One Angry Man - Theater of the Absurd at the Bulgarian Ministry of Fun
After seeing pictures taken by employees of the National Revenue Agency, who flew in a helicopter over 45 properties, constructed illegally on State lands on the shore of the Ivaylovgrad dam in southern Bulgaria, Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, erupted in righteous fury.
In addition to the so-called "Customs Agents Village" there, tax agents filmed from the sky properties in the affluent Sofia suburbs, the cities of Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo, and on the Black Sea coast.
The photographs show sprawling estates with lavish mansions, pools, playgrounds, golf and tennis courts, reindeer running on lush lawns – images certain to send shockwaves across an impoverished nation in distress and enrage its Chief.
The scene of Borisov's wrath – the Council of Ministers weekly meeting was all dutifully recorded and distributed immediately to the public.
According to the shorthand notes, Borisov opens the talks lashing out at the State Agency for National Construction Control with a declaration he wanted its entire leadership dismissed ASAP and all properties demolished.
"The only correct decision right now is destruction, so that people can see there is order in this State. People are frightened by two things – God and jail. And I am not afraid of those who say Bulgaria is a police state, a dictatorship. This is what people want," Borisov tells his cabinet.
The Boss receives instant support from three Ministers – of Environment, of Agriculture, and of Culture. A total of seven take part in the discussion where the idea of confiscating the properties in favor of the State is also tossed around. Economy and Energy Minister, Traicho Traikov, is the only one attempting, unsuccessfully, to include in the conversation some other issues such as the skimpy revenues entering the treasury.
A pitch to tear down palaces would certainly appeal to many in Bulgaria, but when the budget of one of "the top financial experts in the world" is gapping; when the fiscal reserve is depleted; when there is no funding for health care, education, culture and everything else; when there are irreconcilable rifts with the business regarding social security contributions; when all reforms have stalled and country-wide protests are looming, the issue of properties built over 10-12 years ago (no mention of that during the meeting) seems more like a storm in a teacup and one more attempt to divert attention from the real problems.
History has taught us that Bolshevik ardor and proletarian zeal to destroy the wealthy only works short term – yes, hordes get immense temporarily satisfaction from attacking the "Winter Palace" or hanging the royalty, but at the end they would still be hungry.
With "The Winter of Our Discontent" upon us, Borisov's endless PR campaigns are looking more and more worn-out while his ostentatious "Batman" anger in this case is simply ridiculous:
Our Prime Minister is a former Mayor of Sofia and a former Chief Secretary of the Interior. He has been in politics for over 10 years and to behave as he has just been dropped on earth from one of the choppers is preposterous. Maybe this is why the talk somehow revolved only around southern Bulgaria without anyone bringing up estates near the capital? Could it be because Borisov has lived in one оf these suburbs for some time; is not only fully aware the properties exist, but had maybe been often invited for a friendly visit?
If illegal mansions are to be demolished, what about the myriad of illegal buildings all over the country – the shabby dwellings, the large ghettos, the ugly shacks, the rusty booths, the trailers, the sheds, all seen quite often in the very downtowns of our cities?
What about the vacation village "Zlatna Perla" (Golden Pearl) built in a protected area on the Black Sea coast where there are several Court rulings that the property is illegal and must be demolished; what about the notorious barbecue of the ethnic Turkish leader, Ahmed Dogan – in June, the Sofia Administrative Court also declared it illegal and subject to removal? Today both are still standing. Or the relentless Holding Varna, part of the TIM business group, insisting they are to begin construction works in the so-called "Alley One" in the beautiful and beloved Black Sea park known as the Maritime Garden? When are we going to see Borisov furious over them?
What is going to happen to local administrations and particular individuals, who have allowed illegal construction to take place?
The Revenue Agency says it must spend money on helicopters because it has no other way to get access to the properties guarded by scary, burly men with thick necks called "mutri". In the civilized world – the USA and Western Europe for example, when owners do not allow tax agents to enter their property, the latter return with a warrant and several policemen. Doesn't it seem pathetic that in an EU Member State tax agents would be so scared they can only sneak from the sky? And even if we accept such lame excuse, wouldn't it be more practical and cheaper to use Google Earth? Try it, and you will get a perfect view of the Customs Agents Village.
Isn't the taking of pictures of someone's property without permission (on some of these photographs, published in Bulgarian media, actual people could be seen) a violation of privacy rights, as several Bulgarian lawyers have pointed out?
What is the message to those who built something beautiful legally and paid all their taxes – that their neighbor has been way smarter than them for avoiding taxation unpunished and/or that even those who obey the laws are never exempt from abuse on the part of the State?
Don't our leaders know that immediate destruction can never happen in Bulgaria because this is a legal matter that would drag on in Court for years making their threats to send the demolition equipment right away meaningless?
Who is going to deal with the huge, but overlooked issue of the many illegal buildings near dams across the country which don't have adequate plumbing and whose sewage goes directly in the waters while non-stop cruising jet boats leave oily stains on the surface as it is the case with the Iskar dam - Sofia's water reservoir, including for drinking water?
On the positive side, the government's culture reform seems to be on the right track. Who needs theater and cinema when we have the well-rehearsed drama of cabinet's meetings, several true Ministries of Fun, demolition derbies, and scores of videotaped police operations rivaling top Hollywood thrillers?
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