After in 1989, due to accidental concurrence of circumstances, it got its freedom and therefore the right to democracy Bulgaria spent the last 23 years wandering and wondering what to do with them. These days is the second time the Bulgarians missed a golden chance to demand democracy and freedom. The first was in 1997 when the country was brought to bankruptcy by the government of the former communists, but ever since there has been a process of regress, of complete imitation of democracy and rule of law. The government in resignation of Boyko Borissov, a former fireman and bodyguard of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, is the emanation of this approach to timelessness and spacelessness. It is a symbol of many things that did not happen during the transition, of which economic woes are the least problem. As a matter of fact, they are a consequence of those things that did not happen.
Part of them is the lack of free media, political pluralism (on paper there are many parties, even too many, but there is no pluralism because the political parties are divided into those of the past and the new ones), strong civil society, rule of law and last but not least intolerance to corruption and organised crime which, instead of declining throughout the years they not simply increase but become governing. To reach the moment when a remark by a former intelligence general, Atanas Atanassov, that some countries have mafia but in Bulgaria the mafia has a country to be included in the analyses of serious editions as The Foreign Affairs who classified the country as a mafia-state, siding it with Ukraine and Venezuela.
Another thing that never happened was an unyielding and firm farewell to the communist past which means depriving the servants of the former communist secret services of access to public functions (media, state administration, political parties). And although the government of the young political party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria), which is part of the family of the European People's Party, is the first that decided in 2011 to sate a date to commemorate the victims of communism - 1st of February - it, too, was not spared by the publishing of secret files. The political class never managed to find the will and society never demanded it to put an end to the so called discrediting war which is only possible thanks to the control over the past by servants of that same past.
Throughout the years of transition there were many international organisations, foundations and donors who poured billions in an attempt to light the spark of democratic thinking as happened in other countries on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. Only the EU, of which the country became a member in 2007, provided financial assistance worth 500 million euros per year for the period 2004-2006, amounting to 2% of the country's gross domestic product, through the three pre-accession instruments PHARE, ISPA, SAPARD. Separately, through the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU has invested over 1 billion euros in priority projects in the country. 65% of them are in the transport sector to finance key infrastructure. Everyone who has visited Bulgaria, however, has clashed with the severe state of the transport infrastructure.
The outgoing government is the first to turn this into a priority, funded again by taxpayers' money, but it too did not manage to disperse the doubts of misuse and inefficiency.
In other words, the money from the pile of international donors did not succeed in helping the processes of democratisation and economic development. And the main reason is the total non-commitment of the Bulgarian citizens, who are famous around the world too with being disunited and able to unite only in suffering. The common goals, especially so elevated as democracy, rule of law, free media, opposition against abuse with power, putting an end to the decades-long circulation in the public domain of the same political figures who have long ago failed according to all standards of the contemporary civilisation, are too much of a luxury for most Bulgarian citizens for whom it is more important someone else to provide them with what they are supposed to provide for themselves. A mentality which has been built throughout the 45 years of close cooperation with the Soviet Union and is still vital in the 21st century.
This is why it is not surprising that the only thing that managed to bring a part of the Bulgarians onto the streets is bigger electricity bills. Not the rise of electricity prices which has been happening through the years on regular portions without the consumers demanding those in power to provide more transparency about how those prices are set, asking for accountability from them why is nothing being done for more energy efficiency (which is a major European priority), for the removal of questionable players in the energy sector and most of all for clarification of the relations with Russia which go far beyond the normal relations between sovereign states. The Bulgarians did not protest demanding the resignation of the prime minister even when he shamelessly admitted in the air of a big national TV station that he had removed energy intermediaries only to cork up the mouth of a national daily.
The Bulgarians also stayed at home instead of protesting against the suspicious way in which the members of the Supreme Judicial Council were elected or against the lack of more than one nomination for a chief prosecutor, or against the complete farce surrounding the election of members of the Constitutional Court. They did not protest also against the ever sharper reports by the European Commission under the special monitoring mechanism in the area of the judiciary with which Bulgaria was accepted in the EU. Then the member states gave the country a confidence vote believing that it has only a little more to do to fulfil the criteria. The Control and Verification Mechanism (CVM) has been there for six years now. There were also no protests against the revelations that the prime minster has connections with the organised crime.
It is obvious that Bulgaria cannot handle it alone. From now on the options are not many as the country is a fully fledged member of the EU which bears some serious negatives for the other members. The anti-Bulgarian (and Romanian as well) campaign in Britain is very telling on the occasion of the expiring labour restrictions as of 1st of January 2014. Bulgaria still is not a member of Schengen as its membership was bound to progress under the CVM, but there is no progress there which means that a membership in the European security zone is not to be seen on the horizon any time soon. After the attempt of the ongoing government to take away the licence of an electricity company from an EU member state (the Czech Republic) which on top of it is from a friendly camp (the former communist block), it should not be excluded the discontent in the EU to grow against the way Bulgaria is treating European companies in the common market.
And all this is not entirely a Bulgarian problem. It has direct impact on the EU image as a club of mature democracies with free societies, transparent governance and accountable institutions. Besides, it leads to the loss of European funds. This is why it is necessary to make another effort. A new portion of investments, but this time targeted in cultivating a governing class. People who should be trained what state governance is, how does the administration function, to receive basic knowledge in economy, foreign affairs and energy. One of the painful lessons from the outgoing government is that in an attempt to escape from the known and compromised faces it let into politics and governance new people with zero experience in administrative and political governance, therefore without any knowledge not only of the internal principles of governance, but also about how the EU functions.
France has a good experience with such types of schools. In 1945 Charles de Gaulle established a school for national administration ÉNA with the aim to democratise the access to senior state service. Among the graduates of the school are Valéry Giscard d'Estaing who, aside from being a former president of the Fifth Republic, was also a head the Convent for European constitution. The current French president, Francois Hollande, is also a student of the school, as well as Jacques Chirac, Laurent Fabius (the foreign minister), Alain Juppe, Lionel Jospin.
This school should be financed under strict control and its management should be independent, if possible not Bulgarian, to ensure good results. Teachers should also be sent from schools with traditions and realised graduates. Its establishment, however, is a long-term investment. In the shorter term what can be done is to create a political Troika to oversee the implementation of a set of reforms which will be supplementary to the political criteria for EU membership, known as the Copenhagen criteria. This could sound impossible, but remember how unacceptable it sounded bringing foreign experts into the Greek administration so that it can be brought back on the path of confidence. These criteria are three:
- political: stability of institutions ensuring democracy, rule of law, human rights, respect and protection of minorities;
- economic: availability of functioning market economy and a capacity to handle competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
- introducing the acquis: capability to implement obligations stemming from membership, including adhering to the goals for a political, economic and monetary union.
Although for more developed democratic countries these criteria sound more than clearly, for countries that lack any experience in state structure and democraticity it is necessary that they are defined in details. They should also include precisely formulated conditions to ensure free media and free media market where all participants will be treated equally and media ownership will be easy to follow. This should be the work of the political Troika which should consist of representatives of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and Reporters without Borders.
The political Troika should be of the scale of the economic one in Greece - to send experts in all key areas who will assist the state to begin enforcing rule of law and to fight corruption. These experts should have access to the entire legislation, be able to propose changes and make recommendations. While the mission of the Troika is working the EU funds should be blocked for Bulgaria until it has implemented all the proposed measures. Targeted money will be provided only for the implementation of the set tasks.
In Bulgaria soon there will be elections. The Bulgarians will again have to choose from the same compromised political parties with neverchanching for decades leadership. It is a fact that there is no way the political parties to be forced from the outside to change their leaderships and to ensure democraticity within themselves. What can be done, though, is to review the entire electoral legislation to help avoid all the provisions that are to the detriment of the right of choice of the voters. Throughout the years the political years were crushing a moral barrier after another as first they offered meat balls to the poorer voters, but later they started directly buying voters, while in some less populated areas there were reports of pressure by employers their workers to vote "the right way" or lose their jobs. This must end!
Bulgaria has missed its second chance for a transition 2.0, but if the Bulgarians are used to moan their burdensome fate and are capable of waiting another 23 years until the next mini revolution, the EU has a big stake. Queueing for EU membership are states from the region. Can you imagine how the Commission tells Montenegro, for instance, that it suffers from a severe form of corruption and organised crime (by the way it is also among the mafia-states as defined by The Foreign Affairs) and the authorities in Podgorica laugh at it, pointing a finger to Bulgaria and Romania.
The adoption of more unreformed countries will undermine the Union from within and will for sure split it because then the Nigel Farages will be more. This is not what the EU needs right now, when the European economy needs unity to survive in a growingly competitive global environment. The colleagues from The Financial Times who in an editorial wrote that Bulgaria is a warning for the rest in the EU. No matter how small and insignificant the country may look (it is not even a member of the eurozone), in the EU for a long time everything is closely intertwined. The mistakes of one are paid by all. The inclusion of the problem with dependent media in the CVM report for Romania was unthinkable before. In the last European Commission report there is a recommendation compromised politicians to resign more often even when it comes to even a shade of doubt. The EU is learning on the move. To avoid learning a lesson after a tragedy emerged it should start preparing the political Troika for Bulgaria immediately. It should also consider whether this is a good idea for Romania as well. Because the status quo is harmful. Very harmful.