Born Bulgarian - Priceless, for Everything Else, There's Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov
Our Minister without Portfolio for Bulgarians abroad Bozhidar Dimitrov, obviously still caught in the excitement over the recent discovery of the alleged relics of St. John the Baptist near his native town of Sozopol, has had a hard time lately closing his mouth and not sticking his foot in it.
In what seems to be his latest blunder, Dimitrov recently reported US and Canadian citizens have gotten hold of Bulgarian passports under newly adopted legislation amendments. The said amendments provide opportunities for granting Bulgarian citizenship to foreign nationals who have made considerable donations in Bulgaria.
The donation must be over EUR 100 000 and needs to be made out to a Bulgarian cultural institution. Investors with more than BGN 1 M also receive preferential treatment, as well as people with distinction in research or sports, the Minister told local press.
“My first two clients, if I can say so, an American and a Canadian, made donations for churches and monasteries and there was another donation of EUR 165 000 for some institute that studies the economy. Both are married to Bulgarian women – voluptuous, beautiful, well-built women – I want my man to be Bulgarian, they say. I even tried to restrain them, telling them they should not spend their husbands’ money this way. And they say – oh, don’t worry; they’ve got plenty of it. And the two men are nice people, businessmen, they laugh and tell me – go ahead, we will live in Bulgaria anyway,” Dimitrov said in a recent TV interview demonstrating once again that talk about women, money, history and patriotism gets him overly stimulated.
The much criticized street slang and arrogant demeanor, utterly inappropriate for a man of such status, seem however to be the lesser problem.
After the news broke, lawyers came forward saying the idea to grant citizenship for money was discussed, but rejected. There is a similar possibility written in the Foreigners Act, not the Citizenship one, but it does not involve a Bulgarian passport, just permanent residency for individuals investing over BGN 1 M.
When questioned on the legality of granting citizenship to the American and the Canadian nationals ahead of the required three years of marriage in exchange for cash donations, Dimitrov reluctantly admitted such option has not been written anywhere in Bulgarian legislation and came up with the quick excuse that “giving passports for money is a common practice in all democratic countries, particularly in the United States.”
The Minister’s second justification was even more conceited – the decision was based on his interpretation of article 16 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act which postulates an individual can be granted a Bulgarian passport if the country has interest in the latter’s naturalization or if he or she have made significant contributions to Bulgaria.
Certainly, in a cash-strapped country like Bulgaria, bringing some foreign investments, especially for culture and restoration of historical sites, does not seem like a bad idea, but it needs to be passed as law with the so-called “contributions” made distinct and plainly defined. Otherwise, any foreign oligarch would be able to purchase a Bulgarian passport and become a citizen of the EU. And who knows who else… To be fair to the Minister, he did say those individuals would be still investigated by the State Agency for National Security and must provide health records.
With the above said excuses, Dimitrov also misled scores of Bulgarians about the US policy on granting citizenship by implying anyone, even businessmen with a “blurred” past, (Iliya Pavlov was the Minister’s chosen example; the author of this article was unable to find any sound proof Pavlov had indeed been granted a US passport) can become American if they dig deep in their pockets. I, personally, as an American citizen, object and find such statements offensive.
Here is the real deal: in 1990, the US Congress created what is known as the EB-5 visa program, writing into law the idea that entrepreneurial foreigners could buy permanent residency status — NOT US citizenship — by investing as little as USD 0.5 M (for projects in rural areas) to 1 M in a business that creates 10 or more jobs in the US. At the end of two years, the foreign investor qualifies for permanent residency if the venture creates or saves at least 10 full-time jobs. Three years after that, the investor can apply for US citizenship.
One: it is obvious money alone cannot buy anyone an American passport. Two: the contributions and the steps are clearly stated, not vague. Three: in America, this is the LAW, not a politician’s interpretation of it, which seems to have become a trademark of several members of the current GERB cabinet. (Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, for example, wants people to get jail sentences not based on court admissible evidence, but just because to him and to others they are known criminals.)
As soon as he took office, Dimitrov vowed to combat the demographic crisis in Bulgaria by attracting foreign citizens to become Bulgarian nationals. Apparently, he is doing his best to fulfill the promise. When GERB won the elections, there was a backlog of 60 000 passport applications; 17 000 have been processed and received the coveted Bulgarian papers, 30 000 are still waiting, the Minister says. No word on the remaining 13 000… Maybe they are trying to scrape some change for “contributions?”
And to the fortunate 17 000 – good luck going to the Bulgarian passport offices – unlike the American Embassy in Sofia they don’t make online appointments and don’t mail passports.
As far as the demographic crisis – better jobs, wages, work and living conditions, cleaner environment and observance and enforcement of the law seem a more feasible solution than citizenship on sale. Maybe?
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