Archive for the ‘What I’m Reading’ Category

Seven Bulgarian Scandals

30 June, 2009

June 30 (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s Socialist-led government has been plagued by high-level corruption scandals during its four years in power, prompting the European Union to freeze millions of euros in aid for the bloc’s poorest member.

Brussels criticised Sofia for failing to cut links between virtually all political parties and “rings of companies”, a phrase used by Ahmed Dogan — the kingmaker in the ruling coalition and leader of the ethnic Turkish MRF — to explain how parties are funded.

Last year, Transparency International rated Bulgaria the most corrupt EU nation. Despite numerous pledges, Sofia has not convicted a single senior official of graft and has sent to jail only one crime boss since the end of communism in 1989.

Suspected criminals have received temporary immunity from prosecution after registering to run for parliament.

The agriculture and environment ministries, both controlled by the MRF, and the construction and the economy ministries, controlled by the Socialists, have been allegedly involved in some of the most notorious schemes in the past few years.

Here are the main scandals:
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What I’m Reading

30 January, 2009

Novinar, via the Embassy Daily Press Brief:

The top story on front page of the newspaper as well as in other newspapers today is the news that Bulgaria will replenish its gene pool with Danish sperm. The sperm from the EU is of higher quality, says a sub headline to the story. Yesterday at the session of the Parliamentary Commission on Health, Atanas Shterev said that for some years now “Danish babies” are being born in Bulgaria. The reason for this import is in the high requirements to the donors, which decreases the quantity in the sperm banks in Bulgaria. This forces the hospitals to enter into contracts with foreign companies. Pg. 1

Not sure what I should say, so I’m not going to say anything at all.

Border Tensions

28 January, 2009

This doesn’t directly impact me or my work here, but it’s been in the news quite a bit recently. Greek farmers have a beef with Bulgaria, saying they have been flooding the Greek market with cheaper commodities and it’s ruining several farmers. In response, several rouge Greek farmers have set up blockade on the main road to Bulgaria (as well as Macedonia and Turkey) and this has been going on for nine days!

Greek roadblocks anger Bulgaria

Picture (Device Independent Bitmap)

Lorry drivers fear their cargoes will spoil while they wait at the border

Bulgaria has asked the European Commission to intervene because a border blockade by Greek farmers is preventing goods getting through.

In a letter to the commission, Bulgaria said its hauliers were incurring heavy losses and it demanded that Greece open a transport corridor.

The farmers want help from the Greek government as their industry has been hit by low food prices and bad weather.

They say an aid offer worth 500m euros (£468m; $650m) does not go far enough.

The farmers are now into their ninth day of protests, which have also shut border crossings to Turkey and Macedonia.

Bulgaria’s main road transport association, Basat, says it will sue the Greek state for compensation. It estimated that by Saturday the Greek protest had caused Bulgaria losses of nearly 10m euros, not counting losses from non-fulfilment of contracts.

These blockades can also make for some humorous stories, such as:

Greek Farmers Attempt to Invade Bulgaria in Protest, Border Blockaded

Click to enlarge the photo
Greek farmers tried to storm the Bulgarian border after midnight on Thursday. Photo by actualno.com

About 100 Greek farmers with tractors invaded Bulgaria’s territory briefly at about 1 am Thursday close to the Kulata Border Crossing Point, the BGNES news agency reported.

Many of the Greek farmers are reported to have been drunk. Their group was accompanied by teams from three Greek TV channels.

The farmers advanced with 15 tractors through the bridge on the Bistritsa River close to Kulata. They were met immediately by the Bulgarian border police, and told them they wanted to enter into Bulgaria as part of their ongoing protests against falling commodity prices.

So yea, my country got invaded by drunk farmers (not to belittle the plight of the Greeks, but it is amusing). Thanfully, we were able to repel them.

What I’m Reading

16 October, 2008

From The New York Times: “Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Politics is played to the death in Bulgaria, where the lives of politicians can be as cheap as spent bullets and murky business groups wage a murderous struggle for their cut of everything from real estate deals to millions in European aid.

[…]

“Other countries have the mafia,” said Atanas Atanasov, a member of Parliament and a former counterintelligence chief who is a magnet for leaked documents exposing corruption. “In Bulgaria, the mafia has the country.”

By almost any measure, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union. Since it joined last year, it has emerged as a cautionary tale for Western nations confronting the stark reality and heavy costs of drawing fragile post-Communist nations into their orbit, away from Russia’s influence.

It is important to remember that corruption isn’t isolated to any one country or region. Every country deals with corruption at some level or another. That being said, having an (more) honest judicial system and bureaucracy is something we Americans and other Westerner take for granted. True, the US has be rocked by several scandals over the recent years (no-bid contracts, signing statements, political intimidation, etc), the average citizen is rarely involved. In the cases I cited above, those all have occurred in the halls of power. I would be very hard pressed to find one of friends who was forced to bride doctors to get a blood transfusion or a prosecutor to take legal action. In Bulgaria, this is a daily occurrence.

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What I’m Reading

13 October, 2008

Great Moments in Right-Wing Punditry (via Powerline, 8 Aug 2005):

It must be depressing to be Paul Krugman. No matter how well the economy performs, Krugman’s bitter vendetta against the Bush administration requires him to hunt for the black lining in a sky full of silvery clouds. With the economy now booming, what can Krugman possibly have to complain about? In today’s column, titled That Hissing Sound, Krugman says there is a housing bubble, and it’s about to burst…

There are, of course, obvious differences between houses and stocks. Most people own only one house at a time, and transaction costs make it impractical to buy and sell houses the way you buy and sell stocks. Krugman thinks the fact that James Glassman doesn’t buy the bubble theory is evidence in its favor, but if you read Glassman’s article on the subject, you’ll see that he actually makes some of the same points that Krugman does. But he argues, persuasively in my view, that there is little reason to fear a catastrophic collapse in home prices.

Krugman will have to come up with something much better, I think, to cause many others to share his pessimism.

Ha ha! This makes it that much funnier.

What I’m Reading

4 August, 2008

From Novinite: Bulgarian Abbot Shots at Laymen

The abbot of Bulgaria’s Glozhene Monastery, Jeromonk Pankratiy, set the cloister on fire twice on Sunday night after shooting at several visitors.

The atrocities began after a quarrel between Pankratiy and a group of laymen, which drove the priest mad enough to start shooting at them with a gas pistol shortly after midnight.

Few minutes later, the priest went to the monastery’s vestry, set it on fire and run away by his own jeep, which was also burnt in the area of Predela.

Meanwhile, firefighters from the services in Teteven and Yablanitsa managed to extinguish the flames but abbot Pankratyi returned at 6 a.m. and set fire to the vestry once again.

Then he tried to hide but police officers found him after a long search.

The abbot was arrested for 24 hours. He however had to be transported to a hospital in the town of Lovech as his right hand hurt and doctors assumed it could have been broken.

Again: Sometimes I don’t know what to think.

What I’m reading

24 July, 2008

Eschaton: Unconditional Withdrawal:

The local Fox outlet just showed me clips of McCain saying (roughly) “Obama won’t acknowledge that we’ve succeeded [in Iraq]” and “He’s in favor of unconditional withdrawal.”

If we’ve succeeded why can’t we leave? Just who are we at war with and what conditions should we demand before we withdraw? Does any of this make any fucking sense at all?

Stripped and Social Commentary

24 July, 2008

Bulgaria has been stripped of it’s EU funding and PHARE has been suspended. None of this is good news for the people that need the money (the average Bulgarian).

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily leads with a report on the issuance of the EC reports on Bulgaria’s progress on the mechanisms of cooperation and verification and the absorption of the EU funds by emphasizing on what it considered to be the highlights in the reports:

  • EUR 500 m has been frozen, but Bulgaria is not required to return the funds that have already been absorbed;
  • The billions of euro under the cohesion funds are not at risk;
  • Brussels is still waiting to see conviction against corruption and mafia but DANS seems to be working.

Selected reaction from the executive branch (via the DPB):

Deputy PM Miglena Plugchieve is quoted as saying that the EC report conclusion don’t come as a surprise to her but she feels disappointed that the EC has failed to report on what Bulgaria has done in the last few months.

Selected reaction from an opposition party (via the DPB):

DSB’s Ivan Kostov: The expectations that the EC will tone down its criticism were not met. The situation is worse than expected an the only way out of it is the resignation of the whole cabinet.

Selected reactions from EU representatives (via the DPB):

Geoffry van Orden: This is a tremendous disappointment. We treated Bulgaria like a friend and supported is accession although we were well aware that a lot of work still had to be done. That’s why this lack progress is so deeply disappointing to us.

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group: Bulgaria has failed to honor its commitments toward Europe to successfully eradicate corruption and organized crime. It is high time now to untangle the web of conflicts of interests and prove to the rest of Europe, that national policy-makers are not synonymous with corrupt criminals.

Ouch. Those are some stinging criticisms. Though I have to say some of them are justified. In the end, as is the case with all corruption, the people in need of the money will be the one’s most impacted by the freeze.

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Balkan News

23 July, 2008

From CNN: ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Held After Decade-Long Hunt

Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of masterminding the massacre of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the brutal Balkans conflict, has been arrested after more than 10 years on the run.

This news reminded me of an Esquire article I read a while back.

From Esquire: What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Oct. 2000)

In which three American journalists–the author, Sebastian Junger, and John Falk–try to get a little R&R in Bosnia, accidentally almost capture the world’s most-wanted war criminal, are hassled by the CIA, and discover why our government doesn’t really want to catch the bad guys after all.

[…]

How was it that five years after the war in Bosnia had ended, men like Karadzic and Mladic were still at large, despite the presence of twenty thousand NATO peacekeeping forces in the country and the professed desire of the United Nations and every Western government to apprehend them?

Bringing Bulgaria into the picture (Bulgaria shares a border with Serbia):

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily quotes the MoI Chief Secretary Pavlin Dimitrov as denying Serbian press allegations that Radovan Karadzic had hidden in Bulgaria.  Dimitrov said that if that were true, the Bulgarian authorities would have found out about it for sure.  Asked whether an individual by the name of Dragan Dabic (Dragan Dabic was the name used by Radovan Karadzic while hiding in Serbia) had visited Bulgaria, DANS spokesperson Zoya Dimitrova said that this was not a question that the Agency could respond to.

What I’m Reading

18 July, 2008

From the BBC: EU Plans to Block Aid to Bulgaria

The European Commission is planning to block almost $1bn in funds for Bulgaria as a penalty for failing to tackle corruption and organised crime.

A report seen by the BBC warns that millions worth of aid could be lost unless the authorities act decisively.

Bulgaria’s chances of joining the Schengen [border-free zone] area are also at risk.

[…]

[The Commission’s report] concludes that Bulgaria “has to make the commitment to cleanse its administration and ensure that the generous support it receives from the EU actually reaches its citizens and is not siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime”.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have no personal experience with any of this since this type of stuff is way over my head. I work with people in communities and have very little, if any, interaction with the European Union. I’ve noticed more and more headlines regarding Bulgaria have focused on organized crime and corruption. The Daily Press Brief from the US Embassy in the Bulgaria (and made available to Peace Corps Volunteers) shows the daily roundup of Bulgarian news papers have been intently focus on this as well. From everything I’ve read, massive amounts of EU funds to Bulgaria has been siphoned off to corrupt politicians and the mob. What can be most frustrating about this is this the broad daylight some of this stuff occurs. For example, the former Minister of Transportation (who has since lost his job as a result) was accused of stealing EU money earmarked for Bulgaria’s highway projects. He owned a paving company but sold his shares to his brother after he accepted the cabinet post. This company received most of, if not all, the contracts to build and repair Bulgaria’s highways. When pressed on his, he simply replied something to the effect of “It’s my brother’s company, not mine. I have nothing to do with it.” Yeah. Right. As a result of this nepotism, some roads are still in horrible disrepair. My tutor told me that the EU has certain requirements for roads going through mountains; that they must be a certain thickness to withstand the weather. In order to “save money” for “other projects”, the Ministry of Transportation shaved some of the thickness off, leaving some roads in the Rhodopi Mountains in disrepair.

The EU has set up a special commission to monitor all funds going to Bulgaria and Romania. My tutor told me a joke about this. “When we were occupied by the Roman Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When we were occupied by the Byzantine Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When were were occupied by the Ottoman Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When we were occupied by the Soviet Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. Now the European Union has set up these commissions to monitor our accounting and we will surely destroy the EU!”