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Bulgarian woes February 4, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria.
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Tuesday’s murder of Bobi Tsankov, a young Bulgarian journalist who wrote about his country’s over-mighty gangsters, took place in broad daylight in a crowded street in the centre of Sofia. As a statement about the power of organised crime in Bulgaria, it could hardly have been more explicit.

Moreover, it could hardly have come at a worse time for prime minister Boyko Borissov’s government. Borissov came to power in July facing the arduous task of regaining the trust of Bulgaria’s EU partners. Some of them bitterly regretted their decision to let Bulgaria join the EU in 2007 before it had properly confronted the scourge of organised crime. A 2008 European Commission report on Bulgaria’s progress in tackling corruption and organised crime was, in my view, the most negative ever produced about an EU member state.

Broadly speaking, however, Borissov has done a good job in reassuring the rest of Europe that he means business. His government has tried to crack down on public sector corruption, such as in the customs service, and it claims some success in its anti-kidnapping campaign. Herman Van Rompuy, the new EU president, visited Sofia in December and stated: “Bulgaria is again on the right track.”

From an EU perspective, though, Bulgaria rarely seems to be in the news for the right reasons. Over the past week, some curious reports have emerged from Sofia suggesting that the Bulgarian government may seek to derail Turkey’s EU membership bid. Why would Bulgaria threaten such a rash step against its neighbour? One official in Sofia linked the threat to long-standing Bulgarian financial claims against Turkey. Bulgaria demands up to €14bn in compensation for property that belonged to several hundred thousand ethnic Bulgarians who were driven out of the western Ottoman Empire just before the first world war. However, these claims are more than 80 years old, and there seems no particular reason to publicise them now – unless for domestic Bulgarian political purposes. Turkey is urging restraint. After the Tsankov murder, Bulgaria should concentrate first on putting its own house in order.

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