On Tuesday evening, a brutal road catastrophe shook Bulgaria.
Two young women - aged just 22 and 26, fell victim to total carnage inflicted by a 35-year-old man, Georgi Semerdzhiev. He drove his Audi Q7 SUV at breakneck speed through a red light into a taxi at a central Sofia crossroad, only to ricochet off it and crash into the elevator booth of a nearby metro stop. The 2.5 ton vehicle was literally split in two, with the front part flying onto the sidewalk, where the two unsuspecting victims were simply walking in the wrong place at the wrong time
The tragic loss of two young lives was just the start of this shocking, disturbing story, however.
To start at the beginning, we have a miscreant who was somehow allowed on the road less than a month after he was caught - after a heist with the police, mind you - driving under the influence of "several types of amphetamines". His driving license was confiscated by the traffic police, but for some inexplicable reason he himself was not immediately put into custody: "I don't know why our colleagues didn't arrest him at the time," the head of the Traffic Police Tencho Tenev plainly told Nova TV.
Maybe this was his first accident, one might say. It was his forty-eighth! He appears to have been involved in violations spanning the entire gamut of the Road Traffic law.
After his car had its number plates removed, he had simply used counterfeit Swiss plates and a foreign driving license ever since, driving undisrupted and wreaking havoc - including on the fatal day, where he was caught by a road camera speeding at 160 (!) km per hour on the Sofia ring road, and plowing through heavy traffic elsewhere, mindlessly brushing against other vehicles.
And if it is still not obvious that Semerdzhiev was someone special for the police, the rear half of his demolished SUV hid a police light and a police stop sign, which belonged to a young female police officer, who was accompanying him at the time of the crash - something that Internal Minister Boyko Rashkov confirmed on Thursday. She allegedly even made her colleagues from the nearby Police Department help him make it into his nearby apartment! Moreover, according to the Anti-Corruption Fund NGO, the killer was a "protected witness" in a drug distribution ring. Apparently this had guaranteed him impunity for all fifty "minor" transgressions that had preceded the carnage.
Somewhere between 500 and 600 people die on Bulgaria's roads each year - it is one of the few EU countries which has seen no decrease over the years - sadly, it has gone up even since the 2000s. Although many incidents can be blamed on road conditions, many others spring from this type of negligence from the authorities - although the case cited here is definitely an exception.
But it is particular exceptions like Semerdzhiev that expose the deep rottenness of the system.
Road fatalities happen everywhere. There is also a lot of corruption involved in lots of places. Yet this is the easiest place to root it out. And also one of the most visible. If we are to change one thing fast, we might as well start with that.
1. Politics this week:Assen Vassilev's cabinet is most likely a mirage
After outgoing Finance Minister Assen Vassilev accepted the first mandate to try to forge a new coalition from President Rumen Radev last Friday afternoon, he quickly met the BSP and Democratic Bulgaria leadership and received their support. Then they met in three-way meetings over the first two days of the week, set up government priorities (effectively repeating promises for rushed judicial and anti-corruption reform, social measures and expedited changes in the regulators) and probably agreed who takes which ministry.
The only problem was that WCC never made much progress in finding additional MPs to back the proposed cabinet. On Thursday, palpably exasperated, Mr Vassilev told journalists that he wouldn't comment on the names of those in the cabinet he is supposed to propose to the National Assembly today, because, all things considered, it looked unlikely to secure the 121 votes needed to pass. "We are obliged to try until the end. From there on, every MP who has a head on their shoulders, and has a conscience, has to decide whether to support the program we have presented," Mr Vassilev pointed out.
The verdict: the cabinet is unlikely to be approved and will pass to GERB, maybe as early as Monday.
This newsletter was helped by: Anina Santova and Evgeni Ahmedzai
Alpha Research: WCC regains ground, GERB and Vazrazhdane stagnate
And as early elections become more certain by the day, the most recent poll from Alpha Research agency gives a glimmer of hope for the battered ruling WCC party, as well as for its Democratic Bulgaria allies. According to the poll, published on Wednesday, WCC appears to have regained support (18.4 to 20.2 from April) after the fall of the cabinet and the dismissal of Parliament Head Nikola Minchev. Democratic Bulgaria, which has consistently lost support in recent months, has also regained ground, nearing the 7.5 percent mark.
Meanwhile, the results of their main opponents from GERB are virtually unchanged (21.7 percent in April compared to 21.5 now) and the party that caused the rift in the ruling coalition, TISP, is already projected to fall below the 5 percent threshold for entering the next Parliament. The radical Russophile Vazrazhdane faction is also losing momentum, down from 9.4 percent to 7.9 percent.
Geshev's SJC hearing - no surprises here
After a 13-hour debate that extended until the late hours of Thursday, the majority of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) unsurprisingly voted against Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev's dismissal by 16 to 2 in a show of hands. Unsurprisingly, because the representatives of the judiciary's self-governing organ have been trying to dismiss, suppress and ignore the reports of two consecutive justice ministers listing a lengthy catalog of Mr Geshev's transgressions and inactions that have repeatedly obstructed justice over the past two-and-a-half years. The hearing was uneventful - the majority of SJC magistrates were clearly on the Prosecutor General's side and did not probe him (with the notable exception of judges Atanaska DIsheva and Olga Kerelska, who later voted for his dismissal), and the few he got, he simply brushed aside.
2. Economy:State finances
According to preliminary data from the Finance Ministry, the state's budget surplus almost doubled in June, reaching over 1.1 billion levs. State finances are in the black to the tune of 0.8% of the estimated GDP despite expectations of a deficit of 6.2 billion in 2022.
is Bulgaria's expected GDP growth this year, according to Unicredit Bulbank's forecast. The bank revises its expectations upwards but lowers those for 2023 to 2%, or 1.5 percent.
60 million levs
is the turnover of shares of foreign companies traded on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange in just one year since its introduction.
From the week: KInsights overview of the budget revision
3. Business:Crypto Nexo
Bulgarian-founded crypto bank Nexo is on track to acquire Asia's Vauld, which on Monday froze customer withdrawals after announcing that it has received an outflow of nearly 200 million dollars since June 12.
The big crypto layoff
In recent weeks, the Bulgarian office of cryptocurrency exchange company Crypto.com has laid off hundreds of people, even though it grew from 0 to 2900 people in two years. The reason is the collapse of the crypto market, which is already causing many companies in the sector to rethink their aggressive models.
"Karcher Bulgaria" - the company specializing in cleaning technology - expects 17 million euros in revenue this year - equivalent to their results the previous year. In 2023, the company will open a new company site in Sofia, which will include a training and demonstration center, service base, and a car wash.
"Webit Investment Network" (WIN) has announced the list of companies in which it will invest. They are EcoTree from Denmark, 360VUZ from the United Arab Emirates, WechselGott from Germany, Alver World from Switzerland, and CAKE from Sweden. Each will receive 500 thousand euros.
"Bii Smart Technologies" plans to raise up to 1.2 million levs on the BEAM. This is expected to happen in the middle of the month, with the exact date still undisclosed. The company offers technologies for remote monitoring of beehives and an innovative model for trading bee products.
concrete technologies". The new factory produces assembly parts, and concrete truck barrels and assembles concrete trucks. The investment is 17 million euros of which 15 million euros are devoted to the plant and premises and 2 million euros for the transfer and the purchase of new equipment.
4. Energy:Natural gas in Bulgaria goes up by 32%
Bulgargaz, the largest Bulgarian natural gas distribution company and a subsidiary of the Bulgarian Energy Holding EAD, finally pitched a proposal about July's natural gas price. The company suggests 187 lv per mgw/h and it is likely that the Energy regulator will obey and accept this estimation. The new price is 32% higher than last month's and the highest so far this year. It was justified through the lack of LNG in the region and the volatile TTF hub.
To the gas fields!
After four years of appeal on July 5, 2022, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) finally canceled the ban on producing natural gas near General Toshevo. The project, led by Sasho Donchev's "Rusgeocom BG", was halted back in 2018 with many controversies. The idea is to use conventional extraction technology in the region of northeastern Bulgaria. The proven reserves are over 1 bln. cubic meters.
5. Watch out for:People:
Kalina Konstantinova - for being the minister daring to take away the lunch break from employees in more than 90 branches of the state administration and even prolong their working hours (from 8:00 to 18:30)! Watch out for those nervous desks.
Koral - the Black Sea bay, which has been the target of many shady real estate developers through the years, has finally been designated a "protected water area" by outgoing Ecology Minister Borislav Sandov, which is a small - but symbolic - victory for Bulgarian environmentalists (it is also the favorite sea spot of the PM Kiril Petkov).
Rosenets - a bit further to the north of Koral, we have news from MRF Honorary President Ahmed Dogan's infamous cove. Two years after Democratic Bulgaria leader Hristo Ivanov disembarked at the beach, illegally occupied by Mr Dogan's constructions, the Construction Control Agency (DNSK) declared its pier illegal.
Company:Trillion Energy - Canada's energy company plans to resume work on its license to explore for natural gas near the northeastern Bulgarian city of Dobrich. Find out more in KInsights' piece from this week.
Social media can cause a flurry of funny misunderstandings, especially when older public figures are involved - they simply don't always understand how some of their messages can travel far beyond their circle of friends. Take Panayot Panayotov - an aging Socialist-era pop star, who decided to share with his several hundred Facebook "friends" and followers that his upcoming Burgas concert, alongside another diva from the bygone age, Kichka Bodurova, had been canceled due to мижав интерес, or measly public interest. He had been told, apparently, that only a handful of tickets were sold for the show. But the funny phrase he used reached influential pranksters on Facebook who made the interpersonal exchange between the profiles of Ms Bodurova and Mr Panayotov a fully-fledged internet saga over several days.
Ms Bodurova first complained about Mr Panayotov's language and claimed that the concert was, in fact, sold out - with over 2,000 tickets sold. Mr Panayotov, however, snapped back by sharing a screenshot of a message in which Ms Bodurova basically said the reason he is no longer invited to the gig was that her producers could not cover his fuel costs. It all seems to have ended well for Mr Panayotov, however - the viral online thread he created landed him a private gig in the center of Sofia, organized by savvy concert makers, which sold out immediately.