Journalist’s murder exposes Bulgaria’s failings

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A controversial journalist was shot dead in the centre of Sofia yesterday (5 January). The brazen act took place just 50 metres from the police headquarters and in close proximity to the Palace of Justice.

Bobi Tsankov, known as the “chronicle writer of the mafia” and against whom several lawsuits for embezzlement had been filed, was shot dead at noon following an exchange of shots pitting two people against a group of three. 

Two of the protagonists were wounded and taken to hospital, according to Dnevnik, EURACTIV’s partner publication in Bulgaria. 

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was reportedly just a few hundred metres away when the shooting began. 

Tsankov, who in the past has been a radio anchor, was most recently known for the articles he published in tabloids disclosing details of the adventurous lives of top figures in the underground world. 

His murder is reminiscent of the recent killing of writer Georgi Stoev, who used to call himself “the writer of the mafia” and whose novels enjoyed considerable public success. Stoev was shot dead in front of a Sofia hotel in April 2008, also at noon. 

High-profile murders are emblematic of Bulgaria’s transition from communist rule. In total, more than 100 figures from the underground world or controversial businessmen have been murdered since 1995. As a rule, the executors and masterminds remain unknown. 

According to some analysts, organised crime in Bulgaria was boosted by the embargo on the former Yugoslavia put in place by the West in the mid-1990s, which gave criminals the opportunity to engage in large-scale smuggling. 

Others see the influence of the powerful Russian mafia as the main factor in the development of organised crime in a country which had never had such “traditions” before. Many Bulgarian ‘oligarchs’ are believed to be in fact the managers of Russian ‘dirty money’.

EU loses key ‘stick’ to pressure Bulgaria 

Bulgaria has repeatedly come under pressure from the European Commission to crack down on organised crime and corruption. 

But Brussels can no longer apply such pressure. A safeguard clause allowing the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions was due to expire on 1 January 2010, three years after the country’s accession to the EU. 

Although a ‘Cooperation and Verification Mechanism’ (CVM) still remains in place to accompany Bulgaria’s accession, the mechanism will soon become irrelevant without the biting safeguard clause, local media note. 

Svetoslav Terziev, a columnist in the daily Sega, writes that European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has been forced to commend Bulgaria’s “progress” in dealing with corruption and organised crime in order to avoid taking the blame for allowing the Balkan country to join the EU too early. This strategy also helped Barroso’s re-appointment at the head of the Commission, the editorialist said. 

“The change of government does not matter in Bulgaria, because the real rulers of the country are unaffected by elections,” Terziev writes. 


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French daily Le Figaro recently published an article entitled 'European Sofia still under Russian influence'. According to its author François Hauter, Bulgaria has become an EU member but is still unable to get rid of its Russian influence. Western diplomats are quoted as lamenting: "The mafia is everywhere, no justice! We don't want the Russian model in the European Union!" 

Hauter writes that the complacency of EU officials towards Bulgaria is paid for dearly by ordinary Bulgarians, who do not ask for anything else but to see their country become normal. 

"This complacency also penalises the other Europeans, who lose confidence in the further enlargement of the Union," the French journalist writes. 

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption - and in the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. These shortcomings carried the risk that Bulgaria and Romania would not be able to correctly apply Community law and their citizens would not be able to fully enjoy their rights as EU citizens. 

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries. Moreover, the European Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. Such safeguards are included in both countries' accession treaties and can be invoked against new member states as a last resort. If used, the process could lead the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds. 

If applied, such an unprecedented decision would seriously tarnish the countries' reputations. However, the sanctions can only be triggered during the first three years of EU membership. 

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