There are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen. I don't often quote comrade Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, but the past week sure deserves it.
From the vineyards of Constantia in CapeTown, through Sky Garden in London, to a house in central Sofia, this week has seen more action than we could have reasonably expected even considering the events of the previous one. In the past seven days Bulgaria saw its first broad coalition agreement between two former sworn enemies, the murder of one of the most iconic underworld figures of the past 2 decades and the highest international prize ever awarded to a Bulgarian-language book.
And I know we tend to follow a script in this newsletter, traditionally starting with politics, but this time I will deviate from it. And I will begin with the event, which in my opinion, will have the greatest long-term impact. I am talking, of course, about the Booker prize awarded to Georgi Gospodinov and his novel "Time Shelter".
I've written in the past about Gospodinov's merits and the way he beautifully captures the innate sadness of Eastern Europe. Or maybe that's not the right word here. Garth Greenwell, who spent some time in Bulgaria as a teacher, does wonderful justice to Gospodinov in this 2015 New Yorker review, where he says "as Gospodinov conceives it, the Bulgarian word tuga (which his translator, Angela Rodel, renders as "sorrow") is, like Pamuk's hüzün or Nabokov's toska, a word for which there's no real equivalent in English. (Maybe everyone imagines their sorrow to be untranslatable; maybe they're right.)"
That, I think, really defines our territory more than any other concept. Why is a region full of bright and lively people, inhabiting some of the world's most spectacular natural reserves, and living in infinitely better conditions than (say) Latin America or Asia, so deeply unhappy? Why are so many leaving? What is it like to stay behind? Why do we love the 80s?
There is more than one answer, of course (and if you're a regular reader of our newsletter, you have some idea that we try to buck the trend by cheering people up) but Gospodinov's short stories and novels do not try to answer it, but describe it, immerse into every minutiae of everyday life and in this manner make it available for any reader, anywhere, to connect and understand.
And so the good news about the Booker prize is it suddenly allows even more readers worldwide to connect to Bulgaria and understand it on a level that transcends news articles. It puts it on the map of literature and allows for curiosity and discovery. We are not just about corruption or Sunny Beach. We are more than Boyko Borissov and mobsters. It is not unlike football, excuse my comparison. Hristo Stoichkov congratulated Gospodinov, comparing it to "winning another Ballon D'Or" and I tend to agree. Stoichkov introduced the world to a Bulgarian football generation which proved to be a legendary one. There are so many modern Bulgarian writers who deserve more time in the sun: some like Kapka Kassabova are getting it, others like Milen Ruskov or Georgi Bardarov are still waiting for their international debut.
And last, but not least, in a public landscape viciously devoid of positive examples and inhabited by corrupt politicians, failing oligarchs, evil prosecutors and their sexy mistresses, turned Instagram influencers, the elevation of one of our writers to global fame is a welcome development.
Sometimes a little inspiration is all you need. Gospodinov might as well be our Time Shelter. Do you really think someone remembers who ruled Colombia in the time of Gabriel García Márquez?
This newsletter is helped by
@Martin Dimitrov & Monika Varbanova
POLITICS THIS WEEKYou can dance with the devil, but it will be to his tune. I learned this lovely English proverb this week from a favorite newsletter of mine - the cultural guide Aeropagus.
And it resonates fully with what has been happening, doesn't it?
On the face of it, the newborn coalition between two sworn enemies - the old GERB and the new We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria - is a deadly trap for the pro-reformers, a dance with an old devil who tricked many before them into believing they will have the upper hand.
Borissov, the common knowledge goes, is like a poison Ivy: once it embraces you, he sucks the life out of you.
It seems especially ludicrous to go into this now, when he is out for the count after the sudden counterattack of his own Prosecutor General, and thus help him out of a corner. The cries on both sides - from GERB-loyalists, to DB die-hards - prove that such a move was unexpected and non-traditional.
But hey, let's drop sympathies for a moment and think rationally. From what I know, the coalition deal Borissov had in his pocket last Friday fell through, due to a sudden MRF decision to withhold support (why is a question I'm still researching). And he was left without a choice in a Parliament that was on the brink of dissolving, facing some time without immunity at the moment when Geshev was about to go after him. So he basically approached WCC/DB with an offer - take Mariya Gabriel, add her to your cabinet and get support.
If you are WCC/DB, that's the best offer you will get for the near future. If you want to get to power, that is. New elections won't produce anything other than a weakened GERB, a smaller WCC and a stronger Vazhrazdane, making any government even less likely. If GERB starts to dissolve under the attack of their former allies (which is many reformers' wet dream), those people are not going to prop up their camp.
So taking GERB support now, without any GERB names in the cabinet and having a huge say in the upcoming appointments in the regulators, is a step forward compared to looking from the margins while GERB-MRF-TISP are doing it.
But this is still a dance with an old devil. How do you even work with Borissov and how much they will cave in is a big question. And it is not starting well: GERB and MRF already managed to vote this week to lower the independence of the supreme courts under the guise of the other parties.
Also on Friday, a deputy from WCC, presented recordings of his own political leaders, hoping to derail the new governing coalition. The rumor is, the prosecution service has a thing or two to do with this (see below).
As for Schengen and the eurozone, I'm not at all convinced Mariya Gabriel can bring any of those home, but we've seen worse.
What has been agreed:
At Monday's joint press conference, the future rotating prime ministers Nickolay Denkov and Mariya Gabriel outlined the priorities of their government (in fact, formally there will be two governments) and the way of exercising power. These include:
- Constitutional reform of the prosecutor's office and the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC);
Everyone's focused on those 9-month rotations of the Prime Minister. Personally, if we see a government at all, I doubt we will get to any rotation. Neither GERB, nor WCC-DB can last that long: they have a local election coming in 5 months and Borissov can safely wait for the prosecution raid to be over and then drop the hat, saying he's had enough of reformers and this was a mistake. That's the second hurdle this government is going to face.
The first one is about to come rather soon: the moment the Prosecution requests Borissov's immunity.
A constitutional majority?
As mentioned earlier, one of the priorities of the rotational government would be to pass judicial reform and reform of the SJC. This can, however, only happen with a constitutional majority, which, in turn, means support from other parties, as they need at least 160 votes and at the moment they command a total of 133 MPs. And we're still talking about the slow procedure: a 2-5 month deliberation period.
LAW & ORDERWe decided this week to go with a new topic to cover the ongoing strife in the judiciary, as well as the first killing of a big underground name in quite some time.
And to ask ourselves: is the deep state mobilizing?
Early this Thursday morning, one or more people entered a beautiful house in the wealthy Cape Town suburb of Constantia and rained fire on the four residents. We've spoken to the police and they confirmed it was heavy gunfire: the corpses were littered with bullet holes.
What makes this killing special, is the main victim - Krassimir Kamenov, known as Karo. The 50-year-old victim was one of the oldest remaining links to the 90's drug warlords in Bulgaria. Karo emerged as a vicious player in the gang fights on Sofia streets and then slowly gained control over drug traffic, parkings, and other sectors together with his ally Hristoforos Amanatidis-Taky. His most famous possession was the food safety control over the Turkish border.
He has been hiding abroad for years and rumor has it that his empire started to disintegrate in the past several years.
What's particularly interesting about the shooting in Cape Town is that it happened a month after the Prosecution service in Bulgaria named Karo as an organizer of the killing of a high-ranking police official and involved in "anti-state dealings" and issued a red alert in Interpol. It also comes a week after Presiden Rumen Radev visited South Africa. So lots of unanswered questions there
Speaking of Geshev - things get going
On Monday the Prosecutor General released a 35-minute recording with one of the members of the Supreme Judicial Council who requested his removal - Yordan Stoev. The recording alleges that Mr Geshev received "100% guarantees" for himself and his family from Boyko Borissov if he left his post and seems to implicate Borissov in pulling all the strings in the SJC.
On the same day, four members of the prosecutors' college of the SJC launched a new procedure for Mr Geshev's removal. This is still not going to be an easy battle, as Geshev will hold on until the last moment.
Geshev kept on the offensive: he initiated a full check of his deputy and head of the investigation Borislav Sarafov, and requested the removal of the immunity of a GERB deputy.
A little bit of Cuba, in my life
The funniest part of this somber story is the Sofia health inspectorate's decsion to investigate whether the prosecutor general smoked a cigar in his office. Truth be told: he did, as is obvious on TV cameras. But as someone who frequented the cabinets of many GERB ministers in prior years, I've no doubt where he got the habit from.
ECONOMYLet's keep it brief, as the economy is one area where things look calm.
7 billion levs
Is the overall sum of assets in companies owned by municipalities in Bulgaria, say the Institute of Market Economy. Over 36 thousand people are employed in them.
is the median life expectancy in Bulgaria, based on NSI calculations
Are the individual investors in the Bulgarian stock exchange as of last year.
The Bulgarian startup for cargo drones has finally managed to take off - literally. After years of development, the company managed to produce its first flight. It was only a 20 km flight but the news raised the stock of the Bulgarian unit of the company by 5% on the BEAM market. Seems like a long way to market operability though.
Plovdiv-based producer of edible coffee cups got 1.8 million euros in growth money. 500 thousand comes from Eleven Ventures, while the rest is from the European Innovation Council.
The Swedish company opens up a factory near Sofia. It will produce medical equipment and will be worth 1.6 million levs.
BRUSSELSStop energy subsidies - The European Commission insisted on countries (including Bulgaria) to phase out their energy support measures and limit their expenditures in the coming years amid more turbulent times.
Blocking Euro 7- Eight EU countries (including Bulgaria, Italy, France etc.) have called for the bloc to scrap new pollution limits for car tailpipes as they distract from the goal of effectively banning new combustion engine vehicles after 2035. After consulting three ministers and experts in Brussels, we still didn't find a thorough explanation for Bulgaria's reluctant position.
WATCH OUT FOR
The owner of football club "Vitosha Bistritsa" had a wonderful week: his club veterans won the national championship, and Sofia cleared him from paying rent for his stadium for the next 10 years. The missing link? His main player is called Boyko Borissov.
The leader of MRF is the one rumored to have disabled the first option of a coalition government between GERB and MRF and also visited a concert this week - for the first time in years.
Lulin, Vrabnitsa and Nadezhda
are the Sofia neighborhoods most suited to solar panels, according to research from "Solar cities"
KInsights "bigger sister" publication - Capital weekly - has launched a special program aimed at students and university professors, who will receive preferential access to the media's resources - current publications and the accumulated articles, analyses, interviews and data over the past three decades - all at a symbolic price. Find out more about it here.
ZEN OF THE WEEKStudena reservoir next to Pernik is the place where cult synthpop band Depeche Mode recorded their brand new video for the song "Wagging Tongue," part of their upcoming Memento Mori.
This is how it looked several years ago