The week: Bulgaria’s favorite decade, the euro-effort is shot in the leg, and banks are doing great

The week: Bulgaria’s favorite decade, the euro-effort is shot in the leg, and banks are doing great

The past still has power over us

© Nadezhda Chipeva

What's your favorite decade? It's hard to answer without being influenced by magical memories of youth, isn't it?

Youth, as Fitzgerald put it, is a dream and a chemical madness and therefore any decade in which we were young is bound to look brighter and better than any subsequent one. Yet, since we are journalists, and also of sufficiently juvenile mentality, we tried at the end of last year to pin down Bulgarians' favorite decade.

It was a fun and enriching experience, which turned out to be a retrospective of the 90s more than anything else (you can read about it here, in Bulgarian, if you want). That's quite understandable, given that there weren't many decades quite like the 90s with its drunken sense of limitless freedom, openness, attitude to life, music, and yes, chaos.

But then we decided to partner with Gallup and ask people what they think and it turned out we were (understandably) wrong. The favorite decade of 4 out of 6 age groups was the 80s.

Many reasons might explain that, not least the passage of time, the contrast between the flatness of the 80s compared to the shock of the 90s and nostalgie.

But I decided to share the summary of the results here, because apart from their cultural value, they hold other lessons. Since what we miss is usually what we like, you can probably use that to explain political choices, geopolitics, or simply consumer habits.

I would advise you, however, to take it all with a pinch of salt. As Georgi Gospodinov writes in his wonderful new book "Time shelter": "The past is not only what has happened to you. Sometimes it is what you merely fantasized about".

This newsletter is helped by

Martin Dimitrov & Mary Ivanova

1. Politics this week:

And with that in mind: here is a portrait of Bulgarian youth

More than 48% of young people know a peer who has been in the NEETs category (not in employment, education or training) for at least one year and the proportion for the 24-29 group is worse - 65% of respondents say they know people their age like this.

These are the conclusions of a Gallup survey commissioned by the Ministry of Youth and Sport, conducted in October 2022 among the country's youth aged between 15 and 29. The data reveals the marginalization of a huge number of young people, especially those in smaller towns.

Puzzlingly, in their self-assessment, participants were more reticent - only about 13% admitted to having been in a NEETS situation for over a year and relying on family, either in the past or present. Even so, this proportion is alarming - this is more than 110,000 out of 854,000 young people in Bulgaria according to the last census.

The second reign of Galab Donev

The four-month session of the 48th National Assembly limped to a forgettable end. MPs failed in their two main tasks - to find a working coalition formula, and to pass the legislation and amendments needed for the continuation of payments under the EU Resilience and Recovery plans.

Worse still, some of their decisions ran counter to progress made over the last two tumultuous years in Bulgarian politics.

To end on an upbeat note, it managed to pass two resolutions in favor of Ukraine. The first was to allow limited military aid in December. The second, just two days ago, was to define the Holodomor, the man-made famine that befell the country in the 1930s, as genocide. Albeit symbolic, the two resolutions are at least something.

For a more detailed overview of this Parliament's achievements and failures, read our article from Thursday.

And with that, we're off to (yet more) elections. The President handed over the executive to another caretaker government, headed by the same PM who was in charge last week: Galab Donev. To judge from the President's actions, everything seems to be going well apart from culture, because this portfolio saw the only ministerial change.

Supreme Judicial Council election fraud?

At the end of June 2022, judges voted for their representatives in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The results were surprising: there was an extremely low turnout, but six judges were elected - all heads of different units in the system - with a huge lead. Three judges protested the decisions and called for an investigation.

A triple expert check found out that the system for electronic voting for members of the SJC from the professional quota does not guarantee the secrecy of the vote and creates serious doubts about its manipulation.

The most puzzling circumstance of the vote, the check showed, was the mass voting, concentrated in the morning hours of Saturday, when dozens of electronic voting requests were submitted to the system in just 3 minutes, from the same IP address.

More from this week:

Housing loans in Bulgaria rank among the EU's cheapest

A minor change to the Insurance law turned out to be the game-changer for the euro efforts. Since "Lev Ins" - the leading player on the insurance market - has outstanding payments on claims from abroad, one of the European Central Bank's requirements was to settle the case. The Bulgarian Ministry of Finance was supposed to pass a change to the law, saying simply that money owed should be paid in accordance with the regulations. GERB, MRF and other parties sabotaged the effort on the last day of Parliament, not showing up and not voting for it. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

Tourism keeps growing, but still far off 2019 levels

A total of 24 million nights were registered in Bulgarian hotels last year. This is still 3 million lower than 2019, pre-pandemic. The local market is growing fast - Bulgarian visits are 17% up from 2019, while foreigners are still 27% below.

The new minimum wage is set

It will be at least 50% of the median wage over the last 12 months, decided Parliament in its last session. It will be calculated based on the last two quarters of previous year and the first 2 of the current one. The scheme starts next year.

Bulgarian workers among the unhappiest

According to Eurostat data, 29.9% of Bulgarian workers find their work satisfying, which puts Bulgaria at the bottom of the statistics for Europe, along with Portugal (21.6%), Poland (31%) and Germany (32.1%). Leaders in the survey are Latvia, Switzerland and Hungary - respectively with 70.9%, 69.1% and 65%.

In Bulgaria, the level of employee satisfaction has increased by 2.7 percentage points since 2017, in contrast to neighboring Romania, where the increase in the same period was from 28.3% to 40%.


2 billion levs

Is the profit of Bulgarian banks last year, which is a whopping 47% higher than 2021. The two top banks - DSK and Unicredit Bulbank - account for half of that.


Is the growth of the online retail market in Bulgaria in 2022, according to E-commerce Europe data. It will top 1.6 billion euro.



The leading producer had a record year - 57.4 million in profit, after two consecutive years in the red. The high price of the metal this year accounts for the windfall. This led to a jump in Alcomet stock on the Bulgarian market.


Blue card

Legislation regarding the so-called blue card, which allows the recruitment of highly qualified workers from third countries, has finally been amended. The application can now be completed electronically, and people who claimed asylum status can also apply. The changes, mainly demanded by local IT companies, address a large part of complaints from recent years and will probably lead to a greater flow of people with higher education from countries outside the European Union (EU) into Bulgaria.

4. Brussels

The European Commission won't finance a new fence on the Bulgarian - Turkish border, says its chief spokesperson. The state is free to provide its own funding to build it. However, "the Bulgarian-Turkish border must be a priority in which the EU countries should be involved," said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a letter to European heads of state days before the extraordinary meeting of the European Council scheduled for February 9. Still, among the options on the table are increased Frontex capacity, drones and helicopters and more shared resources on-site.

The EU proposes a new 'Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net Zero Age' in response to the US Inflation Act. The plan includes a number of measures such as easier processes for issuing permits for projects of key interest, common standards for the implementation of new technologies, and more state aid for businesses. The problem - similar targets are already agreed in the national recovery plans, also new measures and even more regulations tend to have rather negative effects on investments. Funding is still unclear, it is expected that the Recovery plans might be revised in the wake of the latest initiative. Another possible source of funding is the new Sovereignty Fund (still under construction) that could be financed by a new tranche of EU borrowing or more national contributions to the EU budget. No, that's not the fund to stash away your oil money, because we're not Norway. But follow this space to find out more.

5. Energy:

Serbia starts to break free from Russian gas

On Wednesday, Bulgaria and Serbia's Presidents Rumen Radev and Aleksandar Vucic inaugurated construction works on the Bulgaria-Serbia Gas Interconnection (IBS). The ceremony took place in Kostinbrod in Bulgaria. They committed to put the interconnector into operation by October 2023. IBS will have a total length of about 170 km - from Novi Iskar in Bulgaria to Nis in Serbia. It will have a capacity of up to 1.8 billion cbm per annum and would allow for a reverse flow. The project will cost 27 million euro for the Bulgarian segment, which will come from the Connecting Europe Facility. It is also vital for Serbia, which currently has only one pipe supplying it - the Russian TurkStream.

Gas price down 31% in February, but still above European levels

The Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (KEVR) set on Wednesday the new price of natural gas for February at BGN 124.34 per MWh. By comparison, the price last month was BGN 179.33 per MWh, or 31% higher. The fall in the regulated market price in Bulgaria is because of quotations on European exchanges. The average price on the most liquid exchange on the continent (TTF) is 58 euros per mWh or 113.4 BGN per mWh, which is 8% below the tariff approved by KEVR. The price is higher in Bulgaria because supply for the month includes volumes from the storage in Chiren, which were bought last summer at much higher prices.

6 .Watch out for:

People: Tamas Hak-Kovacs

The CEO of DSK is a relative newcomer to the Bulgarian market, but oversaw quite a success in his debut season: his bank tops the chart in 2022 for the first time, with 29 billion levs in assets and a record 567 million levs profit.

Emil Kabaivanov

The mayor of Karlovo is the highest-earning official of the 40+ municipalities from which Capital requested salaries. Kabaivanov (found guilty of mismanagement once) takes home 5556 levs a month, which is almost twice that of the mayor of Sofia. Research also shows that the mayors of smaller cities earn on average 4000 levs a month, compared to 3300 for bigger cities.


The Sofia team

The new platform, launched by Lyubo Georgiev - the architect and former head of the Sofiaplan, held the first meeting between the three main "reformist" factions that will try to wrest control of Sofia from GERB - Democratic Bulgaria, WCC and Save Sofia. Just staging such a meeting was a success, although coordination will depend on agreeing a joint mayoral candidate. That is still far off.

U-Stone Limited EOOD

The Bulgarian firm appeared on a list of 22 individuals and companies from several countries that have been sanctioned by the US as accomplices in a global sanctions-avoidance network supporting Russia's military-industrial complex.


Veliko Tarnovo - Interhotel

If you want to read a little more about that rather monumental jewel of socialist brutalism, here is a deep-dive.
Words of the week:

Козирка - Roof canopy

"Козирка или смърт"- "Roof canopy or death", shouted Botev Plovdiv ultras on the streets of the second biggest city this week. No, it's not some strange fetish: the football club has been waiting for over a decade for its new stadium to be built. Negligence, corruption, mismanagement and plain lies have derailed the process. The latest problem is that the money is yet again insufficient for an entire roof which is necessary to grant it UEFA 4 status. The municipality and the builder will try to find a solution.

Да изядеш балтиите (Getting a kicking, Varna-style)

Vazrazhdane's call for a referendum to keep the Bulgarian lev (and against the adoption of the euro) has opened up a new front - in high school corridors. This week, Vazrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov - who instigated the petition - claimed on Facebook that his 18-year old high school student son, had been provoked by a classmate while spreading the petition in their schools. Mr Kostadinov bragged that the other student has "изял балтиите" of his son, which means that he "got a kicking" in a Varna dialect (the Vazrazhdane politician is from the seaside region).

Although it turned out that there was probably no physical altercation between the two students, it was appalling that Mr Kostadinov not only justified, but wholeheartedly praised his son for resorting to violence to make his point. The liberal social media circle also acted dishonorably - subjecting the politician's teenage son to cruel jibes. Once again, it became clear that there are no boundaries for Bulgarian politicians and activists.

What's your favorite decade? It's hard to answer without being influenced by magical memories of youth, isn't it?

Youth, as Fitzgerald put it, is a dream and a chemical madness and therefore any decade in which we were young is bound to look brighter and better than any subsequent one. Yet, since we are journalists, and also of sufficiently juvenile mentality, we tried at the end of last year to pin down Bulgarians' favorite decade.

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