Bribes and local elections
As far as the year past in the spirit of the local elections, it was only natural that corruption related rhetoric should be used in the context of the local elections. The expectations that the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the other parties in opposition will take advantage of the situation never came into being. Just the opposite, prime minister Ivan Kostov responded to all accusations leveled against the incumbents by sayong that there was corruption mainly in the circles of the municipal and judicial powers, rather than in the executive one. Thus quite successfully the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) repelled the attacks of its opponents. Symbolic in this sense was also the conviction of the head of the Municipal Property department in Varna, Ivan Cholakov. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, the maximum punishment for taking bribes, which seemed to be too much even in the eyes of his biggest enemies. In the pre-election campaign the party in opposition was constantly under attack because of its positions in the municipalities. In the big towns, where the strongest opposition on the part of the BSP and the Euroleft was expected, evidence of corruption was often provided against the opponents. This happened with the mayors of Rousse, Dobrich and Bourgas Dimitar Kalchev, Lachesar Rosenov and Yoan Kostadinov respectively. For the same reasons, disclosures for corruption in the administration of the city of Varna were systematically made. In this sense the opposition showed almost no reactions either before or after the local elections and did not include corruption among the incumbents as one of its major arguments for the change in the vote.
The opposition as a corruption object
In the Bulgarian parliament the MPs from the BSP, the Union for National Salvation and the Euroleft used only three times their opportunities to corner ministers and MPs with accusations of corruption. Rumen Ovcharov accused Bogomil Bonev and Valentin Vasilev that they had favoured with their protections firms close to them for cigarette supplies from the Blagoevgrad BT tobacco plant. Ventsislav Dimitrov, again from the parliamentary tribune, claimed that the interior minister had politically protected coffee smuggling, and Dragomir Draganov from the Euroleft claimed that the privatisation of the Elenite resort village was controlled by the head of the budget committee, Jordan Tsonev. The accusations of Ovcharov and Dimitrov would have been forgotten without having any consequences, if Bonev had not filed lawsuits for libel against both of them.
Draganov, on the other hand, was unpleasantly surprised after he was accused of having interests in the Elenite resort himself. The Euroleft was for a second time slapped in the face when the foundation of its MP Stefan Neshev was charged with smuggling in Varna customs. Generally speaking, people from the UDF quite skillfully took advantage of all the resources, made available to them by the fact that they were in power, in order to prove that they were not corrupt. They went on to say that it was their opponents who were actually corrupt, in defiance to the well-known fact that corruption thrives among the incumbents.
The presidency - anti-corruption centre
The blow against the incumbents came from the presidency. At the beginning of August, vice president Todor Kavaldzhiev was the first to talk about corruption among the incumbents. His words were interpreted as a reaction to the pressure, which the UDF exerted on its partners from the Democratic Party and Anastasiya Mozer's Bulgarian Agrarian National Union. Right after the local elections, however, Bulgarian president Peter Stoyanov also took part in the discussions on corruption among the incumbents. Then everything became serious. If it were consistent and persistent, the opposition could have achieved the same results a year ago.
Thus with the topic of corruption Stoyanov returned to big politics. Stoyanov said that some of the reasons why the UDF lost the local elections were the corruption among the ruling majority, the delayed reforms and the arrogance of the incumbents. A week after that the ruling majority and the president concluded a tactical truce, "in order for us not to wash our dirty linen in front of Europe, before we are invited for negotiations."
Stoyanov had already endured the humiliation to blush in front of the majority in parliament, when last year again he accused them of corruption and they required him to provide some proof of his accusations. That is why this time he talked about the concrete and visible dimensions of corruption among the incumbents - the visible effect of profiteering.
The address of Stoyanov made Kostov take some concrete steps - assign to the services to write reports on corrupt politicians. The reports were ready almost right after the official announcement of the invitation for negotiations for EU accession.
The media as a press
Maybe for the first time in the new history of Bulgaria the media proved to be in the position of a true accelerator of changes among the incumbents. The topic about corruption was timidly brought up at the beginning of the year. The publications of the newspapers for the houses of Hristo Biserov and Evgenii Bakardzhiev were only the gossiping part of the discussion. According to a research, conducted by Coalition 2000 among the national media, in February 1999 some 95 articles on this topic were published. In July they were more than 449. According to the report of the coalition, especially during the second half of the year, corruption has become topic No1 for the Bulgarian media. The focus of attention in the mass media was shifted from petty corruption to corruption among the highest-ranking officials, the media stirred up discussions on the laws in the sectors of the legal and economic reforms, and Bulgarian politicians were forced to assume concrete public obligations. The culmination came after the announcement of the president that certain ministers and members of the National Executive Council of the UDF have to be discharged.
Corruption as a wave
The Bulgarian branch of the international organisation Transparency International and the Coalition 2000 initiated the setting up of mechanisms for observing the public opinion. The tendencies, however, which are observed according to their indices, are not at all hopeful. The corruption of state and municipal officials is turning into an even greater problem for Bulgarians. Corruption as a negative phenomenon was ranked only fifth in the summer of 1998 according to the index of Coalition 2000. In February 1999 it was ranked fourth, leaving poverty behind. In the autumn of this year, corruption became the third most important problem for Bulgarian society after unemployment and low incomes, while crime and poverty came after it.
According to the index of Transparency International, Bulgaria keeps its unenviable 63rd place, together with Egypt, Ghana, Romania and Macedonia, in a survey carried out in 99 countries.
250,000 bribes per month
According to the report of the Coalition 2000, every month the Bulgarian population is compelled to give 250,000 bribes for different reasons to different state and municipal officials. The problem turned into an international one when even US president Bill Clinton said from the tribune in front of the Bulgarian parliament that the US would help Bulgaria fight against this phenomenon. Probably, Clinton had in mind the problems of the US firm Kappa Technology in the Sliven-based Decotex.
Kostov against the wall
The chairman of the UDF and Bulgarian prime minister a whole year denied with Balkan stubbornness that there was corruption among the members of the UDF. Alongside with this the Bulgarian society was loosing its confidence in the government and its attempts to deal with the problem. From February to September the confidence in the incumbents dropped by 13 points. Finally, at the insistence of the public and following the accusations of the president, Kostov put up with the fact that changes must be made.
Kostov made a wrong move by forcing the special services to report almost publicly of signals against incumbents. Thus, Kostov got away and repelled the attacks that he did not see the corrupt people in the leading positions of the UDF and the government and transferred the responsibility to the National Service for Fight against Organised Crime and the National Security Service.
Despite the fact that the anti-corruption rhetoric this year was not marked by concrete and grandiose scandals, at the end of the 20th century Bulgaria seems to be absorbed in corruption, investors look with suspicion on Bulgarian economy while petty officials take the blame.
The problem stems from the fact that the observers see a lasting descending tendency in the abilities of the incumbents to handle the problem, while corruption takes more and more firm grounds in the society and business. This will turn into the drama of the year 2000.
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