Bulgarian Elections and Arms Disposal

Because the primary purpose of this blog is to enhance mutual understanding, I feel compelled to share top Bulgarian news stories from time to time. I’m going to keep this post short, but I wanted to call your attention to two things: tomorrow is election day in Bulgaria and yesterday was a national day of mourning.

  1. Bulgarian politics have been quite unstable recently, and tomorrow marks Bulgaria’s third election in only two years. For the last couple months, the country has been run by a caretaker government after President Rosen Plevneliev dissolved the previous government one year into its four-year term. The new government will have an uphill battle as Bulgaria faces several major challenges: a struggling economy, a recent bank run (I described this in a bit more detail in a previous post), and political corruption. Unfortunately, there is growing concern that the newly appointed government will be “so fragmented that it will be unable to form a stable cabinet.” Many people I’ve talked to have expressed frustration over the political situation in Bulgaria. Politics and an unwillingness to compromise seem to prevent anything from getting accomplished (sound familiar?). Thank you Valentin for another great summary of the upcoming election. One quote seems to capture the opinion I’ve heard from students, colleagues, and other locals: “The politicians are ruining our towns and our villages, we are being buried in corruption.” Also, “Bulgarians can be forgiven for pessimism as they vote on Sunday in an election that few believe will deliver them from corruption, stagnation and geopolitical crunch – caught between their new overlords in the EU and their old one in Moscow.” I’m curious to see how tomorrow’s elections play out, and I hope that Bulgaria can find political stability to create a foundation for meaningful economic progress.
  2. Yesterday was a national day of mourning in Bulgaria following a deadly blast in Gorni Lom, a city located about 90 miles outside of Sofia. The blast is yet another unfortunate reminder of a very dangerous industry in Bulgaria–“the dismantling of obsolete munitions.” Despite the danger, Bulgarians have continued this line of work, expressing that they have no other option for employment. The Montana region where the blast occurred has a 21% unemployment rate, and workers at the plant were making about $154/month.

Other Bulgarian Fulbrighters and friends from Bulgaria, I’d love to hear your observations and opinions here!

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Current Events

As I mentioned in the “About this blog” section, one of my key responsibilities as a Fulbright grantee is to enhance understanding between Americans and Bulgarians.  In my mind, a crucial part of this entails sharing updates on current events in Bulgaria.  Back when I first started my Fulbright application, I signed up for Bulgaria Google Alerts.  Essentially, this service sends a consolidated e-mail every day summarizing the top news stories in the region.  Several major stories impacting Bulgaria and the Balkan region over the past few weeks jumped out at me, and I wanted to give a quick summary of the most impactful ones.

1. Heavy flooding in June killed 12 people and caused significant damage along the coast of the Black Sea.  Varna and Dobrich (the 3rd and 9th largest cities in Bulgaria) were amongst the hardest hit, with many people losing electricity or experiencing extreme property damage.  A national day of mourning was declared on June 23rd to remember those lost.

Image

 Cars and even homes were swept away by the force of the flooding

2. A massive pipeline project in Bulgaria has been delayed due to considerable political pressure from the European Union.  The South Stream pipeline is planned to run directly through Bulgaria, and pump natural gas from Russia to the rest of Europe.  There is rising concern in the US and EU that completion of the pipeline would increase European dependency on Russia for energy, and ultimately give Russia too much power.  There are also ramifications for the current crisis in Ukraine, as the pipeline would allow Russia to limit energy to Ukraine without impacting the rest of Europe.  This Wall Street Journal article gives some interesting historical context about why that’s important.

ImagePlanned route of South Stream pipeline

3. Five people were arrested yesterday for their involvement in a plot against some of the top banks in Bulgaria.  The conspirators used text messages and e-mails to spread false rumors about the instability of banks, which led to a mass withdrawal of ~$550 million in just a matter of hours.  The government quickly approved an emergency credit line of more than $2 billion, which restored stability.  President Rosen Plevneliev has been working to increase confidence in the banks, saying “We have sufficient reserves, means and tools to deal with any attempt at destabilization, and we stand behind each bank that becomes the target of an attack.”

Thank you Dave Gross for sending me the NYT article about the South Stream pipeline!