Have you seen the HellBoy movie? In it, a half-demon, half-man creature helps the good guys defeat all sorts of malevolent forces - from underground monsters to plain old Nazis. He's very good at what he does, precisely because he used to be one of the bad guys and he knows how they operate and think - he's a demon, after all, with cut-off horns to remind us.
Watching Mr. Delyan Peevski at work these days has reminded me a lot of HellBoy. Being the poster child of wrongdoing in Bulgaria for well over a decade and the mastermind behind various schemes to capture state resources, Peevski has earned himself the ultimate accolade of being "the one whose name you use" if you want something shady done. He was also, of course, branded as a significant agent of corruption by none other than the US.
So seeing him walk around the Parliament in a down-to-business mode, working with Borissov's GERB and We Continue the Change's Kiril Petkov, pushing various initiatives and making sure everything goes as planned, has been something of a surprise. Not because of the efficiency of his initiatives - Peevski's signature quality has always been his ability to deliver - but because he seems eager to dismantle much of what he spent a decade building.
For example, his eagerness to change the Constitution. "We agree to dismantle the boundless power of the Prosecutor General," said the man whose allies benefited immensely from said powers. Or his desire to change the Judicial Inspectorate for failing to control the system, which his cronies spent a decade manipulating.
I was told of a recent meeting with ministers, where Peevski said that API - the infamous Road Agency, should be dismantled because "it is a symbol of corruption". This is rich, coming from someone who's rumored to have controlled various companies, using API's procurement to get EU funding.
What I'm trying to say is that Mr. Peevski suddenly looks as if he's switched sides. He goes to work regularly, votes for things largely deemed right, talks by phone to Petkov several times a day (from what I hear) and doesn't mind sacrificing the tools of the captured state for the greater good. This must be music to the ears of Western partners who've long lamented the ungovernable corrupt mess which is Bulgaria.
Now, I hate to be a party-pooper but I have one warning and one observation.
This warning is not a surprise, I've already made it a couple of times before. It is basically - beware of Greeks bearing gifts, for they might well prove to be a Trojan horse. Peevski and his partner Borissov have every reason to be the "good guys" now when the Ukrainian war is raging and the EU and US need stability here. Stability, in fact, is the one thing they can provide in droves. Yet somewhere in there, the HellBoy is still a demon, or to put it in less biblical terms, the old ways are not forgotten. For example, the abovementioned API scheme was proposed, so that the new agency can have a head selected by the Parliament where Mr. Peevski can have an easy say.
But I might, of course, be wrong and they can actually get along really well in this coalition. Peevski will deliver the mechanisms, Borissov will deliver the votes and WCC will get on with executing what needs to be done. The first two will get a clean slate and an amnesty and the horns will stay cut. In this case, my observation is we're in for the long game and this government can actually last well beyond the local elections. Or at least - until March, when the first rotation of the government is due. Get the popcorn.
This newsletter is helped by:Martin Dimitrov and Monika Varbanova
1. Politics this week:Ah, time for some local drama
WCC-DB coalition started announcing names and is now suffering from the double whammy of internal squabbles and vicious attacks from opponents.
The textbook example is the nominee for mayor of Sofia, Vassil Terziev. His candidacy was supposed to be a rare example of constructive compromise struck by most of the liberal reformist factions. But instead Mr Terziev became a punchbag for his family's (previously unknown) deep involvement in the repressive apparatus of Communist Bulgaria, with hits coming both from within and outside democratic circles.
WCC-DB also got a name for Plovdiv - the very anonymous local school master Ivaylo Staribratov, who's promising "stability" and sounds a bit like GERB. And they still don't have a name for Varna.
Ruse is quite a hit & miss
Things don't look much better in other cities. Take Ruse where WCC-DB were expected to win easily. There, they pushed for their mayoral nominee Rena Stefanova, known for two things mainly: being the lawyer of courier giant Ekont's owner and having a suspended sentence for injuring a pedestrian in a car crash during her brief stint as an MP in 2021-2022.
Mercurial to the end
GERB, on the other hand, hasn't announced any names. The experienced players who control local authorities for a decade know that revealing their contenders would open the door to smear campaigns, so they wisely keep them in the shadows until the last moment.
That's probably also due to Mr. Borissov's aversion to Retrograde Mercury, which coincidentally ends today.
More and more people want early elections, GERB increases its lead: Trend Agency
Borissov doesn't need to rush, however. Nearly a third of Bulgarians believe that early parliamentary elections are needed. Distrust of the cabinet is growing and GERB is increasing its lead over WCC-DB. These are the main conclusions in a poll carried out by the Trend polling agency, published in the 24 chasa newspaper on Thursday. While the tendency is visibly in favor of GERB, nothing in the results suggests the need for an early vote.
Bulgaria makes a sudden U-turn on Ukraine grain embargo The ban on imports of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds was swiftly lifted on Wednesday with the votes of 124 MPs from GERB, WCC-DB and MRF. This means Ukrainian imports will be able to enter the market after 15 September.
The government explained that everyone except grain producers suffered from the embargo: consumers are paying more, oil-producing factories are on the brink. Since the farmers get the lion's share of a 2 billion levs per year subsidy from the EU, and got a 2.5 billion leva profit last year, they should be able to accommodate some losses from the lower Ukrainian prices, the ruling coalition reasons. The logic of the farmers themselves is a bit different: the move prompted calls for a mass protest from the grain sector.
Caught on the hoof
The Bulgarian decision was quite unusual, since recent governments have capitulated to any protest, and caught other EU nations unawares, as well as agriculture Minister Kiril Vatev. Earlier, Hungary had announced Bulgaria was with Slovakia, Poland and Romania in keeping the ban, imposed earlier this year by the European Commission.
Also to be dropped: Russian oil imports derogation
The MPs on the Parliamentary Economic Committee voted on Wednesday for the derogation for import of Russian oil to be prematurely terminated. This should be done within one month after the final adoption of the legislative change. In addition, a change in another law proposes the appointment of a so-called special commercial manager by the state to the Lukoil Neftochim refinery in Burgas in case the company's operations threaten national security, the supply of critical resources such as crude oil and fuels is threatened, or if sanctions against Russia are violated.
The Special Trade Governor will be appointed by the National Assembly on the proposal of the Government, initially for 6 months.
3. Business:Mining Elatsite-Med
The mining company has provided additional reserves underground, in order to lengthen the concession period for another 10 years, until 2041. This will mean a further 1.2 billion levs (600 million euro) in investment.
4. Brussels:China under fire
The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen gave her annual speech in Strasbourg this week. No one expected big news from it, however her intention to launch a new probe into subsidies for Chinese electric vehicles fired up the plenary. If realized, this would probably lead to new EU tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles and subsidies. Whistleblowers in Brussels already reveal that no one dared to react immediately, but some Member States won't support the initiative, including, as expected, Germany.
Schengen again. And again.
The speech mentioned Bulgaria twice. First, the EU executive body expressed readiness to support the country following devastating floods and extreme weather conditions (Bulgaria hasn't requested financial support yet, unlike Greece). Also, "Bulgaria and Romania are part of our Schengen area.So let us finally bring them in - without any further delay", said the Commission's President, triggering loud applause in the House, but no clear commitment on how to achieve it.
This week the National Parliament of the Netherlands gave a clear sign again that Bulgaria is not ready to join the free passport area in the EU. So next time you're on the border, just show Von Der Leyen's picture and ask if you can get in.
5. Energy:New solar record
2319 MWh of solar power has been registered at one point during this week. This marks the peak of solar production in Bulgaria. This is on account of the good weather and many new RES in operation.
Meanwhile, coal mines in Stara Zagora have registered 51 million levs of loss in the first half of this year.
6. Watch out for:People:
The Swede, who in 2014 created the cryptocurrency scam OneCoin together with the Bulgarian-born German citizen Ruzha Ignatova, was sentenced in the US to 20 years in prison. Ms Ignatova's whereabouts remain unknown to this day.
With a positive vote from 522 MEPs, she was approved by the European Parliament as the next Bulgarian commissioner responsible for innovation, research, culture, education and youth. Ivanova will replace Mariya Gabriel who stepped down in May to take up a post in the new Bulgarian government.
Is the year in which all registries will have to be online and electronic. This was made obligatory by changes in the law this week.
If you remember, we've warned that some infrastructure will inevitably pop up in militarily sensitive areas of Bulgaria. We are, after all, a nation close to the war theater. It seems this is now happening: the defence minister announced plans for a small city-like camp to be built near Yambol. It should be able to host from 1500 up to 5000 people and it should be ready by 2025.
While we carry on building the first high-speed rail in Bulgaria, we keep finding remnants of the past. This time - a letter that was found hidden in a bottle in an old bridge on the Sofia - Plovdiv railway this week by engineers. During the demolition of the old bridge, one of the surveyors discovered the message in a bottle dated from 19 June 1886, left by the Italian creators of the bridge.