Journalist Ivo Indzhev: Secret Accord of President Parvanov, PM Borisov Mars Bulgaria's Elections 2011
Interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) and Novinite.bg with Bulgarian journalist Ivo Indzhev on the political situation in Bulgaria during the presidential and local elections, 2011.
Ivo Indzhev was born in Sofia in 1955. He is a graduate of the Institute for Asian and African Studies in Moscow.
In 1983-1987, he worked as a correspondent of the Bulgarian state news agency BTA in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1990-1993, he was the CEO of BTA.
In 1993-95, he worked as the editor-in-chief of Bulgarian dailies "Express" and "Demokratsiya" ("Democracy"). In 1995-2000, he was a commentator for Radio Free Europe.
In 2000-2006, he was the anchor of a popular political talk show on the largest private TV channel in Bulgaria, bTV. Allegedly, he was fired for asking President Georgi Parvanov, who was running for reelection at the time, whether the latter received an apartment from another politician as a present.
Subsequently, Indzhev has been active with his blog ivo.bg.
Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov is completing his second term. How would you describe his political legacy at the presidential office? What do you think his political future will be?
We will probably never get to know the details about the true picture of his legacy because of the emerging succession in the Presidency through the presidential elections in which I notice an accord between Parvanov and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in order to perpetuate the backstage partitioning of spheres of influence in Bulgaria's politics, the administration appointments, the positioning among the oligarchic circles, and the command and control of their media projections.
If it's not true that Borisov and Parvanov are doing together something unlawful, then why is it that they are hiding the fact that they meet, and not at some random location but in the hotel of the Russian employee Valentin Zlatev (i.e. CEO of Lukoil Bulgaria – editor's note) in Pravets, the man who is described in business circles as the "new Iliya Pavlov" (controversial Bulgarian businessman with US citizenship shot dead in 2003 – editor's note) – the one-time major corporate player in Bulgaria's emerging market economy connected with the intelligence services of the former communist regime and with Moscow?
I wrote about such a three-day meeting of Borisov and Parvanov in March 2011 in my last book "Techna Druzhba" (i.e. "Liquid Friendship" - a Bulgarian wordplay on the popular expression "Vechna Druzhba" i.e. "eternal friendship" - used to note the Bulgarian-Soviet/Russian relations in the communist period). However, not a single Bulgarian media outlet showed any interest in taking up this topic – or refuting my publications, not to mention the politicians themselves who pretend they know nothing.
Fear has been instilled in Bulgaria, and it is felt strongly around the two above-mentioned centers of privatized personal power.
But since you asked about Parvanov – who is actually the leading actor in this tandem – let me explain how he's doing it: he has information that can instill awe with anybody who might dare to resist him. And these people aren't that many anyway.
When I was writing my book, "President of R B", I interviewed former associates of Parvanov, and the common thread in their "testimonies" was precisely this fact: Parvanov is purposefully gathering information and taking revenge on anybody who doesn't obey his will.
Parvanov's favorite occupation is to have a tete-a-tete meeting with the chiefs of the two intelligence services that answer directly to him, and cannot be held accountable by anybody else.
His former personal bodyguard from 1997, a year that was especially hard for his Bulgarian Socialist Party (i.e. the BSP was forced down from power by popular protests after the Bulgarian banking and economic crisis of 1996-1997 – editor's note), the colonel from the National Protection Service Nikolay Markov has dared to make public information about the abuse of information that his service gathered for Parvanov.
Markov is now suing the Bulgarian state in the European court in Strasbourg about his illegal dismissal organized by the head of state as a public display of retribution with his disobedient employee.
Most of the others who have witnessed any outrageous actions, however, are afraid to have their names mentioned publicly in the interviews that I made with them. Not to mention the fact that some of Parvanov's associates – such as banker Emil Kyulev – were shot dead in broad daylight in Sofia, and the President immediate imposed an embargo on the investigation, while talking with praise about late Kyulev's business.
Parvanov's legacy will be covered up with a decisive revision of all of that (and many, many other things).
But if I have to sum up the political meaning of his legacy: Parvanov is leaving behind a state which hasn't dared and hasn't wanted to defend itself against the sarcastic hints of the Russian diplomacy that Bulgaria is Russia's Trojan Horse in Europe / the EU.
In earlier interviews and comments about President Parvanov, you've mentioned his ties with oligarchic circles and with Russia. What is the substance of these ties?
The fact that Parvanov had turned into a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin about the latter's energy penetration in the Balkans was no secret for anybody. Parvanov doesn't even dare think about communicating directly with the Russian oligarchy without Putin's sanction.
So his closeness with Valentin Zlatev, the chief representative of the Russian oil business which is sponsored by the Russian state, and its Bulgarian branch with the Lukoil brand is a matter of obeying the hierarchy.
It is no accident that articles sounding like obituaries have started to appear in the Russian media with respect to the inevitable end of the term of the "Russia-friendly" Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.
What do you think have been the most striking characteristics of the campaign for the current presidential and local elections in Bulgaria, the debates among the candidates, and the entire Bulgarian political environment? Which are the most important conclusions about what's going on with respect to the development of Bulgaria as a liberal democracy with an EU membership?
I will repeat what I said but in my view the major characteristic of the current elections is the secret agreement between the two power centers around Parvanov and Borisov for the distribution of the spheres of influence.
The representatives of the ruling party GERB are obeying strictly Borisov's order not to talk about Parvanov.
This was one of the founding suggestions made by Borisov himself from the floor at the founding of his political party, "Nobody in the party besides me has the right to talk about Parvanov."
And here we are today, years later, not a single of the GERB party candidates in Sofia and in the rest of Bulgaria has dared to disobey this ban.
Why is democracy in Bulgaria stalled, and even starting to regress?
The excessive concentration of power, the lack of transparency during its exertion, and the imitation of something like a democracy in order to delude the public (as I already said), the taking over of the media in cover up all of that as well as the corruption – an example in hand of that at the top emerged through the well-known case in which Borisov and Parvanov interceded (together!) for the business of a beer producer (who died under mysterious circumstances later in the above-mentioned hotel in the town of Pravets) (i.e. Mihail Mihov, aka Misho Birata – editor's note) – are among the reasons for the degradation of democracy in Bulgaria. And there is more...
What else? Tell me – in which other self-respecting EU member state it is possible to conduct a sincere lobbying campaign in the media, bribing them with millions of euro from the Russian energy lobby? And that is without any resistance by any of the corrupted media, or any of the respective law enforcement institutions.
As a Russian correspondent put it during Vladimir Putin's visit in Sofia in January 2008, it seemed to him that the Russian President had come to purchase Bulgaria. Apparently, this is no joke.
What is today's role of the Bulgarian oligarchy? Does it have the potential and the interest in becoming a true "elite" of the nation – of the type that propels the Western societies in order to lead its own nation towards development, prosperity, and stronger international standing?
The Bulgarian oligarchy is increasingly starting to resemble the Russian oligarchy in the model of distribution of business among the associates of the two power centers. But it also has a distinct feature – the Bulgarian oligarchy is entrenching itself on the local level. Entire cities and regions of Bulgaria have been turned into something like feudal estates of local bosses who rule over not only the economy and business there but also the local magistrates, politicians, and journalists.
In your view, what have been the strengths and the weaknesses of the leading candidates for the Bulgarian Presidency? Would it be safe to expect that, for example, GERB's candidate Rosen Plevneliev would be the "Bulgarian Medvedev," the Socialist candidate Ivaylo Kalfin would stand for a third term for Georgi Parvanov, or that Meglena Kuneva, who ran as an independent would have stood for a renaissance of the factors supporting the government of former Tsar and former PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg in 2001-2005?
Unlike Medvedev, I do know Plevneliev personally, and I recognize his qualities – but it is disappointing to watch how he is squirming in the election campaign, avoiding taboo topics imposed on him by Borisov – that is, talking about Parvanov and about the project for the construction of the Belene Nuclear Power Plant – for which the GERB government thinks it's conduct a very shrewed double-standard policy of delaying the final decision on its fate.
There is no need to comment on Kalfin – at least he's not hiding. It's no accident that he was rumored to become the most likely person to chair the political movement project of Georgi Parvanov, the ABV movement, i.e. in his capacity as the President's most trusted man.
As far as Meglena Kuneva is concerned, she has been the only one waging a battle for the Presidency against two silent opponents on banned topics, the only one who dared to utter the truth.
She has been attacking their vicious habits of the so called "hunting parties" (a metaphor for the oligarchy around Parvanov and Borisov), she called the intelligence services that Parvanov has personally surrounded himself with "a Praetorian Guard"; she pointed to Borisov and Parvanov as an example of highest-level corruption through their patronage for the business of the late Mihail Mihov, aka Misho Birata, and she even crossed out of the agenda the project for the Belene NPP, which was revived by her Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg.
Whatever the reasons for these moves on her part, they seem a lot more like attempts at emancipation than anything even remotely similar that might be displayed by her opponents.
When you look at the Bulgarian media – how much do they really obey the respective international professional standards? If we assume that democracy in Bulgaria is regressing, how much are the media, the media conglomerates, and the individual journalists to blame?
The operation for taking over the media – yes, that's precisely what it is, it is not a random process of the worsening media environment – has turned into a major priority of the past decade.
The same people who at the beginning of the Bulgarian post-communist transition set as their goal to take over the economy by robbing the savings of the people through artificially created inflation and a collapse of the banking system have reinforced their victory through the gradual takeover of the TV stations, the press and the TV stations – that they literally destroyed as an instrument of influence.
They have now started to buy out Internet media. The personal blogs have remained the only free space for expressing a journalistic opinion.
The readers are already probably fed up with me but I will say again that the threads in this drama are leading again to the same centers of power. The scheme boils down to bribing the journalists who are open to bribery, and chasing away the ones willful ones.
One of the trains of the Bulgarian players in this scheme is attracting international investors with reputation in the media business who, however, are used in order to cover up the end goal: taking control of the media in to serve the needs of the so called "elite" consisting of a handful of people with power and money.
The reputation of the newspapers switching overnight to the side of the winners has been ruined, and the TV stations have been turned into a source of dubious and tacky entertainment, while the serious journalism has been marginalized, and even stuck into the format of the entertainment shows.
It should be entertaining but from the roar of the cheated citizens with whom I communicate, that doesn't exactly seem to be the case. Let me mention that my blog has had some 7 million visits in the past years and a half years and 45 000 forum comments of readers.
As Bulgaria is holding presidential and local elections together, it seems that the presidential vote has obscured the local vote. What are your observations about the political situation in Bulgaria outside Sofia?
There are some cities and towns in Bulgaria with decent living standards but there are also entire regions in poverty that is disgraceful for an European country.
For example, it is funny that the lobbyists promoting the new nuclear power plant in Belene with the locals are promising them personal gains from the start of the project, when the only existing Bulgarian NPP in Kozloduy right nearby is actually in the poorest region in Bulgaria and in the EU!
Bulgaria hasn't been able to readjust from its orientation towards the Soviet Union requiring the existence of behemoth state-owned companies in Northern Bulgaria, which, however, collapsed with the break-up of the USSR and the Communist Bloc.
Thanks to the personal entrepreneurship of the local people, the Bulgarian South has seen some economic revival as it is right next to Bulgaria's door to the EU via Greece. However, everything is now in a mess over there, and nobody in Sofia has got any idea what should be done.
During elections the attention of the Bulgarian civil society – if this is the right term – is directed towards the so called Roma question – i.e. the situation and status of the Roma minority, which in turn is part of the graver and graver problems with Bulgaria's demographic crisis – with respect to both the number of people and their qualifications. Do you think the Bulgarian society has the potential to find a solution to the complicated demographic problems in their entirety? Where might the answer to that lie?
The Bulgarian society nominates its representatives in the state government who should be seeking a solution. Instead, they are even avoiding the truth that there is ethnic tension in the country, and they refuse to formulate it in this way. With respect to the recent tensions, the Socialist opposition says it was a political problem, i.e. the fault of the government, while Prime Minister Borisov adamantly claims that this was just a crime committed in one particular village (i.e. Katunitsa – editor's note), which stirred tensions.
President Parvanov is towering above all that in criminal silence after he has been in office for 10 years without doing anything to prevent such outbursts.
This is the same approach as the one towards the Belene NPP: delaying in time the finding of a solution, or as Bulgarian communist dictator Todor Zhivkov put it about the Soviet perestroika, "let's bent down while the storm subsides."
What is your assessment of the two years in which GERB and Boyko Borisov have been in power?
For more than two years GERB have been seeking excuses with the work of the former government, and have been behaving as if they are at a campaign rally.
During this period Bulgaria has established itself as the poorest EU member state, and corruption, organized crime, and the dwindling freedom of speech remain the major features of the country.
Meanwhile, the Bulgarian people are demonstrating that they can bear more of that, and those in power apparently have nothing against continuing their experiment with the Bulgarians' patience – the media are helping for that by deluding the masses but it will become known only later how long this "stability" will last when we once again seeking those who cheated us.
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But for me, a simple foreigner running a small business down here, Bulgaria is freedom.
Furthermore, infrastructure is improving day by day.
On this background, I'll kindly advise philosofers spending time on conspiracy theories etc. to get a life. In vivo.