Bulgaria capitals

To turn the page on corruption, Bulgaria must tackle Borisov’s legacy

The announcement by the head of the Bulgarian anti-corruption agency, Sotir Tsatsarov, of to resign of his post on March 1, opens a great opportunity to fill a key position in the government of Kiril Petkov. Tsatsarov, the former chief prosecutor, became anti-corruption chief in 2019 under former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who fell out of favor last year for complicity in corruption among the rich and powerful.

Prime Minister Petkov himself pointed to the agency’s low number of corruption cases against high-ranking officials as evidence that it “didn’t do the job that all Bulgarians hoped for” in what many hope it will be. a turning of the page on decades of corruption and oligarchic rule. However, the legacy of longtime former prime minister Boyko Borisov weighs heavily on the success of the anti-corruption campaign – and on the country’s future.

Indeed, it was Borisov’s rise to power in the early 2000s that changed the nature of corruption in Bulgaria. By profoundly changing the relationship between politicians, businessmen and media owners, the country finds itself in a vice that will probably take decades to break. Borissov’s rise is closely linked to the reappearance on the political scene of the former Bulgarian king Simeon II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who, after winner the 2001 elections, appointed Borisov as Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Political experience helped Borisov win the post of prime minister in 2009.

Simeon’s reappearance severely disrupted the Bulgarian political party system, and Borisov, learning the appropriate lessons and implementing them for the use of his right-wing GERB party, was able to build on Simeon’s ideas. “gentle populism” which challenged “the existing system of representation”, mainly because it was able to forge a much more tightly controlled relationship with the Bulgarian media sector. This included building effective relationships with media owners, which ensured appropriate PR and media representation.

This network was put into practice in 2013 when mass protests broke out across the country, consolidating political, business and media power and partially laying the foundation for today’s monolithic media landscape dominated by a few media moguls. According to some analyststhe protests were hijacked by right-wing groups eager to seize power and advance their own interests: “The protests were not only reported, but also choreographed on the pages of the right-wing newspapers Capital and Dnevnik, both owned by Ivo Prokopiev. ”

Prokopiev, businessman and owner of the third largest Bulgarian media group, Economedia, has often been associated with GERB as well as right-wing stories and organisations. He is exemplary of the political-media complex created during the years of Borisov’s reign, given that his group controls more than 20 logs, including the aforementioned Capital and Dnevnik, considered two of the most influential newspapers. At the same time, Prokopiev has taken advantage of loopholes since the privatizations of the 1990s, and now owns assets in areas ranging from finance and minerals to construction and telecoms.

Although Borisov resigned as prime minister in 2013 following the protests, he snatched the job again in 2015, and it’s reasonable to assume his media support played a crucial role in that. In 2016 to study by Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) out of 40,000 press articles published throughout 2015, Borisov was mentioned in 12% of them, with an overwhelming positive slant. Opponents and non-GERB parties, however, received three times less overall coverage, which, in addition, was found to be three times more likely to be negative.

If the legacy of fostering corruption in virtually every sector – most of which manifests only slowly – is to be broken, Petkov must credibly and quickly reform a wide range of sectors, from the media to business to the government and even to the judiciary – the latter often deeply flawed by its tangle with the opaque media landscape. This would require stronger independent control over the sprawling judicial bureaucracy, as the currently autonomous and therefore highly insular judiciary has little incentive to change its ways without outside pressure.

So far, Sofia has made many promises with varying degrees of vagueness, and only time will tell how well Petkov and his cabinet will fare against decades of endemic corruption and influence peddling. The biggest success may well be the Borisov trial, which can only become a reality if political, economic and social reforms are credibly instituted. Since the country’s oligarchs deep state will certainly push back with all her might, Sofia will need perseverance and the support of the EU in a fierce fight against the system that Borisov has put in place.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is editor-in-chief and Brussels correspondent for EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specializes in the environment, energy and defence.

He also has over 10 years of experience as a staff member of the European institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy fields.

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