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Bulgaria should designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization

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When Mustafa Kyosov arrived at work on 18 July 2012, he did not expect it to be his last day on the job. Originally from Yurukovo in southwestern Bulgaria, Kyosov worked as a tour bus driver around the popular resort city of Burgas on the Black Sea. The hardworking Bulgarian was helping Israeli tourists board his bus at the Sarafovo airport when a bomb placed by an operative of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah exploded write Toby Dershowitz and Dylan Gresik.

Kyosov and five Israelis, including a pregnant woman, were killed, and nearly 40 others were physically injured. Many more were left psychologically wounded, as witnesses described the blast sending body parts and blood flying through the air.

After eight years, on 21 September, a Bulgarian court convicted two Hezbollah operatives, Meliad Farah and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, for providing the explosives and logistical support for the attack, sentencing them in absentia to life in prison without parole. For Kyosov’s grieving parents, the sentences are not enough. And it should not be enough for Bulgaria either.

“He left at the age of 36 – left his child, left his wife, and left us alone,” said Mustafa’s mother, Salihe Kyosova, according to 24 Chasa. “Nothing will bring him back; it doesn’t matter what the sentences are.”

Immediately after the bombing, while the Bulgarian government’s thorough investigation determined that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack, in its 2020 trial the court did not name or indict Hezbollah . The Lebanon-based terrorist group’s logistical and financial support of the bombers enabled it to carry out this deadly attack on Bulgarian soil that claimed the life of a Bulgarian citizen.

The conclusive evidence forced the European Union to acknowledge the organization’s threat to the continent – with the EU designating the group’s so-called “military wing” as a terrorist group in 2013. This partial designation, which hinges on a false division of the unitary entity, left a gap in the EU’s efforts to hold Hezbollah accountable.

While the court’s recent verdict of these two operatives is an important first step, Bulgaria is now at a crossroads.

Bulgaria can acquiesce to intimidation by Hezbollah, as some European countries have done, fearing retribution for sanctioning the organization. These governments may wrongly believe that by settling for a partial designation, they can avoid future attacks.

Or Bulgaria can take a different path. Designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in its entirety – in addition to freezing its financial assets, banning fundraising activities, and expelling its members – would help undermine Hezbollah’s legitimacy and protect the EU’s citizens.

Since the 2012 attack, momentum to hold Hezbollah accountable has been building throughout the world. Bulgaria, and the EU itself, have an opportunity now to close the accountability gap.

Confronted with indisputable evidence of Hezbollah’s malign activity on its own soil, a once-hesitant Germany recently sanctioned the group in its entirety. Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Serbia have also recently banned the terrorist group. In recent weeks, Estonia, Guatemala, and Sudan have done the same, joining the United States, Canada, Argentina, Bahrain, Colombia, Honduras, Israel, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Paraguay, and the United Kingdom. Worldwide, over 15 countries – along with the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council – have designated the entirety of Hezbollah.

The government of Bulgaria has the ability to do so as well. Its Council of Ministers can add the entirety of Hezbollah to the sanctions list under Bulgaria’s anti-terrorism laws.

Doing so would not only be an important measure of justice for the victims but also for Bulgaria itself. Bulgaria’s 2016 decision to add Farah and Hassan to its terrorism list was a step in the right direction.

In September, a US official announced that since 2012, Hezbollah has stored and transported ammonium nitrate throughout Europe – the explosive ingredient used in the Burgas attack. Since 2015, authorities in the UK, Germany, and Cyprus have seized stockpiles of ammonium nitrate, reportedly intended for use by the terrorist group.

Ammonium nitrate is the chemical compound that caused the massive August 4 explosion in Beirut, which killed nearly 200 people and caused billions of dollars of damage. In response, the Lebanese people have spoken with their feet and their voices: Years of fear and accommodation have given way to widespread demonstrations to protest Hezbollah’s terrorism, corruption, and malfeasance in Lebanon.

The time is right to reemphasize a new approach to stop Hezbollah’s malign conduct and not allow Hezbollah to operate with impunity on European soil.

There is no compensation or sentence that can bring back Mustafa Kyosov or the five Israeli tourists. To ensure true accountability, pursue lasting justice, and deter future terrorist attacks on its soil, Bulgaria can, however, designate Hezbollah in its entirety and encourage its EU partners to do the same.

Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Dylan Gresik is a government relations analyst. Follow them on Twitter @tobydersh and @DylanGresik. FDD is a non-partisan think tank focusing on national security and foreign policy.

All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the authors, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.

Bulgaria

Election weekend in Eastern Europe brings unexpected change and hope for progress

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On Sunday (11 July), Bulgarians went to the polls for a second time in less than six months after former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov failed to form a governing coalition following April’s parliamentary election, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

With 95% of ballots tallied, former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's GERB center-right party came out first winning 23.9% of the vote, according to data provided by the Central Election Commission.

Borisov's party is neck and neck with the newcomer anti-establishment party "There is such a people" (ITN), lead by singer and television presenter Slavi Trifonov.

Borissov’s narrow lead might not be enough for him to retake control of government.

Anti-corruption parties "Democratic Bulgaria" and "Stand up! Mafia, out! ”, ITN's potential coalition partners received 12.6% and 5% of the vote, respectively. The Socialists obtained 13.6%, and the MRF party, representing ethnic Turks, 10.6%.

Some political pundits have speculated that ITN, Trifonov's party - which avoided forming a governing coalition in April - could now try to form a majority with the liberal alliance Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia out! parties. This would see a populist party with no clear political agenda taking power. However, the three parties may not get the majority needed to form a government and may be forced to seek support from members of the Socialist Party or the Movement for the Rights and Freedom of Ethnic Turks.

Boiko Borisov's GERB center-right party which has been in power for almost the entire past decade has been tainted by graft scandals and the continuous nation-wide protests which only ended in April.

In Republic of Moldova, president Sandu’s pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity secured a majority of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. As Moldova is trying to get out of Russia’s grip and head towards Europe, the election struggle again saw pro-Europeans and pro-Russians locking horns. The two directions are antagonistic and were an additional reason for the division of society, which fails to find its link to build together the future of the poorest state in Europe.

More than 3.2 million Moldovans were expected to get out and vote to nominate their representatives in the future parliament in Chisinau, but the real impact was done by Moldavians living abroad. Moldovian diaspora help Sandu’s pro-European party secure the win and thus possibly opening the way for Republic of Moldova future European integration.

More than 86% of Moldovan citizens abroad, who voted in Sunday's early parliamentary elections, backed President Maia Sandu's Action and Solidarity Party (PAS). A PAS victory offers Sandhu a friendly legislature to work with while trying to put the country on a path to European integration.

Maia Sandu promised before the Sunday vote that a win for her party would bring the country back into the European fold, focusing on better relations with both neighboring Romania and Brussels.

Much like it happened during November’s vote which saw Maia Sandu winning the presidency, Moldavians living aboard made all the difference as a good many voted for pro-European candidates.

Talking to EU Reporter, Armand Gosu, associate professor at Bucharest University and specialist in the ex-Soviet region said about the pro-European win that “this victory creates the preconditions for a new wave of reforms, especially in the judiciary and the fight against corruption, reforms aimed at creating a favorable internal framework for foreign investment that will ultimately lead to an increase in living standards, the rule of law and a high degree of resilience in the face of foreign interference. Sunday’s result is a start, there have been other such beginnings, but in order to lead somewhere, the EU must also change its approach and offer a concrete perspective.”

Armand Gosu told EU Reporter that “Republic of Moldova is invited to reform itself, to enter into various cooperation mechanisms with the EU, to open its market for European products and to become more and more compatible with EU standards“ but becoming a potential EU member country may take many decades to happen.

Mentioning the Russian influence in the Republic of Moldova, Gosu said that we will see a clear detachment from Russian sphere of influence after the final results are in and after we will have new parliamentary majorities.

“When speaking about Russian influence, things are more complicated. The false pro-European governments that held power in Chisinau -referring to the ones controlled by the fugitive oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc- abused the geo-political discourse, the anti-Russian rhetoric in order to legitimize themselves in front of the West. Maia Sandu's party is pro-European in another way. She talks about the values ​​of the free world and not about the Russian threat as a pretext to limit civil liberties, to arrest people and to outlaw associations or even parties. I believe that Maia Sandu has a correct approach, making profound reforms that will fundamentally transform Moldovan society. In fact, the premises for Moldova's exit from Russian sphere influence were created 7 years ago, after the outbreak of the war between Ukraine and Russia, in the spring of 2014. The result of the vote indicates a social demand from society to move towards West, to support radical change, 30 years after independence.”

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Bulgaria

No clear winner emerges from Bulgarian parliamentary election

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A woman walks past election billboard of Democratic Bulgaria party in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 8, 2021.  REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
A man votes during a snap parliamentary election, at a polling station in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Spasiyana Sergieva

Bulgaria's parliamentary elections failed to produce a clear winner on Sunday (11 July), exit polls showed, with the new anti-elite party There Is Such a People (ITN) narrowly ahead of the centre-right GERB party of former premier Boyko Borissov, writes Tsvetelia Tsolova.

Bulgaria's second election since April reflects deep divisions in the European Union's poorest member state over the legacy of Borissov's decade-long rule.

Many have turned to anti-establishment or anti-graft parties in hope of more resolute action against pervasive corruption, blaming Borissov, 62, for turning a blind eye or even supporting powerful oligarchs.

But GERB continues to benefit from public support for its efforts to modernise the crumbling infrastructure and road network and to bolster public sector pay.

A survey by Gallup International showed ITN, led by popular TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov, on 23.2%, ahead of GERB who were on 23%. Alpha Research put also ITN ahead on 24% and GERB at 23.5%.

Even if official results confirm GERB as the largest party, its chances of forging a ruling coalition are slim, political observers say. GERB came in first in an inconclusive election in April, winning 26.2%, but was shunned by other parties.

ITN may be better positioned, with the support of its likely partners, two small anti-graft groupings, Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia Out!

But weeks of coalition talks, or even another election, are now possible, meaning Bulgaria may face difficulty tapping the European Union's multi-billion euro coronavirus recovery package or approving its 2022 budget plans.

GERB was quick to concede its chances to return to government were slim.

"We will continue to work for what we believe in, no matter what role the voters have decided for us. Actually, to be an opposition is a fair and an honourable way to defend one's principles," GERB deputy leader Tomislav Donchev told reporters.

Daniel Smilov, a political analyst with Centre for Liberal Strategies, said a coalition led by ITN may be 5-10 seats short to be able to govern without the support of long-established groupings such as the Socialists or the ethnic Turkish MRF.

"Forming a government will be very difficult," he said.

The protest parties, which want to foster close ties with Bulgaria's allies in NATO and the European Union, have promised to revamp the judiciary to cement rule of law and ensure proper use of funds due to pour in as part of the EU's coronavirus recovery package.

Bulgaria has had a long history of corruption, but a number of recent scandals and the imposition of U.S. sanctions last month against several Bulgarians for alleged graft have dominated the campaign.

The current interim government, appointed after the April vote, has accused Borissov's cabinet of spending billions of levs of taxpayer money without transparent procurement procedures, among other shortcomings.

GERB denies wrongdoing and says such accusations are politically motivated.

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Bulgaria

Eastern Europe has some of EU’s most polluted cities - What are the challenges facing the region and what solutions exist?

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According to Eurostat, the highest concentration of dangerous fine particles is in urban areas of Bulgaria (19.6 μg / m3), Poland (19.3 μg / m3), Romania (16.4 μg /m3) and Croatia (16 μg / m3), writes Cristian Gherasim.

Among EU member states Bulgaria’s urban areas hold the highest concentration of fine particles, way above the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Northern Europe holds the lowest levels of fine particle pollution with PM2,5 in the EU. Estonia (4,8 ľg/m3), Finlanda (5,1 ľg/m3) şi Suedia (5,8 ľg/m3), hold the top places for the cleanest air.

PM2.5 is the most dangerous of the pollutant fine particles, with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns. Unlike PM10 (ie 10 micron-sized particles), PM2.5 particles can be more harmful to health because they penetrate deep into the lungs. Pollutants such as fine particles suspended in the atmosphere reduce life expectancy and well-being and can lead to the appearance or worsening of many chronic and acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Romania has some of the hardest hit areas in the European Union by various air pollutants.

Air pollution

According to a study published in March by the global air quality platform IQAir, Romania ranked 15th amongst the most polluted countries in Europe in 2020, and the capital city of Bucharest ranked 51st worldwide. The most polluted capital in the world is Delhi (India). On the other hand, the cleanest air can be found on islands in the middle of the ocean, such as the Virgin Islands and New Zealand, or in the capitals of the Nordic countries Sweden and Finland.

Bad news regarding Romania comes also from the air quality monitoring company, Airly, which singled out Poland and Romania for some of the highest levels of pollution on the continent. The report also found that Cluj, another city in Romania is no listed amongst the most polluted cities in the EU and even holds top spot when it comes to nitrogen dioxide pollution.

According to the European Environment Agency air pollution is the highest health risk in the European Union, with around 379,000 premature deaths due to exposure. Power plants, heavy industry and increased car traffic are the main causes of pollution.

The European Union has appealed local authorities to better monitor air quality, to spot sources of pollution and promote policies that limit pollution by cutting down on traffic.

Brussels has already targeted Romania over air pollution. It launched legal action over excessive air pollution levels in three cities: Iasi, Bucharest and Brasov.

A London based NGO that specializing in sustainable behavior change says in urban areas people have to make decisions for a lifestyle favoring better air quality and the environment: choosing to travel by car sharing, with bicycles or electric scooters, instead of cars.

Waste management

In Eastern Europe, air pollution together with poor waste management and low levels of recycling has created a dangerous concoction. In Romania, next to air quality, the low level of recycling requires local authorities to step in.

It’s infamous that Romania is one of the European countries with the lowest levels of waste recycling and local authorities are required to pay significant amounts of money annually in fines for non-compliance with EU environmental regulations. Also, there is a legislative proposal that would mean that a certain tax for plastic, glass and aluminum packaging would be applied from next year.

EU Reporter previously presented the case of Ciugud community in central Romania that aims to reward recycling by using a locally developed cryptocurrency.

The virtual currency, eponymously named CIUGUban – putting together the name of the village with the Romanian word for money- will be used in its first stage of implementation solely to repay citizens that bring plastic containers to recycling collection units. CIUGUban will be given to locals bringing plastic, glass or aluminum packaging and cans to the collection centers.

Ciugud community is indeed answering EU’s call that local communities to step in and take change of their environmental issues.

As previously reported, in Ciugud the first such unit that gives cash for trash has already been set up in the local schoolyard. In a post on the Facebook of Ciugud Town hall, authorities mentioned that the unit is already full with plastic waste collected and brought there by kids. The pilot project is implemented by the local administration in partnership with an American company, one of the world's leading manufacturers of RVMs (Reverse Vending Machines).

When the project was launched earlier this month, officials mentioned that the deft approach is meant to particularly educate and encourage kids to collect and recycle reusable waste. According to the press release, children are challenged to recycle as much packaging as possible by the end of the summer holiday and to collect as many virtual coins as possible. At the beginning of the new school year, the virtual coins collected will be converted so that children will be able to use the money to finance small projects and educational or extracurricular activities.

Ciugud thus becomes the first community in Romania to launch its own virtual currency. The endeavor is part of a larger local strategy to turn Ciugud into Romania’s first smart village.

Ciugud is planning to go even further. In the second phase of the project, the local administration in Ciugud will set recycling stations in other areas of the commune, and citizens could receive in exchange for virtual coins discounts at village shops, which will enter this program.

Ciugud Town Hall is even analyzing the possibility that, in the future, citizens will be able to use virtual currencies to receive certain reductions in taxes, an idea that would include promoting a legislative initiative in this regard.

"Romania is second to last in the European Union when it comes to recyling, and this means penalties paid by our country for not meeting environmental targets. We launched this project as we want to educate the future citizens of Ciugud. It is important for our children to learn to recycle and protect the environment, this being the most important legacy they will receive," said Gheorghe Damian, the mayor of Ciugud Commune.

Speaking to EU Reporter, Dan Lungu, town hall representative, explained: “The project in Ciugud is part of several other endeavors designed to teach recycling, green energy and protecting the environment to kids. In addition to CiugudBan, we also set up an “Eco Patrol”, a group of school kids that go into the community and explain people about the importance of recycling, how to collect waste, and how to live greener.”

Dan Lungu told EU Reporter that only through getting kids involved they managed to collect and recycle more from Ciugud citizens. The second phase of the project will get a local vendor involved as well, offering in exchange for CiugudBan goods and services to locals.

“And in the third part of the project we want to use CiugudBan to pay taxes and public servicec,” he told EU Reporter.

It remains to be seen is such small scale projects throughout Europe would be enough the efficiently tackle the environmental challenges facing Eastern Europe.

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