The shutdown of Bulgarian National Radio’s broadcasting and the following debate are a diagnosis of the Bulgarian society. An unprecedented blow to national security, but few seem to care. We get used to all the “unthinkable” scandals and wait for the next one to die down.
Prosecutor General Tsatsarov has routinely instructed the SANS, CEM and the prosecutor’s office to find a plausible explanation in ‘three’ days, finding a minor player to take the “culprit”’s role and cover up the true perpetrators. The job is simple – omit at all cost the name of the real boss at the NURTS – National Radio and Television Stations Department – Delyan Peevski (nominally in the Vivacom group controlled by the VTB) in the newsfeed and the comments. The same applies to Mr. Peevsky as the frontman for the collective oligarch – the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s office – shedding light on the appointment of the current Director-General of the National Radio.
At the same time, the investigation should also spare the name of the General-Prosecutor-to-be Geshev, that emerged around the story of the journalist Silvya Velikova, in order not to compromise the white-washing media operation, portraying him as the US approved choice.
The process is closely coordinated with Moscow where a complementary manipulative story is launched in circulation – conveniently alleging that the current General Prosecutor – Tsatsarov, is a US agent too. This is the same die-hard Russian biased General Prosecutor that has openly demonstrated a cordial relationship with his Russian homolog Chaika. There is no proof of any Tsatsarov US affiliation whatsoever, while his fervour for aligning actions with his Russian colleagues is long a public secret. Suffice it to say that Bulgaria’s prosecutors are trained not in the EU or the US, but Russia, making sure the Prosecutor’s office becomes a trusted channel of Russian influence.
A campaign claiming that Ivan Geshev has received institutional approval from the United States for his election as Attorney General runs in parallel. This is nothing more than a PR anchor, especially if one compares the number of his visits to Russia. While it is true that Geshev was invited to visit the United States, he has tried to make the most of this fact and beef up his “Atlantic” credentials, demonstrating a commitment to fight crime and corruption, and convince his hosts he would complete the judicial reform in the Tsatsarov version.
Few in the US and the EU, however, have believed this sudden pro-West tilt.
There is no proof of any Tsatsarov US affiliation whatsoever, while his fervor for aligning actions with his Russian colleagues is long a public secret. Suffice it to say that Bulgaria’s prosecutors are trained not in the EU or the US, but in Russia, making sure the Prosecutor’s office becomes a trusted channel of Russian influence. Tsatsarov himself played a prominent role in indicting the former minister of defence of Bulgaria for failing to comply with the interests of one of Russia’s top arms manufacturers.
The actions in Bulgaria and Russia seem coordinated, or at least aligned, which decries Russia’s potential complicity in the election of Ivan Geshev as the next General Prosecutor. Moscow’s stake in keeping control over Bulgaria’s GP’s office is far too high to be overlooked.
The parallel campaign, alleging Ivan Geshev has passed US institutional approval is nothing more than a PR stunt. He was indeed invited to visit the United States and tried to use the fact to beef up his Atlantic image and allegiance to fight crime and corruption while completing the judicial reform.
Few if any in the US and the EU, would take to heart his sudden western tilt.
US institutions are careful not to play the local General Prosecutor’s game – there has been any official statement to back up Geshev’s assertions of being an acceptable candidate. It would have been strange, given the record and the standard practices, for any US or EU institution to promote and back Geshev or anyone else in his place. With this myth debunked, the whole saga looks more like a self-promotion event, part of a self-fulfilling charm offensive targeted at Western politicians and local media.
Behind the scene, as usual, a key figure in Bulgaria’s transition, Ahmed Dogan continues to pull strings and oversee the whole process of upgrading the inherited Lukanov model, of which he is the custodian. The election of Ivan Geshev as the new General Prosecutor is an integral part of the process.
Indeed, the most imminent and logical parallel in history, that can be drawn with the current situation are events at the beginning of the 1990s, when then communist PM Lukanov managed to trade with the West his blueprint for transition in Bulgaria. It was controlled by the communist nomenclature, featuring all the attributes of a decorative democracy, with the right-wing opposition in the place, represented by the UDF.
In those early days the accumulation of power and capital was in its infancy – today we have the process almost completed with politicians openly displaying their wealth and a new key control center – the Prosecutor’s office as the collective oligarch. Today the nouveau riches have amassed enormous power and money base, and the democratic process hides inherent threats for them as it implies a potential change in power and diligent prosecutors coming after them in anti-corruption drives. Hence the need to secure their future through control of the Prosecutor’s office, as well as institutional control over the money flows– both public and private that might end up helping opposition challenge the governance model.
Most of what we witness has been directly borrowed from Putin’s rulebook. In the past, the nomenclature used criminal gangs and forceful insurance gangs to scare and control society. Today, the same objective is achieved using the institutions, transferring the basic control functions of the special services to the prosecutor’s office, which acts as a control and command centre. Such complex operations imply sophisticated logistics, which is still in short supply. We often watch a power disperse and a clear line of transfer of essential decisions making powers, depriving institutions, including Parliament and Government, in favour of obscure private power groups, including the so-called “Librarians’ Institute”.
History repeats itself. In the early 90s, the BCP’s top politicians started touring embassies, traveling abroad for meetings with their Western partners and international financial institutions, with the sole aim to convince the West that Bulgaria was on track to democracy. That is why Lukanov’s government stopped servicing the country’s foreign debt – trying to attract attention and squeeze the reaction time of the West so that it does not consider all the options and look for an alternative. His offer was simple – leave us on our own to rule and in return, we will guarantee you that Bulgaria joins NATO and the EU, adhering to all rituals of belonging to the West.
The power model that emerged since, served the ruling elite well, consolidating autocratic trends, ending up in a fully controlled Parliament and media.
Today at the top of the hierarchy are Dogan, Peevski, and Borisov, as well as the new collective oligarch, personified by the Tsatsarov – Geshev tandem. Their control is well ‘oiled’ by multibillion-dollar money flows, originating from the state budget or EU funds that helped the new oligarchic class comprising politicians turned oligarchs. This new elite is presented to the West as the fresh face of Bulgarian capitalism – with Dogan and Peevsky deciding to leave obscurity and come out in the open as the new moguls, with Borisov closely behind. An Atlantic and democratic façade overshadows the deeply autocratic nature of the regime, the endemic corruption, and state capture are the glue that holds it together.
The real entrepreneurs and industrialists are pushed backstage, forced to pledge loyalty to the new kings in town. One can easily tell the difference between the genuine capitalists and the imposters by the different degrees of dependence on public funds and contracts, and by the international spread of their business model. This has changed recently as the political oligarchs have been actively operating their asset base abroad using international investment vehicles.
The time to upgrade the transition model has been picked carefully to coincide with the purchase of the US F-16 jets. The pinnacle in the current phase of legitimization should be a reception of the public face of the model – PM Borisov at the White House. The Dogan – Borissov tandem relies not on the content of the talks, but the way the meeting can be played in public, both abroad and in Bulgaria.
The trump card Lukanov’s heirs hold today has not changed much – it is their “old” adage – if it is not for us at the helm, the Muscovites will take over, uncertainty will loom. This is racketeering in its purest form. Worked then, at the beginning of the 90s, they hope, it will work again now.
End of part one