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Bulgaria – Taming a Messy State February 4, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria.
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Find the balance between shady friendships and freedom. Learn the rules before breaking them – the only way in which you won’t have the shadow of paranoia (and death) hanging over your head in case you live in the underworld.

This was a lesson that Bobi Tsankov, a young Bulgarian journalist who wrote about his country’s mighty gangsters, did not learn. And was shot dead for failing to do so.

As a chronicle writer of the mafia, the subject of fraud investigations himself and a man who enjoyed inhabiting the mafia circles, many people – from the underworld and above it – have been happy to learn of his untimely death. Yet as a statement about the power of organized crime in Bulgaria, the echo of the bullets that hit him could hardly have been louder.

Moreover, the murder could have hardly been more untimely for the new government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who came to power this summer on promises to clamp down on the criminal underworld and on corruption in its public service. Borisov said his top priority is to restore the trust of the European partners, some of whom were furious that Bulgaria made its way to the European bloc before putting its house in order.

Put the house under a microscope, this is what Borisov has been trying to do and have achieved pretty much. In a country that has been repeating a particular pattern – one of the worst records on crime ever in EU history – he said he wants to be out of the trap and showed confidence as to how to untangle himself from his past links to this very same shady figures. He has been revved up to make big changes this year, especially when it comes to transforming the way the country is viewed in the European public eye.

True, the concept may take a while to flesh out, but Borisov has made it clear it’s important to get the wheels of inspiration turning. Now.

Despite his efforts however Bulgaria rarely makes headlines with news that cheer up European partners. First it was the blow with Tsankov’s murder, then came Bozhidar Dimitrov, a Bulgarian cabinet minister without portfolio who runs the country’s Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, saying his country will block Turkey’s European Union bid unless it settles a displaced persons argument from 1913. The bold declarations caused an uproar both in Turkey and Europe and has raised more than few eyebrows.

Luckily the minister was vehemently reprimanded by the prime minister, who had only until yesterday tried to protect him from other blows, stemming from his past of a secret agent and a nationalist historian. Luckily too the minister admitted he made a faux pas.

Change seems to be picking up speed? Yes, and Bulgaria seems to be starting to put its own house in order.

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