As probably some of you know, I've been based in Plovdiv for almost 2 years now. Our team has dedicated countless hours and efforts as journalists here to make Bulgaria's second largest city a more transparent place, expose shady deals and help the civic community. We are, I believe, making the city a better place, step by step.
But there is lots more to be done. In the past 2 years, Plovdiv has been run into the ground. Procurement deals, land swaps, favors to friendly inner circles, you name it: the mayor and his clique have done everything possible to stop the momentum the city enjoyed after being a capital of culture in 2019. As a result of this incompetence, the same mayor leaves the city saddled with debt, almost bankrupt, blocked by several big directionless projects, with nothing done regarding the major challenge of city transport and inner rail, to say nothing of the airport.
You might guess voters would want to stop this - the mayor in question has distanced himself from GERB (or any other party), yet it is clear who kept him in power for so long. But you would be wrong.
Politics is not always a place for sensible people. It's the domain of passion, manipulation and make-believe. It's not a garden, but a jungle. The winners are rarely the ones with the best intentions.
In last week's local elections, GERB won Plovdiv - and handsomely at that. It appears they will not only have a mayor but will be able to run the local council with several smaller partners who hurriedly sold themselves the day after the elections. This makes the city a curious case on the map.
There is a serious chance the other two biggest cities - Sofia and Varna, might slip more or less from GERB's embrace. Sofia will almost surely do so, Varna just might.
But here is why I didn't talk about them. Those two are the exceptions, not the rule. Bulgaria is a lot more like Plovdiv than Sofia.
After falling out of love with Borissov's party 3 years ago, the mass mood has obviously changed. It's not so much that people went to the polls countless times but more the non-coalition that governs with the support of GERB. The main thing it achieved, as these elections showed, is that it normalized voting for GERB again. There was a time a while ago, when that was something to be ashamed of. It was like sex in a puritan commune: people did it, but kept it quiet. No more.
For one, they are tired of change when they see nothing of substance being changed. And for two, for all the beautiful talk of "new beginnings", people would rather not risk it in the places they live in.
So GERB will end up winning most of the cities they compete for just as they won Plovdiv: through a combination of promises, distortions of the truth, back deals and Boyko Borissov's star power.
That's not to say that WCC-DB didn't change the local map - they will challenge GERB in many local councils and have a bigger say at local level if not in any dramatic way. But Sofia can be their big lever for changing that.
It's going to be another 4 years before we know if that happens.
This newsletter is helped by:
1. Politics this week:Remember: this is still a captured territory
A few minutes after you opened our newsletter last week, a wild saga unraveled, leaving a lasting mark on the first round of elections for mayors and councilors. Yes, it is the story of how the election authorities, triggered by a report by the security services and encouraged by irresponsible and selfish politicians, effectively killed off machine voting at the last possible moment, causing mass uproar, popular disenchantment and contributing to the ever deeper mistrust in elections among voters.
The result is clear: another extremely low turnout, hundreds of thousands of void ballots and the sabotage of the election of municipal councilors who will be controlling our towns, cities and villages for the next four years.
After getting what he wanted GERB's Boyko Borissov - who has persistently hinted at the possibility of his party bringing down the government - made the most flagrant nod that this might happen sooner rather than later. On Thursday, he announced a national council of the party would be convened near Lovech for next week, where GERB will decide whether to remain part of the rotational cabinet of Denkov-Gabriel or leave it.
"I'll watch closely who does what on Sunday. This will determine the policy of our party. Everywhere the people of GERB are raising their voice against the outrageous actions [of WCC-DB]," Borissov said.
The conference of the party will take place from Thursday to Saturday, so we will keep you posted on their decision.
2. Economy:The land of the launderers
Last week, G7's Financial Action Task Force (FATF) added Bulgaria to its "gray list" of states that should be subject to increased scrutiny over the risk of money laundering in the country, which seems to be high according to the FATF. However, being on the list can actually be seen as a step in the right direction, as it means that the government has agreed to cooperate with the FATF to fix the problems and allow increased monitoring. There is also speculation that the placement of the country on the list is part of the conditions for being allowed into the OECD. So we know our faults, but the thing is, we're not exactly ashamed of them.
Business climate worsens in almost all sectors in October, especially in trade
Companies from almost all sectors believe that business conditions deteriorated in October, and this is most obvious in the retail sector. Only in the services sector did the situation improve slightly compared to September, the monthly National Statistics Institute (NSI) surveys of companies show. Managers are becoming more reserved in their assessments of the state of enterprises, and companies in general continue to operate in conditions of uncertainty and staff shortages, the survey shows. At the same time, while inflation is gradually falling, the prevailing attitude among managers is for prices to remain at their current level in the coming months. However, a minority of them expect further rises. This is happening against the backdrop of a continuing decline in producer prices.
Figures:1.4 billion levs
The budget deficit continued to grow in October, reaching 1.4 billion levs or 0,8% of expected GDP and almost doubling compared to a month earlier.
3.79% is the main interest rate for November3. Business:E-mobility
The only bike-sharing mobility company in Sofia, has added 100 electric bikes to its fleet and now its fleet in the capital increases to 350.
Banks' profits up to September jumped by 80% to a record 2.7 billion levs. Only for the last quarter it was over 1 billion. UBB remains the asset leader with 32.5 billion levs, while DSK reports the biggest profit - 744 million.
4. EnergyGas prices up 36% for November
The price of natural gas on the Bulgarian regulated market is once again rising sharply and in November will reach 82.12 levs per MWh. According to the decision of the energy regulator (KEVR), the increase on a monthly basis is 36%, which is the highest for 2023. In fact, this is the first tangible increase in gas prices since last year. And, quite predictably, memories of 2021-2022, when there were similar increases every month, have returned. Now, however, the situation looks very different. The escalation of the conflict in Gaza saw a sharp increase in the quotations of the TTF index. However, due to Israel's much lower importance for the European market compared to Russia, the indices are expected to quickly overcome this fear of lack of supply.
5. Watch out for:People: Blagomir Kotsev
The bright and lively opposition candidate for mayor of Varna who unexpectedly gave a run for his money to the old gun Ivan Portnih. Kotsev might still end up winning this in the second round which will be a sea change for the maritime city which hasn't had a decent mayor in about 3 decades.
The correspondent of Rossiskaya Gazeta in Sofia became the latest Russian to get expelled from the country over spying charges. But he didn't leave before spending a week locked in the Russian embassy in Sofia, allegedly - fearing for his safety.
The small municipality in the Northwest became the symbol of what happens when you don't allow machine voting and rely on people counting ballots manually. A leaked video of the counting process showed the head of the polling committee distributing void ballots among whoever she pleases and discussing it openly with other members of the committee. Funnily, this is also the only place where Vazrazhdane got their candidate elected for mayor (although there is no sign that he benefited from the ballot-rigging).
Date:31 October - 5 November
The first and only festival of horror cinema - It's Alive, is taking place in the Vlaykova cinema and the House of Cinema in Sofia, make sure you check it out if you'd like to end the Spooky season in style.
Emergenci alert test testAn unexpected test message of the upcoming national alert system from the Internal Ministry caused distress and panic among Vivacom users on Wednesday evening by making their mobile phones vibrate and ring out loud. The message, which read "Emergenci alert test test" for most users and "Signal from the president" for others, was sent by mistake to all users of the mobile operator instead of a closed-off group of testers.
All of this happened without a warning and without the knowledge of Vivacom or even the Internal Ministry, so a little bit of panic ensued. It's all under control, for now. But don't let your guard down - the public tests will continue next week! Test, test