Europe diary: Westminster and Bulgaria BBC - 2006/5/11
HIGH-SPEED POLICE
In rural Bulgaria it's pretty common to see a farmer making his way to his
fields in a cart pulled by a single old nag. The police in the capital,
Sofia, can rely on a little more horsepower.


Confiscated convertible: Is this your car?
It's the only place I've ever seen the police drive a Porsche convertible.
Complete with blue flashing light and repainted in white with smart blue
stripes. This is not profligacy with public money but something odder. Like
the BMW and Merc driven by the Bulgarian police, it's been stolen somewhere
in Europe, shipped to Bulgaria by criminal gangs, and then confiscated.

So far they've been luckier than one judge, who was proudly going to work in
a top-of-the-range four-wheel-drive until its German owner spotted it and
demanded it back. So if this is your long-lost car do contact the Bulgarian
police. I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear from you.


SNOUTS IN TROUGH
There are squeals and grunts from the pigs greedily pushing each other out
of the way as a fresh juicy bundle of grass is thrown into their pen. But
the farmer here on the Thracian Plain is fed up with politicians and
bureaucrats with their snouts in the trough.

It's hard to get people to tell their tales of corruption, despite the
certainty of many international reports that it is rife

Bulgaria is likely to get a sharp rap on the knuckles for failing to tackle
corruption, and its entry into the EU, planned for 1 January 2007 may even
be delayed. This farmer applied for European Union money to rebuild a
cowshed that had burned down.

According to the rules he should have got half his investment back. He was
turned down, for no apparent reason. Now 20 or so politicians and civil
servants are being investigated for allegedly embezzling the fund to the
tune of around £3m (4.4m euro).

But it's hard to get people to tell their tales of corruption, despite the
certainty of many international reports that it is rife. The man from the
Bulgarian anti-corruption website says he has no concrete examples. When we
ask in exasperation how people can measure corruption, as they do, without
individual stories, we are told "social indices".

The Bulgarian press at least is full of stories. I ask one businessman if
corruption makes it hard for him. "Yes, very difficult". How? He smiles and
looks at me as though I'm an idiot, which I'm sure he thinks I am. "Well,
the bureaucracy can be very difficult." But what does that mean in practice?
"We have long and firm experience of standing up to the bureaucracy," he
says, smiling a sad smile.


DARK HEART

Tobias Jones: He could have been writing about Bulgaria Corruption becomes a problem, not when the odd official can be bribed but
when it becomes impossible to avoid and only holy fools refuse to play the
game. On the way back from covering the Italian elections I read Tobias
Jones's brilliant book, The Dark Heart of Italy.

I'm struck by the similarity between deep problems he identifies in Italy
with what also seems true in Bulgaria. People do not respect the state but
can cringe before authority. They believe, with some evidence, that
politicians are crooks and this justifies their own cheating.

Heavy-handed bureaucracy is subverted by reliance on a clannish network of
family and friends. But is it worse in Bulgaria than other parts of the
world, even dare I say it, than the EU itself?

Author: MARK MARDELL

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