Sofia's Mean Streets - WikiLeaks Cable of US Embassy in Bulgaria

Views on BG | June 10, 2011, Friday // 20:14

The following US diplomatic cable from April 2009 by Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Sofia Alex Karagiannis was released Friday, June 10, 2011, by WikiLeaks and


date: 4/2/2009 14:03
refid: 09SOFIA154
origin: Embassy Sofia
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
R 021403Z APR 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SOFIA 000154



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2019

Classified By: Charge Alex Karagiannis for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.  (C)  Summary:  Sofia's streets are a showcase for
potholes and uncollected garbage.  Lined by decaying soviet
style blocks and uncompleted new construction (mixed with
some glitzy modern buildings), they are ugly.  While the
ordinary crime rate is low, organized crime violence is a
recurrent feature as rivals compete for turf and engage in
contract killings.  This landscape is the visible result of
years of pervasive political corruption and the persistent
failure in Bulgaria,s law enforcement and public
administration systems.  While the Socialist(BSP) led
government tries to convince the public and the EU that it is
seriously fighting crime and corruption, every day the
average person sees massive flouting of the law.  Gangsters,
thugs, and mutri (shady businessmen) in expensive cars show
off their ill-gotten wealth.  They easily slip through the
cumbersome and corrupt justice system (no major OC figure has
ever spent significant time in jail).  Some young people see
mutri as role models: cool, feared, and above the law.  A
coarsening of society is taking place.  Tired and cynical
about government institutions and politicians, Bulgarians
have come to accept corruption as part of the normal
landscape and find it easier to cope with it rather than to
change it.  This mood will likely dominate as Bulgarians go
to the polls this summer.  End Summary.


2.  (SBU)  Arriving in Sofia by air, a traveler is unsure if
Bulgaria is yet a modern EU country.  Airport Terminal 2 is
clean, modern, and efficient; Terminal 1 is old, dingy, and
cigarette-smoke infused.  Once a traveler hits the airport
access road and the main thoroughfares, the picture gets
starker.  Drab, decrepit soviet style blocks rise up, in
stark juxtaposition to the Porsche dealership.  Crumbling
streets with unevenly patched pavement, potholes that can
pass for tank traps, and sidewalks crammed with parked cars
are routine.  Basic infrastructure is mediocre to poor.  A
years-long garbage mess (no room in landfills) has gotten
worse over a contract dispute with the collection companies;
refuse is both scattered and piled high.  Packs of wild dogs
roam widely, even in central residential areas and what
passes as the leafy, upscale suburban neighborhoods.  What
had been a rather green, complacent, modestly architecturally
interesting city with a pleasant historic center has become a
car-choked, trashy mess.

3.  (C)  Bad as that is, the organized crime situation is
ugly as well.  Ordinary crime is pretty low, and most
citizens feel safe.  But crimes directed at and by the bling,
shady nouveau riche -- intimidation, extortion, kidnappings
-- have become more visible, and those criminals are more
arrogant.  The raw statistics indicate failure or
unwillingness to deal with serious crimes:  since 1997, there
have been over 130 contract murders, with only a handful of
arrests and just five convictions.  What previously had been
professional killings (both shootings and bombings) with no
collateral damage, have now gotten sloppier; in one instance
a drive-by machine gun spray failed to do the job outside a
popular restaurant, but did terrorize other patrons.  One
prominent, perhaps shady, lawyer was gunned down just days
ago in a provincial capital.

4.  (SBU) Over the past six months, there have been bombings
at so-called gentlemen,s clubs -- as organized crime
families play out their turf wars.  The number of kidnappings
of wealthy (and perhaps sleazy) businessmen has gone up;
it,s a lucrative new racket.  Recently, in one very crude,
but effective extortion case, one hotel owner received a
hand-grenade with the pin removed.  Organized criminals and
their no-neck, black-leather-clad body guards flaunt and
disobey the law; big, black SUVs are the rage, barreling down
streets, ignoring traffic and parking regulations.  Seeing no
force to control them, many ordinary Bulgarians have followed
suit, running lights, passing against oncoming city traffic,
and the like.  Young people find mutri -- cool guys above the
law with money and status -- an attractive role model.  In a
hilarious interview that unwittingly confirms the view that
muscle and money are what matter, the new "Miss Bulgaria"
spoke openly that she is not some "cheap prostitute" and how
her Russian "businessman" boyfriend helps get nice things --
in what is widely considered to have been a rigged selection.
The overall attitude amounts to private gain and social


5.  (C)  Sofia's dilapidated condition does not come from a
poor economy.  National growth has averaged about seven
percent for five years.  The central government has
maintained large fiscal reserves and not spent wisely on
basic infrastructure.  Meanwhile, corruption siphoned off the
nation's wealth to shady businesses, government officials and
political parties, imposing a heavy toll on public services.
Potholed and poorly lit roads are the norm.  Sofia's garbage
collection crisis, recalling scenes of Naples, now in its
sixth week, is symbolic of an indifferent, sometimes testy
relationship between the municipal and central governments as
they play a blame game in advance of summer elections.  The
most vital public services, law and order forces, have gone
from bad to worse.  Almost a year after the forced
resignation of disgraced Interior Minister Petkov, there are
few tangible changes at that sprawling, dysfunctional agency.
  Things are little better at the newly created State Agency
for National Security (DANS).  Intended to target high level
organized crime and corruption, DANS is instead politicized;
some officials have links to criminals and shady businesses.

6.  (C)  Meanwhile, old scandals fester and new ones emerge.
The line-up is extensive; a short list of the most prominent
case includes Sofia,s heating utility; Sofia,s garbage
service; the state Road Infrastructure Fund; misuse of
multiple EU SAPARD and PHARE funds; multiple agricultural and
environmental programs; numerous dubious land swaps; the
National Revenue Agency; and the Customs Agency, notorious
for its many senior officials known by their criminal
nicknames such as "The Penguin" and "Silicon Girl."  Looking
at summer parliamentary elections, Bulgarians understand that
mainline parties profit from corruption and have no real
interest in reform.  A new party, Leader, the personal
project of a shady businessman (unknown five years ago and
today the second wealthiest Bulgarian), has a genuine chance
to enter parliament.  Though formed on the premise that it is
more cost effective to own your own party than to pay off
other politicians, Leader,s clever slogans of protest,
populism and nationalism appeal to alienated voters.

7.  (C)  COMMENT:  Sofia is not Bulgaria, so the picture here
may be more intense than elsewhere.  Nor is cynicism about
politicians and government anything new.  Bulgarians tend to
look outside themselves for hope; many value the abstraction
of the EU far above any of their own politicians or
institutions.  Neither Sofia,s streets nor the mutri culture
will likely be cleaned up quickly under such conditions.
But, high frustration and resignation levels are now mixed
with some real anger.  If a new government makes a clean-up a
priority, it could tap into and motivate citizen support.


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Tags: US Embassy in Bulgaria, US Embassy, US Embassy in Sofia, Wikileaks
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