Bulgarian 'Boykometer' Creators Genov and Pavlov: We Strive to Reduce Political Hypocrisy
Interview of Novinite.com and Novinite.bg with Bulgarian bloggers and civil activists Asen Genov and Konstantin Pavlov-Komitata.
Asen Genov and Konstantin Pavlov-Komitata are among the most reputed Bulgarian bloggers.
In 2010, they created the site www. PolitiKat.net. This is a project that aims to give citizens the opportunity to follow politicians' statements and promises and add information themselves about their abiding to them.
Promises are measured by the so-called TRUTHMETER, WINDSOCK and BOYKOMETER, inspired by the famous Obameter.
The popularity of the bloggers reached a new peak in the summer of 2012 when they received a personal invitation from Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to have a discussion with him on the promises and other subjects.
Genov and Pavlov are also the founders of the "January 14" Foundation.
In late November, they received a special award "Valya Krushkina - Journalism for the People."
Let's start with the latest... What was the award for?
KP: This is an award established by the fund "Valya Krushkina" in support of objective journalism in Bulgaria and was given for the first time this year.
AG: For me, the fact that our work has been noticed is both enjoyable and indicative. Society and citizens have one agenda, while the official one seems to differ from the expectations of critically thinking people. We work mainly on the www.PolitiKat.net project. The goal is to contribute to the decline of political hypocrisy in Bulgaria. A striking example of this hypocrisy is the gap between words and deeds of the political class. The promises and opinions of politicians often change, but this apparently does not affect the electorate. As we know, most lying happens during hunting outings and before elections. This is our target with my colleague Pavlov. I accept the award as a responsibility. It seems to me that people's expectations about us will be increased.
How did you meet and decide to work together?
KP: We know each other since 2009, we met during election campaigning. We had several conversations and realized that we joined around our common interests in technologies and the desire to be active precisely on the internet.
AG: This is my take on this too. We met during the 2009 election, and later became active participants in campaigns for protection of digital rights of citizens. Meanwhile we launched PolitiKat.net, and so it is until today...
Why did you name your Foundation "January 14"?
KP: On January 14, 2009, the largest protest rallies since 1997 took place in Bulgaria. Civil society in Bulgaria became awakened then. And in 2010, on the exact same date and location, a protest rally against wiretapping and spying was staged. It seemed to us that this was a significant date for society.
AG: January 14, 2009, and the dashed dreams and hopes of all those demonstrators who were freezing in the cold on squares and streets in 1990 and 1997 are the starkest examples of how the political cartel bargains and ignores the expectations of the public. On January 14, 2009, after a striking collaboration and synergy between the then leadership of the Interior Ministry, the Cabinet of the Three-Way Coalition, led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and the then Mayor of Sofia, and now Prime Minister of Bulgaria, huge police brutality crushed the strongest expression of civil discontent from the rule of the country, ruthlessly symbolized by Pavlin Dimitrov, who remained a key figure in the Interior Ministry for a long time under the Cabinet "Borisov."
What are the goals of the Foundation?
AG: Very generally speaking, the projects we are working on in the frame of the Foundation have several goals: transparent and accessible institutions, less hypocrisy in politics, more responsibility in the political process, protection and dissemination of digital rights of citizens, among others.
KP: The goals of our Foundation are more transparency, more information about people's digital rights and more democracy. New technologies can be used as instruments of freedom and democracy.
At the end of November, you gave s special press conference alarming about the constantly increasing desire of those in power to meddle with personal data of citizens. Where do you see a problem?
KP: We have the feeling that those in power count too much on access to personal data and to the personal space of citizens to fight crime, and despite the fact that this access increases and deepens non-stop, we don't' notice the expected break in the fight against crime. This is a source of serious alarm for us.
AG: The dilemma "Freedom or Security" is phony. The modern democratic society does not emphasize on one or the other, but guarantees both freedom and security of citizens. There is no excuse for the extremely high number of special surveillance devices, SRS, and for the access to traffic data of Bulgarians, while at the same time we are all witnessing the "effectiveness" in countering crime. It is not normal that hundreds times more people are spied on in Bulgaria compared to Russia, and thousands more compared to the USA – two countries for which there is no data that they have respectively lower crime rates compared to Bulgaria. And the last thing that is inadmissible is the fact that tens of thousands of SRS mean hundreds of thousands of cases of eavesdropping. No matter what attempts they make to explain these numbers, the repressive apparatus uses unreasonably and extensively these instruments with extremely low efficiency.
What do you think about the street protest as a form of civil resistance? Do you participate?
KP: I participate whenever possible and when I support the demands of the demonstrators. Sometimes I even attend rallies with which I do not fully agree, but I want to observe and document them first hand.
AG: The same applies to me. When I can and when I share a particular cause, I either participate or find a way to report on the event. The street protest for me is part of the instruments available to civil society to state its agenda and make those ruling the country aware of it. 10, 100 or 1000 people, it does not matter. If the message is well-grounded and with solid arguments, the society supports the protest and this makes it difficult for the rulers to ignore it. Let's remind of the protest demanding the withdrawal of judge Markovska as constitutional judge, the gathering of the people who nicknamed themselves Georgi Tonev Kolev at the Arianna Lake (editor's note – the name of the person who signed the tipoff received in the Parliament, claiming judge Markovska was involved in conflict of interests and trading influence), the protest in support of Boyan Maximov Boozov (editor's note – the Varna man, who was harassed by the police after taking and publishing a picture of three police officers asleep in their patrol car), all while the Interior Minister attempted to discredit him morally for showing such unfavorable image of the police. Of course, "Eagles' Bridge" where the thousands-strong and three-day long rallies in protection of the environment and nature took place. These are all events that are healthy and beneficial for civil society.
Yes, the "Eagles' Bridge" rally was very large, it even received recently (all who took part) the Human of the Year Award, while the so-called "Tomato Revolution" was somewhat subdued, despite the expectations... How do you explain this?
KP: I do not see a contradiction or lack of positive trend. The "Eagles' Bridge" rallies were protests against a perverted legislation, while the "Tomato Revolution" for me was more like an artistic gesture in support of an artistic individual – Nikolay Kolev-Bosiya – against the insane actions of the Interior Ministry.
AG: The so-called "Tomatina" had its role. People were not afraid to throw tomatoes at the building of the Parliament; the police did not make any arrests, which revealed the fear of those in power from yet another spontaneous civil reaction against Bosiya's absurd arrest. The "Tomatina" played its role excellently, without even mentioning that more "tomato" events followed...
Tell us about the famous talk with Borisov? The reactions were contradictory – some admired you, others criticized you for not being aggressive enough with him?
A: My impression and assessment are the following: Our approach lacked enough self-confidence. The presence of key Ministers (Interior, Finance, Economy and Energy) additionally complicated the task, and possibly disappointed the expectations of those in civil society who disapprove of GERB's rule that we will "lynch" the Prime Minister on their behalf. The expectations of some were probably too high, but we should not forget that despite his character, we were talking to the leader of a European country. There was no way to use the "style" of some football fans. Nevertheless, towards the end of the interview, possibly in the last 20 minutes, we managed to "pass the ball back" and even impose our "game speed." As we just touched on the wiretapped conversations between Borisov and Customs Chief, Vanio Tanov, where the PM can be heard ordering Tanov to stop a customs probe in a brewery in violation of the law, Borisov's PR signaled us that our time was up...
KP: We realized that there was no way for everyone to like us; we realized that the work of the journalist is not at all easy, and we realized that despite the extremely sharp criticism at times, the award we received is encouraging and shows that we did something right.
Do you participate in the "Angry Young People" project? If yes, what can you tell us about it?
KP: This is a joint initiative between the news agency "Press Club," the NGO Institute for Public Environment Development, and our Foundation. We are not paid for this initiative, but it is something we do with huge pleasure. The form is very simple – we invite for discussions or interviews people who are linked with current events and try to understand what exactly is going on in Bulgaria at the moment. Broadcasting live online and the opportunity for the public to ask questions in real time are extremely important for us. I am convinced the project will advance and turn more and more interesting.
AG: For me "The Angry," I will use a clich?, is a "creative experiment," a project that aims at presenting viewpoints on current issues that have remained outside the scope of mainstream media. We all like our project very much and want to develop it. I believe that as an example of civil journalism, "The Angry" project has a promising future. I am glad the team really produces every segment with great desire and totally voluntarily. We prepare for days, do research on our guests, and carefully select our questions.
What is going on with the Boykometer, more precisely with PolitiKat.net? How far did you go? There was an announcement in one media that you have stopped it?
KP: The site is functioning; we constantly add new promises, only we need some more time to "tighten" it.
AG: The announcement that the project is stopped was posted for 15 minutes on the site of the media in question. Then this media stopped the news about the "stopped" site PolitiKat.net. The author either experiences "technological deficits," either the media has no clear criteria for objectivity.
Some criticize you in claiming that you are financed by "shady, foreign foundations"... What do you say to them?
KP: It is difficult to counter abstract claims. I would like to see which foundations are shady and why, and then I can give some more precise answer. Our financing comes from private foundations and it is fully transparent. We justly win bids where we compete with many organizations from all over Europe. Honestly, when I hear such critics, I begin to wonder if Todor Zhikov's regime has indeed left, ever.
AG: In Russia now there is significant effort to prove that "global imperialism" is behind the protests, and the probe even reached to – imagine - a Georgian politician. Georgia – population of 4.5 million, Russia – 141 million, and a Georgian politician paid for protests in Russia? In Moscow they raid people from the opposition, while people forking for organizations with foreign financing are labeled "foreign spies..." I would not give qualifications to such criticism, except that it is a reminiscence of totalitarian times...
Bloggers abound in Bulgaria, what makes you so famous?
KP: This is a very difficult question for me. I write in my blog what I believe in, and people, probably, find it interesting to read, and come back asking for more.
AG: I would not agree that we are exceptional. We write and say what we think. At least a dozen of other authors come to mind who have very interesting blogs, informational, even professional when it comes to the issues they address. I read them to be informed and to learn facts that support my position.
With so many projects and such activity, it seems unnecessary to ask you this, but nevertheless – what is next?
KP: We have a clean horizon until the beginning of 2014, when we must give an account of our work, and our tasks, at least in the current projects, are fully clear. I am not at all nervous what we will be doing in upcoming years. We always have more ideas than resources to realize them.
AG: I wish for us to be able to realize our plans to build upon the project for a more clear definition, and from there, a better protection of digital rights of citizens. I would be also happy if the video debates with politicians that we launched contribute to voters becoming better informed about the activities of their political representatives, which could lead to a stronger civil control on institutions.
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