Twenty-six years after the fall of the Berlin wall, Bulgaria is still in transition to democracy. This seemingly never-ending transition process has turned into an agony, a tedious waiting for salvation. Nine Bulgarians per hour are leaving their country convinced that the ‘better future’ is someplace else. Desperation has taken over Bulgaria and as a result, the country is challenged to face one of the worst demographic catastrophes in its history.
While the European Union is losing people’s trust in most of its member countries, the majority of Bulgarians still looks at its institutions with the hope that they can intervene and help solve the country’s complex national problems. According to the most recent Eurobarometer study, 45% of the Bulgarian respondents stated that they trust the European Parliament, whereas only 14% trust the national parliament. The majority of Bulgarians seem to believe that more decisions should be taken at an EU level and value the Union for its policy of free movement that offers opportunities to work, live and study in its various Member States.
The mistrust of the national political parties is extremely high. As a former Co-Chair of the Bulgarian Greens, I have met a countless number of citizens who depicted the political spectrum as ‘all the same’. This persistent doubt regarding the honesty of politicians keeps many young citizens from getting more involved in politics. There have not been many new leaders in Bulgarian politics in the past few years that haven’t disappointed their voters. Old political parties keep revamping their image, members of parliament change their political colours and yet they stay exactly the same. The majority of Bulgarians is still waiting for that one white knight coming out of the darkness to rescue their country. But that white knight never comes and never will, as it only exists in fairy tales.
To understand this lack of trust we have to look back at Bulgaria’s contemporary history. When the communist regime ended, the transition to democracy came with anticipation of and utopian illusions about a better life and a major change. The West seemed like a perfect world to Bulgarians back then. It started with a dream, with promises of freedom of expression, democratic elections, human rights. What followed in the 1990s was massive and pre-arranged privatisation, currency depreciation, organised crime and chaos. The mafia ruled and had occupied the country. The pension system collapsed. The dream of a bright future crashed.
On 1st of January, 2007, Bulgaria officially joined the European Union. Citizens hoped for this to be the end of corruption and organised crime in the country. It wasn’t. After 2012, the number of mass protests started to increase, two governments resigned, one in 2013 and one in 2014. Civil society awakened and realised that it needs to take the future into its own hands, that more direct democracy is needed. The fight against corruption and organised crime has turned out to be a long and difficult journey, and civil society has to make sure it plays a crucial role in this process.
No political will for working judicial reforms
When joining the European Union, Bulgaria and Romania both agreed to the implementation of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism that assesses progress in terms of anti-corruption measures, judicial system reforms and mechanisms to fight organised crime. Nine years later, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker announced that unlike neighbouring Romania that has shown steady progress over the past few years, Bulgaria might still have to remain under supervision. This is a harsh and disturbing assessment and illustrates that Bulgarian governments have shown no interest in solving these pressing issues. It is also highly unlikely that this news will inspire adequate actions from the current government.
In fact, Bulgaria’s judicial system is in desperate need to be reformed in such a way that it will start serving the interests of the citizens, not those of a particular circle of people. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bulgaria’s ‘…political class appears to be strongly involved in a patronage governance system based on corruptive practices and the chances of it enforcing in the next future a serious reform of the judicial sector might be relatively low.’
‘Corruption’ is the common answer when asking Bulgarians what is the root of all problems. A recent report on corruption in the public sector, published by Transparency International, ranks Bulgaria on a 69th place out of 168 countries. What is worrying is that in the past few years, Bulgaria’s corruption rating is worsening rather than improving, unlike that of Romania. Bulgaria can’t thrive until corruption is eradicated, as it affects investments, entrepreneurship and innovation in the country. Another worrying statistics provided by Reporters Without Borders puts Bulgaria’s media freedom on 106th place. In comparison, the country held the 35th place in 2006, which is a staggering decline in a decade. Media freedom is a crucial component of an empowered society and a precondition for democratic decision-making and fighting corruption.
(Re)connecting Bulgaria to Europe
In a sense, Bulgaria doesn’t need reconnecting. It still seems to be on the waiting list to be integrated and to receive full EU membership rights. The majority of Bulgarians does not see a future for their country outside the European Union, but it looks like our European partners are losing their patience. In my following posts, I will explore Bulgaria’s internal problems, their solutions and the country’s relations with the other Balkan countries, as well as Europe.
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Reporters without borders: https://index.rsf.org/#!/index-details/BGR
Transparency International: http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015