2011-03-28 Bulgaria - Mafia Lives Here*

Two weeks after the publishing of the full, unedited version of a diplomatic cable exposing the total invasion of Bulgarian economics and politics by the organized crime, the topic seems to be closed for Bulgarian media.

Bulgaria is known to have one of the most censored media in the European Union. In the last press freedom index of Reporters without Borders, the country shares the 70th ranking with Benin, Kenya and Greece.

One of the reasons for such low freedom of speech standards is shady media ownership. As the US ambassador reports in the cable, figures connected to organized crime own, directly or indirectly, the country’s mainstream printed and electronic media. This results in censorship and self-censorship on topics about the ties between the Mafia and the politics.

The media reaction, after the cable on organized crime was published, went through the classic way of dealing with such scandalous information: 1. Ignore it 2. Ridicule it 3. Fight it... then return to number 1.

1. Ignore it: The initial publication of the unedited cable on the Bivol independent investigative journalism web site was only reprinted in few independent blogs and web sites, most of them edited from abroad: (Ivo Indzhev, Eurochicago, Kafene). Only one big Bulgarian newspaper printed a link to the publication in a short article. The content of the cable, however, was greatly commented on and cited in online forums.

2. Ridicule it: After Wikileaks published the cable on their official web site, ignoring the content became too embarrassing, so online news sites and printed mainstream media published it, referring exclusively to Wikileaks. Comments and analysis were very sparse and mainly consisted of pointing out that the ambassador's report doesn't reveal anything new and exclusive.

Not even one serious, in-depth analysis of the situation was ever attempted in the media, or by politicians of any party. The only TV debate on the cable involved individuals, who are now secondary actors in the political and business life. The Minister of Interior Tzvetan Tzvetanov referred to the cable once, but avoided mentioning the organized crime groups having long-running ties with key figures in the current government.

3. Fight it: Finally, a couple of Op-Ed by authors close to political parties mentioned in the cable, attacked the credibility of the US ambassador's report and even Wikileaks.

According to analyst Tihomir Bezlov, the main benefit of the unedited cable is that now Bulgarian journalists can refer to this report when writing about organized crime.

Bulgarian journalists didn't show any further interest. None asked the Chief Prosecutor why most of the people, believed to have been involved as members of organized crime groups, are not under investigation and continue to run successful businesses.

But journalists are probably right in not wanting to waste their time. This same Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, is a former legal advisor of the President - Georgi Parvanov, who was elected with the Mafia’s support, according to the cable:

POLITICS: THE NEXUS WITH ORGANIZED CRIME ----------------------------------------

¶8. (C) Organized crime has a corrupting influence on all Bulgarian institutions, including the government, parliament and judiciary. In an attempt to maintain their influence regardless of who is in power, OC figures donate to all the major political parties. As these figures have expanded into legitimate businesses, they have attempted -- with some success -- to buy their way into the corridors of power. During the 2001 general elections, a number of influential "businessmen," including VASIL BOZHKOV and EMIL KYULEV, heavily financed and otherwise supported the NMSS campaign. At the beginning of his term in office in 2001, Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha held a high-profile meeting with members of Vuzrazhdane in which he invited Iliya Pavlov, Vasil Bozhkov, et al, to become part of a "business consultative council" advising the government. Later that year, Kyulev** helped finance the successful presidential campaign of BSP leader Georgi Purvanov.

* The slogan "Bulgaria - Magic Lives Here" is from the official clip, promoting the country abroad.

** Emil Kyulev who was also advisor of President Parvanov was gunned down in October, 2005 by a contract killer.

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