Large protests are organized once a week, the organizers call them “People’s Uprising”.
In general, small promotions take place every day. So, by 7-8 pm, people gather in front of the “National Assembly” building. The next big protest is “People’s Assembly” is scheduled for September 22, the Independence Day of Bulgaria.
Thus, symbolically, people want to show that they can be independent from the mafia and “mutras” (bandits).
Vigenin explained what “mutra” is groups of so-called “bandits” appeared in the early 90s, in Bulgaria. These guys were strong and armed, so they were called “mutra”. Over time, they faded into the background, economic and political life improved. But the Bulgarian prime minister, according to Vigenin, takes its roots precisely from those “dashing” 90s. His past was questionable, which is why protesters call him “mutra”.
As a rule, a leader surrounds himself with people who are close in spirit, those with whom he is used to work. Boyko Borisov did just that. He and his adherents have built a system in which the “mutras” have returned, but not with weapons and bats, but with the mechanisms of state power, but they are doing the same. This both outrages people and makes them protest.
How do you see the development of events?
If we follow normal political logic, then it is necessary that the Prime Minister resigns. He was supposed to do it back in July. In this case, the political environment in which we live in the following way - everything depends on the the prime minister. At the moment he is not interested in what is good for the state, he is not interested in what is good for his own party, but rather he is trying to guarantee himself that he will survive.
Speaking about the word “will survive” you need to understand that it is not only about the political situation, but also about personal security after he leaves power. Borisov will continue to look for such guarantees of security for himself, but no one gives him such guarantees, so he continues to remain at his post and continues to persist as long as it is convenient for him. This is how I personally see the situation; it is quite difficult to understandwhat exactly is going on in the head of the Prime Minister. It all depends on his personal decision, since in the GERB party all decisions are made by him alone.
You said that you often attend protest actions. Can you share your impression of what you see there? What kind of people are there, with what ideas did they come to protest?
Yes, different people come to protest, talk to me. Those who sympathize with us, the socialists, are also protesting, there are also representatives of the right-wing parties, with whom we are political opponents. It so happened that we ended up on the same side of the barricades to speak. As President Rumen Radev said: “We are not talking about the left versus the right, we are talking about respectable people against the mafia.”
And among the venerable people were socialists, right-wingers, and liberals, and this really feels like something new in Bulgarian politics. Of course, the BSP party also made mistakes in the past. But people from every party, adherents of every political leader, are ready to sacrifice, help in overcoming the current government and its legacy. They are ready to set a new course for Bulgaria, as for a free, real European state, in which there will be freedom of speech, freedom of the media - these are things that we are increasingly lacking.
Kristian Vigenin recalled the year 1989, when the leader of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, was removed. This event marked the beginning of the “Gentle Revolution” in the country. Vigenin was then 14-15 years old, he had quite vivid impressions from that year.
There is a feeling that everything is repeated. The feeling of lack of freedom, and the desire for real democracy in Bulgaria, that young people need something different, which their parents could not achieve. As if history had made a circle and the year is 1989 again, which in itself is a rather difficult diagnosis of what happened during those years in Bulgaria. And this is all disappointing, because of the situation in our country that is the part of the European Union.
How does the European Union react to what is happening in your country?
The European Union and European leaders are simply silent. This week there will be a discussion in the European Parliament about what is happening in Bulgaria, after three months the people began to protest.
In conjunction, protests are taking place in Belarus. Do you see similarities in these situations?
Maybe, the protests in Bulgaria has a milder nature, but there are similarities between what is happening here and what is happening in Belarus. Something funny (curious ?) happened. The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, in an attempt to buy himself political time, proposed to develop a new constitution for the country. This is a way to start a process that will allow him to stay in power for a few more months. Literally a day or two later, Lukashenko proposed the same thing in Belarus. This further reinforced the impression that authoritarian leaders have the same set of tools and use them in the same way.
The opinions expressed in the above article are those of the authors alone and do not represent any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.
OLAF recommends recovery of nearly €6 million after alleged abuse of power at Bulgarian ministry
The Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior breached the terms of its grant agreement by using EU money to buy SUVs from older stocks instead of new all-terrain police cars, according to an investigation closed recently by OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office. OLAF has recommended the recovery of nearly €6 million in European funds and that criminal proceedings could be considered against officials of the Ministry.
OLAF’s investigation began in July 2018 following allegations of fraud and the misappropriation of EU funds from the EU Internal Security Fund grant agreement managed by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior. The agreement concerned the delivery of 350 all-terrain vehicles for use by the police.
During the course of its investigation, OLAF collected and analysed all the relevant documentation from the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior and interviewed all the key participants in the preparation and implementation of the tender. All parties concerned in the investigation cooperated fully with OLAF’s investigators.
OLAF discovered that the Ministry of Interior had breached the provisions of the grant agreement by unilaterally changing its conditions. In particular, the Ministry opted to purchase a number of SUVs (sport utility vehicles) instead of the all-terrain vehicles that were the subject of the grant agreement. OLAF also concluded that there were grounds to believe that a criminal act (abuse of power under the Bulgarian Penal Code) affecting the financial interests of the EU could have been committed by officials of the Ministry.
The investigation was closed by OLAF in December 2020 with recommendations to the European Commission (which manages the fund) to recover €5,948,569. Further recommendations were made to the Bulgarian Prosecutors’ Office to consider opening a criminal investigation for abuse of power to the benefit of a third party.
It is for the competent EU and national authorities to examine and decide on the follow-up of OLAF’s recommendations. All persons concerned are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law.
Ville Itälä, OLAF Director-General, said: “Manipulated tenders allowing potential fraudsters to line their own pockets at the expense of citizens is a typical fraud pattern seen by OLAF’s investigators all too often. It is all the more worrying when such a vital public service as the police could have been the victim of this sort of activity, and I urge the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office to give proper consideration to our recommendation of legal action. This would send a clear message that nobody is above the law and that OLAF and its partners across Europe will continue to work tirelessly to protect European taxpayers’ money.”
Commission approves €79 million Bulgarian scheme to support micro, small, and medium enterprises affected by coronavirus outbreak
The European Commission has approved a €79 million (approximately BGN 156m) Bulgarian scheme to support micro, small, and medium enterprises affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The scheme, which will be co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, will be accessible to enterprises active in certain sectors and meeting certain requirements defined by Bulgaria, which have had their activities suspended or limited by governmental restrictive measures to limit the spread of the virus. The amount of grant each beneficiary may receive will be calculated by comparing its turnover (excluding VAT) during the affected period with the same period of the previous year (or the turnover for October 2020, for beneficiaries opened after 1 January 2020).
The grant will amount to either 10% or 20% of that turnover, depending on the beneficiary's sector of activity, up to a maximum of BGN 150 000 (approximately €76,694). The support will help the beneficiaries to cover part of their operating costs and support activities necessary to overcome the shortage of funds or lack of liquidity resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the Bulgarian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the aid will not exceed €800,000 per company; and (ii) aid under the scheme can be granted until 30 June 2021.
The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.60454 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.
EU Cohesion policy: Commission supports the development of the Bulgarian research and innovation ecosystem
On 14 January, the Commission published a set of strategic recommendations to 14 newly created research and innovation (R&I) centres, co-funded by the EU Cohesion policy in Bulgaria. The recommendations aim at improving the management and helping the centres reach financial sustainability. They were elaborated by a team of internationally renowned experts during 1.5-year-long fieldwork, coordinated by the Joint Research Centre, as well as through exchanges with peers from Spain, Lithuania and Czechia.
They will support the Bulgarian authorities and researchers in strengthening the country's R&I ecosystem, building up capacity for transfer and dissemination of knowledge, and strengthening the cooperation between research institutions and businesses in areas like green and digital transitions as well as in advanced medicine. Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Thanks to EU support, these Centres will provide scientific infrastructure and equipment, making them attractive for young Bulgarian researchers. I urge all actors involved to make use of the experts' work, laying the ground for an efficient and modern research and innovation system.”
Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “The EU's investment in the 14 Centres of Competence and Centres of Excellence has a great potential for transformation of the country's economy and its integration in Global Value Chains. I am confident that the findings of the JRC report will be well received by the Centres, and that the government, academia and industry stakeholders will take action to promptly implement its recommendations.”
The initiative has been launched in 2019 and will be extended to other European countries. The Commission is also assisting Member States and regions in designing and implementing their smart specialisation strategies and through the smart specialisation platform. The EU is currently investing €160 million in the centres, in the framework of the 2014-2020 Bulgarian ‘Science and Education for Smart Growth' programme. In 2021-2027 Bulgaria will receive more than €10 billion under Cohesion policy, with a substantial part dedicated to supporting innovation and competitiveness and green and digital transitions.
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