FORUM

TRAVELS IN DOGANLANDIA

A circle of privileged companies formed around whoever happens to be in power? Construction of EU-funded guesthouses that in reality are luxurious private villas? Controlled media used to smear political opponents, business competition, independent journalists and whistleblowers? If you ask the ordinary Bulgarian, one particular party has been responsible for all the troubles that have befallen Bulgaria over the past 30 years: the DPS, or Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

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CAUSE WITHOUT REBELS

Things in Bulgaria are rarely what they seem to be, but of course there are exceptions. Look at Boyko Borisov's government and his most loyal GERB-ers. Look at the pictures of the prime minister sleeping across his bed, wads of 500-euro bills in his bedside drawer and a gun positioned by his head.

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CRACKING THE AHMED DOGAN CODE

For the past 30 years there has been one unavoidable factor in Bulgarian politics: Ahmed Dogan and his DPS, or Movement for Rights and Freedoms. To understand why many Bulgarians of various political inclinations protest against Ahmed Dogan one needs to know the background of his party and of the man himself.

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LIBERAL DEMOCRACY SUSTAINS FURTHER BLOWS IN BOYKO BORISOV'S BULGARIA

Yet few expected something as dramatic as that: iPhone snaps of a half-naked prime minister sleeping across his bed, a bedside cupboard full of wads of 500-euro bills. Plus several gold ingots. Plus his favourite gun positioned on top. The images, anonymously sent to several media and subsequently widely circulated to the general public, might have befitted an underworld boss after an orgy of booze, sex and gambling rather than the prime minister of an EU member state. But photos do not lie. Welcome to the bedroom of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

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BULGARIA, IN THE MEANTIME

Predictably, the coronavirus emergency has made all other events in what remains the EU's poorest and least free state look like insubstantial tidbits. With very few exceptions all media have focused exclusively on the alarmist press conferences of Gen Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, the military doctor who heads the emergency staff, and on the lifts Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has given to his ministers in his private jeep to inspect unfinished stretches of road.

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ANGRY SOFIANITES

From job opportunities to entertainment options: living in Sofia, Bulgaria's largest city, has its perks. It also has its downsides. This is why Sofianites are an angry lot, eagerly expressing their frustration at queues, while driving and especially on social media. What specifically drives these people crazy? Like in every big city traffic, infrastructure, pollution and overpopulation play their roles. But like unhappy families, each angry city is angry in its own way. Here is a long, but by no means exhaustive list of the things that force locals off their rockers.

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BULGARIA'S RESPONSE TO COVID-19

Since 13 March 2020 Bulgaria has been run by three generals and a sheriff. First and foremost comes General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski. A surgeon installed to manage the Military Medical Academy in Sofia, Mutafchiyski rose to prominence when he was appointed the head of the emergency National Operative Headquarters. Neither a virologist, nor a psychologist he is seen at daily news briefings where he utilises his military schooling to give out what is in essence increasingly restrictive commands to ban citizens from moving about and gathering together.

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IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

"Dimitrina?" I have not heard from her for more than a month, which is unusual.

"Почина."

"Po-chi-na?" I type the word phonetically in an online translation tool. "What?"

"Почина. Me, Dimitrina sister. Bye."

I met Dimitrina on 19 October 2018. She had fallen asleep standing up against the wall of Second Hospital in Sofia, on the corner of Slivnitsa and Hristo Botev Boulevards. A woman with bright fuchsia sneakers the sort teenage girls wear and two blood-red scars on her nose.

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BALANCING OUT IN CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Political science students all over the world are being taught in the early stages of their studies that the best way for an authoritarian government – any authoritarian government – to enhance its own powers is to use a crisis – any crisis – as a justification. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity. At a time of a huge crisis it becomes easier to take away citizens freedoms and rights not only with a couple of decrees, but also with the general public applauding from the sidelines.

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BULGARIA'S 'DEMOCRATORSHIP'

For a few weeks last autumn Central Sofia was paralysed by mass protests. Nothing like the huge outpour of public energy that had kept the city dysfunctional for months in 2013 and resulted in bringing back Boyko Borisov to power, but still a manifestation of people's will that kept the media – and public consciousness – busy and working. The reason? The proposed appointment of Ivan Geshev for the position of chief prosecutor, the Bulgarian equivalent of the US attorney general.

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