The week: Is CEE turning into Latin America, The return of GERB is (almost) complete, Sofia's got trouble


The week: Is CEE turning into Latin America, The return of GERB is (almost) complete, Sofia's got trouble

K Insights newsletter: 17/05


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It was in broad daylight, in a small village. Slovak prime minister Robert Fico was shot 5 times at close range by none other than a 70-year-old pensioner-writer with a legally owned gun.

It's a shock, of course. I can't remember another assassination attempt on an EU-member's PM and the last political murder of such prominent stature was the shooting of the Serbian PM Zoran Đinđić in 2003 in Belgrade.

But this is also a dark omen for the whole region's political confrontations. For Fico is one of many. His ideological leanings aside, he falls into the category of modern-day strongmen in CEE. Victor Orban is the poster child of this group, of course, but Alexander Vucic in Serbia is also here, and, of course, our very own Boyko Borissov. Netflix even did a series on this.

What they try to do and in most cases, succeed in doing, is eerily similar: subjugate the judicial system, control the media, corrupt the business environment, rule the masses, and stay in power forever.

Fico, like Borissov for example, was felled by an unexpected black swan event: in Bulgaria's case the rubber boat of Hristo Ivanov, in Slovakia's case - the killing of an investigative journalist. Yet several years down the line, his SMER party is back in control (exactly as GERB looks set to be).

In his first words, the unsuccessful assassin said: "I don't agree with the government's policies. Why are the media being targeted? Why is RTVS under attack? Why was Mazák dismissed from his position?"

Last month, Fico's party decided to close the national RTVS broadcaster because of "political activism". Jan Mazák is the ex-chair of the Judicial Council, removed also last month.

There is no need to go into further detail, as the similarities are obvious.

So what I'm getting at here is the following: we don't know nearly enough to make conclusions. Yet I'm afraid this might turn out to be the worst possible example of political payback. Of someone so frustrated by the ability of skilled players like Fico to game the political system that he resorted to violence. That's a frightening prospect.

First, because it will lead to a clampdown on, say, journalists who write "bad things" about the government - in Slovakia there are already calls for sanctioning the media even more. Second, because a Latin-American political climate in which divisions are settled by murders is the last road CEE wants to take.

Corruption-anti corruption is one divide. Dead-alive quite another.

This newsletters was helped by

Martin Dimitrov

Politics this week

Speaking of the return of GERB: everything falls in (known) order We talked last week about GERB returning under the guise of the caretaker government for the first time since the protests. And the signs are really everywhere: the decision to direct a 4 bln. levs procurement to the road cartel, which is already happening, and the decision to dismiss a new player in the toll-system, which has already been approved.

Yet nowhere is that more brutal than in the Ministry of Economy.

You've won a contest? Not unless we say so.

This week, Capital found out that the 13 newly appointed commercial and trade attachés selected in a complex and competitive recruitment procedure rarely seen in Bulgarian public administration, will, in fact, not take up their positions. That is despite them officially signing their contracts after undergoing a six-month long application process, leaving their current jobs and investing their own time and money traveling back to Sofia.

The official reasons of the caretaker Economy minister Petar Nikolov are extremely controversial and formalistic - he claims there is no "legal basis" for the competition and that some candidates have been unjustly dismissed from the competition because they couldn't attend the exam. What's left unsaid of course, is that nothing can be done in the administration without "the proper sanction".

Diplomats, meet Delyan. He is someone you need to know

The rehabilitation of the former bad guy of Bulgarian politics Delyan Peevski, who was notoriously sanctioned for high level corruption by the USA and the UK three years ago, continues unabashedly. In a series of photos widely circulated by media outlets close to MRF, Peevski was shown cordially shaking hands with European ambassadors at the residence of the Belgian envoy to Sofia where a celebration for 9 May was afoot.

This was unheard of some time ago when the mogul was not invited to those meetings. Now he leads the parliamentary group of Bulgaria's third largest party and it's quite impossible to avoid him. What we hear, however, is that some embassies still try to steer clear of him: the US, the UK and Italy, for example.



Is the median wage growth in Sofia in March compared to the year before, reaching 3231 levs.


Is the fall in exports for the quarter, compared to the year before. That's an accelerating trend, as March saw a 10% fall and that's the 12th consecutive month with a decrease.


After long political arguments between WCC-DB, on the one hand and GERB-MRF, on the other, the National Insurance Institute announced an increase of all pensions by 11% from 1 July.

196.4 million levs

The sum that will be dedicated to investments in energy efficiency of multi-family residential buildings in districts affected by the energy transition - Stara Zagora, Pernik and Kyustendil under the Regional Development Program 2021-2027.

200 million levs

The amount of six-year government bonds at 3.35% yield sold by the state this week in the second auction run by the Ministry of Finance this year. Another auction for 300 million levs is planned before the end of May.




After 6 years of development, the Bulgarian manufacturer of biodegradable packaging film LAM'ON is now offering its products on the market. The startup aims to replace non-recyclable packaging with a biodegradable alternative made from polylactic acid derived from corn.



One of the largest producers of film and packaging in Bulgaria and the region, which already has three factories in the country, has acquired Italian competitor Manucor, whose base is near Naples. The deal will increase production capacity to more than 200,000 tonnes per year and is estimated to be worth more than 100 million levs.


ESO's profit for 2023 nearly triples to reach 250 million levs

The Electricity System Operator (ESO) has reported almost three times better financial results for 2023 compared to the previous year. The net profit of the company, which handles the dispatch of the network and the collection of transmission and access fees, rose to 250.4 million levs from 91 million levs a year earlier. This stems from a number of factors, including increased connection revenues (up by 31 million levs from 2022) and increased access revenues for renewable generators as a result of higher electricity generation volumes (up by 39% from January-December 2022). All of this is likely to continue in view of the significant electricity generation from solar and wind, as well as new plant orders despite declining grid capacity. Also a factor last year was the reduced cost of purchasing power for transmission technology costs compared to the same period the previous year due to falling exchange prices.


#'addictive' algorithms - The Commission has opened formal proceedings to assess whether Meta, the provider of Facebook and Instagram, may have breached the Digital Services Act (DSA) in areas linked to the protection of minors. Meta's popular platforms are accused of potentially "stimulating behavioral addiction in children" through so-called rabbit holes. Instagram and Facebook may also gather too much data from underage users to push personalized content with its algorithms.

#Young vote- 54% of Bulgarians between 18-30 years confirmed that they will vote during the EU elections in June compared to an EU average of 64%. Around 70% of interviewees reacted positively regarding the EU's impact on their daily life.

#Urban - The Commission launched a third call for proposals worth 90 million euro under the European Urban Initiative (EUI). Projects selected under this call will test innovative solutions in cities to help them to deliver on the green and digital transitions. Projects must focus on one of the following two priorities:

  • Energy transition: to experiment with and explore tangible innovative solutions that would ensure affordable, secure, and cleaner local energy systems.
  • Technology in cities: to explore emerging technologies and digital solutions to improve public services, urban governance, quality of life, citizens' engagement, and ensure that our cities are safer, more secure, and accessible to all.

More information here.

Watch out for:


Prof. Martin Vechev

The founder of INSAIT institute in Sofia just got a major boost from Google - the company financed the new PhD program in the institute with a 1 million USD donation.

Slav Petrov

Connected to the previous news, Slav (who's born in Sofia, but graduated in the US) is a major figure in Google - he used to work in the languages model division and is now vice president of Deep Mind division. He was instrumental in getting the money for the INSAIT and also for allowing scientists from the institute to work with Google's TPU processors.


20th May

Is a day off for the Universities here, but not because of the coming holiday of the Cyrillic Alphabet, but because they will stage a strike, demanding greater investment and a rise in salaries.


Sofia's Central Halls (Hali)

The Kaufland store in Sofia's Central Halls will open to visitors on 23 May. The site was opened after a year-long renovation to restore the original appearance and function of the building in line with the recommendations of the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage and the Ministry of Culture. The total value of the investment exceeds 50 million levs. Kaufland promises that the surrounding space has been preserved, that no changes have been made to the facade, and that all elements of the facade have undergone only restoration, cleaning and conservation.



The Black Sea city will be getting a modern student campus, with which the municipality hopes to catch up with other big cities in attracting young people. The project will receive almost 23 million levs of funding from the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works. The ambitious plans of the municipality include the construction of a student town on an area of about 30-35 acres in the area of the 5th kilometer - between the Izgrev housing estate and the Northern bypass of the city. It will include a high-tech campus with two buildings for dormitories and one building for a teaching campus with additional annexes. The academic center will also include research laboratories and a library. Spaces for recreation, sports and medicine, entertainment, cultural events, and an open-air gallery and dining areas, are also planned.


The lift to Vitosha - the major connection between Sofia and its mountain, has ceased operations, announced its owners TechAlpin (former Vitosha Ski). That's the last nail in the coffin of Vitosha's aspiration to be a connected resort and also a major headache for new mayor Vasil Terziev.

Word of the week

Photographer: Велко Ангелов

Patriarha - the name of the major boulevard in the center of Sofia, which has preoccupied Terziev and his allies from Save Sofia for a week now. The redesign of the street, planned to take more bikes, and regulate the buses, has been a protest focal point for local citizens. Seen from afar, to be honest, Sofia's biggest problem doesn't seem to be the angle at which people in the center park their cars

It was in broad daylight, in a small village. Slovak prime minister Robert Fico was shot 5 times at close range by none other than a 70-year-old pensioner-writer with a legally owned gun.

It's a shock, of course. I can't remember another assassination attempt on an EU-member's PM and the last political murder of such prominent stature was the shooting of the Serbian PM Zoran Đinđić in 2003 in Belgrade.

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