Alternatives & Analyses: Europe has its problems, Bulgarians need Self-Liberation

Thoughts after the debates on the rule of law in Bulgaria in the European Parliament.

Realism in politics is often perceived as cynicism to those unfamiliar with its insider wheeling-dealing – this is the first thought after Bulgaria’s debate in the EP.

Worth recalling historical pivots – Lyuben Karavelov’s warning – “Our Liberty needs no bishop, but (the rebel) Karadzha”, that is, it will not be sermon, but action, protests, struggle, resistance, perseverance that will bring us freedom. Many of those polled and who “rather support the protests’ but prefer to stay home have sought an excuse for their inaction in the protests’ aesthetic imperfections.  Some of them hoped that the European Parliament’s barrage of criticism would force the Prime Minister to throw in the towel and resign, sparing them the need to protest in the streets, as life returns to normal again.

Another anchor of wisdom in Bulgaria’s history is the words attributed to King Boris III as a universal prescription for its foreign policy – ‘Always with Germany, never against Russia”.

Many historians consider these words  the pinacle of ultimate wisdom, but a closer look will tell this is a logical trap as it assumes that Germany and Russia will never be of different opinions or opponents. The unfortunate proof of such reading is the late King’s fate, after he lost his life trying to balance between the two superpowers.

We are past the tragic phase in Bulgaria’s state oligarchic rule’s recent history , as we have allowed it to happen. Now the country is in the farcical stage, where Bulgarians must prove whether they learn from past mistakes.

What did most expect from Manfred Weber, a representative of Germany’s ruling party over the last 15 years, which has financed and created GERB and Borissov? To admit it was a mistake? The infallible Germans ?! Or to acknowledge that they are accomplices in Bulgaria’s capture by a state-oligarchic model imported from Russia?

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Gerhard Schroeder has been epitomized as the venal German leader, while Manfred Weber passed for a right-winger and pro-Westerner. The difference is blurred.

One wonders where corruption excels – in Bulgaria, where local banks are often the prime targets of criticism in Western media over money laundering in the tens or hundreds of millions, or in Western bank majors like Deutsche Bank that launder Russian mafia and oligarchs’ money in the tens of billions. And this makes German politicians proud?

Similar “German pride” conveniently sheltered the capital of the communist nomenklatura, leaving the debt’s payment to the next generation of protesting and non-protesting Bulgarians.

I bet that the same politicians and banks in Germany will waste no time offering to shelter Borisov’s stolen money and  the money of his circle of oligarchs. If and when GERB falls apart, Manfred Weber will be quick to welcome the next “rightist” Bulgarian MEP and deny ever censuring Radan Kunev.

The pragmatists will explain to the public that the EPP’s game in the European Parliament is not about values, but numbers, i.e., about votes, and Weber still needs the largest Bulgarian party’s MEP votes.

German ruling parties continue funding GERB and its successor editions. They acknowledge Kremlin’s spheres of influence and interests in Bulgaria and prefer to keep at bay the pro-Western and pro-Atlantic parties and political pursuits based on human rights and moral standards.

The Government in Berlin knows damn well who Peevski, Dogan, and Borisov are, how European funds oil the skids of their governance model through corruption and state capture. Yet Chancellor Merkel and EPP’s leader in the EP prefer to ignore the facts. Their “Yes” man Borisov suits them, delivering upon request when needed.

These Berlin elites couldn’t care less whether Bulgaria remains at the bottom of all EU  rankings as long as it buys German goods and services, even if it balances on the edge of a ‘failed’ EU and NATO state. The extreme level of dependence and capture by Russian interests is not a handicap and could be part of the German-Russian strategic bargains. The main reason PM Borissov embarked on the TurkStream extension in Bulgaria, trying to mislead the U.S. administration and the EC by changing its name, was the tacit support he received from the German Chancellor.

Borissov would have never had the audacity to openly implement a Russian project that would prolong Gazprom’s grip on the SEE regional market unless Angela Merkel had a kindred objective – achieving the same for Central and Eastern Europe via the “twin” Nord Stream-2.

The real disappointment with yesterday’s debate stems from many Bulgarians’ subconscious instincts to seek solutions abroad – from a new Savior or Liberator.

The upside from the debate for all protesters is that the general EU public and the media confirmed that the German people and German politicians cherish different values. Debunked myths and failed illusions are equally beneficial to the protests in Bulgaria.

The 45-minute spotlight which shone on Bulgaria in the EP contributed to the internal discussion in the country two essential facts – allies in the fight against corruption, media freedom, and the rule of law are not party-aligned from the left, from the right, or the center.  The second painful revelation – there is no Big Brother; Bulgarians need to revive the high moral and the rebel spirit of the Reunification of 1885 and return to the solid roots of family and community values and solidarity.

Manfred Weber and Boyko Borissov could have a parallel plan resorting to  inattractive and defense, yet effective politics in the EP – hoping to demoralize the protests and force their leaders to agree to Borisov’s exit terms. Current German leaders would undoubtedly prefer not to see their proxies lose their grip on power and find themselves talking to empowered “strangers” in Sofia. This line of thought passes for the assertion of German national interests in certain Berlin quarters.

In the battle against Bulgaria’s corrupt government, the protesters must identify and acknowledge friends and foes, opponents and allies. Bulgarians would detect few of them at the top of the EU bureaucracy, which like a weathervane reflects changes in national political winds.  Natural partners of Bulgarian protesters are EU leaders who insist on greater control and accountability of Borissov and other EU autocratic and corrupt regimes spending EU funds.

Orban’s and Borisov’s nemeses are the Dutch prime minister and the other ‘frugal’ four in the EU.

The social wealth and the mass of personal wealth in autocracies are closely interrelated – when “those at the top” have more, “those at the bottom” have less. Thus poverty becomes an inalienable feature of their model.

Bulgaria’s corruption not only inflicts material loss. Far more significant is the intangible loss – the stolen opportunities and chances for individuals to excel in their pursuits and contribute to their own and to the collective well-being.

Our rightist partners in the EU are not those who pat Borissov on the back, ready to turn a blind eye to his seemingly impervious corruption model but those who cherish meritocracy and discipline, as well as strict and shared control.

If protests succeed in cutting off EU funding to Bulgaria’s parasitic oligarchy or making it conditional on the GoB’s meeting essential EU criteria for the rule of law, media freedom or benchmarks in the fight against corruption – they have achieved their primary mission.

Then what Manfred Weber says does not matter.

Bulgaria’s corruption network does not rely only on EU money. The moment PM Borissov grasped that tough times are ahead at the EU level, he instantly resorted to a BGN 10 B leva new debt program that would reduce his oligarch’s dependence on EU cash. The corruption scheme is exemplified in a recent transfer of one billion leva to the state company Avtomagistrali, ostensibly the construction cost of a  66 km sections of a high way. Then the authorities, bypassing the Public Procurement Act’s control mechanisms, started transferring funds to a list of preselected ‘darlings’ via contracts. No competition, no transparency.

The final act in this EU “Cosi Fan Tutte” opera – these debts are a shared burden to all taxpayers; the personal cash flows end up in private pockets, and the likes of Weber claim this is an acceptable level of corruption.

The moral of the story – every change that comes under external pressure gives birth to a fresh dependence and the next urge for remedial action. Bulgaria’s Liberation from the new Sultans is nobody else’s job but our own.

Ilian Vassilev

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