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February 19 2014

The Journalistic Purgatory of Eastern Europe

'The rose and the newspaper'

‘The rose and the newspaper’ by Borislav Dimitrov on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We were told the end of totalitarian regimes would lead to a free press, but Central and Eastern European media is less free now than at any point in the past 20 years.

Governments in the region, long used to having unadulterated control over media content, have been reasserting authority. Strong-arming, threats, amendments to law, arrests, destruction of media equipment and property, and beatings have been documented throughout the region with increasing frequency.

In sitting down to write this piece, I was confident I could shed light on the worst examples of media repression from Eastern Europe, as I follow the subject daily and live in Serbia. But as I began looking at case after devastating case, I began to see a larger picture that taken together point to a media system that is badly broken.

To begin understanding, we must clarify the image the typical global reader has of Central and Eastern Europe from 20th century history. Countries in the region with the most threats on freedom of the press, regardless of whether they are EU member states, have double-digit unemployment rates and an enormous gap in income disparity. A very small percentage of extremely wealthy citizens are frequently connected to government, while the vast majority of citizens barely make ends meet. The strong, stable middle class that many Central European socialist countries maintained for some 50 years has been virtually wiped out.

Social and economic factors lay the foundation for the media landscape, because livelihoods depend on the decisions of their local and national government officials. This leads the citizens of most Central and Eastern European to pay close attention to local politics. Societies which follow their governments so avidly should have highly active investigative journalist networks. A host of factors mediates against this from happening in practice.

Follow the Money

Members of the media are very poorly paid for their work, often employed as part-time or outsourced staff, while operating budgets for reporting are minimal. Investigative journalism rarely occurs in this economic environment. Low wages also open doors to bribery of journalists and editors, cash payment for publishing articles and for pushing or ignoring stories based on non-journalistic interests.

Several Eastern European countries have started cracking down on significant investigative journalism. Macedonia, for example convicted investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski in October of 2013 and jailed conspiracy-theorist and journalist Zoran Bozinovski less than a month later. Although the vast majority of Macedonia's press is private, the government was among the 50 biggest media advertisers in 2012, securing a huge influence in both state and private media, say Macedonian journalists Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski in a guest article on Index on Censorship.

The media houses in all these countries rely mostly on advertising revenue to stay afloat. Business money is frequently connected to politics and political figures. The consequence is self-censorship. Eastern European journalists who write critically of those in power risk offending those who control the advertising money, and thus risk their livelihood and, at times, their physical safety.

In Albania, which last year ranked 102nd of 173 countries in the Reporters without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index”, the media market is so poor and overcrowded it's difficult to sustain, says Besar Likmeta in an article on Balkan Insight. “Most Albanian media are dependent on big corporate advertisers as their main source of revenue, and internal emails show that they can easily skew editorial policy,” says Likmeta.

The situation is similar in most countries of the region. Self-censorship can be further encouraged through unofficial calls from those in power, killing stories before they reach publication. Journalists and editors who publish regardless risk lawsuits, threats, harassment, and even violence.

OSCE Freedom of Media representative Dunja Mijatovic often expresses concern regarding increased media regulation. In Hungary, she has warned of disproportionately high prison sentences for defamatory video and sound recordings, saying such laws are easy to use to silence critics or differing views. In Romania in last year, she called on the Romanian government not to “re-criminalize free speech” saying it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism through fear and self-censorship.

In Ukraine, before the ongoing Euromaidan protests in the country, many already drew attention to the lack of media freedom, that has only worsened since. Ukraine scholar Andrew Wilson wrote on openDemocracy in October 2013, just weeks before the anti-government protests began:

Now it is media freedom that is under attack. Ukraine’s biggest TV channel ‘Inter’ was still showing signs of independence around October; in February, however, it was taken over by the Head of the Presidential Administration, and a leading oligarch.[...]

Next in line is Ukraine’s most famous web site, Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).[...] Its founding editor, Georgy Gongadze, was a thorn in the side of the then authorities. He disappeared in September 2000, and two months later was found gruesomely murdered.

There are dozens more examples of conflict of interest, intimidation, bribery and corruption in Eastern and Central Europe. The media landscape of the region finds itself in purgatory.

Less Safety Online

Internet penetration rates in Central and Eastern European countries are high and their citizens have a historical habit of turning to alternative sources of information, due to the closed character of official media under communist and socialist regimes in the 20th century. Citizen media and social networks were for several years viewed as a way out of this stalemate, for some perhaps even as a “safe zone” for freedom of expression, due to the respective governments’ lack of monitoring.

This, however, has now changed drastically. Governments in Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary now see the influence citizen media and social networks can have on politicians’ reputations and elections. They have responded with close monitoring, and attempts to control what users are uploading and saying. Without much success, of course, but the result is direct pressure on common citizens’ freedom of expression and added pressure on media.

In Serbia for example, online commentary and information was fairly freely passed between users in the late 90s during the Milosevic era, whose regime appeared not to view the Internet as a major threat and thus seldom monitored citizens in public online spaces. Today, personal websites and social network profiles are under direct attack in Serbia for sharing a satirical video of the Deputy Prime Minister and similar materials.

Significant political and economic news in most Central and Eastern European countries now spread through human networks by word-of-mouth and are often reshaped into rumor. Journalists hold back important news stories in their heads, or on post-it notes in their drawers, unable to research them, much less hand them in to their editors for publishing. Citizens, even when afforded a venue where they could express their opinions, now often choose not to. These countries and their media have visibly reached an informational stalemate.

But the tighter the grip of politicians on media, the greater the anger of the people. Media are either unable or unwilling to fight for journalistic freedom, a condition echoed in the development of democracy in the region. Now, in countries in which governments have stifled the free expression of their citizens on the Internet, people are beginning to rise against those in power, calling them out for corruption and incompetence.

After Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the latest country in the region to see mass protests both on the streets and online. On February 11, 2014, in the midst of protests in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordered “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Decisions like this to silence media only fuel citizens’ demand for access to information and freedom of expression. When all boundaries have been crossed, change is bound to happen.

Danica Radisic is the Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices. She is a corporate communications consultant, writer, blogger, poet, and native speaker of Serbian, English and Portuguese. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and U.S. She is a mother of two and CEO of Krazy Fish Consulting.

February 14 2014

A Visitor Describes How it Feels to be Mugged by Bulgarian Police

Central Bus Station Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, published on Wikipedia under CC-BY license.

Central Bus Station in Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, used under Creative Commons-BY license.

Political scientist and blogger Anastas Vangeli described his experience of extortion by Bulgarian policemen on his way from Macedonia to Poland, in a Facebook post. On February 9, 2014, two armed officers “detained” him at a secluded area of the main bus station in Sofia, until he gave them some money. In conclusion, he wrote:

This was probably one of the most disappointing experiences in my lifetime. What added to the disappointment, however, were the comments and the double victimization by people when I told them this happened:

  • I was asking for it since I look “like a foreigner” and rich
  • I was asking for it since I was bragging with my China books and looked rich
  • I was supposed to know and expect this kind of things
  • I was supposed to hold my grounds better, e.g. not let them take me to a room, not let them get my money
  • I am supposed not to complain, as this stuff happens every day and I am not special

These are all statements that not speak only of the reality of omnipresent corruption and abuse of office and power, but about the complete lack of empathy, or even consciousness that one day it might be you. Moreover, it is an indicator that people have given up the hope that things will change; but also the responsibility that they should contribute to such change. At the end of the day, the state holds the monopoly of the use of force; I was mugged by those who are supposed to protect me (even though I don’t have a Bulgarian passport – no pun intended). So all kinds of relativizing comments are completely out of place on this.

These reactions are consistent with one of the key characteristics of “backsliding from democracy,” exposed at the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held in Lima, in October 2012:

“…corruption becomes so widespread that citizens accept is as a norm.”

People commenting (in various languages) on Vangeli's Facebook post about the incident reminisced that such a “toll for foreigners” was common Bulgarian police practice during the dismal 1990s – but that they had not expected its resurgence in this day and age. Some of the commenters related similar experiences from other countries, from Russia to Kenya. Activist Besim Nebiu wrote:

Notice how they immediately asked you if you have a flight to catch at the airport. That gave them the ‘upper hand’ in dealing with you. A friend of mine who lives in Kenya, once wrote a blog post, in which he describes how corrupt police have “opportunity cost” (8 hours shifts in which they try to maximize revenue). They usually avoid “difficult customers,” so any strategy of acting dumb and not too upset should work, after 15 minutes, they give up on you, and move to someone easier to deal with.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police. Source: Ministry of Interior.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police presented [bg] on the website of Ministry of Interior Affairs. According to the victim, the officers in question wore green and carried badges of common police (“Ohranitelna Politsiya”), which according to the Ministry wears dark blue uniforms.

Bulgarian blogger Komitata translated Vangeli's post within his post [bg] titled “They Protect Us and It's No Theater,” which includes opinions about the local context of wasted state resources on questionable police actions praised by the relevant minister:

Системата на МВР не е реформирана. Предното неслужебно правителство положи големи усилия, но поради липса на решителност и политическа воля, реформите останаха скромни и далеч не необратими.

The system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not reformed. The previous government invested great efforts, but due to lack of decisiveness and political will, the reforms remain modest and far from irreversible.

In his post, Komitata also referred to Twitter discussion [bg] in which Bulgarians ask whether the police have the right to search them at the bus station, and pointed to information on citizen rights during police searches [bg].

February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

January 12 2014

Hockey, Diving for Crosses and Other Christmas-in-January Traditions

For Christians of the Western hemisphere, Christmas comes a little earlier than for their counterparts in Eastern Europe, North Africa and other countries. According to the Gregorian calendar, one of many man-made concepts to measure time and the calendar the globe uses today, Christ was born during the night between December 24 and December 25 just a little over 2,000 years ago. According to the Julian calendar, still used by many religious organizations in the world, those dates correspond to January 6 and January 7.

Among those who celebrate Christmas on those January dates are most Orthodox and Coptic Christians, from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Ethiopia. We called on the wonderfully diverse team of over 700 Global Voices authors to share their favorite local Orthodox and Coptic Christmas traditions and learned that the world is indeed a festive place, long after the Western world has taken down their Christmas stockings and stripped their Christmas trees.

Markos Lemma from Ethiopia explains how a game of hockey is the centerpiece in this North African country's Christmas celebrations:

Christmas falls on December 29 of the Ethiopian calendar (January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas), it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 a.m. and lasts until 9 a.m. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey called genna on this day and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.

The case in Serbia is far from similar, but followers of the Orthodox faith in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6, the last day of the same 40-day fast observed in Ethiopia, and then break that fast on Christmas Day, January 7, with a similar family feast abundant with meats of all sorts and special Christmas dishes. Different regions of these countries have somewhat different traditions, but this author chose to share one particular tradition that the vast majority of Orthodox families still uphold in this part of Southeast Europe:

On Christmas Day, January 7 according to the Julian calendar, Orthodox Serb households welcome a young male or male child, called a Položajnik, into the house in the early morning. The young male is usually a younger cousin, grandson or neighbor and he should be the first to enter the house that day. He brings in a wreath or bundle of small well dried oak branch tips, hay and such, called a Badnjak, with him and uses it to light the fire. In urban households, most of which don't have a fireplace, the stove is used to light the Badnjak. As sparks from the dried leaves and branches float around, he chants “As many sparks, that much health; as many sparks, that much wealth; as many sparks, that much love; as many sparks, that much luck…”, in no particular order. Different communities and families have their own versions of this ditty. The položajnik is considered a representation of health, prosperity and all things good. He brings luck, health, and love into the home. He then receives a gift from the family and joins them for Christmas breakfast.

Expat blogger David Bailey, better known as “An Englishman in the Balkans”, posted this video explaining the traditional breaking of the Christmas bread, known as the Česnica, on Christmas day in an Orthodox home in Bosnia. The Česnica, however, takes on different shapes throughout the region and in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, for example, is very sweet, resembling baklava more than bread.

The traditional Christmas greeting in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro is “Christ is born!”, to which the proper response is “Truly He is born”. Coincidentally, Lebanon, a country relatively far from Eastern Europe, now uses the same Christmas greeting. Thalia Rahme explains:

In Lebanon … its becoming more and more trendy to say the formula you just mentioned as in reaction to the secularization of Christmas

While usually we used to say that in Easter – Christ is risen, Indeed he is risen – now we also say [it on] Christmas – Christ is Born, Indeed He is born.

Lebanon seems to be a particularly special case when it comes to calendars and Christmas celebrations, with a plethora of faiths and traditions truly all its own. Thalia managed to unravel some of the marvels of Lebanese Christmas for us:

Lebanese Orthodox celebrate Christmas with Catholics on December 24.

Only Armenians Orthodox do have it on January 6 and, since it happens to be Epiphany for us Catholics [marking the baptism of Jesus], it's a kind of double celebration and an official holiday in Lebanon as part of giving each community its rights.

We have a small Coptic and Orthodox community and [an] Ethiopian one who celebrate it on January 7.

On the other hand, Armenian Orthodox choose to celebrate their Easter with us Catholics, but this is not the case for other Orthodox communities [...] but this year Easter for both Catholics and Orthodox is falling on the same date

At the mention of the marking of the Epiphany, many other Eastern Europeans chimed in with their stories of this frequently forgotten, not-so-minor Christian holiday. Global Voices’ veteran author from Bulgaria Rayna St. wrote in to say this:

For the French, January 6 is Epiphany so people eat Galette des Rois (and yes, it's yummy).

For Bulgarians, January 6 is also Epiphany, also called Yordanovden, when everyone named Yordan/ka, Daniel/a, Bogomil/a, Bojidar/a celebrate. The day's name is also Bogoyavlenie (God's appearance) and it is believed to be the day when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. When He came out of the waters, the skies opened and there was a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son, all my good will is in You” or something along these lines.

The most exciting moment of this nowadays is the ritual that accompanies this day: the priest throws a cross in the river and young men jump in to fetch it. As you may imagine, it's quite sporty as temperatures in Bulgaria differ from Jordan… :) So, when a guy catches the cross, he is believed to be blessed, fortunate, and to have iron health for the coming year. The priest also goes through houses and, in my region at least, fills in the rooms with tamyan smoke (a specific kind of wax mixture) so it chases away bad spirits. Bogoyavlenie is actually the last one of the Dirty Days and only meatless dishes are served for dinner.

Interestingly enough, while a common Christmas date may not be something all Eastern European Christians share, swimming for crosses in ice cold waters on Epiphany is. This tradition is also the same as Rayna describes in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and other countries of the region. The dates of when they mark the Epiphany and break the January ice, however, do differ, with those who follow the Julian calendar coming in 13 days “late” again.

But back to Christmas in that region. Busy with following Ukraine's 2013 Euromaidan protests, which continued throughout the Christmas holidays and into 2014, Tetyana Bohdanova set aside a few moments from these worrying events to fill us in on how Christmas is traditionally celebrated by Orthodox followers in this country when they aren't out in the streets holding anti-government rallies by the hundreds of thousands:

In Ukraine most people celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, according to the Julian calendar. On Christmas Eve, January 6, we gather for a traditional dinner that consists of 12 meatless dishes honoring the 12 Apostles. The dinner may begin only after the first star appears in the sky indicating that Christ has been born.

Another Christmas tradition is Vertep, which originally included a puppet theater representing Nativity scenes. A contemporary version, however, refers to a group of people acting out the story of Christ’s birth. Vertep also commonly includes folk characters and singing of Christmas carols. This year Ukrainian Vertep has been influenced by the political turmoil in the country. Among dressed up actors one may recognize Biblical and folk figures along with contemporary politicians, who are not necessarily represented by the good characters!

Tetyana Lokot, also from Ukraine, echoed what Tetyana Bohdanova had to say about caroling and added video evidence of this community holiday tradition:

One [tradition] is caroling – going around singing carols and bringing people the good news, for which carolers sometimes get candy and small change. It is typical for carolers to dress up in national costumes and go in groups, and the carols’ tunes and texts have been carried through generations. One of the most popular ones, and certainly my favorite, is Schedryk (known in English as Carol of the Bells), an old Ukrainian song. [The video] is a recent version from 2011 by Oleh Skrypka, a Ukrainian musician. The cartoon that goes along with it is strangely hinting at the Euromaidan spirit of 2013 and 2014, but also reminds us that we are all kids at heart :)

While Orthodox Coptic Christians account for the largest Christian community in Egypt, they form an even larger percentage of the Ethiopian community. Befekadu Hailu from Ethiopia reminds us that many of us may not even be in the same year, much less on the same date:

As you may know, our [Ethiopian] calendar is also different so we didn't start a new year with most of you. We started 2006 in September and this is the 2006th birthday of Jesus. We are just celebrating Christmas tomorrow [January 7] – which is a public holiday. The Orthodox Christians will also complete their 40 days of fasting season tomorrow. So, it will also be a day of eating much meat products. People spend it at home and as usual coffee ceremony, holiday food, family gatherings are the features of the holiday.

Thus, we end this quick journey through what may be a belated Christmas to some, where we began – in North Africa, with a traditional Christmas song performed by an Ethiopian choir. May your Christmases be as plentiful, warm, and well-rehearsed as theirs, wherever and whenever you choose to celebrate them. In the meantime, some of us are off to prepare for Orthodox New Year's Eve, coming up on January 13 – and you're all invited!

December 21 2013

“Beyond Brazil”: European Journalists Wanted for Reporting Trips

Coolpolitics in Portugal announces [pt] an open call for European journalists who want to go on a reporting trip to Brazil in 2014. Twenty-one young reporters from Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom and Bulgaria will be selected to take part of three different groups that will cover events in Brazil, before and after the World Cup, while collaborating with Brazilian peers.

The Beyond Your World website explains the application process and the expected outcomes of this international reporting and training opportunity:

Ongoing demonstrations, the upcoming World Cup, preparations for the Olympic Games and approaching elections; 2014 is considered to be a very important year for Brazil. Consequently, many beautiful stories are out there and are waiting to be covered. Beyond Your World would likes to make a big contribution with this special project. We want to take this incredible opportunity to explore and tell stories in and from Brazil, not only by giving young journalists the chance to gain experience overseas, but also enabling them to work together with colleagues from different countries. 

Deadline for applications is on January 10, 2014. This project - a cooperation between Lokaalmondiaal and the Brazilian media organisation Canal Futura - is part of the training program Beyond Your World which “seeks to inspire and enable the next generation of journalists to cover international development issues”.

December 15 2013

Bulgaria Marks Six Months of Continued Protests

December 14, 2013, marked six months of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, where protesters still gather daily in Sofia and other cities, demanding the resignation of the current government, led by the Socialist Party.

After the previous government stepped down after similar protests in February 2013, the new government, elected in May, soon met with similar citizen dissatisfaction and new protests began on June 14, 2013.

The Sofia Globe gives detailed insight into the reasons for the six-month long protests and why, unlike protests from Turkey to Ukraine, they have been receiving less attention from international mainstream media:

The story of the months from June 14 to December 14 is much more than that of the catalyst that first brought out Bulgarians to the streets in mass indignation, the abortive appointment of media mogul Delyan Peevski to head the State Agency for National Security.

It is also the story of how the government and the parties in power have conducted themselves, and the extent to which this may eventually bring about their downfall ahead of the long three and a half years still remaining to the current administration’s term.[...]

Still on the question of the outside world, anti-government protesters seize eagerly on what international media coverage there has been. Such stories are shared and reposted on social networks, a morale booster for the protest participants. Ironically, the very fact that the protests have been largely peaceful, with the very few exceptions where police have been ordered to get tough on anti-government protesters, makes the story hugely less sexy than events elsewhere, from Istanbul to Kyiv and beyond.[...]

This picture of a situation in which no one is winning, neither a discredited government nor those opposed to it, cannot be complete without noting that no political force currently lacking seats in Parliament seems to be making genuine gains. [...]

But while there is a standoff, as the current BSP government refuses to give up, the six-month mark being reached on December 14 shows that the anti-government protesters are not ready to give up either.

November 17 2013

Waiting for Freedom of the Press in Bulgaria

Caricature of the former prime-minister and media by Christo Komarnitzki.  Used with permission

Caricature of the former Prime Minister and media by Christo Komarnitzki, used with permission

More than 20 years after the instatement of democracy in Bulgaria, the country should be well out of a transitional period, at least regarding basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech and media freedom. This, however, is not the case. According to some recent studies and public sentiment, Bulgaria is rated as the country with the worst state of media freedom among EU member states.

A few months before the resignation of his cabinet, former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov made a controversial public comment after website Bivol, a partner of Wikileaks in Bulgaria, had published a document that allegedly revealed [bg, pdf] that the now former Prime Minister had been under police investigation in the 1990s. This comment to media representatives from Borisov came only four days after he announced on Bulgarian National Television that he wasn't controlling the media in the country:

The thing they [Bivol] did, I can do to all of you who are standing here today. I can order the [government] agencies to form similar trials against all of your journalists, or anyone.

Along with issues of government corruption and social inequality, which first sparked mass protests almost immediately after the new polls in May and then an occupation of Bulgarian universities by students, key issues in the country include the state of freedom of the press in Bulgaria, which now seems to be on the public agenda.

On September 16, 2013, the car of Bulgarian journalist and co-host of a popular morning show on bTV Genka Shikerova, known for her in-depth interviews of Bulgarian politicians, was set on fire outside her home in Sofia, bringing more concern about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Bulgaria. Reporters Without Borders published an interview with Shikerova recently, while OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović urged “swift investigation” into the suspected arson attack.

Mijatovic had also made an earlier official statement regarding threats against journalists in Bulgaria after a television crew from Bulgarian SKAT TV was verbally and physically assaulted by Ataka Party leader Volen Siderov and other members of his political party in Bourgas while trying to interview him. In this statement, she said:

Such intimidation not only threatens the affected journalists, it can also harm free expression and have a chilling effect on media freedom.

According to a Freedom House study of democratic development in 29 countries Bulgaria is also rated as one of the five countries in Europe, along with Russia, Kosovo, Estonia and Romania, which face democratic issues and challenges. In the report Freedom of the Press 2013, a part devoted to developments in Bulgaria states:

A number of private newspapers publish daily, and most are owned by two rival companies. Two of the three leading national television stations, bTV and Nova TV, are owned by foreign companies. The third is state-owned Bulgarian National Television (BNT). Like Bulgarian National Radio, BNT generally provides news coverage without a clear political bias, but the legal structure leaves public media vulnerable to potential government interference.[...] The New Bulgarian Media Group, which takes a staunchly pro-government line, continued to acquire outlets during the year, raising concerns about concentration.

Alternative information outlets

Students occupy Sofia University and use laptops to send information out; photo from the Early-wakening students Facebook fan page, used with permission.

Students occupy Sofia University and use laptops to send information out; photo from the Early-waking students Facebook fan page, used with permission.

With the traditional media landscape as closed as it is in the country, many are turning to social media and websites as alternative sources of information. Many people are turning mainly to small or mid-sized websites that are not owned by any of the big media companies to stay informed.

Orlin Spasov, a Bulgarian media expert and director of Media Democracy Foundation, commented [bg] on a Bulgarian news site about the media situation in relation to the polls in May:

Много медии следват политическата конюнктура и се ориентират не ценностно, а спрямо нея, пиковете в подкрепа на една или друга политическа формация са основен ориентир на голяма част от българските медии.[...]

Нашите изследвания показват, че социалният интернет – Фейсбук, блоговете, сайтовете за видеосподеляне – се радват почти на толкова голяма степен на доверие, както и телевизията.

Many media follow the political conjuncture and they orientate not according to values, but according to this [politics] and pick in support for one political formation or another, as a main point of orientation for a large part of the Bulgarian media.[...]

Our research shows that the social web – Facebook, blogs, video exchange sites – enjoy almost as much [public] trust as television.

Twitter user @zzdravkov tweeted a sentiment that seems to be becoming more common in Bulgaria:

I wonder whether it is too hard for the governments from the last six years now that phones with cameras have appeared, as well as the Internet and social networks?

— zzdravkov (@zzdravkov) October 13, 2013

Social media has played a key role in protests for a large part of Bulgarians who use the Internet. According to research [bg], in 2012, 57 percent of Bulgarian citizens use the Internet regularly, and earlier studies point out that over two million people in Bulgaria were active Facebook users in 2009 alone.

In a story about the recent developments in Bulgaria, Euronews points out that social media emerged as a crucial source of information in leading both the anti-government protests that began in June and the current sit-ins by students at several Bulgarian universities:

#ДАНСwithme has become the main hashtag – along with #Bulgaria, naturally – around which tweets, videos, blogposts and messages about the demonstrations have focused.[...]

Protesters on the internet are using both blogs and social media to voice their anger and let the world know their feelings about the political situation in Bulgaria.

In a blog post [bg] titled “About the Success Reached and the Possible (Eventual) Victory of the Protests”, Professor Nikolay Slatinsky wrote:

Хубавото на социалните мрежи и блоговете е и това, че те помнят и пазят позиции, мнения, становища, виждания – кой какво е писал, казал, изрекъл, споделил преди време и когато е трябвало, а не post factum.

The nice thing about social networks and blogs is that they remember and save stated positions, opinions and points of view – what someone has written, said, shared in the past, and when it was needed, not post factum [after the fact].

Many observers and bloggers in Bulgaria reflect on whether the energy expressed on online networks is a reason for social developments, such as the recent protests, or a consequence. Slatinsky adds:

На протестите трябва да се гледа и мисли малко по-различно (Защото сме не в 20 век, а в мрежовото общество на 21 век)[...]
А това е време на мрежовите структури, а не на йерархическите (каквито са и партиите); на социалните мобилизации по хоризонтала, а не по вертикала; на спонтанно възникващите общности; на автентичните изблици на обществена енергия; на стихийните самоорганизации.

One should view and think about the protests a bit differently (because we are not in the 20th century but in the networked society of the 21st century)[...] And this is a time of network structures, not of the hierarchal ones (like those belonging to the parties); of social horizontal mobilizations and not vertical ones; of spontaneously born communities; of authentic eruptions of social energy.

Bulgarian journalist and blogger Ruslan Jordanov writes on his blog about the phenomenon of the power of social mobilization on online networks:

Прощъпулникът на гражданската съпротива показва нещо много важно -
всеки е медия, всеки е журналист, от всеки нещо /или много/ зависи.

The first steps of the citizen opposition show something very important -
everyone is media, everyone is a journalist and something /or much/ depends on everyone.

November 09 2013

Bulgarian Students Occupy the Country's Future

Protesting students in front of the Sofia University St. Kl. Ohridski. Photo from Early-wakening students' Facebook page. Used with permission.

Students protest in front of the Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. Photo courtesy of Early-wakening Students’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

“We build the future”, a group of Bulgarian students announced loudly on October 23, 2013 holding colorful signs, declaring a permanent blockade in key universities in the Eastern European country which only recently was rocked by anti-government protests. The students are demanding, along with other citizens, that the current Bulgarian government step down because of several controversial decisions by Parliament and widespread corruption in the country.

The organizers of the occupation called their spontaneous movement “The Early-wakening Students” and pledged they wouldn't meddle with any political force in the country. The blokade began when a group of indignant students occupied the largest lecture hall, number 272, of the St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia, the oldest and most prestigious Bulgarian university. The students announced their dissatisfaction with a decision of the Constitutional Court to reinstate the parliamentary rights of а contradictory deputy.

Previously, on June 14, 2013, a parliamentary vote to appoint Delyan Peevski to head the country's National Security Agency was the reason for an eruption of large anti-government protests of thousands of people.

In a few declarations, including the latest one in the first days of November, the students demanded that the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party resign and that the 42nd National Assembly be dissolved. In a portion of their latest statement [bg] that the student group published on their Facebook page, which now has over 24,370 followers, they said:

Ние, Ранобудните студенти, сме обединени от убеждението, че държавата ни се намира в тежка политическа и още по-тежка ценностна криза. Обединени сме от възмущението си, предизвикано от липсата на морал и политическата безотговорност на народните представители. Протестът ни е срещу ежедневно демонстрирания от политиците цинизъм, задкулисие и липса на чуваемост. Смятаме, че настоящото правителство, олицетворява всички тези недъзи на българския политически и обществен живот. 42-то Народно събрание на Р. България е изчерпано откъм легитимност…

We, the Early-wakening students, are united by the conviction that our country is in a tough political and even tougher value crisis. We are united by our indignation, born from the lack of moral and political irresponsibility of the deputies. Our protest is against the daily demonstration of political cynicism, backroom deals and a lack channels for voices to be heard. We think that the present government embodies all those defects of Bulgarian political and public life. The 42nd National Assembly is depleted in terms of legitimacy…

The universities blocked are open for students to attend. There are no official statistics about how many students have joined the occupation. Konstantin Golev, a history PhD student at the university and one of the active “occupiers”, suggested that in one of the most crowded days in the first week of October, there were 400 or 500 people who came and sat in the main hall just on one of the first evenings. According to him, approximately 150 people are the core of the occupation of the main Bulgarian university, including people who work in shifts to guard the doors of the university and write lists of people who have entered.

The reasons of the occupation are said to be rooted in the action of three students from the University in Sofia, who stretched a placard in Parliament that said: “Aren’t you ashamed?!”. After less than a minute, they were being moved out of the hall and escorted to the cabinet of the National Assembly’s Chairperson, Mihail Mikov. According to the students and some media [bg], Mikov said he doesn’t “care” about the students’ opinion.

Soon after the beginning of the blockade, over 200 university professors announced their support for the students’ initiative. At the same time, after a debate, the Sofia University Academic Council expressed disapproval of the blockade, announcing that the students have a right to protest, but should not hamper the university's work processes.

Meanwhile students from other universities in the capital and other cities supported the occupation in a similar manner. Students from the National Theater Academy made a protesting flash mob performance as a sign of solidarity. The inscription on the street mob was OSTAVKA (RESIGNATION) and parts of this performance can be seen in this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLaa_W2UYq8

Student with a sign:

Student with a sign that says “resignation” on his back. Photo from the Early-wakening Students’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

Kiril Chukanov, another PhD student from the Faculty of History and one of the main representatives of the protesting student group, stated [bg]:

Това, което се случва в университета, е отражение на извънредното положение на събитията в страната.
Ние няма никога да отстъпим от тези принципи, които имаме, и окупацията ще продължи до оставка, защото знаете, че оставката за нас не е цел, тя е само първа стъпка за това, което ние се борим, а то е реална промяна в системата

The events happening at the university are a reflection of the extraordinary situation of the developments in the country. We will never step back from those principles that we have and the occupation will continue, because the resignation is not a goal for us. It is only a first step towards that for which we fight and this is a real change in the system.

In the public space and some media, there are opinions of support that express concern that no change is really possible in a country that has no political alternative. An editorial of E-vestnik, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, said:

Лошата новина сега е, че студентската окупация ще свърши зле. Зле за всички страни. Управляващите продължават да натрупват негативи и стават все по-омразни. Но не само те. И окупаторите и подкрепящите ги преподаватели, партии и т. н. също трупат негативи. Просто разделението в обществото продължава. Това, което е красиво и достойно за едни, е недостойно за други.

The bad news now is that the student occupation will end badly. In a bad way for every side. The authorities continue gathering negative points and they are gaining more disapproval. But they are not the only ones. And the people who occupy, the supportive professors and political parties are also heaping negative points. The division of society just continues. The thing that seems beautiful and full of dignity for some people is deprived of dignity for others.

It added:

Протестът не роди нов политически субект, а беше от полза на съществуващите партии – ГЕРБ и изпадналите от парламента десни. Протестът не роди нови политически лидери, не поиска конкретни реформи. Зацикли на посланията „Оставка”, „Червени боклуци” и „Кой издигна Пеевски?”. Няма как да събереш мнозинството българи под тези лозунги”.

The protest didn’t give birth to a new political subject, it gave benefits to the existing parties like the former ruling party of GERB and to forces from the right who remained outside the National Assembly. The protest didn’t give birth to new political leaders, it didn’t call for any specific reforms. It got stuck on messages like: “Resignations”, “Red trash” and “Who appointed Peevski?”. And one cannot gather the majority of the Bulgarians under those slogans.

According to research [bg] conducted from October 26 to 31, 2013, in different regions of Bulgaria, 60 percent of Bulgarian citizens support the occupation.

Ivaylo Dinev is one of the initiators of the of the Early-wakening occupation. Dinev, who holds a Master's degree in Cultural Anthropology and a Bachelor's in History and Contemporary Times in Southeast Europe, also heads a movement called “Change for the Students”. On the online platform Sofialive, Ivaylo said:

Окупацията не е толкова шокираща. В последните години всяка балканска държава имаше студентска окупация. При нас не е имало от 16 години и всеки е: „Оу, ау, какви са тия? Някакви екстремисти!” Ами, не, не сме екстремисти и, не, не сме нахълтали изведнъж. Ние от четири години организираме събития, прожекции, акции, конференции…

The occupation is not so shocking. In the last years every Balkan country had a student occupation. We didn’t have such in the last 16 years and now everyone says: “Oh, who are those people? Some kind of extremists!”. Well, no, we are not extremists and didn’t invade in a sudden. Since four years we organize events, movie projections, actions, conferences…

Ivaylo added:

Осъзнаваме, че сме се влели във времето. Или ще сме провал, или ще сме за пример.”

We realize that we are in line with the times. And we will either be a failure or an example for others to.

October 23 2013

Overwhelmed by Syrian Refugees, Bulgaria Seeks EU Aid

Bulgaria, as the closest EU country to Syria, is seeing more than its fair share of the average 5,000 refugees that are fleeing Syria every day. Unprepared and inexperienced in dealing with this influx of refugees seeking shelter, food and protection, Syria has requested assistance and financial aid from the European Union. Meanwhile, some Bulgarian ministers have allegedly proposed to use some of the new funding to put up a 30-kilometer barrier fence along the border with Turkey to prevent illegal entry.

Open Democracy reports in more detail:

Geographically, Bulgaria is not that remote from Syria. Sharing a border with Turkey, Bulgaria is the EU member state closest to Syria if one is travelling by road or railway transport. Therefore, as the most likely first point of entry into the Union, Bulgaria must be well equipped to meet the challenges that will ensue with the new expected waves of Syrian refugees in the coming months. Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case.[...]

This week it is expected that the European Commission will make a final decision as to whether Bulgaria will receive financial aid to cope with the situation. In the meantime, Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, has warned that the Bulgarian authorities lack experience of dealing with similar situations and have failed in crisis planning.

September 23 2013

Bulgarie : 100 jours de manifs, et alors ?

#Bulgarie : 100 jours de manifs, et alors ?
http://fr.myeurop.info/2013/09/23/bulgarie-100-jours-de-manifs-et-alors-12269

Christelle Granja

« Démission ! » Après 100 jours de #manifestations anti-gouvernementales, rien ou presque ne semble avoir changé en Bulgarie. Retour sur une #révolte (presque) oubliée.

C’est une révolte dont on a peu parlé : depuis près de quatre mois, des milliers de Bulgares manifestent dans les rues de Sofia et (...)

#REVUE_DU_WEB #Société #INFO #Politique #Bulgaria #corruption #gouvernement #motion_de_censure

July 09 2013

Bulgarian Protesters March Kilometers to Challenge Government

After 27 days of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, the leadership of this Eastern European country has so far made no changes.

The mass protests, which began on June 14, 2013 after the appointment of a controversial deputy, Delyan Peevski, to head the Bulgarian National Security agency, have steadily grown in the number of citizens joining the daily demonstrations in the streets of the capital Sofia and other cities. Although Peevski immediately resigned from the position, protesters are asking that the newly formed government, elected in May of this year, to step down and major reforms in several sectors be made.

On Sunday, July 7, the number of protesters in the streets of the Bulgarian capital was unprecedented, as tens of thousands of citizens marched in the streets, again demanding the resignation of the current regime. The ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, with the allied ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) by their side, refused to relinquish power despite the protests, which specifically call for more transparency and less corruption in government, action against organised crime, and an end to the “rule of oligarchy”.

Bulgarian protesters show solidarity with fellow protesters in other countries; image meme courtesy of Revolution News.

Bulgarian protesters show solidarity with fellow protesters in other countries. Image meme courtesy of Revolution News.

On June 27 on an official visit to Brussels, the Bulgarian prime minister stated that he has no intention of resigning until he has parliamentary support to do so. When asked about the appointment of Peevski, a MRF deputy, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski admitted that it was a political mistake which, in his own words, “is not a sufficient reason for a resignation”.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes of the protests, Bulgarian police officials decided to stop announcing the number of the protesters [bg], pointing out that they do not want to cause any political conflicts.

At the same time, alternative online media are highly critical of previous announcements by police as to the scope of the protests. In response to this, a massive number of protesters strayed from their already traditional trajectory to government headquarters and poured into the streets on Sunday, the twenty-fifth day of the protests, with the particular aim of filling the three-kilometer space between Orlov most (Eagles’ Bridge), downtown Sofia, and the Pliska hotel. In the days prior to this, “Let’s fill the space in between Orlov most and Pliska hotel” was one of the popular slogans seen on Facebook.

A sea of protesters fill the 3 kilometer distance from the Rectorate at Orlov most to the Pliska hotel; photo courtesy of From the Rectorate to Pliska Hotel Facebook fan page.

A sea of protesters fill the three-kilometer distance from the Rectorate at Orlov most to the Plska hotel. Photo courtesy of “From the Rectorate to Pliska Hotel” Facebook page.

As Offnews reports, tens of thousands of people [bg] stretched over the long path to Pliska hotel. The numbers that this article and other alternative media refer to contradict the information given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that there were barely 3,000 people [bg] gathered at the protests. Offnews adds that in the beginning of the evening there were 15,000 people just at Orlov most at 10:15 in the evening. A banner on the side of the road read: “Bulgaria is ours, the bill is yours.”

On Monday, after some review of the previous day's events, media reported that Sunday's #ДАНСwithме protest, a popular hashtag for the protests, was the largest to date. Bulgarian National Radio reported [bg]:

Хора, занимавали се с охрана на масови мероприятия, заявиха, че според тях са присъствали между 30 000 и 40 000 души.

People who have experience dealing with protection of mass events, said that according to them between 30 and 40,000 people attended.

A page titled “The Bulgarian Vagabond” (“vagabond” is now common mockery in Bulgaria of a socialist deputy, Hristo Monov, who called the protesters “vagabonds”) was started on Facebook to mock the discrepancies between unofficial sources and official information.

Journalist Tony Nikolov wrote in the online edition of Kultura magazine:

Масовият протест на гражданите би трябвало да се възприеме от властта в България като въпрос, на който тя дължи незабавен отговор. Никакъв отговор обаче няма – повече от 20 дни, с което се стигна до ситуацията „парламент под обсада”.

The mass citizen protest should be perceived by the authorities as a question to which it owеs an immediate answer. However there isn't any kind of answer – more than 20 days, which lead to the situation “a parliament under siege”…

The situation formed gives us the right to make the following conclusions. First, the people who rule over us, do not care for democratic rules, for their dignity, nor do they respect the dignity of those who have sent them to the parliament or to the high levels of power. They prefer to rule behind police rows. To pretend to be blind and deaf. With the sole hope to stay a little more on power in the name of small party, personal and corporate interests.

The Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev expressed his opinion on Facebook about the reactions by authorities:

Те съзнават, че не биха могли да устоят на пряк конфликт. Изплашени са. Затова го избягват на всяка цена. Ще има извинения, прошки, рокади, размествания, решения, протакане, имитации, няколко глави ще бъдат хвърлени на улицата…

They [the authorities] know that they wouldn't stand a direct conflict. They are frightened. And that is why they avoid it. There will be apologies made, forgiveness, castling, changes of places, decisions, prolonging, imitation, few heads would be thrown out on the street.

In one of the most commented articles on social networks, originally posted in the newspaper Standartnews, young journalist Raiko Baichev wrote:

А сега протестите имат нужда от едно: постоянство. Най-трудното е. Погледнете всички по-лекички избухвания на недоволство през последните години. Тия пичове с властта му знаят тактиката – чакат. Чакат като луди. Да прощавате за тъпото сравнение, но протестите май са като любовта и имат същите фази – разгар, пик и угасване. В момента ви чакат да идете на море. Надеждите им са във вашия петък вечер, вашата планина, вашитe палатки и плажове. Чакат ви да се изповлюбите…

And now, the protests need one thing: persistence. It is the most difficult thing. Look at all those lighter explosions of discontent in the recent years. These dudes in power know the tactics – they are waiting. They are waiting like mad people. Forgive my stupid comparison, but the protests seem to be like love and they have the same phases – height, culmination and dying away. At the moment they are waiting for you to go at the seaside. Their hopes are in your Friday evening, your mountain, your tents and beaches. They are waiting for you to fall in love…

A ballet dancer performing on the streets in a sign of solidarity with the Sunday protests; photo by Ivo Mirchev, used with permission.

A ballet dancer performing on the streets in a sign of solidarity with the Sunday protests. Photo by Ivo Mirchev. Used with permission.

July 03 2013

Eastern Europeans to Boost UK IT Industry

As of January 1, 2014, the UK labour movement restrictions placed several years ago to prevent migrants from Romania and Bulgaria from moving permanently and seeking employment in the UK will be lifted. Some predict large migrations of workers from these two countries, among the poorest in the European Union, while others say that migrations will be so small they will barely be felt and many emphasize the fact that Romania has a growing, innovative IT industry that will also benefit the British IT industry. Other Eastern European countries have also helped boost the UK's thriving IT industry in the recent past, such as Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and more. The Independent covers several sides of the developing story, with quotes from Eastern European immigrant IT entrepreneurs in the UK:

(more…)

June 19 2013

Anti-Government Protests Rock Bulgaria's New Leadership

The appointment of a controversial deputy from Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish political party as the head of the country's National Security Agency has set in motion a wave of massive protests throughout the country against the two-week-old government.

More than 10,000 people gathered in the capital city of Sofia on June 14, 2013 after Delyan Peevski, a media magnate and a member of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), who has been involved in several corruption scandals in recent years, was confirmed for the key post after just a 15-minute vote in the National Assembly without any debate.

The enormous protest was organized within a few hours through social networks and, although torrential rain poured on the city, thousands of people showed up in front of government headquarters. Protests were organized in provincial areas of the country as well.

Thousands gather to protests in the streets of Sofia. (Photo used with permission)

Thousands gather to protest in the streets of Sofia. Photo from Saprotiva resistance website. Used with permission.

After the first day of the unexpected mass protests, Peevski announced that he is ready to withdraw from the post.

Despite Peevski’s announcement, in the following days the protests continued on an even larger scale. On June 16, 15,000 people gathered for an anti-government protest against the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and the allied ethnic Turkish MRF Party, who had previously endorsed Peevski's appointment.

The demonstrations are putting pressure on the new government, which only came to power with the May 12, 2013 election after the resignation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's government in February. That government stepped down following nationwide protests against high electricity prices, low living standards, and multiple corruption scandals. Those still recent protests, unprecedented at the time, are now being rivaled by the enormity of the current demonstrations, which appear to be even bigger.

Bulgarian blogger and journalist Ruslan Trad expressed [bg] his own observations about the protesters this time around on Facebook:

Не мога да отрека едно много важно нещо за сегашните протести- профилът на недоволните е различен. Видях много мои любими хора, приятели, познати, някои от които никога не са протестирали. Представете си колко мотивация им дава правителството, за да излязат на улицата?

I cannot deny one thing of high importance related to the protests – the profile of the indignant is different now. I saw many of my beloved people, people I know, some of whom have never protested. Imagine what motivation they have because of the government in order to go out in the street?

Journalist Luboslava Russeva had this to say [bg] about the events and Peevski's background, marked by a streak of scandals and controversies:

Да се коментира този чудовищен цинизъм изглежда трудна задача, така че ще пробвам да загрея с някои факти от възходящата кариера на „силната ръка“.

„Капитал“ припомня, че най-големият скандал, в който е замесено името му към онзи момент, е свързан с приватизацията на столичната зала „Универсиада“ и спортния комплекс „Тотошанс“ в Златни пясъци.

Историята е следната:
Майката на Пеевски – Ирена Кръстева, е шеф на Българския спортен тотализатор. Покрай нея, синът се сближава със спортния министър Васил Иванов-Лучано. Така имотите се оказват апортирани от държавната фирма „Олимпика“ ЕАД в смесено дружество, в което участва частна фирма, свързвана със самия Лучано.

It seems to be a difficult task for one to comment on this monstrous cynicism, so I will try to warm up with some facts about the progressive career of Mr. “Strong Arm”.

The Bulgarian weekly newspaper Capital reminds us of the biggest scandal which Peevski's name is attached to, which is related to the privatisation of Universiade Hall in Sofia and a sport complex in the seaside resort Goled Sands.

The story goes as follows:
Peevski's mother – Irena Krasteva, is the head of the Bulgarian Sports Totalizator [Bulgarian national lottery organization]. Along with her, Peevski became close to then Minister of Sport Vasil Ivanov – Lucano. And that is how these properties are revealed to have been separated from a state company into public-private partnership, in which a private company participates, and Lucano's name is related.

In recent years, corruption scandals such as the one described by Russeva above have become common practice and common knowledge among Bulgarian citizens. Among other such scandals, Delyan Peevski was fired in 2007 from his then post as Deputy Minister for Disaster Management after a corruption row. As Sofia Echo reported then, Peevski was restored to the post of examining magistrate in Sofia by a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on November 14, 2007. Due to this history, Peevski's appointment for the head of the National Security Agency earned strong reactions online.

A protester in Sofia carries a sign saying: "The lack of evolution in you leads to a revolution in us!" (Photo used with permission)

A protester in Sofia carries a sign saying: “The lack of evolution in you leads to a revolution in us!” Photo by Ivaylo Nenov. Used with permission.

Another Bulgarian journalist, Svetlana Georgieva, lamented the appointment [bg] of Peevski in an editorial in the daily newspaper Sega:

Най-тежките ни кошмари се сбъднаха. България вече не е демократична парламентарна република. След избора на Делян Пеевски за председател на Държавната агенция “Национална сигурност” (ДАНС), след най-вонящата сделка на века, България е с олигархично държавно устройство.

One of our worst nightmares became reality. Bulgaria is not a democratic parliamentary republic anymore. After the appointment of Delyan Peevski as Head of Bulgaria's National Security Agency, after the most repulsive deal of the century, Bulgaria has an oligarchic structure.

Christo Komartnitski, one of Bulgaria's most famous caricaturists, wrote [bg] on Facebook:

Добре де, като се замислих, каква новина е, че мафията си има държава?

Okay, when you think about it, what kind of news is this – the mafia has its own country.

Ivan Bakalov, editor-in-chief of E-vestnik.bg, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, commented [bg] in an editorial about the ruling class:

Те напълно изпариха впечатлението, че има нещо експертно в този кабинет. Дори някои министри заради избора на Пеевски станаха смешни и търпят негативи, че участват в този кабинет.
Умряха надеждите, че България има що годе разумно правителство, което ще спасява страната след управлението на ГЕРБ.

They [the politicians in power] absolutely destroyed the impression that there is any expertise in this cabinet. And even some ministers became ridiculous because of Peevski's appointment and they suffer of the negativity they are part of this particular cabinet.
The hope that Bulgaria has a relatively reasonable government, which will save the country after the ruling of GERB [the former ruling party], has died.

Bakalov added:

Орешарски и БСП имаха звезден миг, който изпуснаха – можеха да се опънат на натиска на ДПС за Пеевски, с цената на отказ от правителство, нови избори наесен и т н. И щяха да оберат овациите и да получат подкрепа от избиратели извън своята периферия. Сега правителството е под въпрос. Не може да се предвиди кога ще има избори.

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski and the Bulgarian Socialist Party had its moment of fame, which they lost – they could have resisted MRF's pressure for Peevski to be chosen and the cost would have been their resignation and new elections in the autumn. And they could have been applauded for that and have received support from voters out of their perimeter. Now the government's existence is questionable. And one cannot predict when elections will be called.

As the previous government resigned and called for an early election following protests, it seems the same is expected of this government or rather of part of the ruling majority, the Socialist Party. Some, as Bakalov above, are revolted that the Socialist Party seems to be giving in to the pressure of the MRF, with whom they have formed the ruling majority, to preserve this new government. The protests and mass dissatisfaction with the government in Bulgaria continue.

Reposted bymofo mofo

May 27 2013

Alphabets Bring Joy and Sadness to Bulgaria

[...] One of the purest and most sacred holidays in Bulgaria! It's a celebration that makes us proud to have given something to the world! It's a holiday which is not related to any rebels, battles or violence, although it fills us with patriotism and joy. [...] When you walk on the streets, foreign signs and directions, they far exceed our domestic ones. [...]

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May 07 2013

Crowdsourcing a Fair Election in Bulgaria

The government of Boyko Borisov fell on Feb. 20, 2013 after a month of incessant protests, and in less than five days, on May 12, Bulgarian citizens will elect a new parliament (an in-depth GV text is here).

There are doubts, however, about the fairness of the upcoming vote. To help monitor the violations of the electoral process, Bulgarian activists have created several online tools.

  • Аз Гласувам ["I Vote"; bg] was created by Institute for Public Environment Development (IPED), a nonprofit organization supporting political and social change in Bulgaria. IPED works to increase citizen participation in the Bulgarian government, limiting the influence of the mafia in politics, securing a fair electoral process, and combating corruption and abuse of power. The platform's goal is to promote the rights of voters in Bulgaria, to answer most frequently asked questions about the upcoming election, to assist in reporting violations of the electoral process, and to aggregate election news published in the media.

 

az glasuvam

 

  • За честни избори (“For Fair Elections”; bg] is an Ushahidi-based crowdmapping platform, which will help gather reports of violations (text and photos submitted via Facebook, Twitter and email).

 

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 1.48.50 AM

 

 

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 1.48.27 AM

 

On Twitter, netizens can report violations and post updates using these hashtags: #bgizbori2013, #izbori2013, and #izbori (izbori means ‘elections’ in Bulgarian).

Wiretapping Scandal, Voter Disillusionment Ahead of Bulgaria's Elections

Bulgarian citizens will have to make some difficult choices as they go to the polls on May 12, 2013 to vote in the parliamentary election.

The election had originally been scheduled for July, but the date was changed after the Feb. 20 resignation of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s government, following the nationwide protests against high electricity prices, low living standards and corruption scandals. On March 13, President Rosen Plevneliev appointed an interim cabinet, which will work until the election.

There are 240 seats in the Bulgarian Parliament, and a party would need 121 seats to form a majority. After a series of scandals and protests, the issue of the potential winner is a divisive subject for the Bulgarian society. The main political forces competing in the polls include [.pdf] the former ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB); the Socialist Party, which is currently the main opposition force; the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which represents the country’s Turkish minority; Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, led by the former PM Ivan Kostov; Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, led by the former European Commissioner (2007-2009) and former Foreign Minister (2002-2006) Meglena Kuneva; and the far-right party Ataka.

"Bulgarian Roulette," featuring logos of the parties running in the upcoming election. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgarian Roulette, featuring logos of the parties running in the upcoming election. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Ivan Bakalov, editor-in-chief of E-vestnik.bg, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, comments [bg] in an editorial:

Who is going to win the election? For now, the answer is – nobody. A research by the sociology agency BBSS Gallup International (March 7-12) showed that GERB and the Bulgarian Socialist Party are almost equal on votes.

Elections 2013. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Elections 2013. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

A reader named Georgieva expresses her mood in this comment [bg]:

For the first time I feel a complete disgust with all kinds of political parties. I don’t want any familiar face, neither from the left nor from the right, from none of the points of the political spectrum. [...]

Similar comments can be found on Facebook. User Radosveta Dimova, for example, writes [bg]:

[...] People who hope for a savior to come and are not self-reliant, people who want someone else to “fix” them, they are not right-wing, left-wing or centrist. They do not know what they want, they do not want to learn how to achieve it and they do not want to work as they should and to vote for whoever they should. These people are not interested in democratic values, they do not recognize them, and they haven’t lived in a society with that kind of values. [...]

A number of political scandals taking place alongside the election campaign have complicated the Bulgarian electorate’s moods even further.

At the end of April, the Bulgarian media received an anonymous report, written in shorthand, of a meeting between the ex-PM Boyko Borisov, the former Minister of Agriculture and Food Miroslav Naydenov and the Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov. The letter, sent from boykonaydenov@gmail.ru, began this way:

If you think the former Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov has stopped spying on you after February 20, 2013, you are wrong. But I’m nearly certain you know it. Because I am one of those spying on you. I am an employee of SDOTO (Specialized Direction “Operative Technical Operations); I still work there, and do what chiefs order me to do. With this email I am informing you about the last case of illegal spying in which I was involved. [...]

The sender elaborated on the focus of the wiretapped conversation:

[...] At the beginning of April, my colleagues and I eavesdropped on a discussion between Borisov, former Agriculture Minister Naydenov, and Sofia City Prosecutor Kokinov, on how to drop corruption charges against Naydenov and a number of other things important for the country. We were told we were on a “training mission” on Tsvetanov's order, despite the fact Petya Parvanova was already caretaker Interior Minister. Why did we agree to become involved? There is one word to explain it – FEAR!

After all these things at the office to which I am dedicated, honestly, I am sick and tired. I consulted attorneys and they told me what the law says about this conversation we taped – those being recorded and those recording have committed a crime. It is clear about us – we have snooped illegally regardless of the person – be it the former PM or a waiter from the pub next door. But from what the attorneys told me, I think what is more important is the crimes committed by Borisov, Naydenov, and Kokinov, while chatting. All three are accomplices in crime, according to the Penal Code, as they have plotted to spoil criminal proceedings in order to help someone avoid prosecution and punishment. This calls for 1 to 6 years behind bars. I am still somewhat confused though about another crime – leaking State secrets. Was it committed only by Kokinov, or all three are guilty of it? This is punishable by 2 to 8 years of jail time. [...]

The disclosure happened a day after the former Interior Minister swore he had not conducted phone tapping. As a result of the scandal, City Prosecutor Kokinov resigned, and, a few days later, criminal proceedings started against four high-ranking officials in the Bulgarian Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted by sociologist Mira Radeva states [bg] that the former ruling party might win most of the votes. The alternative publication Offnews.bg accused [bg] Radeva of pro-government bias.

E-vestnik.bg's Ivan Bakalov makes these forecasts [bg] in another editorial:

[...] It seems that Borisov’s party is beginning to fall into isolation. What is the alternative? Many people don’t want to vote for this party, but they don’t find a relevant alternative. What are the opportunities?

[...]

What are the arguments against the Socialist Party? [They] promise to build the Nuclear Power Plant in Belene, which is a risky investment for a state in a difficult financial situation. And it is a risk from the ecological point of view as well. [...]

Bakalov points out that the Socialist Party has also “promised to lift the smoking ban in Bulgaria” – which, according to him, is “populism.” As for Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, Bakalov writes:

[...] This is another party that has a chance to enter the next Parliament (in addition to the Socialist Party, the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and “Ataka”). This is the party most attacked by the media controlled by GERB. [...]

Bulgaria's ex-PM Boyko Borisov sitting on top of a citizen, luring him to vote. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgaria's ex-PM Boyko Borisov sitting on top of a citizen, luring him to vote. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgarian journalist Ivo Indzhev writes [bg] on his blog, in a post that has been re-published in a number of alternative media outlets:

[...] One of our leading national specifics is obviously that here the bell is really ringing twice for the deaf people in order for them to open their eyes. This is an explanation of the marked tendency of GERB to be the winners in the polls, although, according to the logic of democracy, they should lose catastrophically [...].

[...]

Borisov understands what attracts people to him, and he tells them: “The more wiretapping devices are used, the stronger we become.” In translation, he is appealing to everyone who does not care about the democratic procedures to unite under his direction as the “proletariat” against the democracy. When someone is so candid, how can one not believe in the conspiracy statements that GERB had organized the wiretapping scandal themselves? [...]

Reader PETQ left this comment [bg] for Indzhev:

Mr. Indzhev, the closer the election is, the more GERB supporters mobilize. It’s visible even in your blog. Recently, the first comments under almost all of your articles are written by people who support GERB. I’m sure these are not your usual readers and there are thousands of more suitable sites for Borisov's fans to write at. However, obviously a lot money is paid in order for the public opinion to be manipulated on the Internet. And they obviously expect that the people who read your blog will say: “Well, even here people have changed their minds and it seems most of them are going to vote for GERB.”

April 15 2013

Running 1,000 Miles for Europe's Trafficked Children

Run For Love 1000

This month, Rob Martineau, Tom Stancliffe, and Guy Hacking are running 1,000 miles from Odessa to Dubrovnik, via Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Croatia, as part of the Run For Love 1000 campaign, whose aim is to raise funds for Love146, a UK charity that “gives care and hope to trafficked children, and to raise awareness of the scale of human trafficking across Europe.” Follow their run on the RFL1000 website, on Facebook, and on Twitter; support the runners by donating here (215 donations have been made so far, with nearly £12,500 raised).

March 18 2013

Welcome Spring and Good-bye Evil Eye

File:Martenitsa E5.jpg

Martenitsas on a blossoming tree.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Μάρτης [el], мартеница [bg], мартинка [mk], mărțișor [ru]…however you call it, an ancient tradition [el] with multiple variations that takes place in the Balkans. So, weave your red-and-white threads for protection against the “evil eye” or to welcome Spring!

(more…)

March 01 2013

Self-Immolations Energize Bulgarian Protests

Protests continue in Bulgaria for 20 days without stopping. In the latest major protest, on Feb. 24, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of the biggest cities in the country – Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. Their demands against monopolies in the energy sector and revision of the political system remain unfulfilled. Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, speaking on Feb. 28, said he would create a caretaker government formed with the participation of civil society organizations. But the protests continue – on March 3, Bulgaria's National Day, there will be new rallies.

One of the reasons for the protests to continue are the self-immolations – three cases in less than a month, all largely neglected by the media.

One of the self-immolators, 36-year-old Plamen Goranov [bg], has become a symbol of the fight against the mafia and the political system. He is now called the “Bulgarian Jan Palach,” after the Czech student who set himself on fire in Prague in 1968, in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Plamen Goranov.

Plamen Goranov.

Goranov is one of the main critics of the mafia in his city, Varna, whose mayor Kiril Yordanov has been alleged to have ties with “the murky and powerful” TIM group. Yordanov has been the mayor of Varna since 1999. Activists believe that Goranov's self-immolation was in protest against TIM.

TIM is the informal name of a Varna economic holding group connected with “KhimImport,” founded in the mid-1990s. It is most often associated with the criminal activity of the 1990s and the economic activity of the 2000s.

According to an article [bg] in the Bulgarian newspaper “Capital,”

[...] TIM was created by ten people. All are former Marines from the “Tihina” section near Varna. This is a secret branch of the Navy, which for years has been trained as elite special forces – commandos, parachutists and divers. Most of the founders were former karate athletes who participated in the national team and took not one or two titles in international tournaments. [...]

[...] In the early 1990s, reforms in the army left many former Marines unemployed. [...] Good physical form and karate skills allowed the majority of them to engage in different activities requiring the use of force. [...]

Bulgarian blog PsyGlass posted this [bg] about Plamen Goranov:

[...] What a name! Burning flame [refers to the translation of the name Plamen from Bulgarian]. [...] Like most people, I learned about him from pictures and stories. Who is he? Why is he a hero? Why did he set himself on fire?

Plamen is a dangerous character, because he is still alive. His self-immolation is not comparable with the actions of Levski and Botev [Bulgarian national heroes]. Those whom we admire. Whose portraits we admire. But Plamen burned. He is real, his pictures are in color, they can be seen, and the background and visible context can be found. [...]

[...] It's safer for heroes to have black-and-white portraits. So we can worship without questions, take their decisions for granted. They are white – perfect, flawless, bright. [...]

[...] The courage to look honestly at Plamen, in all of his humanity, to ask burning questions, to seek explanations and to act according to the meaning that we find – this is the position of citizens, of humans. And maybe of heroes. [...]

On the Bulgarian investigative journalism website (which was hacked a few weeks ago), a text about Plamen Goranov and the reasons for his act was published both in English and in Bulgarian, titled “Plamen Goranov – the Martyr of the ‘Bulgarian Spring'.” There is also an article about Goranov and democracy in Bulgaria on the Occupy.com website.

Bulgarian news blog, SamokoVest, has this [bg] on Goranov:

Plamen Goranov from Varna expressed his protest against the outrageous situation in the country and in his hometown with a staggering final act of negation. He was on fire and turned himself into a living torch for the protests.

Blogger Radan Kanev wrote [bg] about the symbolism of Goranov's self-immolation and asked why people aren't asking the government to act against the mafia:

[...] There is no compelling physical force against the citizens of Varna. No Soviet troops. Even no Bulgarian troops there. The sacrifice of Plamen Goranov is undoubtedly a protest against the shadowy power of TIM Group, which everyone talks about over coffee, beer and dinner. But Bulgaria has the power to oppose the shadow government. Varna has the power to stop it. The resources of the public authority are far greater than those of any group of thugs, any oligarch – or even all of them together. [...]

[...] The only tanks that sparked this protest are the tanks of our silence. The silence of the politicians’ ‘public’ media … the silence of the otherwise noisy protests. [...]

There is a Facebook group [bg] in support of Plamen Goranov, with more than 1,600 members. A concert rally has been organized through Facebook [bg] to help Goranov, who is in hospital now and in need of blood donations:

Sometimes courage causes fear inside us. Sometimes an act of understanding leads us to demonize or belittle. [...] Let us try to understand the sacrifice for the sake of an idea, and it will unite us rather than divide us. [...] Let's donate blood – Plamen needs it. Let us unite, at least around the idea to help this man.
Let us pray for his health and life. The initiative is part of a series of events in support of Plamen Goranov around the country.

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