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August 29 2012

Macedonia, Bulgaria: Social Media Users Help Expose Forgery

A fact-checking intervention - a joint effort by Macedonian and Bulgarian social media users - has helped independent journalists expose forged documents used as lure for suspicious humanitarian donations.

During the previous weeks, Macedonian social media users were agitated after learning about alleged mistreatment of Eva Ilievska, a baby girl with malfunctioning heart, who was a subject of an online donation campaign a few months ago. Dozens of online portals and other media relayed the appeal for more funds, using titles like “Scandalous - Little Eva was Denied Health Care in Bulgaria - Due to Lack of Money for the Operation.” The people were donating money via designated humanitarian phone numbers and to the family's bank account, and indignantly shared such links [mk] via Facebook, calling upon their friends to contribute, too. These articles contained photos of the baby, who was born in April, and a scan of the alleged official document issued by a Bulgarian clinic.

A text message by the Foundation T-Mobile for Macedonia, informing that the user has donated 100 denars for Eva Ilievska's treatment. On top of this sum, the state takes +18% from the citizens as VAT (approx. EUR 2).

However, when a Facebook user from Bulgaria noticed this appeal, she quickly realized that the scanned document contained many factual inadequacies: the name and address of the hospital were wrong, the telephone numbers were strange, and, most of all, the text in Bulgarian looked as if it was not written by a speaker of the language, but appeared to be an automated online translation. Other Bulgarians (including Global Voices' Rayna St. and Veni Markovski) confirmed these facts [mk, bg] through Facebook comments, while their Macedonian friends tagged several journalists in order to involve them in the discussion. Over the weekend, the cat was out of the bag on a larger scale.

Immediate further research [mk] by professional journalist Meri Jordanovska from 24 Vesti [”24 News”], who contacted the child's father as well as the head of the Bulgarian clinic, revealed that the document was indeed a forgery. In fact, the girl's operation had already been completed and she was back in Skopje for further treatment. Margarita Conzarova, M.D., the director of the Sofia-based Clinic for Child Diseases and Heart Surgery, confirmed that she had not issued such a letter. In fact, the EUR 25,000 had been paid by the Macedonian State Healh Fund (80%) and the parents (20%), presumably using part of the previously donated funds. The Bulgarian surgeon said that a new operation on the child was not to be conducted for at least a year.

Dozens of Macedonian portals and other media relayed the news [mk]. According to unofficial information in Jordanovska's article, over EUR 20,000 had been donated by concerned citizens.

In the meantime, the Ilievski family members have been issuing contradictory statements. First, they were asking for more money via the this Facebook page [mk], then they were quoted claiming that the page was run “by the community” or that it had been hacked, and that they did not know who was asking for money, using appeals claiming that little Eva was to have a surgery in the next few days, and that EUR 3,000, then EUR 2,100 were still lacking.

“Who Wanted to Get Rich Over Little Eva's Heart?” The story made it to the front page of the Fokus daily.

An article by another web-savvy journalist, Miroslava Simonovska of the Fokus daily, republished on the Plusinfo portal, complemented the information, and showed [mk] that the father had been using the same documents to ask for money directly via e-mail. The director of the Skopje Clinic for Child Diseases, Aspazija Sofijanova, M.D., has filed criminal charges and the police started an investigation [mk] into possible fraud.

Macedonian citizens often donate money via text messages, as they believe that the three national mobile operators have checked the claims of the people who beg for money in order to solve health issues. So far, no statement by the mobile operators has been issued to the effect that they would return the money if the investigation proves fraud. Journalists claim that, to their credit, the operators do not take a cut from the proceedings, but transfer the whole sum to bank accounts of the people in need, and the 18% VAT to the state budget.

One of the participants in the Facebook discussion wrote about the baby:

…Again, the biggest loser is the most innocent person…

Meri Jordanovska concluded her second article this way:

It remains unclear for what purpose did Eva's parents gather money and who is hiding behind the August 23 document, which claims that the Bulgarian clinic is asking for more money for treatment. The Ministry of the Interior is on the move to clear up this case, so that the citizens could regain trust in calls for humanitarian donations.

August 18 2012

Bulgaria: Syrian and Iraqi Refugees on Hunger Strike

Bulgarian newspaper Dnevnik reports [bg] that 25 asylum seekers (21 Syrians and four Iraqis) went on hunger strike to protest the slowness of the asylum-granting procedures at the detention center for foreigners in the Bulgarian village of Lyubimets. Comments to the Dnevnik article reflect the general indifference to the plight of refugees, as well as anti-immigrant and xenophobic attitudes.

August 17 2012

Bulgaria: The Red Army Supports Pussy Riot

On the day of the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial, Russian embassies worldwide are seeing demonstrations in support of the incriminated punk band members. The Red Army Monument in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, has joined in: a picture of it with some of the soldiers wearing Pussy Riot-styled hats has spread on social networks this morning. The Macedonian outlet think.mk publishes a short post [mk] comparing this political art expression with the previous one, when the soldiers were painted as comics characters.

August 12 2012

Bulgaria: Don't Dismantle the Train Services!

Bulgarian blog “Работнически глас” (Worker's Voice) publishes [bg] a few photographs of a protest on Sofia's Central Railway Station. Held on August 9, this flashmob gathered around 100 people who chained a “human train” by standing one behind another. This “train” travelled inside the station while the protesters were calling for the end of the privatization procedure that the National Train Services is engaged in. As the protesters explained [bg], “the National Train Services belong to the people. Nobody has asked us whether we agree with them being privatized, so we want this process to stop now.”

August 11 2012

Bulgaria: Thousands of Trial Records Go Open

The Bulgarian section of the Open Knowledge Foundation announced [bg] the release of 580,049 court decisions and 607,656 additional documents, including motives. Although all those are already publicly accessible in the courts and some of them are browsable in a digital format on the Ministry of Justice website, there was a serious need of improving the organization and accessibility of this paper glut. Thus, the data are divided into two parts: raw materials and metadata. All of it [bg] is in turn ready for data mining and more complete analysis.

May 22 2012

Bulgaria: The Strongest Earthquake Since 1917

A 5.6 magnitude earthquake, the strongest since 1917, shook Bulgaria's capital Sofia and the perimeter zone of around 100 km last night, followed by a number of strong aftershocks. No victims have been reported so far. The website Earthquake Reports has published live updates and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook were the first ones to spread the news. The hashtag #земетресение (”earthquake”) is used to communicate on the event through Twitter.

May 04 2012

Global Voices in Bulgarian Lauded on World Press Freedom Day

Global Voices in Bulgarian was lauded by the Bulgarian section of the Association of European Journalists as the April 2012 winners of “Excellence in Citizen Journalism” for bringing unheard international news to Bulgaria, and proving that citizen journalism also exists at a highly professional level. The announcement (in Bulgarian) was made on World Press Freedom Day, on May 3.

April 26 2012

Bulgaria: Penalty For Getting Pregnant

The blog “Работнически глас” (”Worker's voice”) tells [bg] about a trial scheduled for May 26: a former female employee is suing a company for a discriminatory clause in the work contract, which stated that any female employee who gets pregnant after being hired will have to pay a fine (700 lv, around 350 euros: nearly double the average salary in Bulgaria). In her lawsuit, the employee argues that this clause constitutes a discrimination based on sex. It is still unclear how such a contract could have been approved by the official labor administration.

Bulgaria: “Big Change Begins With Small Steps”

Various blogs [bg] and mainstream media [bg] were telling [bg] about a student initiative held in the capital city of Sofia on April 24. Many students and members of diverse youth organizations planted trees in the badly-maintained Studentski Grad (”Students City”), a welcome citizen initiative where the leitmotiv was “Big change begins with small steps.” The trees were planted near an abandonned building that has been refurbished by student volunteers who'd like to transform it into a Student center.

April 23 2012

Bulgaria: May Bicycle Parade

On May 19, the 15th annual May Bicycle Parade will gather thousands of supporters of cycling in Sofia with one clear goal - to count the cyclists and show that in Sofia there are more of them than ever. Bulgarian NGO “Bicycle revolution” is organizing the event [bg]. In 2009, more than 3,000 cyclists took part in the Parade.

Bulgaria: “Why Should We Read Books?”

As many in Bulgaria fear that there are fewer people reading books now than in the past, Ognyan Antov of Anapest offers [bg] three answers to the question “Why should we read books?”: 1. Because thus we absorb the language and its grammar and spelling; 2. This way, we come to know world; 3. Because thereby we feel like one society.

April 21 2012

Bulgaria: Interior Minister's Controversial Statement

Blogger Nikolay Delchev condemned [bg] the reaction of the Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov to the recent student protests against construction at the National Sports Academy's Black Sea training facility: “[…] Interior Minister almost regrets that ‘the whole repressive apparatus that they (the police) have by law has not always been used.' This was said by a minister of a democratically elected government in a European country in the early 21st century. Please leave comments, because I have no words. […]” A video of Tsvetanov's controversial statement is here [bg].

April 19 2012

Bulgaria: Living With Hepatitis C

I discovered this blog by chance. The title read, “Hepatitis-Minded: Thoughts of a Contaminated,” and it was moving to get that close to someone's everyday fight with hepatitis C, this awful and insidious illness. The words were simple yet sharp and touching:

Аз съм момичето, което чака с теб автобуса на спирката. Което сяда на втората седалка и зяпа разсеяно през прозореца. Аз съм тази, която се смее високо на съседната маса, която ти се усмихва пред асансьора в офиса. Аз съм просто една от многото.

I am the girl who waits for the bus with you at a bus stop. The same girl who sits on the seat next to you and stares absently through the window. I am the one laughing high at the neighboring table, who smiles to you in front of the elevator in the office. I'm just one of the many.

And I kept on reading, remembering back in 2007 when I used to work in infectious diseases at a famous institute in France. We were obliged to have all the possible vaccines when handling human contaminated samples. While waiting for the doctor to transform my arms into a colander with all the injections, we were talking, and it was quite a shock to observe how concerned she was: hepatitis C had become a serious public health threat in France and especially in Paris. Even more shockingly, no big, country-wide campaign to raise awareness and invite people to undergo tests had been organized.

It is thus understandable that I was reading the “Hepatitis-Minded” blog with great interest: because this blog does a fabulous job informing people about HCV and why it is important to know. I was thinking of how poorly informed people were in France, a country with a (still-)functioning health care system, and of how in a ravaged country such as Bulgaria thing would probably be so much worse. And when Toshka - the woman behind the blog - wrote a post to say that her treatment was successful, I decided to talk with her.

Toshka. Photo by Andrey Katanski, used with permission

Toshka. Photo by Andrey Katanski, used with permission

1. Who are you, Toshka?

A 30-year-old girl from Bulgaria. A copywriter and a blogger.

2. What is your story with Hepatitis C (HCV)? How did you discover you were infected?

By accident, as most of the people do. Along with some other tests, I was offered to make free HCV and HBV tests – and I said yes. I was shocked to hear the result – HCV-positive.

The problem is that I used to share the common opinion about this disease – I believed it only happened to those who used intravenous drugs. And I didn’t know that you could be infected without any symptoms. I may have had it for 10 years or more.

3. How did your family react?

I didn’t tell them at first. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t find the strength to talk about this.

When I told them, they were shocked, worried, scared. Most of the people here don’t know that hepatitis C can be cured.

4. How was the treatment handled by the health care practitioners?

Fortunately, in Bulgaria the HCV treatment expenses are covered by the National Health Insurance Fund. There are also qualified and experienced professionals in this field.

Maybe because it’s an expensive treatment (almost 4,000 lv. [~2,000 euros] per month), there are a lot of bureaucratic issues and requirements to be overcome by the patients. It’s not an easy thing to do, concidering the fact that the treatment spans over one year and has many side effects.

5. Why did you start blogging about this?

Because writing is my way of rationalizing what happens to me and what I feel. I decided to share my thoughts online in an anonymous blog because I knew how important it is for everyone with this problem to feel supported and not alone.

I believed, and I still do, that my story could be helpful.

6. How is this extremely dangerous public health issue handled in Bulgaria?

There are many more myths and fallacies than information here. The common opinion is that HCV is a former drug users’ problem, that it’s impossible to be cured and it’s not so widely spread.

Just a few facts: the population of Bulgaria is fewer than 7 million people. According to the latest statistics, around 2,000 people are HIV-positive. And there are more than 400,000 people with HBV and more than 150,000 people with HCV, most of them still not knowing about their illness. Hopefully, they will find out about it before it's too late.

7. Are there NGOs dealing with it?

Yes, there are two NGOs. The first one, Hepasist, has contacts and influence to make some changes in the health care system and practices in Bulgaria.

The second one – Hepactive – is a patients’ organization that provides everyday help to people with hepatitis and their families. Hepactive provides information and support online and is now starting offline Mutual Support Groups.

8. What was the most surprising thing for you while fighting with this disease?

The hardest thing in the HCV treatment is, perhaps, the fact that it takes a whole year. Your habits and the way of life change considerably during that period.

9. There is something in particular that struck me the first time I read your bio on the blog. You write:

Имам една молба. Ако този блог ти действа потискащо, ако те кара да се чувстваш зле, използвай малкото хиксче горе вдясно. Сериозно. Излез на кафе с приятели, купи си нещо непотребно, разходи се. Животът е прекрасен и най-нормалното нещо на света е да искаш да си здрав и да не се тревожиш. Имаш избор дали да влезеш тук или не, дали да четеш или не. Използвай го!

I have one request. If reading this blog depresses you, if it makes you feel bad, use the small x on the top right of the window. Seriously. Go out for a coffee with friends, buy something useless, have a walk. Life is wonderful and the most normal thing in the world is to want to be healthy and not to worry. You have a choice whether to visit this site or not, whether to read it or not. Use it!

I felt that, on the contrary, you should invite people to stay and read especially if this is unpleasant for them. Why? Well, because this is real life and because blogging about it and being read is what will make people realize that HCV doesn't happen only to others. Precisely for these reasons, people should stay and read and reflect instead of just closing the page as if this doesn't exist. Would you comment on this? You may have changed your mind since the moment you wrote this and perhaps you discussed this with someone already :)

"Hepatitis-Minded" in a book: "Pozitivno". Credit by Toshka.

"Hepatitis-Minded" in a book: "Pozitivno." Credit: by Toshka Ivanova.

I still believe in what I wrote, and for me it's the same case with the book. You cannot force people to do anything. You cannot MAKE them feel, understand, or appreciate something. It's a matter of their own choice and it should be.

If one feels this story is too painful or too scary, maybe he/she is just not ready to read it. It's not only about HCV, it's also about what we are doing with our lives, why we are here, whether we love ourselves enough. Some people do not want to think about that. It's too painful. And even if they force themselves to read the book, they won't make any use of it.

“Pozitivno” is my story and my thoughts about these questions. To read it, feel it, understand it or not, is a matter of choice. And as I said, it should be that way.

10. You have collected all the postings from the “Hepatitis-Minded” blog in a book and you are starting a new blog. This is understandable. But what will happen to your HCV blog from now on: is the battle to inform finished?

It will stay and it will be updated on a regular basis. I will use it to share some valuable information and news about HCV.

But the personal thoughts and experiences now go to the new blog. I need a new beginning.

The road is long, but the sidewalk blooms with hope :)

April 04 2012

Bulgaria: Light on a Mysterious Death

The collaborative media outlet svobodnoslovo.com writes [bg] about a new book by Lyubomir Levchev [bg], who mentions Lyudmila Jivkova's death 30 years ago. It has always been reported that Jivkova, the daughter of Bulgaria's last communist dictator, died in a car accident. Levchev explains, however, that she might have been poisoned: he writes about a ring with a turquoise stone Jivkova used to wear that had started whitening a few months before she died. This property has been known [fr] since the Antiquity as a sign of poison in the body.

April 01 2012

Bulgaria: Sofia Students Plan to Protest if Officials Impose Curfew

On February 29, a 19-year-old student died during a violent brawl with three other students. The tragic accident happened in Sofia, in the district Studentski Grad (Students' City), where Bulgarian public universities provide accessible accommodation to their students. It is unclear who exactly is responsible for the death of the student, but the whole situation sparkled a debate in the mainstream as well as the citizen media.

In response, the government decided [bg] to impose a curfew over the district: housing buildings will be accessible up to 11pm and nobody will be authorized to enter between 11pm and 6am. Furthermore, from April 5 onwards, guests will be prohibited from entering without identification. Lastly, the government promised to install CCTV observation at each level of the buildings in the district.

This measure has some lingering odour reminiscent of the practices employed under the communist regime, and it has shocked more than one person. Twitter user @GreenLSK wrote [bg]:

@GreenLSK: Колко се радвам, че не живея в Студентски град… Как ще им слагат вечерен час, бе?

I am really happy not to live in Studentski Grad… How come they will be subjected to a curfew?

The curfew was immediately denounced as inefficient and insulting. Thus, blogger Anguel Igov offers a thought-provoking view [bg] on why “the curfew won't work”:

Мярка лесна за въвеждане, трудна за налагане и в крайна сметка напълно безсмислена. Вечерни часове има в подобни общежития по света и практиката показва, че потърпевшите от тях са много изобретателни в заобикалянето им. Но вечерният час е безсмислен не защото няма да се спазва, а защото дори да се спазва, няма да реши проблема с атмосферата на Студентски град – която предразполага към всичко друго, само не и към учене, и очевидно създава ред опасности за здравето и живота на обитаващите го.

Като съм казал “проблема”, дайте да видим къде е всъщност той. Предлагам ви два отговора: а) проблемът е в студентите; б) проблемът е в кръчмите и чалготеките, превзели квартала. Мярката “вечерен час” почива на логиката, че верен е отговор а): дайте да затворим студентите по стаите след определен час и всичко ще бъде наред.

This measure is easy to introduce, difficult to enforce, and is ultimately completely pointless. Evening hours are frequent in similar residences in other countries and experience shows that their victims are very creative in circumventing them. But the curfew is not meaningless because it would not be respected, but because – even if observed – it will not solve the problem of the atmosphere in Studentski Grad - which predisposes to anything but studying and creates obvious health and life hazards for those dwelling there.

As I said “problem”, let's see where it actually lies. I suggest two answers to you: a) the problem is the students; b) the problem is in the pubs and [chalga] clubs plaguing the neighborhood. The measure “curfew” is based on the logic that the faithful response is a): let's close our students safe after a certain time and everything will be okay.

As he points out, the real issue is the conditions of life in Studentski Grad, denounced as insanitary and utterly insufficient for optimal study. Indeed, three students usually share a 25-30 sq. m room, the whole district has only one library, no bookshop, and innumerable pubs and chalga clubs. The often quite nasty media opinions [bg] depicting students as lazy, uninterested, eternally-drunk young people with dubious moral values have never really stopped popping up. Strikingly, this happens after such rare tragic accidents when the mainstream media and various experts explain ad nauseam how violent the students are and how they threaten Bulgaria's future development.

Student quizz at the Faculty of History, University of Sofia: another entertainment is possible! Photo by Zornitza Radulova (CC-by-SA 3.0)

A student quizz at the Faculty of History, University of Sofia: another entertainment is possible! Photo by Zornitza Radulova (CC-by-SA 3.0)

The curfew is thus presented to the population as the only way of calming down a bunch of people whose lowest animal instincts transform them into public danger. In turn, the government acts as a tamer, compensating for the alleged failure of the university. Some argued [bg] that this measure is just an imitation of action:

Вечерният час няма да реши нищо по никакъв начин. Това е поредният блъф на държавата за пред обществото, с надеждата, че като отчетат някаква дейност, всичко пак ще се забрави. Най-вероятно то така и ще стане… засега.

The curfew will not solve anything at all. This is another bluff of the state for the public, hoping that taking into account any activity, everything will again be forgotten. Most likely it will well be… for now.

Others, such as Global Voices Bulgarian contributor Ivaylo Dinev, reacted to this misrepresentation with numerous arguments describing [bg] where the real problem is: not the people, but the environment they evolve in and the irresponsibility it creates:

Не считам, че пресилено ще прозвучи, ако реша да определя българското студентсване като една самозаблуждаваща се свобода на безотговорността. Една свобода без отговорности. […]

Студентите обаче, и бих се самоцитирал, не сме виновни, защото ние сме продукт.
Социалната роля „Студент” е продукт на цялото общество, което задава изискванията към своите най-жизнени части. Нужно е да разберем, и това е пределно ясно, че студентите не се самопроизвеждат.
Занижените критерии към студентите не стимулират дейното им участие в образователния процес. Оценките се изкарват лесно, а изпитите са веднъж на семестър. Защо тогава да не се напиват и пребиват ежедневно? Защо да не мързелуват? Всъщност мързел ли е, когато никой не изисква да свършиш някаква, дори минимална работа през годината?

I do not think that it will sound far-fetched if I decide to define Bulgarian studentship as an auto-deluding freedom of irresponsibility. A freedom without responsibility. […]

Students, however, and I'd include myself here, are not guilty because we are a product.

The social role of a “student” is a product of the society, which specifies the requirements for its most vital parts. We need to understand it and it is clear that students don't stem up out of nowhere.

University's lowered criteria do not encourage students to actively participate in the educational process. Grades are easily obtained and exams are once per semester. Why not drink and beat people up every day? Why not be lazy? Actually, is it laziness when nobody requires from you to finish some, even minimal, work during the year?

The student mobilization against this measure was so strong that BNR (the Bulgarian National Radio) conducted an interview [bg] with three students and aired it, provoking a reaction from the Ministry of Education, which stated [bg] it would control all pubs in the district and would close the illegal ones.

In their interview, the students pointed out [bg] the real problem that had been carefully avoided by the officials so far:

Не трябва да се лъжем, че има някакви лоши хора в Студентски град, мутри, примерно, които са дошли ей така. Те са дошли, защото им е позволено, и то от ректорите на университетите.

We shouldn't look the other way: there are some bad people in Studentski Grad, the mafia, for example, who came without any problems. They came because they were allowed to, and that from the deans.

Indeed, the deans are the official representatives of public universities and are responsible for the housing facilities and what their uninhabited parts are used for by private entrepreneurs. Thus, students are accused of going to pubs instead of studying, but university deans are the ones signing the renting agreements with pub owners.

Screenshot from the Facebook event page

A screenshot from the Facebook event page

Whether to impose a full curfew or not will be decided on April 5, by the Deans Council. A Facebook event [bg] has been created, calling for a protest in case the curfew is imposed. The motivation [bg] behind it seems straightforward:

Поощряването на простотията в една самозаблуждаваща се свобода без отговорности направи Студентски град „Град на греха”. И докато данъкоплатците осигуряват пиршества и забавления, смятайки че зад тях се крият денонощия четения на тежки томове, обществото ще се самозаблуждава, че висшето образование е качествено.

Някой трябва да прекъсне затворения кръг. И неминуемо това ще се случи.

Promoting stupidity in an auto-deluded freedom without responsibility has transformed Studentski Grad into “Sin City.” And while taxpayers provide feasts and entertainment, thinking that days of heavy-volume study hides behind, the public will maintain the error that higher education is of high quality.

Someone has to break the cycle. And inevitably it will happen.

March 31 2012

Bulgaria: Construction of the Nuclear Power Plant “Belene” Cancelled

On March 28, Bulgaria officially announced the cancellation of its newest nuclear power plant (NPP) “Belene” construction. The Parliament has stopped this controversial project after years of discussion and more than half a billion euros invested in the construction of the first reactor. The decision was announced not only by the mainstream media, but also by the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikolay Mladenov, who tweeted:

@nmladenov: #Bulgaria suspends controversial #Belene Nuclear Power project that has cost hundreds of millions for the last 31 years…

A Facebook page screenshot of ‘the European campaign to prevent the construction of a nuclear power plant in an earthquake-area in Belene, Bulgaria.'

A long-lasting fight surrounds this joint venture with Russia [ru], which was to be built in an active seismic zone. Activists have been continuously advocating to raise awareness about the risks of building a nuclear power plant in this region, recalling the Vrancea earthquake of 1977 [en], which caused the deaths of more than 1,600 people. In Svishtov, a major Bulgarian city in the area, located 14 km away from the construction site, 120 people were killed back then; the 1977 earthquake also destroyed buildings in the city of Belene, just 3 km from the NPP site.

A report on the seismic risks, produced by Greenpeace activists and the Green Policy Institute in Bulgaria and published on the anti-NPP National coalition “BeleNE” website, showed that the previous report was inconsistent and no real risk assessment had been completed. Thus, they concluded that no argument exists to claim that the zone is safe from a seismic standpoint and went on calling for the cancellation of the project.

But other considerations went into play in the Belene controversy. Edvin Sugarev, a former MP, started a huge discussion on his blog svobodata.com [bg] (translates as “the freedom”):

Започваме тази гражданска дискусия в момент, в който страната ни е на ръба, отвъд който следва срив: срив на геополитическите ни приоритети, срив на шансовете да се превърнем в нормална европейска страна, срив отново към руската орбита на влияние. Над България е упражнен огромен натиск да бъде подписан протокол 12 от договора за АЕЦ “Белене” - с което този проект става необратим, а нашата енергийна и политическа зависимост от Русия - също. Доколкото можем да съдим по изявленията на българския премиер, управляващите вече са се поддали на натиска - и реално са предали българските национални интереси. Като българи сме длъжни да направим всичко, което е по силите ни, за да не позволим това предателство да стане факт - и то да определя оттук нататък дневния ред на България.

We begin this civil discussion at a time when our country is on the edge, beyond which it will collapse: a crash of our geopolitical priorities, a crash of chances to become a normal European country, a crash back to the Russian orbit of influence. Enormous pressure to sign Protocol 12 of the contract for NPP “Belene” has been exerted on Bulgaria – signing it makes this project irreversible, - and so do our energy and political dependence on Russia. As far as we can judge from the statements of the Bulgarian Prime Minister, the government had already succumbed to the pressure – and actually betrayed the Bulgarian national interests. As Bulgarians, we must do everything in our power to not allow this betrayal to become a fact – and thus, to prevent it from setting the agenda from now on in Bulgaria.

Such a standpoint has also been defended by a well-known journalist and blogger Ivo Indjev. He is famous for his much more furious opposition to the NPP “Belene” construction. And he was actually the first non-government person to be informed [bg] about the cancellation of the project by the Prime Minister himself. Yesterday, Indjev asked [bg]:

След СССР и неговата проекция в Белене отиде в небитието- накъде сега?

After the Soviet Union and its projection Belene went to nothing – what now?

The use of the “Soviet Union” denomination of Russia is not random: in his positions [bg], Indjev frequently dubs Russia in such a way to depict its imperialistic desires about the former “16th republic,” as Bulgaria used to be called. Indjev has also written about the Russian government that he refers to as “the Russian mafia”:

These provocative words made him the media black sheep, but seem to be confirmed through the recently leaked Stratfor files. The Bulgarian citizen analyzer Bivol (a WikiLeaks partner for Bulgaria) thus writes [bg] about a meeting in April 2009 between the Bulgarian then-Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev and the Russian “minister of organized crime” Yuri Luzhkov. The latter is defined as such by Stratfor and was in charge of a special budget dedicated by the Kremlin for maintaining interactions with organized crime actors in Russia. The outcome of this meeting is announced as “a negotiation aiming at increasing Russia's implication in the NPP “Belene” project.”

After the announcement that the NPP “Belene” construction was cancelled, the media said a gas plant would be built on the very same site, using gas supply by Russia. On March 30, Bulgarian representatives, led by the newly-appointed Minister of Economics and Energy Delyan Dobrev, met their Russian counterparts to discuss a diplomatically friendly way out of the current situation, since Bulgaria has to pay a 1-billion-euro compensation to Russia [ru] as a result of the cancellation. This meeting provoked sarcasm on Twitter, where Ognyan Georgiev ‏(@OGeorgiev) tweeted:

@OGeorgiev Бедни, бедни Добрев. Руснаците ще го сдъвчат и изплюят. Опасявам се от тази визита. #belene

Poor, poor Dobrev. The Russians will chew and then spit him out. I'm afraid of this visit. #belene
"Learn Russian in a day" textbook. Picture from @OGeorgiev, CC-by-SA 3.0

"Learn Russian in a day" textbook. Picture from @OGeorgiev, CC-by-SA 3.0

Whole-heartedly, @OGeorgiev also tweeted a picture of a Russian phrasebook “Learn Russian in a day,” wishing best of luck to Dobrev.

Reactions following the official announcement were mixed. Andrew MacDowall, a journalist writing about the Balkans, tweeted:

@andrewmacdowall: #Belene #nuclear plant scrapped. Is this the end of a four-decade saga? NPP could have been a boost for #Bulgaria http://t.co/ITf1IOhn

Many Bulgarians believe this NPP would have helped the country to alleviate the ever-increasing prices of electricity. Also, the question to arise is: how will the money spent on the now-aborted project be taken back? Hristo Ivanov (@cipisec) tweeted ironically:

@cipisec: а ся ми вдигнете осигуровките,за да ги избиете RT: @nmladenov:#BG suspends #Belene that has cost hundreds of millions for the last 31 years…

now you can increase social insurance fees to get the money back RT: @nmladenov:#BG suspends #Belene that has cost hundreds of millions for the last 31 years…

Others suggest that building the reactor was just a political manoeuvre:

Как Ви се струва обаче хипотезата, че всъщност цялото протакане на решението за Белене през последните 2-3 години е било нарочно за пред „публиката“, колкото да се стигне до завършването междувременно и изплащането му на реактора – така че сега да сме в положение с готов и платен реактор и следователно, да бъде почти неизбежно слагането му в Козлодуй? […] Ако се бяхме отказали от АЕЦ Белене още преди 2-3 години, такъв вариант би бил много малко вероятен.

How do you feel, however, regarding the hypothesis that, in fact, the whole delay about the decision on the NPP in the last 2-3 years has been deliberately targeting the “public” so as to reach completion and repayment of the reactor in the meantime? Thus, now we are in a position with a ready and paid reactor and therefore almost inevitably we'll be putting it in the [already existing] nuclear plant of Kozlodui. […] If we had given up “Belene” 2-3 years ago, this option would have been highly unlikely.

Indeed, as the Prime Minister announced, Bulgaria has still to add only 140 million of euros [bg] to finish the reactor. The sarcasm website Не!Новините (NotNews) found an alternative explanation [bg] of what is to be built on the “Belene” site: a huge fermentator for rakia [en], the famous traditional Bulgarian alcoholic beverage (alcohol content ranges from 40° to more than 60°).

March 30 2012

Bulgaria: “You will win, Captain!”

After the announcement that the famous Bulgarian football player Stiliyan Petrov (Aston Villa F.C., England, and current captain of the Bulgarian national team) was diagnosed with acute leukaemia, netizens created a Facebook group [bg] to show their moral support: “You will win, Captain, the whole country is with you!” reads the banner. The group has gathered more than 14,000 “like”'s in a few hours as well as numerous messages of encouragement.

February 08 2012

Bulgaria: Human Rights Organizations Against a Neo-Nazi March

The civic initiative “People Against Racism” is appealing [en] to the Municipality of Sofia and the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria with the request to ban an international neo-Nazi racist conference scheduled for Feb. 17 and a neo-Nazi torchlight procession known as the “Lukov March” on Feb. 18. Every year since 2005, Bulgaria's far-right, neo-Nazi, and ultra-nationalist groups have commemorated the death of Gen. Hristo Lukov, who supported Nazi Germany during WWII. Lukov March 2011 drew protests from many civic groups and human rights organizations, including the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith, and People Against Racism. (More about Lukov March; a 2010 video.)

January 17 2012

Bulgaria: Protests Against Shale Gas Exploration

On Jan. 14, some 15,000 protesters came out in the streets of at least 12 Bulgarian cities, as well as in London, Paris and Copenhagen, to call for a moratorium on shale gas tests through hydraulic fracturing and to demand a new law that would ban this potentially dangerous practice. Facebook group “We are against a Bulgarian Chernobyl - shale gas exploration” [bg] now has nearly 56,000 members; a photo from the rally in Sofia, posted by one of the group's members, is here. One of the videos from the rally is here.

December 01 2011

Bulgaria: 30,000 Protest Against Cuts and Pension Reform

According to the trade unions, between 25,000 and 30,000 people protested in Sofia on Wednesday against the new pension reform, social cuts and the cancellation of the majority of trains in the country (a photo; videos - here and here). The police sent to contain the rally supported the people's demands by wearing ribbons in the colors of the Bulgarian national flag on their uniforms. MPs from the ruling party tried to talk with the protestors, but were booed. The protests will continue because of the cancelation of talks between the government and the trade unions.

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