|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||58.33 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||4.50 7|
Bulgaria held an unprecedented number of elections in 2021. In the aftermath of the 2020 anticorruption protests, these votes radically transformed the country’s political landscape, giving way to new and untested players who transcend traditional party lines and draw on the popular demand for democratic reforms. Yet, amid a prolonged confrontation among state institutions, Bulgaria lost another year that could have been used to enhance the judiciary and advance anticorruption measures.
The country’s politics fragmented further in 2021 due to the previous year’s protests, growing polarization, and waning support for longtime Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his GERB party, in power for much of the past dozen years (since 2009). Elections to the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s unicameral parliament, on April 4 and again on July 11 both failed to produce a government as the country’s bitterly divided political camps—“old/status quo” parties, on one hand, and “new/change” parties on the other—could not forge majorities. The subsequent snap elections on November 14, held at the same time as a regularly scheduled presidential vote, finally produced a government, with the new/change parties triumphing over the old/status quo camp.
After winning the April elections but failing to secure a governing majority, GERB lost its first vote in over a decade on July 11 to There Is Such a People (ITN), a new formation led by entertainment personality-turned-politician Slavi Trifonov premised on the rejection of the existing political elite. Other rising forces emerging from the turmoil of the 2020 anticorruption protests, Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Thugs Out! (which was later renamed to “Stand Up, Bulgaria! We Are Coming!), represented mostly urban, educated voters on an anticorruption platform. Finally, a new political star, We Continue the Change, helmed by two former caretaker ministers rose ahead of the November elections, skyrocketing to first place, overtaking GERB, and ultimately joining three other parties to form a governing majority. An unprecedented series of live-streamed coalition talks in December resulted in Bulgaria’s first elected cabinet after more than seven months of political impasse. Energy issues, the COVID-19 crisis, the dispute with North Macedonia, and Russia tensions over Ukraine were at the top of the new government’s agenda.
Before the November 14 elections, as no party could find a majority in the two consecutive votes in April and July, two caretaker governments in a row were formed by President Rumen Radev. The first was formed on May 12 and dissolved on September 16, after the parliament could not form a new one. That day, Radev set up an interim cabinet tasked with organizing the new elections and featuring only minor changes, such as replacements for caretaker ministers Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev, founders of We Continue the Change. Some caretaker ministers enjoyed considerable popular support1 in their efforts to expose wrongdoing by former officials from the GERB era, also confronting Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev (another target of the 2020 anticorruption protests) and demanding his resignation. Lawmakers in both short-lived parliaments scrambled to propose and vote laws (and amend election legislation) to show off during the electoral campaign.
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, Bulgaria—having the lowest rate of immunization in the European Union (EU) despite the availability of vaccines—was hit with two spikes in the death rate in 2021. Critics pointed to the failure of the Borisov government and the caretaker cabinet to stage a proper information campaign about the benefits of vaccines. Only 27 percent of Bulgarians were fully vaccinated by the end of the year.2 Political turbulence thwarted Bulgaria’s submission3 of a national COVID-19 recovery plan to the EU, which did not happen until mid-October.4
The United States government announced its first-ever sanctions against Bulgarian nationals under the Global Magnitsky Act in 2021. These and other sanctions have affected influential figures from the parliament, judiciary, media, and the security sector. The US also resorted to seething criticism of prosecutors and overall corruption in Bulgaria.
In foreign policy, Bulgaria’s Borisov-led government continued its hard line against Russia during the last months of its tenure before the April 4 elections. Borisov’s cabinet harshly criticized Russia5 for the arrest and imprisonment of prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and condemned the detention of protesters. Borisov’s team also used the Russian card against his then-biggest opponent, President Radev. During his successful reelection campaign, Radev mobilized pro-Russia supporters by declaring that “Crimea is Russian,” referring to the annexed Ukrainian territory.6 Chief Prosecutor Geshev was quick to point out links between Russian intelligence operatives, a nerve-agent attack against an arms trader, and explosions at weapons depots in Bulgaria. The newly elected We Continue the Change–led government clearly stated its pro-Western orientation, but diverging interests within the coalition prevented it from taking a tougher geopolitical stance, with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) seen as much more sympathetic towards Russia. The new government’s positions were put to the test just days into office when Defense Minister Stefan Yanev (caretaker prime minister until December 13) rejected the idea of stationing NATO troops in Bulgaria and Romania over the Ukraine crisis.7 Yanev described this view as a personal opinion, expressed on a private social media channel, but said that he would defend it before the cabinet. Prior to joining the caretaker cabinets, Yanev had been part of President Radev’s team for years.
The caretaker cabinet that took over from Borisov in May prioritized restoring the dialogue with neighboring North Macedonia, whose EU accession path was blocked by Bulgaria the previous year. While common ground was identified on some issues, no breakthrough was reached, and Bulgaria maintained its veto throughout 2021. President Radev famously said that “Skopje’s road to Brussels goes through Sofia.”8 At the same time, under the caretaker cabinet appointed by him, Bulgaria tried to refocus its demands in talks with North Macedonia, prioritizing the rights of people self-identifying as Bulgarians over matters of history and identity, both having been essential in Bulgaria’s initial list of conditions. The results of these efforts have yet to be seen, and the new government formed at year’s end appeared set to build upon the caretaker cabinet’s approach. Prime Minister Kiril Petkov vowed to change the talks’ structure by adding working groups in several fields (economy, infrastructure, culture, sports, and EU integration) that will initiate common projects to bridge the Sofia-Skopje gap, thus hoping to usher in a thaw that may also help the political dialogue.9
- 1As of July, some 58.9% of respondents in a Gallup poll approved the caretaker government. Галъп: Отношението на обществото към служебния кабинет е преобладаващо положително, Bulgarian National Radio, July 25, 2021, https://bit.ly/2YyUhcg
- 3Пеканов: Планът за възстановяване чака заради липсата на визия по Зелената сделка, OffNews, September 17, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iLBjGW
- 4NextGenerationEU: България представя официален план за възстановяване и устойчивост, European Commission, October 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nXPago
- 5Борисов: Навални да бъде освободен максимално бързо, Dir.bg, February 03, 2021, https://bit.ly/2YvSqFQ
- 6Радев: Юридически Крим е украински, но практически е руски, OffNews, November 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3pacoPF
- 9As of early 2021, North Macedonia’s governmentg seems to have embraced this approach fully.
In Bulgaria, national governance is democratic yet marked by increasing polarization over the years and clashes of vested interests among key institutions. While elections are generally free, vote buying and corporate voting have marred strings of election cycles, and even where political will is present, the coordination among institutions needed to tackle these issues is a work in progress. Although the civic sector has become more vibrant over the years, its role in 2021 was dwarfed by the hyper-partisanship and failure to compromise that led to three parliamentary elections in seven months. Despite ownership changes, concentration in the media remains high, and media freedom issues are regularly highlighted by the EU and international advocacy groups. Local self-governance is still hampered by centralized power and the inability to swiftly address emergencies. In the judiciary, a lack of reform and the overarching powers of the chief prosecutor loom large. No high-profile politicians have been indicted for serious wrongdoing, with foreign partners struggling to encourage the fight against corruption.
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||4.254 7.007|
- While the prospect of Bulgaria’s regular elections to the National Assembly on April 4 restrained governance in the first quarter of 2021, the failure to forge governing majorities after these elections and a second set of elections on July 11 further constrained political decision-making until the double (snap parliamentary and presidential) votes on November 14 (with a presidential runoff on November 21).
- After the first and second parliamentary elections, the parliament was split into two wings. The “old” parties (Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB, the Bulgarian Socialist Party [BSP], and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms [DPS]) were dubbed “status quo” players by newcomers who had not served in the outgoing 2017–21 parliament and thus styled themselves as “change parties.” Prominent within this evolving political scene was former talk show host Slavi Trifonov and his party There Is Such a People (ITN), one of three rising forces emerging from the turmoil of the 2020 anticorruption protests. The other two were Democratic Bulgaria, a coalition speaking up for mostly urban, educated voters on an anticorruption platform, and a small alliance dubbed Stand Up! Thugs Out! (formed by organizers of the protests and former ombudsman Maya Manolova, who organized her own demonstrations).
- These “new/change” parties urged a break with Borisov’s governance, which they blamed for endemic corruption and the country’s failure to catch up to Western European economies. The “new” parties were wary of forming a majority with the “old/status quo” parties yet nevertheless lacked a sufficient number of MPs on their own to govern either in April or July (when they commanded only 92 and 112 seats, respectively, out of the total 240 seats in the unicameral National Assembly).
- As a result, two parliaments in a row failed to form a government. In April, PM Borisov made controversial offers (such as “lending” lawmakers or artificially lowering the quorum for approving a government by having MPs walk out) to Trifonov,1 while the latter was opposed to an “unprincipled coalition” with the “old parties” after the first elections, when his ITN party came in second.2 In July, when ITN came in first, Trifonov unilaterally proposed a “non-negotiable” cabinet lineup (Trifonov was not PM-designate), asking potential allies (the “new parties” and, this time, the establishment BSP) for their support yet offering nothing in return, thus alienating these potential partners. The talks were ultimately torpedoed by a plagiarism scandal surrounding Trifonov’s pick for interior minister.3
- President Rumen Radev affirmed his image as an archrival of Borisov, emerging as an essential political player with the constitutionally mandated task of appointing two consecutive caretaker governments. In May, he appointed his defense and security adviser Stefan Yanev, former defense attaché to the United States, as prime minister. Many of Radev’s cabinet appointments were at odds with Borisov and GERB—for instance, naming former National Investigative Office head Boyko Rashkov, who vowed to expose wrongdoing by Borisov’s administration and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev’s office, as interior minister.4
- Long-standing tensions between Radev and Geshev continued to simmer in 2021. Urged on by Radev, caretaker Justice Minister Yanaki Stoilov unsuccessfully sought Geshev’s resignation (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”). Later, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s new government also showed its determination to remove Geshev. On December 14, newly inaugurated Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova said that coalition partners planned to conclude the process by the end of 2022 once new Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members had been elected (the SJC oversees judicial authorities and is in charge of picking the next Chief Prosecutor).5
- Two short-lived parliaments became de-facto campaign battlegrounds for political parties. MPs gave up their traditional summer recess, while “new parties” used the time to propose the establishment of parliamentary committees looking into Borisov’s governance; one scrutinized all the activities of Borisov's cabinets over the past years, another inquiring a mass surveillance scandal related to last year's protests, and a third looking into the Rosenets affair, an incident that helped trigger the protests6 . However, successful legislative activity was limited to a few acts including the national budget and budgets of public health and insurance funds. Soon after its appointment, the interim cabinet also ordered a review of numerous agencies, from finance to culture. Allegations of irregularities appeared in the ensuing reports (see “Corruption”). Many officials were removed: from regional police chiefs (replaced in order to crack down on vote-buying and voter intimidation) to heads of border police, companies managing public forestry assets and the management of EU agriculture subsidies allocation fund (known for numerous cases of mismanagement under some past governments), and all regional governors (appointed officials representing the government regionally), were replaced, alongside the revenue agency head.7 The security sector was most affected. In May, the directors of counter-intelligence (DAR), foreign intelligence (DANS,) and special surveillance agencies (DATO) simultaneously requested leaves of absence8 as the government took over. Authorities alleged that the officials were deliberately avoiding being on duty at that time. Subsequently, DAR head Dimitar Georgiev (who clashed with Interior Minister Rashkov over a move to bar the minister from accessing classified information) and DANS head Atanas Atanasov were dismissed over allegedly politicizing the security sector. Atanasov was also accused9 of not sharing information with the government. The DATO director and the head of military intelligence were the next to be dismissed.10 The head of the Interior Ministry’s anti-organized crime directorate11 was also replaced.12 The caretaker government claimed it was cleaning house after years of corrupt rule by GERB, while the departing officials argued their ousters were politically motivated.
- Some caretaker government appointments stirred controversy, including revenue agency head Rumen Spetsov (over alleged financial irregularities)13 and Rashkov’s political cabinet chief Elena Ficherova (who participated in fugitive businessman Vasil Bozhkov’s Bulgaria Summer political platform and subsequently resigned14 ).15
- The caretaker government’s activities and pledge to boost democracy pushed up its approval rating. Caretaker Economy and Finance Ministers Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev decided to wade into politics. The duo’s campaign to crack down on corruption and irregularities and their emphasis on tax collection helped it earn the trust of voters. Opting out of the second caretaker government, they launched the electoral project We Continue the Change, seeking a “coalition of at least 121 honest lawmakers” among all parties that could form the next majority and use “right-of-center instruments” to achieve “left-of-center policies”16 among all political forces in the parliament. In the run-up to the November elections, some polls put them in second place (at 15 percent)17 after GERB.18 However, Petkov was under fire over whether he illegally held a Canadian passport while serving as caretaker economy minister. The issue was solved by the Constitutional Court, which revoked the decree that had made him economy minister, ruling he had been wrongly appointed since he was a dual national at the time in contravention of the constitution.19 Ultimately, this could make his tenure and a set of government decisions void if they are contested before the court.20 Petkov and Vasilev’s We Continue the Change nevertheless won the November 14 elections, bringing them to the helm of a new government.
- Following the November elections, the leaders of both the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Democratic Bulgaria resigned since their support had dropped considerably, with hundreds of thousands of votes lost to Petkov and Vasilev’s project.21 Their success brought new and young politicians into the parliament and the government,22 but the benefits of fresh faces without experience were quickly called into question. The cabinet’s honeymoon ended just after its swearing-in as political inexperience pushed new MPs into a trap, with lawmakers from the governing majority inexplicably backing the (center-right) opposition’s proposal to freeze power prices indefinitely just as the government was debating new price controls.23
- 1Нова публична оферта от Борисов: правителство без него, подкрепа за Слави Трифонов, само не и избори, Dnevnik.bg, April 07, 2021, https://bit.ly/3DpyT8y
- 2“Антоанета Стефанова от ИТН върна мандата веднага,” Bulgarian National Radio, April 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/2ZXv7F1
- 3“Срамният случай с плагиатството на Петър Илиев и въпросите, които повдига,” Deutsche Welle, September 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/3FupsGH
- 4“Bulgarian President Radev names Stefan Yanev caretaker PM,” Sofia Glove, May 11, 2021, https://sofiaglobe.com/2021/05/11/bulgarian-president-radev-names-stefa…
- 5“Управляващите целят отстраняване на Гешев до три месеца. Надежда Йорданова пред Свободна Европа,” Svobodna Evropa, December 14, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31608132.html
- 6“Временни комисии за "Росенец", за подслушването и за ревизия на Борисов. И без лятна ваканция,” Mediapool.bg, July 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/3oPkgaR
- 7“Нов кабинет, нови рокади: Какви са кадровите промени на новото правителство,” Webcafe.bg, May 17, 2021, https://bit.ly/3FOcN0I; “Служебният кабинет с нови кадрови промени (ОБЗОР),” Focus News Agency, May 19, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nRudUj
- 8“В отпуск са шефовете на ДАНС, ДАТО и ДАР (ОБЗОР),” bTV, May 17, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lq6EAK
- 9“Служебният кабинет сменя и шефа на разузнаването: Службата не давала информация на президента,” Mediapool.bg, June 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3oLut7R
- 10“Радев и кабинетът сменят и последния от старите шефове на спецслужби,” Sega.bg, September 29, 2021, https://bit.ly/3BoTUjn
- 11“Нови промени: Смениха шефа на антимафиотите и сочения за реален председател на ДАНС,” Dnevnik.bg, May 31, 2021, https://bit.ly/2YyldsH
- 12Days later, the chief of the surveillance devices control agency, Ilko Zhelyazkov (a former deputy leader at DATO), was placed under Global Magnitsky Act sanctions by the United States and subsequently stepped down (see “Corruption”).
- 13“Скандал в парламента заради бившата фирма на директора на НАП Румен Спецов,” Actualno.com, August 13, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lmqxsc
- 14“Head of Cabinet of Caretaker Interior Minister Resigned,” Novinite.com, June 2, 2021, https://bit.ly/3CUhioJ
- 15“Напусналата Елена Фичерова: Не познавам Васил Божков, от МВР взех само болка и разочарование,” Marica.bg, July 03, 2021, https://bit.ly/3oRJoxk
- 16“Петков и Василев се готвят да управляват, търсят "коалиция на почтените" от всички партии,” Dnevnik.bg, September 19, 2021, https://bit.ly/3AtJfSV
- 17“Ако изборите бяха днес: проектът на Кирил Петков и Асен Василев на второ място след ГЕРБ,” Deutsche Welle, September 29, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nRHR9H
- 18“‘Галъп’: Изненадата на изборите са Кирил Петков и Асен Василев,” Fakti.bg, September 29, 2021, https://bit.ly/3aiUoLZ
- 19“Конституционният съд: Кирил Петков никога не е бил министър,” Capital.bg, October 27, 2019, https://bit.ly/3D3xFQ4
- 20“‘Не изключвам да има искания’. Премиерът очаква решенията на Кирил Петков да бъдат атакувани пред съда,” Svobodna Evropa, October 29, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31535381.html
- 21“Оставки в "Демократична България" след изборите,” Bulgarian National Radio, November 15, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101557629/И; “Корнелия Нинова подаде оставка,” Deutsche Welle, November 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3o3XKu5
- 22The four-way government marks a generational shift: the prime minister is 41 (in 2021, Yanev was 61 and Borisov, 62), while the speaker of parliament is 34 (his predecessors, Iva Miteva and Tsveta Karayancheva, were 49 and 53 in 2021).
- 23“Енергийните цени се превърнаха в динена (бананова) кора за новите управляващи,” Dnevnik.bg, December 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/3ocuJM4
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||5.506 7.007|
- The year’s initial parliamentary elections on April 4 saw PM Borisov’s GERB retain first place followed by Slavi Trifonov’s There Is Such A People (ITN) party, which one less than a quarter of the vote. But their positions reversed in the second elections, when ITN rose to the top as voters utterly rejected the existing political elite (although ITN saw its support fade over the summer). For the first time in years, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), until then the biggest parliamentary opposition force against GERB, slumped to third place in both parliamentary votes.1 The Democratic Bulgaria coalition entered the parliament, unlike in 2017 when its members ran independently. The nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, junior partner in Borisov’s last government, ran as separate parties yet failed to pass the 4-percent threshold in April but also in July despite rejoining hands.
- In April, voting on either paper or machines was available to the public in polling stations with more than 300 voters (nearly 80 percent). In the town Veliko Tarnovo, technical problems brought machine voting to a halt, while machines at several stations in the capital Sofia and elsewhere stopped working altogether.2 Hundreds of alerts, mostly for technical problems but also vote buying, were sent to a civic platform, while others were submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office, which later announced it had launched dozens of probes during the campaign.3 The Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) reported that Bulgarian stakeholders had concerns over the complicated mixed system of paper and machine voting and possible vote buying. ODIHR noted the recent lifting of the ceiling for campaign donations and reintroduction of donations for legal entities.4 While ODIHR described the April voting itself as “transparent,” it also cited interlocutors who had discussed attempts at widespread vote buying and controlled voting in some communities. ODIHR also reported that preelection government spending had given an edge to the main governing party5 and that state resources were used, merging state and party during the campaign.6
- In the July parliamentary elections, machine voting in stations with more than 300 voters was mandatory, as the parliament had amended the electoral code at the end of April.7 The decision to make machine voting compulsory in all polling stations with more than 300 voters was controversial with both GERB and experts who feared this would keep older voters away from the polls.8 The move came before the new early vote was called and required the swift delivery of more machines amidst a dispute with the contracted provider. However, machines were ultimately delivered, with problems registered on July 11 only with 52 out of 10,516 machines (0.49 percent).9
- The July elections were better run than the previous vote, although ODIHR noted that cooperation was lacking between the Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry, and that many cases of alleged fraud were not investigated.10 At the same time, ODIHR singled out “law-enforcement’s actions to curb vote buying,” giving credit to caretaker Interior Minister Rashkov’s claims of having reined in vote buying to a certain extent.11 A similar analysis came from the nongovernmental Anti-Corruption Fund, whose report on the July elections suggested turnout had decreased much more sharply in at-risk regions than elsewhere.12
- In both April and July, businesspersons investigated or tried by authorities decided to run in a bid for immunity from prosecution, including Vasil Bozhkov and Minyu Staykov, who is charged with tax fraud, money laundering, and abuse of EU funds.13 Neither made it into the parliament (despite multiple attempts), but both briefly enjoyed immunity as candidates.
- The unprecedented third parliamentary elections in November saw ex-caretaker ministers Petkov and Vasilev’s We Continue the Change project come in first place, and the duo identified ITN and BSP as potential coalition partners after the vote. At the same time, the parliament became even more fragmented with 7 parties crossing the 4-percent threshold, including the far-right Vazrazhdane (Revival), which had capitalized on the rejection of COVID-19 measures and COVID-19 certificates, the latter introduced in October.14 The November elections campaign was marked by polarization over the handling of the pandemic, with smaller parties largely seeking to ride a wave of COVID-19 and vaccine skepticism among the population, with 70 percent disbelieving the existence of COVID-19, according to a Kantar Bulgaria poll.15
- Simultaneous with the November parliamentary vote, the presidential elections resulted in incumbent Rumen Radev being reelected in a runoff on November 21. While Radev was only backed by the BSP in 2016, most of the parties opposed to GERB backed him in the latest vote. One exception was Democratic Bulgaria, which raised its own candidate. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) raised Mustafa Karadayi, Bulgaria’s first ethnic Turk presidential candidate, who came in third. Other candidates—including Radev’s leading contender, Sofia University rector Anastas Gerdzhikov—were proposed by so-called citizen initiative committees but were endorsed by political parties: GERB in the case of Gerdzhikov, and Democratic Bulgaria in the case of Supreme Cassation Court head Lozan Panov.16
- Days before the presidential runoff, Interior Minister Rashkov announced that a campaign favoring the DPS candidate Karadayi had been launched in Turkish media17 and backed by officials and politicians in Turkey, accusing Ankara of interference. Turkey’s ambassador was summoned by the Foreign Ministry,18 while Turkey summoned the Bulgarian envoy to present a diplomatic note of protest against the accusations.19 While Karadayi had the third-best result on November 14, the DPS managed to triple its results in the parliamentary elections, securing 90,000 votes from voters in Turkey20 (against 30,000 in July), its best showing since 2013. The presidential runoff on November 21, in which Karadayi did not run, saw fewer votes from Turkey than in July.21
- In the first week of November, GERB alleged that additional machines stored at a warehouse would be used to rig the election, a ploy the Central Election Commission (CEC) suspected was an attempt to discredit machine voting.22 In response, the CEC changed the rules just two days before the election to count all machine receipts after the vote instead of just those in 30 percent of polling stations as previously stipulated. This parallel count would not influence the election results but was seen as controversial by some politicians and experts who questioned the need to do a parallel hand count after having adopted machine voting.23
- Media reports suggested that vote buying had also occurred in snap local elections in several municipalities in June and October, but there was no follow-up from authorities.24
- 1The results of the April 4 elections were as follows: Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) - 26.18%; There Is Such a People (ITN) - 17.66%; Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) - 15.01%; Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) - 10.51%; Democratic Bulgaria - 9.45%; Stand Up! Thugs Out! - 4.72%. Full results: https://results.cik.bg/pi2021/rezultati/ The results of the July 11 elections were as follows: ITN - 24.08%; GERB - 23.51%; BSP - 13.39%; Democratic Bulgaria - 12.64%; DPS - 10.71%; Stand Up! Thugs Out! - 5.01%. Full results: https://bit.ly/3oG3Cdz These results only include parties that crossed the four-percent parliamentary threshold.
- 2“Изборни нарушения: Издирван от Интерпол е задържан за купуване на гласове,” Dnevnik.bg, April 4, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iM7c26
- 3“50 лв. на глас? Прокуратурата образува 35 дела за изборни нарушения,” Mediapool.bg, April 4, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iESGcn
- 4“Republic of Bulgaria Parliamentary Elections, 4 April 2021 ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report,” OSCE, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/f/3/502104.pdf
- 5“Предизборното харчене даде преднина на управляващите, обяви ОССЕ,” Dnevnik.bg, April 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3myxjdL
- 6“Bulgaria - Parliamentary Elections, 4 April 2021. Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” OSCE, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/8/2/482801_0.pdf
- 7“Машинно гласуване, нова ЦИК и без ограничение за секциите в чужбина. Какво се промени в Изборния кодекс,” Svobodna Evropa, April 29, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31229254.html
- 8“Окончателно: Гласуване само с машини в секциите с над 300 души,” 24 Chasa, April 29, 2021, https://bit.ly/3Fxdkor. In July, the caretaker government dismissed Mihail Konstantinov, director at the state-owned Information Services company who had served as chairman for years. Information Services is the company in charge of processing voting protocols. Konstantinov had repeatedly spoken against machine voting.
- 9“Гладък вот, проблеми само с 0.49% от машините,” Mediapool.bg, July 11, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iKe6oh
- 10“Bulgaria - Parliamentary Elections, 11 July 2021. Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” OSCE, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/9/492622.pdf
- 11“Рашков: ГЕРБ купуваха най-много гласове, настоящ депутат е възпрепятствал разследвания,” News.bg, July 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lnYt7I
- 12“Юли 2021: Какъв е размерът на контролирания и купен вот,” Bulgarian National Radio, August 11, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lns2q0
- 13Both in April and July, however, Bozhkov was eligible for a parliamentary subsidy, receiving more than 1% of the overall vote. In April, the result of the party taking him on its list was just below 3%.
- 14On November 14, the vote was as follows: We Keep Up the Change - 25.67%; GERB - 22.74%; DPS - 13%; BSP - 10.21%; ITN - 9.52%; Democratic Bulgaria - 6.37%; Revival - 4.86%. Seven parties managed to cross the parliamentary threshold. Full results: https://results.cik.bg/pvrns2021/tur1/rezultati/index.html
- 15“Масово ваксиниране? До 70% от българите дори не вярват, че има COVID-19,” Dnevnik.bg, November 13, 2021, https://www.dnevnik.bg/4279545
- 16The presidential election runoff's result were as follows: Rumen Radev - 66.72%; Anastas Gerdzhikov (backed by GERB) - 31.80%. Full results: https://results.cik.bg/pvrns2021/tur2/rezultati/index.html
- 17“Bulgaristan’da HÖH/DPS ‘nin hedefi %15 oy oranı ile en az 40 milletvekilliği olmalıdır,” balkangulugu.com, November 10, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nWHMBM; “Bulgaristan'da seçim: Cumhurbaşkanlığına Türk kökenli aday,” TRT Haber, November 9, 2021, https://bit.ly/3pemT4C
- 18“Протестиращи блокираха бул. "Васил Левски" пред турското посолство,” bTV, November 18, 2021, https://bit.ly/3d1NQT2
- 19“Турското Външно извика българския посланик,” ClubZ, November 19, 2021, https://bit.ly/3pbgEhA
- 20“Над 90 000 души са гласували в Турция,” Bulgarian National Radio, November 15, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101557368/
- 21“‘Не е заради мача’. Защо в Турция не гласуваха на втория тур,” Svobodna Evropa, November 25, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31576955.html
- 22“Странната история с машините на "Сиела",” Capital, November 12, 2021, https://bit.ly/3CXQJip
- 23“Избирателната комисия пререши: Ще се броят разписките във всички секции,” Dnevnik.bg, November 12, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nXSuYL
- 24“В 2 общини и 4 кметства гласуваха на втори тур на частичните местни избори,” Nova TV, October 10, 2021, https://bit.ly/3IQkTaC
|Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups.||5.506 7.007|
- In February, the unsanctioned Lukovmarsh rally, a torch-lit procession organized by far-right forces, was foiled by police. A few days later, the Sofia City Court rejected the prosecution’s demand to ban Bulgarian National Union–Edelweiss, the rally organizers. While Lukovmarsh has been criticized for instilling hatred and anti-Semitism, the court argued that the organizers are not fully equivalent to their predecessor groups, who were accused of anti-Semitic activity. Had the court handed down a ban, it would have been the first for a civic organization since democratic independence in 1989.1
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in February that Bulgarian courts had tolerated the hate speech of far-right leader and former lawmaker Volen Siderov that targeted Roma and Jewish people when it had turned down requests filed by plaintiffs between 2009 and 2012.2
- In its report on the July 11 elections, OSCE/ODIHR noted that most political parties and coalitions had not included policies for Roma integration in their electoral platforms. Several ODIHR interlocutors stated that Roma voters are still subject to intimidation and attempted vote buying. Others stated that campaign activities among Roma communities were rare.3
- In October, an LGBT+ organization reported that a group led by far-right presidential candidate Boyan Rasate had broken into its office, wrecking the premises and assaulting a worker. Rasate was initially arrested but later freed on bail to facilitate the investigation. The incident drew widespread condemnation from Western officials and the Council of Europe.4
- During the year, the civic sector was largely focused on inquiries into the 2020 anticorruption protests, police violence, and wiretapping of citizens. In May, the electoral alliance Democratic Bulgaria alleged that the Interior Ministry had eavesdropped on 32 opposition politicians before the April 4 elections, while PM Borisov’s government was still in charge. It argued that the wiretapping activities were a continuation of surveillance of hundreds of activists and politicians from the 2020 protests (with the prosecution citing subversion provisions in the criminal code as authorization). Caretaker Interior Minister Rashkov confirmed the allegations, and a short-lived parliamentary committee subsequently issued a report with recommendations to both the Interior Ministry and the prosecution.5 Next, the prosecution launched and then closed a probe, citing lack of evidence.6 Its only active inquiry remained an investigation into four police officers charged in August with inflicting minor bodily harm on protesters.7 In July, Rashkov said the government had also been surveilling hundreds of protesters (including a “politically active citizen” for about nine months) and ignoring statutory limits for periods of surveillance.8
- 1“Съдът отхвърли иска на прокуратурата за забрана на организаторите на Луков марш (допълнена),” Dnevnik.bg, February 18, 2021, https://bit.ly/3AoP18z
- 2“Съдът в Страсбург: Българските съдилища са допуснали крайно стигматизираща ромите и евреите реч на Волен Сидеров,” Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, February 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iMfiYi
- 3“Bulgaria - Parliamentary Elections, 11 July 2021. Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” OSCE, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/9/492622.pdf
- 4“Расате на свобода срещу 1000 лева гаранция,” Bulgarian National Radio, November 5, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101552633/
- 5“"Лудия", журналисти, политици и граждани: скандалът с подслушванията приключва с препоръки,” Dnevnik.bg, September 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/3oGR2e9
- 6“Прокуратурата прекрати досъдебното производство за подслушване на политици,” Bulgarian National Radio, July 19, 2021, https://bit.ly/3xnwXM1
- 7“Година по-късно прокуратурата обяви, че е обвинила четирима полицаи за бой над протестиращи,” Svobodn Evropa, August 15, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31411635.html
- 8“Бойко Рашков в НС: Използвани са всякакви способи за следене на протестиращите граждани и политици,” De Fakto, July 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iLHR8h
|Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media.||3.504 7.007|
- In January, Kiril Valchev was appointed director of the state-owned Bulgarian News Agency. Formerly a journalist for a popular radio outlet, Valchev pledged to establish free access to much of the locally produced news if the agency could secure a larger budget for the following year.1 His proposal was submitted to and approved by the parliament.2
- In March, months after the Netherlands-based United Group acquired Nova TV, one of Bulgaria’s two largest outlets, it also finalized a deal to buy all newspapers owned by former MP Delyan Peevski since he was withdrawing from the media industry. This virtually created Bulgaria’s largest-ever media conglomerate.3 While these changes ended the dependency of a major TV station and some print media on Peevski, who was subsequently placed under US Global Magnitsky Act sanctions (see “Corruption”), they have yet to deliver a marked qualitative change in their journalistic content.
- In March, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voiced concern over political interests “buying” positive media coverage. Besides calling for an end to this practice, RSF published additional recommendations4 to Bulgarian media, including increasing security for journalists and protection from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), improving access to information, and strengthening the independence of public media, among others. In July, the EU echoed these concerns, noting in particular that Bulgaria lacks legislation barring politicians from owning media outlets.5
- Around the April 4 elections, OSCE/ODIHR described Bulgarian media ownership as “highly concentrated” and “subject to political influence, negatively impacting editorial diversity.” It also pointed to self-censorship fueled by pressure on investigative journalists and the lack of full investigations of attacks against journalists. It noted that the public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television had “mostly refrained” from coverage of contenders in the elections, favoring government officials, alongside flawed editorial coverage that lacked investigations and analytical reporting, thus hampering voters’ ability “to make an informed choice.”6
- In April, TV Evropa, run by a CEO close to GERB,7 signed a deal to become Euronews Bulgaria. The channel, which had yet to begin broadcasting by year’s end, would be managed by an editor who had worked at Nova TV8 when the latter was owned by businessman Kiril Domuschiev, also considered close to GERB.9 These factors raised concerns over whether the outlet would continue its partisan affiliation under the trusted Euronews brand.10
- The caretaker government overstepped its boundaries in dealing with the media in at least one instance. In May, Interior Minister Rashkov said on public radio that he would fire the anchors of bTV’s morning program after they asked him questions about his chief of staff’s links to businessman Vasil Bozhkov; Rashkov subsequently apologized.11 In November, Health Minister Stoycho Katsarov asked bTV hosts whether a demonstration waiting for him outside the station was organized by the outlet.12
- In August, the Interior Ministry admitted there had been police violence against freelance journalist Dimiter Kenarov,13 who was severely beaten in September 2020, despite having claimed the contrary in December; nevertheless, the Prosecutor’s Office declined to investigate.14 In April, the caretaker culture minister, sculptor Velislav Minekov, revealed that authorities had bugged German journalists, among many others.15
- In August, Andon Baltakov resigned as director of the Bulgarian National Radio after 19 months16 in office. It was his second resignation yet, unlike the first, was accepted by the Council for Electronic Media (CEM), the government watchdog. Baltakov initially cited personal reasons but later said he had felt threatened (including physically, when he saw that someone had broken into his apartment without stealing anything) and that obstructions were being created to performing the duties of his job. He also mentioned a lack of support from Bulgaria’s journalistic community.17 He spoke of a “toxic environment” and an inescapable governmental “grip on power.”18 These claims were never formally investigated. In October, Milen Mitev, a former legal adviser to the public radio and hired as its interim director-general after Baltakov’s resignation, was appointed on a permanent basis by the CEM following a competition.19
- 1“Новият директор на БТА: Голяма част от информацията ще стане безплатна,” Dnevnik.bg, January 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/2YCT9EX
- 2“Парламентът одобри съдържанието на БТА да стане безплатно,” Svobodna Evropa, February 25, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31121776.html
- 3“"Нет Инфо" придобива в. "Телеграф" и групата вестници около него,” 24 Chasa, March 16, 2021, https://www.24chasa.bg/novini/article/9617167
- 4“Bulgaria’s general election: RSF publishes 10 proposals to rescue press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders, March 10, 2021, https://bit.ly/3uWaVPj
- 5“2021 Rule of law report - Communication and country chapters, European Commission,” July 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3AjGMKY
- 6“Bulgaria - Parliamentary Elections, 4 April 2021. Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” OSCE, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/8/2/482801_0.pdf
- 7“Георги Харизанов е новият изпълнителен директор на тв "Европа",” Capital, November 20, 2017, https://bit.ly/3mAsxMP
- 8“Бивш кадър на Нова тв ще ръководи "Евронюз България",” Mediapool.bg, September 24, 2021, https://bit.ly/3B0ygCJ
- 9“Домусчиев купи NOVA: няколко факта, които не бива да пропускаме,” Deutsche Well, February 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3KYUf1d
- 10“Петиция с 5 въпроса пита Euronews знае ли с кого ще си партнира в България през ТВ "Европа",” Mediapool, May 03, 2021, https://bit.ly/3Hmf9Fl
- 11“Бойко Рашков съжалява за думите си за водещите на Би Ти Ви,” Dnevnik.bg, May 18, 2021, https://bit.ly/2YyVOiR. Also in May, Culture Minister Minekov demanded increased scrutiny of BNT, accusing the public TV of airing a GERB briefing and disrupting TV programming by presenting it as a breaking event. He then engaged in a dispute with then-BNT director Emil Koshlukov over whether the culture minister has the right to intervene in the BNT. Minekov argued the BNT's schedule cannot be disrupted on such occasions under the law.
- 12“Протест посрещна Кацаров пред бТВ: Вероятно им е платено на тези момчета да дойдат,” Eurocom, November 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3rmKdQl
- 13“МВР призна за насилие над Димитър Кенаров, ВКП решава за досъдебно производство,” Bulgarian National Radio, October 4, 2021, https://bnr.bg/horizont/post/101536075
- 14“Прокуратурата упорито отказва дело за полицейския побой срещу Димитър Кенаров,” Mediapool.bg, September 29, 2021, https://bit.ly/314Qmpj
- 15The violence against journalists during the protests (alongside other cases involving protesting citizens) was also on the agenda during a visit by a delegation from the European Parliament's justice, civil liberties and internal affairs (LIBE) committee to Bulgaria in September. LIBE urged the European Commission to monitor those developments in Bulgaria. See: “Member of European Parliament wants Bulgarian cops watched,” Deutsche Welle, September 27, 2021, https://bit.ly/3BtzLII
- 16Baltakov took over Bulgarian National Radio amid a political interference scandal that had rocked the outlet just before Geshev was voted into the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
- 17“Андон Балтаков разкри причините да подаде оставка,” Bulgarian National Radio, August 08, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101509505/
- 18“Андон Балтаков, директор на БНР: Радиото е подложено на спорадичен тормоз, средата е токсична,” Dnevnik.bg, May 17, 2021, https://bit.ly/3BqyS3P
- 19“Милен Митев е новият генерален директор на БНР,” Bulgarian National Radio, October 27, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101547395/
|Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.||4.755 7.007|
- COVID-19 vaccination rules were a source of controversy at the local level as early as January, when municipal councilors used their positions of power to receive an early shot (even before medical staff) despite not being eligible at that time. Neither central nor local authorities were swift to react with an update to the rules.1
- In February, then-ruling GERB won mayoral posts in three municipalities and lost three seats in partial municipal council elections.2 In June, snap elections were held in the city of Blagoevgrad, where former mayor Rumen Tomov had been removed in 2020 (and a higher-instance court upheld the ruling in April3 ) due to conflicts-of-interest since Tomov had failed to sell a company at the beginning of his term. A candidate nominated by Trifonov’s ITN won in this case. Snap local elections were simultaneously held in seven small municipalities and won by candidates of various parties.4 Another set of snap elections were held in six other municipalities in October.5
- Similar to 2020, crises regarding the environment or local resources abounded in different municipalities and regions. Problems with sewage in the Varna municipality resulted in a constant blame game between the central government, the municipality, and utility companies and their local officials as tons of sewage polluted Lake Varna.6 The media exposed concerns over poorly maintained infrastructure and schemes involving the possible abuse of EU money earmarked for the laying of sewer pipe on the lakebed. A similar recurring problem appeared in Sinemorets, in southeastern Bulgaria, linked to ill-regulated construction.7
- Varna municipality was also involved in funding local media to the tune of 300,000 BGN under vague criteria, two weeks ahead of the national elections in April.8 A month earlier, other municipalities in various parts of Bulgaria saw the allocation of 30 million BGN, either for disaster prevention or, according to PM Borisov, “directly for the people” and the maintenance of schools, parks, and sports activities, among others. This is a typical practice ahead of elections and criticized by international organizations.
- In October, the caretaker government began working on a decentralization plan for municipal budgets. The goal is to submit a proposal to the next parliament that would allow increased budget autonomy for local needs in education, commerce, and so forth. Municipalities have maintained for years that the current centralized model hampers their ability to solve local issues and crises.9 The topic has divided politicians for decades, with some arguing that it would be detrimental to smaller, less-developed regions while kickstarting growth in more advanced ones.10
- The former Sofia police chief, Ivaylo Ivanov, who was fired by caretaker Interior Minister Rashkov over allegations of police violence, was appointed by Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova to head the capital’s municipality inspectorate in October, despite escalating political fallout from the 2020 anticorruption protests.11 Fandakova initially defended her choice, but a month later, she dissolved the inspectorate12 and announced that a selection process would determine Ivanov’s successor, with Ivanov yet to clarify whether he would run for the position.13 In mid-December, Fandakova again reversed course and decided against closing down the inspectorate.14 The incident highlighted the partisan use of local government power to reward loyalists.
- 1“Организация, правила, политика – как се обърка планът за ваксиниране срещу COVID-19,” Dnevnik.bg, January 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/3uWnzxC
- 2“ГЕРБ печели местните избори в Мъглиж, Пудрия и Слънчево,” Bulgarian National Television, February 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/3uTphQD
- 3“Благоевград ще избира нов кмет, ВАС окончателно отстрани от поста Румен Томов,” Bulgarian National Television, 14.04.2021, https://bit.ly/3odswjw
- 4“Централна избирателна комисия - частични местни избори, 27 юни 2021,” Central Election Commission, June 27, 2021, https://bit.ly/3IMn1jK
- 5See results: https://results.cik.bg/chmi2019-2023/03.10.2021_chastichen/tur1/1.html
- 6“Емил Димитров направи "обратен завой" за екокатастрофата във Варненското езеро,” Dnevnik.bg, February 01, 2021, https://www.dnevnik.bg/4170104
- 7“Отходната тръба на Синеморец се излива директно в морето,” Bulgarian National Television, August 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3DWpXrW
- 8“Предизборно и "на калпак" община Варна отново раздаде хиляди на медии,” Dnevnik.bg, March 19, 2021, https://bit.ly/3AjNv7G
- 9“Служебният кабинет се зае с децентрализацията на общинските бюджети,” Investor.bg, October 1, 2021, https://bit.ly/3oLSLim
- 10“Обсъждането на Бюджет 2022 започва другата седмица,” ClubZ, October 1, 2021, https://bit.ly/3amm3vm
- 11“Фандъкова назначи уволнен за полицейско насилие главен секретар на МВР на ключов общински пост,” October 0, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31492343.html
- 12“Фандъкова закрива Столичния инспекторат и увеличава администрацията си,” Dnevnik.bg, November 24, 2021, https://bit.ly/3rizoic
- 13“Ще има нов конкурс за жеф на столичния инспекторат,” MySofia.bg, November 17, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nYxCAu
- 14“Фандъкова се отказа да закрива Столичния инспекторат,” Dnevnik,bg, December 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3ILZr6I
|Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.||4.254 7.007|
- In January, the parliament voted to empower a prosecutor to investigate the Chief Prosecutor, a position long criticized by the EU and local actors for being effectively unaccountable.1 In February, President Radev vetoed the law, saying it jeopardized the Chief Prosecutor’s independence (the law equated the investigating prosecutor to the chief prosecutor).2 The project was short-lived since the Constitutional Court, upon the president’s referral, declared the establishment of such a position unconstitutional in May.3
- The ECtHR issued multiple rulings against Bulgaria during the year. In February, three plaintiffs who were subjected to sexual violence in a Bulgarian orphanage in 2002–03 won their case.4 Another case was won by businessman Minyu Staykov, who had been subjected to prolonged detention without a court verdict, but his request for compensation was turned down. Staykov had been arrested in 2018 for cigarette smuggling and tax crimes and held for eight months (the statutory limit) but was not released afterwards, instead facing new counts of criminal association.5
- The year saw ongoing clashes between the Prosecutor’s Office and the caretaker government and the presidency (both institutions accusing the prosecution of politicization). In June, caretaker Interior Minister Rashkov announced that Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev’s office had summoned security and intelligence officials for questioning; this move allegedly related to the ongoing wiretapping affair (see “Civil Society”).6 Rashkov also alleged that the directorates in his ministry in charge of wiretapping had acted at the behest of the Specialized Prosecutor’s office in violation of Bulgarians laws on classified information, something the latter denied. In August, the parliament voted unanimously to demand that Geshev submit a report on the prosecution’s activities with regard to police violence against 2020 anticorruption protesters.7
- The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) began work in July, but it rejected 6 out of 10 candidates delegated by Bulgaria because, formally, they were investigators or judges rather than prosecutors. Bulgaria had the highest rejection rate in the EU. Media reports also suggested some of the proposed names had little or no experience.8 In October, the nominations of four more prosecutors from Bulgaria were approved by the EPPO. The two remaining candidates have not yet been turned down, but their rejection would trigger a third selection procedure.9 In December, European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kövesi said she had asked Bulgarian institutions for more information about the two remaining candidates, a procedure used when issues are found in nominees’ CVs or cover letters.10 (In early 2022, one of the two was approved, while the other was rejected.11 )
- In July, caretaker Justice Minister Yanaki Stoilov proposed to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) that Geshev be removed from office, citing “action and inaction” tarnishing the judiciary’s prestige. However, the SJC declined to consider the request.12
- Also in July, the EU’s rule-of-law report noted that Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor wielded an extraordinary number of competences and remains beyond scrutiny, and that the judicial appointment system was flawed. Concerns were raised over the absence of a national protocol that would oversee judicial reform once the EU’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) is revoked. (The CVM is a report monitoring Bulgaria and Romania’s judiciary since their entry into the EU to improve deficiencies in rule of law and fighting corruption.)13
- The SJC, the judiciary’s top decision-making body, decided in August against disciplining Andon Mitalov, a judge sanctioned by the United States in 2020 for corruption.14 Back in July 2020, then-Justice Minister Danail Kirilov had demanded the judge’s resignation when Mitalov allowed a politician charged with espionage to travel to Russia to receive a state decoration. Yet, a year after the sanctions were enacted, magistrates have still not received evidence of significant corruption despite suspicion that Mitalov was involved in the so-called Eight Dwarves case (see “Corruption”).15
- In September, the parliament voted to relocate the Prosecution’s Witnesses Protection Bureau to the Justice Ministry, also stripping this entity of the right to participate in prosecutorial operations. Backers of the initiative argued that the prosecution had used the bureau as a militarized unit taking part in its special operations targeting Geshev’s enemies.16 In 2020, bureau agents took part in controversial detentions, including that of President Radev’s secretary, Plamen Uzunov (which in February 2021 was declared illegal17 ), and had guarded Geshev alongside the National Protection Office and the Interior Ministry.
- 1“Управляващите създадоха нов специален прокурор въпреки критиките в България и Европа,” Svobodna Evropa, January 29, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31075812.html
- 2“Радев спря създаването на обвинител, който да разследва главния прокурор,” Svobodna Evropa, February 10, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31095545.html
- 3“КС обяви за противоконституционен разследващия главния прокурор,” Lex.bg, May 11, 2021, https://news.lex.bg/%D0%BA%D1%81-%D0%BE%D0%B1%D1%8F%D0%B2%D0%B8-%D0%B7%…
- 4“България е осъдена от деца, пострадали от сексуално насилие,” Mediapool.bg, February 2, 2021, https://bit.ly/3iKwXQ2
- 5“Миню Стайков осъди България за ареста си, но не получи обезщетение,” Lex.bg, June 8, 2021, https://bit.ly/2WU1FP5
- 6“Бойко Рашков: Прокуратурата прави обиски в МВР. Пречат на разследването за подслушването,” Bird.bg, n.d., https://bird.bg/rashkov-mvr-prokuratura/
- 7Geshev, who was reluctant to submit reports to or testify before parliament, ended up doing both while a) suggesting he was not obliged to do so under the law and b) failing to provide relevant information on cases under review. He spent five hours with a parliamentary committee voicing outrage at the violence but refusing to discuss specific cases. His office also announced in August that it had examined thoroughly video recordings of alleged police violence, and that four police officers had been charged with inflicting slight bodily harm. See : “Прокуратурата: Всички кадри от полицейското насилие са изследвани по надлежния ред,” Darik News, August 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3DiXOL0; “Гешев все пак внесе в парламента информация за полицейско насилие при протестите през 2020 г.,” OffNews, August 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lmL6EP; “Гешев внесе в парламента доклад за полицейското насилие над протестиращи,” Darik News, August 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3DpfggZ
- 8“Кьовеши отхвърли седем от десетте български кандидати за европейски прокурори,” Euractiv Bulgaria, March 3, 2021, https://bit.ly/3ai5oJw. In December 2020, a law was passed placing the new European prosecutors under the Bulgarian Prosecutor's Office, with the European Chief Prosecutor only having authority over them with regard to probes into EU funding misuse.
- 9“Кьовеши назначи още четирима български европрокурори,” Dnevnik.bg, October 26, 2021, https://www.dnevnik.bg/4270543
- 10“Кьовеши иска още информация за двама от българските европрокурори,” News.bg, December 6, 2021, https://bit.ly/3rf96Nq
- 11“One more European Delegated Prosecutor appointed in Bulgaria, one rejected,” European Public Prosecutor’s Office, January 12, 2022, https://www.eppo.europa.eu/en/news/one-more-european-delegated-prosecut…
- 12“ВСС обяви за "недопустимо" отстраняването на Иван Гешев,” Mediapool.bg, July 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3Ak52ws
- 13“2021 Rule of law report - Communication and country chapters,” European Commission, July 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3AjGMKY
- 14“Обявеният от САЩ за корумпиран съдия Андон Миталов може да се размине с наказанието,” OffNews, August 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3mEbTMm
- 15The indictment against the politician in question, Aleksandar Malinov, was filed with the Specialized Criminal Court in June.
- 16This is a reference to specialized operations against several suspects, as well as the raid on the presidency that partly triggered the 2020 protests, in which Witness Protection Bureau units participation. Back in March, President Radev asked the Constitutional Court to decline the bureau's structure and subordination unconstitutional. Geshev argued that changes to the bureau would jeopardize witnesses' security by causing leaks of classified information.
- 17“Съдът: Арестът на Пламен Узунов за търговия с влияние е незаконен и немотивиран,” February 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/2Ywpugm
|Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.||3.754 7.007|
- In February, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF, announced that Bulgaria must return €6 million since it had violated terms of the funds’ allocation by buying older, and not necessarily suitable, SUVs (made by the Bulgaria-based company Great Wall) rather than new police cars for difficult terrain.1 OLAF recommended that the Specialized Prosecution decide whether to launch an investigation, but the latter attached the alert to another unspecified case. The Interior Ministry’s administrative secretary, Boyko Slavchev, a witness in the investigation, was the first person at the ministry dismissed by caretaker minister Rashkov.2
- OLAF announced in July that it was investigating 29 cases of possible abuse of EU funding and corruption in Bulgaria.3 OLAF was also considering whether to conduct a fact-finding mission in the country to learn why EU projects always went to the same companies.
- In both short-lived parliaments, the “change parties” established “revision committees” aimed at exposing wrongdoing and corruption cases from the Borisov government. The first case, in May, featured a highly publicized scandal with corruption and cartel allegations in the agricultural sector. Svetoslav Ilchovski, an agriculture manufacturer, alleged that associates around Borisov had used institutions (the Agriculture Ministry and its respective agencies, in particular)4 to dictate prices, shape markets, and use the prosecution against certain individuals. In September, the Interior Ministry said the EPPO would look into Ilchovski’s claims.5 More prominently, the first caretaker government reviewed alleged irregularities at agencies and institutions, including, notably, the state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank (BDB) where credits to the tune of 1 billion BGN were reportedly handed out to eight companies, half of which were indirectly linked to former MP Delyan Peevski.6 After those announcements in May, then-Economy Minister Kiril Petkov replaced the BDB’s management, with whom he had displayed tense relations.7 Petkov also examined projects at other state-owned companies, including faulty repairs at hundreds of dams at inflated prices with a total budget of over half a billion BGN, as well as illegal road repairs.8 Finance Minister Asen Vasilev argued that companies with high cash stockpiles should be inspected for corruption, such as the Russian company Lukoil. No probes were launched by state prosecutors in these cases despite ministers’ assurance that data on all irregularities had been submitted to the prosecution.
- In June, the US-sanctioned businessman Vasil Bozhkov (who fled to Dubai in 2020), ex-lawmaker Delyan Peevski, and the head of the National Bureau for Control on Special Intelligence-Gathering Devices, Ilko Zhelyazkov, were designated under the Global Magnitsky Act, while Peevski and Zhelyazkov were also sanctioned under Section 7031(c) for involvement in significant corruption, barring them from entering the US and cutting their access to the US financial system.9 The US pointed to Bozhkov’s past and planned acts of bribery (including intentions to help create a channel for Russian political leaders).10 Regarding Peevski, the US claimed he had used Zhelyazkov as a “front man” to engage in corruption, including for bribes and running a scheme for Bulgarian residency documents. In addition, three other GERB-era officials were sanctioned under Section 7031(c) for significant corruption and undermining the rule of law.11 Section 7031(c) was used earlier against the US-designated judge Andon Mitalov.12 Bulgarian authorities were swift to act following the US sanctions. The Bulgarian National Bank blocked all accounts of the three. The Finance Ministry drew up a blacklist adding 34 companies run or owned by Bozhkov and Peevski over the past five years, adding those to the 64 designated by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).13 Peevski, whose name meanwhile appeared in the massive Pandora Papers leak,14 appealed his blacklisting at the Supreme Administrative Court. The Prosecutor’s Office insisted that it had conducted 14 probes into Peevski’s dealings yet found no irregularities.15 Zhelyazkov was formally dismissed by lawmakers in July after resigning a month earlier.16
- Despite rampant corruption allegations, there was no major sentencing of a former high-profile political figure for corruption during the year. In July, an appellate court upheld the guilty verdict of former economy and energy minister Rumen Ovcharov (BSP) for willful neglect, handing him a two-year suspended sentence and barring him from public office for three years.17 The Specialized Prosecution, which deals with cases involving corruption and organized crime, confirmed in July that there were no sentences for high-level corruption in 2020 out of the 274 corruption cases it oversaw.18 Separately, in July, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office confirmed it had ended a probe into administrative abuse and influence peddling against former finance minister (under Borisov) Vladislav Goranov in 2019 without any notice. The investigation had begun in 2018 over revelations that Goranov had lived rent-free in a nearly 2,000 sq. ft. apartment owned by a businessman.19
- In September, the parliament overwhelmingly passed a bill abolishing the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in a first-reading vote, after which the legislature was dissolved before the third elections. The move, therefore, was a largely symbolic demonstration of unhappiness with the office’s poor track record.20
- At the beginning of November, 10 days before the third elections, more than 10 people were arrested over alleged irregularities in financing the construction of the Hemus motorway in Northern Bulgaria.21 Caretaker Interior Minister Rashkov made a number of allegations, including the use of shell companies and “a bank owned by Borisov” to channel the money allocated for the motorway abroad (with Borisov denying22 that he had a bank and announcing he would take Rashkov to court), alongside another allocation of 174 million BGN in advanced payments to construction companies, most of which were paid for a section of motorway that does not even have an approved route.23 Rashkov’s ministry also implicated several companies in the scheme, including Hidrostroy, which media reports have linked to Delyan Peevski. Rashkov maintains that part of the money was used for vote buying. In December, the alleged end receiver of 53 million BGN of that sum was detained and indicted over money laundering. The prosecution alleged the unnamed individual was complicit in forming a network of firms that drained money earmarked for a section of the Hemus motorway.24 The Prosecutor’s Office later announced that the individual had named people allegedly implicated in the affair.25
- Also days before the November election, the Interior Ministry published videos from 2005 of Mladen Marinov and others meeting with people from Bulgaria’s criminal underworld.26 Marinov was interior minister during the 2020 protests against the GERB-led government and subsequently elected to the Assembly. He resigned this post in 2020 at Borisov’s demand following public outrage over police violence during the demonstrations. The same videotaped meeting included cofounders of the security company Delta Guard, linked to the so-called Eight Dwarves investigation into current and former judges and prosecutors who allegedly attempted to unlawfully seize a businessman’s assets.27 Marinov was summoned by the Interior Ministry’s anti-organized-crime directorate,28 while Delta Guard’s license was revoked a few days earlier due to the indictment of one of its owners,29 although no explicit link was mentioned between the two developments.30
Angel Petrov is a journalist on the International News Desk of Dnevnik.bg, a Bulgarian news website, and covers the Balkans, the Middle East, and the post-Soviet space. He is former editor-in-chief of Sofia News Agency, an English-language news service on Bulgaria and previously the Balkans. He has also had bylines with the Financial Times, Al Jazeera, and Balkan Insight, and was part of BIRN’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence in 2019.
- 1“Съобщение на ОЛАФ за възможно престъпление в МВР доведе до тълкувания и опровержение,” Dnevnik.bg, February 1, 2021, https://bit.ly/3cUQXwh
- 2“Първо уволнение в МВР: Отстранен е административният секретар Бойко Славчев,” Actualno.com, May 12, 2021, https://bit.ly/3FsAeNL
- 3“ОЛАФ: Проблем в България е, че при измами с европари не може да се съдят фирми,” 24 Chasa, July 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/3cQjaV1
- 4“ГЕРБ провали заседание на комисията "Манолова", в което бизнесмен разказваше за рекет и "Мата Хари",” Dnevnik.bg, May 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3FU1qUW
- 5“Европейската прокуратура ще проверява твърденията на Светослав Илчовски,” Bulgarian National Radio, September 8, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101524146/
- 6“Започва ревизия на ББР след раздадените близо 1 млрд. лева на 8 фирми,” Mediapool.bg, May 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lnjj7i
- 7“Смениха ръководството на ББР,” News.bg, June 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/2YwYU7o. The BDB was the same bank that was embroiled in a scandal in 2020, during the first months of the pandemic, after handing out tens of millions of euros in credit lines to tax collection firms.
- 8“Доклад от Кирил Петков. Служебен министър на икономиката. Постигнати резултати от работата на екипа нa министерство на икономиката в мандата нa служебния кабинет 11.05.2021 – 15.09.2021г.,” Ministry of Economy of Bulgaria, https://bit.ly/3iMYaSj
- 9“Treasury Sanctions Influential Bulgarian Individuals and Their Expansive Networks for Engaging in Corruption,” US Department of the Treasury, June 0, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0208
- 10“Според съда Горанов и комисията по хазарта са бездействали необяснимо спрямо Божков,” Dnevnik.bg, March 09, 2021, https://bit.ly/3llstRQ
- 11“Public Designation of Five Bulgarian Public Officials Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption,” US Department of State, June 2, 2021, https://bit.ly/3nU6Ysw
- 12Manolev resigned in 2019 amid a probe into whether he used a building erected as a guesthouse with EU funding as a private villa. Haralampiev was charged in 2018 with asking for and taking bribes to issue certificates of Bulgarian origin to foreign nationals.
- 13“Обявени български физически лица по закона „Магнитски“ на 02 Юни 2021 г.,” Dnevnik.bg, June 9, 2021, https://www.dnevnik.bg/file/4219069.pdf
- 14Peevski was one of the two politically exposed persons from Bulgaria in the Pandora Papers leak. The other was former UN Middle Eastern Envoy and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov, but the offshore company he had registered, a few days into taking up a UN office, never carried out any activity.
- 15“Прокуратурата е започнала и прекратила 14 преписки срещу Пеевски,” Darik News, September 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/30Yg6E3
- 16“Парламентът освободи Илко Желязков от бюрото за контрол на СРС,” OffNews, July 28, 2021, https://bit.ly/3xsfUbF
- 17“Апелативният съд: 2 години условно за Румен Овчаров,” Bulgarian National Radio, June 22, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101487512/
- 18“Спецпрокуратурата призна: няма влезли в сила присъди за висока корупция,” Dnevnik.bg, July 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3FrlFKq
- 19“Прокуратурата 2 години кри, че е оневинила Горанов за апартамента,” Sega, July 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/2WT3EDg
- 20“Парламентът символично закри спецправосъдието със заявка за реформа,” Dnevnik.bg, September 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/3FxRzVx
- 21“Над 10 арестувани при акция за финансирането на строежа на "Хемус",” Mediapool.bg, November 3, 2021, https://bit.ly/32HqLU3
- 22The Bulgarian National Bank later announced Borisov is not the formal owner of a bank and does not participate in any Bulgarian bank's management bodies. See: “БНБ: Б. Борисов не е собственик и не е в управителни органи на търговски банки,” Bulgarian National Radio, November 5, 2021, https://bnr.bg/post/101552642/bnb
- 23“Рашков: Средствата за "Хемус" са минали през банка на Борисов,” ClubZ, November 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/3xtdhGM
- 24“Прокуратурата повдигна обвинение за изпиране на 53 млн. лв. от “Хемус”,” Sega, December 7, 2021, https://bit.ly/3u6sNJ0
- 25“Задържаният за пране на пари от "Хемус" посочи имена на замесени по случая,” Dnevnik.bg, December 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/3s61cVy. In a sign of the case's politicization, both Rashkov and Geshev rushed to meet with Kolev at the latter’s request, citing the need to disclose highly sensitive information to them in person. Read more at: “Обвиняемият за аферата “Хемус” се срещна с Рашков и даде показания пред Гешев,” Trud, December 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/3g60EcS
- 26“МВР пусна запис на Младен Маринов с криминалния контингент (ВИДЕО),” Sega, November 12, 2021, https://bit.ly/312gKQX
- 27“Как един пикап разкри връзка между "Осемте джуджета" и Младен Маринов,” Svobodna Evropa, November 11, 2021, https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31554590.html
- 28“Младен Маринов се яви в ГДБОП,” NOVA TV, November 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/310Vxqx
- 29“Отнеха лиценза на „Делта Гард“,” Darik News, November 8, 2021, https://bit.ly/3xsfmmk
- 30While the Interior Ministry's anti-organized crime directorate launched a probe into Marinov's ties to Delta Guard, state prosecutors only demanded all the evidence against the magistrates mentioned in the Eight Dwarves investigation a year after it was published. That followed a request from Justice Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev that the magistrates in question be disciplined. See: “ВСС поиска всички материали за тримата прокурори от „Осемте джуджета“,” Lex.bg, November 24, 2021, https://bit.ly/3lfjeSV
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