United Patriots ensure a bumpy EU Ride for Bulgarian Premier Borisov

23 02 18


By Bernard Rorke

 With the spotlight on Bulgaria, will fascists in the cabinet, nazis on the streets, and more police violence against Roma – not to mention hate speech and threats to a visiting MEP – and endemic corruption, all combine to scupper PM Borisov’s attempts to make a success of his country’s first ever EU Presidency?

Bulgaria’s first stint at the helm of the EU began with a bang when a business executive with close links to Borisov’s GERB party was gunned down outside his Sofia office in broad daylight just a couple of days into its EU presidency. Bulgaria’s reputation as “the most corrupt country in the EU” was further boosted by Transparency International’s 2017 Corruptions Perception Index released this week, which ranked Bulgaria in 71st place, way below all other EU member states.

But what is more concerning than corruption is that the coalition partners of the government that now presides over the European Union are unabashed fascists, with a deputy prime minister – Valeri Simeonov –who was convicted of hate speech last October for referring to Roma as “brazen, feral, human-like creatures.”

The United Patriots and their “odious brand of hatred and intolerance”

In January, Gabi Zimmer, president of the left-wing GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament called for vigilance to ensure that the United Patriots (UP) do not “hijack EU platforms to promote their odious brand of hatred and intolerance under the guise of the Council Presidency.”

Despite Borisov’s best efforts and quiet assurances to the EU that he could rein in his fascist United Patriot coalition partners for the next couple of months, on the evidence of the first couple of weeks it’s looking like this Presidency will be a bumpy ride for the wily Borisov.

He was no doubt discomfited by the annual “Lukovmarsh” on 17 February, when hundreds of nazis marched through Sofia’s streets in a torchlit procession honouring General Hristo Lukov, a leader of the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian Legions in the 1930s and 1940s who was killed by anti-fascist partisan Violeta Yakova.

The United Patriots stayed away this year and VMRO, a party often accused of supporting and even organising the Lukovmarsh, audaciously denied that it had ever “organised events aimed at racial hatred, antisemitism, and things along that line.”

Borisov’s efforts to present Bulgaria as an open-minded and forward-looking country were further blocked by a dispute that forced him to halt ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

UP Deputy Prime Minister Volen Siderov had warned that if GERB sought parliamentary approval for the treaty, it could lead to the fall of the government and early parliamentary elections.

In the face of opposition from the United Patriots, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, Borisov announced that GERB “will adopt the Istanbul Convention only if there is a consensus in Bulgarian society.”

UP: Expel Ska Keller “delusional green Jihadist”

Simeonov’s capacity to embarrass Bulgaria took another turn when he issued a statement on 9 February ordering Ska Keller, the president of the Greens group in the European Parliament, to be expelled from the country after she participated in protests.

Simeonov called for the “delusional green Jihadist” Keller to be declared persona non grata in Bulgaria and expelled “in a van” to the Turkish border. Simeonov added that his party, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), could provide the van.

Keller condemned the threats made against her by the Deputy Prime Minister as shocking and inappropriate. No apology was forthcoming from the Bulgarian government which issued the briefest of statements distancing itself from “the position of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB).”

Bulgarian police brutality claims another Romani life

Less widely reported were incidents of police brutality and degrading treatment of Roma by police officers in the town of Ihtiman. In one incident, the parents of a man arrested by police were taken into custody, beaten and abused. An independent medical investigation has confirmed the father sustained two broken ribs and the mother other injuries. In another incident, on 8 February, a 64-year-old man died when he was pushed to the ground during an early morning police raid on a Romani neighbourhood. His family said that when they demanded that the police call an ambulance, they simply laughed and left.

Police brutality against Roma is commonplace in Bulgaria. A recent study by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee found that nearly 30% of all arrestees are beaten or abused by the police and that Roma are disproportionately targeted for this abuse. In 2015, the European Committee against Torture issued a public statement highlighting the lack of cooperation of the Bulgarian authorities in order to improve conditions in the places of detention, and expressed concerns over the persistent excessive use of force and firearms as well as torture, inhuman and degrading treatment by police officers.

But the response to these latest events from the Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister for Public Order and Security, Krasimir Karakachanov was flat denials, calls for harsher punishments for those who assault police officers and an attack on human rights organisations.

Karakachanov, a member of the United Patriots, denied any police wrongdoing, and claimed the gendarmes only had “visual contact” with the man who died. He condemned human rights organisations for previous litigation and advocacy surrounding police brutality, which he claimed “demotivates” police forces: “If I have to believe ‘these people’ or the police, I will believe the police.”

The “committed Europeans”

 MEP Gabi Zimmer made clear her reservations about Karakachanov, who last summer called for the use of arms to repel refugees and migrants entering Europe: “This is the same person who will be presiding over the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council’s meetings until the summer.”

She also drew attention to UP Environment Minister Neno Dimov, a climate denier and former head of the Bulgarian chapter of the extremist World League for Freedom and Democracy (WLFD), who will chair the Environment Council and Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov, a seasoned xenophobe from the notorious Ataka party, who will also be chairing EU discussions.

Borisov himself is no stranger to controversy, whether describing Bulgaria’s Roma, Turks and retirees nostalgic for the communist past as “bad human material” or thanking far-right violent vigilantes for “helping” the border police in hunting refugees and migrants, this inveterate populist is above all a survivor who intends to make this Presidency work for him. The image he cultivates now is pro-EU, business-like and outward looking.

European Commission President Junker has described his fellow EPP member Borisov as a “personal friend” and a “committed European” and, with a straight face, declared that “the great nation of Bulgaria” has behaved like a founding member since the very first day it joined the European Union.

The Commission is fully behind this presidency with its risible slogan “United we stand”. Even if Borisov cannot keep a lid on his fascist colleagues, it seems clear that the EU will look the other way and gloss over any controversies caused by the United Patriots.

The EU would do well to view this presidency as a dry run for what is coming next. Any failures to defend “European values” against UP racism, homophobia and all-round fascist thuggery during this Bulgarian stint will be put to the test again in July when the Austrians take over the next EU presidency with no fewer than five government ministers from the far right Freedom Party in tow.




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