I've spent a year at MIT. Being the font of knowledge that it is, the world's best university (as ranked several times already by QS World Universities), it has a thing or two to teach others about how to be a research facility and combine education, knowledge, science, state grants, and business. It works brilliantly and although many will claim otherwise, it's not an easy formula to replicate.
In one of my earliest attempts to understand how this machine operates, I stumbled into the office of the Director for Foreign Partnerships. I had a brilliant idea! I would tell the wonderful people here about Bulgarian universities' urgent need to create meaningful research campuses and in that endeavor, they would, of course, have no better partner than MIT.
To cut a long (and embarrassing) story short, what I've learnt is that MIT does partnerships very rarely, and solely based on intra-personal connections. You need to have faculty relations, mutual trust, compatibility, common science or business projects, and be backed by financial means, to have even the slightest chance of being taken seriously on the most important map of today's world - that of high-level knowledge hubs.
Hence I'm thrilled and full of respect for prof. Martin Vechev, who managed to create a new research institute in Sofia - INSAIT, in collaboration with two of the leading European universities: Swiss polytechnics ETH Zurich and EPFL. I can only imagine how hard it is to convince them, let alone drag partners like Amazon and Google on board. They've also secured 200 million leva (100 million euro) investment for that.
If all is well and prof. Vechev's start-up manages to fulfill expectations, Sofia might pop up as a dot on the map in that barren land of "no high-level universities" between Vienna and Istanbul. What's more, others might follow. Varna universities have been looking toward their own research campus for some time. They lack the knowledge, the money and the right person to lift them up.
And this might just open up a different road ahead for Bulgarians, looking whether to stay or leave, as well as others who might join-in. A virtual road, not owned by construction cartels (look below).
So, fingers crossed. That's one good story we will follow with delight.
As for you, we wish you a very happy Easter (if you are an Orthodox Christian) and because of the coming holidays, this week's newsletter will be shorter. As usual it was helped by
Martin Dimitrov & Anina Santova
POLITICS THIS WEEK
"If we are brothers, then we are Abel and Cain."
This is how Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded when Bulgarian President Rumen Radev mouthed a cliche about two "brotherly nations fighting", while hosting him.
The envoy of the besieged nation came to seek further support - including military - for his country, which has been battling Russian aggression for close to two months now.
It must have been a strange visit
On the one hand, he was greeted by a smiling Prime Minister Petkov, who talked about cooperation and help, on the other - the foreign minister Teodora Genchovska, who has been at odds with the PM on North Macedonia and rather reserved. While Petkov underlined how well Bulgaria is treating the 91,000 refugees from the war-torn country, his Minister of Tourism Hristo Prodanov (BSP, obviously) said that 25,000 of them would need to vacate hotel rooms they live in by 31 May, so that they don't obstruct the tourist season.
No military assistance
Is the message Kuleba got. Petkov is not ready for yet another issue to rock the coalition, and it's certainly not a fight he wants to get into. "We are doing more than other nations anyway", he said. Kuleba also seemed to have known that in advance and downplayed the outcome, saying that Bulgaria is doing a lot to help Ukraine anyway. He also thanked Sofia for its support for Ukraine's EU membership.
You know who's not happy about that? Skopje
Yes, those other "brotherly" people across the border, whom Sofia refuses to back in its bid to start negotiations. Petkov left this issue off the table altogether, after failing to receive the support of the President or the full coalition for progressing.
Speaking of coalition dramas: Road construction cartel has its way
After several weeks of threats of protests and inner-coalition clashes between TISP and their Regional Minister Grozdan Karadjov, on the one side, and the rest of the coalition, on the other, on Tuesday the four parties in the ruling majority agreed to pay some of the money the road construction sector claims.
The cabinet proposed that Parliament allow the Road Construction agency to immediately start paying half of the 1 billion levs that road companies demand for their open-ended contracts for road maintenance, signed under GERB. The other half of the money will be reimbursed after contracts are inspected by the Parliament's Regional Committee.
Make no mistake: this is a huge win for the road cartel. This closed group of big construction companies, who won every procurement under GERB, continues to enjoy lavish treatment. For now.
Polls show decline in support for the government
Three public opinion polls from this week - by Alpha Research, Gallup International and Balkan and Trend agencies - show heightened distrust in cabinet and parliament, loss of support for all parties in the ruling coalition (except BSP), stabilization for GERB (which is poised to win early elections, if they took place today) and rising popularity for radical, pro-Russian Vazrazhdane, which more than doubles its results to 8-10 percent of the vote if elections were today, making it the fourth-largest party.
Public trust in Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has plummeted since February, with his 39% approval rating almost halved to 23% in April, while negative perceptions more than doubled (from 21% in February to 48% in April).
One thing to bear in mind: no early elections are on the horizon. None of the ruling parties want them, neither, to be honest - does GERB. So this is a snap answer to a non-existing question.
Borissov's arrest "unlawful," Court declares
Sofia City Court ruled that the arrest of former Prime Minister and GERB leader Boyko Borissov on 17 March was unlawful, as "no viable evidence of crime" had been submitted to the court by the police. The arrest warrant issued by the police was described as "illiterate and unintelligible" by the court.
Also, we don't like Putin
On the positive side, public opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin has markedly changed since the start of the war, with support for him dropping from 58% in June 2021 to 25% today, while opposition to his policies has also diametrically shifted - from 20% in June 2021 up to 61% today.
Is the inflation rate on an annual basis for March. Gas, transport and food are the main culprits.
growth of Bulgarian GDP for this year expects the IMF - down from 4.4%
Strike seasonAs the strike in Liebherr from last week (you probably remember - the first in 7 years) drags on, K Insights hears that not all is well. There is still an agreement to be made between both sides, while workers have been busy collecting info about other Liebherr production sites and figures to use in the dispute. They are waiting for a meeting and a solution from the German management. They are also approached by unions - none of Plovdiv's production companies has any. So it seems things will not settle down before the holidays.
Kornelia Ninova - the socialist leader started reshuffling people in the state-owned enterprises she controls. The last one to go is the board of directors of Kintex - the arms manufacturer. As a side note, Ninova is adamantly opposed to sending arms to Ukraine, while Bulgarian arms have been found in Ukraine.
will invest 120 million levs (60 mln euro) in repairing and building pavement. A big part of the funding (50 mln euro) will come as a loan that the municipality will take from the European Investment Bank. The rest will be provided from the city's budget. The final goal is to repair 690 thousand square meters of sidewalks in four years.
Word of the week:
Pazarlak, or bargaining, is another favorite word of Turkish origin that encapsulates the driving force within the ruling coalition these days - everybody bargains with the rest for something, sometimes even turning to the opposition for help. The best example was TISP's Lyubomir Karimanski, who sought the support of MRF and GERB to become head of the National Bank when he couldn't find support from within the coalition. Then TISP's Grozdan Karadjov blamed WCC for trying to trade support for BNB governorship for the 1 billion the state owes to road construction firms. And BSP is not ashamed to seek a bargain with the opposition to bring back paper ballots The list goes on and one - when no real values or program keep the coalition together, pazarlak does.