Headlines in Bulgarian papers on December 29
„Standart News“: Bulgarian Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova misled Russia when she announced during a visit to Moscow in early December that a reduction of Bulgarian visa fees for Russians from 35 to 10 euro was forthcoming. The good news was reported by the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, but the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that the visa fee remains unchanged. „Angelkova may even draw us into a diplomatic scandal,“ Bulgarian hoteliers worry. The Minister’s words may have been lost in translation and she may not have made a categorical promise, tourism industry executives presume. Immediately after her visit, however, numerous Russian media said that Bulgaria was „ready to waive visas as from January 1, 2016.“ A number of options have indeed been considered for a relaxation of visa requirements and expansion of social visas, the Tourism Ministry commented.
„Douma“: The former rector of the Academy of Economics in Svishtov, Velichko Adamov, is under investigation for a scam worth millions, said Kalin Kostov, who teaches at the Academy. A money-losing contract for printing distance-learning textbooks was found to have inflicted a loss of more than 1 million leva annually on the educational establishment.
„Telegraph“: Mothers who want to accompany their sick children in hospital must pay a fee, the daily found. „It is sad, but it is lawful. In this case, a mother is treated as having no health insurance, and each hospital may charge a fee for her stay at its discretion,“ Deputy Health Minister Boyko Penkov explained. The fee ranges from 5-15 leva per day for a bedside chair to 30-35 leva for sharing the bed with the child to 80-150 leva for a private bathroom, TV and Internet access. In most cases, the amount does not cover meals.
„24 Chassa“ and „Troud“: Four young men, aged between 30 and 40, died in Yakorouda (Southwestern Bulgaria) within three days around Christmas after drinking moonshine rakiya. Another five are in intensive care for the same reason. A local businessman who sold the toxic drink at 7 leva/litre has been arrested and was charged on Monday. Another three men died last week, showing symptoms of methanol poisoning. „24 Chassa“ quotes Patriotic Front MP Emil Dimitrov as saying that half of the hard liquor in Bulgaria is distilled illegally and without control. „I wonder how far we should go and how many more people should die before we put this branch in order,“ the MP says. Nearly 8,000 illegal stills and 10,000 persons employed in this ‘business’ poison people with impunity, he adds.
„Monitor“: The EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reports that only one Bulgarian product has been the subject of a biocontaminants alert: nettle powder. During the last quarter, Bulgaria warned Turkey on two occasions about an import of dried apricots with a high content of sulfites.
„Ahmed Dogan is the natural leader and founder of the MRF [Movement for Rights and Freedoms], and it is normal that he himself should lead the party rather than act through a triumvirate,“ MP Gyunai Hyusmen told „Standart News“. Last year Hyusmen and Mussa Palev were expelled from the party and the parliamentary group by order of Lyutvi Mestan. Both Hyusmen and another former MRF MP, Fikret Sepetchi, agree that a possible return of Dogan at the head of the MRF is a move useful for the party as well as for Bulgaria.
Sepetchi says in a page-long interview for „Standart News“ that the Turkish Ambassador in Sofia must be recalled on account of his interference in Bulgaria’s domestic politics. The interviewee says that both Kassim Dal and Lyutvi Mestan get their orders from one and the same place and boast of the great support they receive from Turkey. The same daily quotes ABV Deputy Chairman and former interior minister Roumen Petkov as saying on bTV that, in his personal opinion, Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov must summon the Turkish Ambassador and express a protest.
„Standart News“ reports that the State Agency for National Security (SANS) may summon Mestan for questioning after the New Year. „The Agency is looking into all circumstances surrounding the independent MP’s scandalous stay at the Turkish Embassy,“ the daily learnt. Mestan went into hiding at the residence of [Ambassador] Suleyman Gokce at 10 p.m. on December 22 together with his wife. He took along household furnishings. And he remained at the Embassy for more than 20 hours. If it is established in the course of the check that Mestan has violated Bulgarian laws, criminal proceedings against him may be instituted, the sources of „Standart News“ specified. According to „24 Chassa“, „analysts assume that Mestan was exfiltrated at the Turkish Embassy lest he waver in his subsequent actions.“
„There are conditions to investigate Mestan for high treason,“ the former chief of State Security Department Six, Dimiter Ivanov, said on bTV. „Mestan’s personal relationships with Turkish government officials obviously exceed the normal, natural and, yes, tolerable limits for a national politician,“ Ivanov said, quoted by „Standart News“. He described as „dangerous“ and „alarming“ Mestan’s attempts to transplant an alien state and political concept – Davutoglu’s Neo-Ottomanism, into Bulgaria’s political life.
„24 Chassa“ reports that the National Bodyguard Service, which guards the Boyana Residence, registered an unannounced meeting between Lyutvi Mestan and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on December 15. The one-hour session was held almost face-to-face, with Ambassador Gokce making a brief appearance there. Two days later, Dogan made the landmark speech in which he accused the MRF chairman of a blunder by declaring support for Turkey in connection with the downed Russian bomber.
„24 Chassa“ learnt from MRF MPs and local leaders that Turkish Consuls Alper Aktas in Plovdiv and Niyazi Akyol in Bourgas telephoned a prepared list of MPs, local leaders and influential MRF members to solicit support for Mestan.
„Turkey’s Ambassador in Sofia Suleyman Gokce ordered Lyutvi Mestan, who was kicked out of the MRF, to join Kassim Dal’s Freedom and Dignity People’s Party,“ „Telegraph“ reports. „The party’s formal chairman Korman Ismailov and the Movement’s ex-chairman already met over the weekend, and another meeting, between Dal himself and Lyutvi Mestan, is scheduled for today. […] The politician expelled from the MRF was offered to join them because they have a common sponsor: Turkey. According to another version, Mestan offered to set up a new conservative party. Substantial financing was promised if the Turkish interests are defended. Kassim Dal reportedly could accept the offer of a new project after the New Year if Mestan is inclined to yield the leadership of the new pro-Turkish party to Hyusein Hafuzov,“ the daily writes.
Konstantin Subchev writes in an analysis in „Standart News“ that if Mestan sets up a party „holding pro-Islamist and pro-Turkish positions a la Erdogan“, it stands no chances of rocking the MRF because Dogan remains the Movement’s natural leader largely thanks to his balanced foreign policy position and because Bulgarian Turks, with their secular education and upbringing and their background of coexistence with Christians, „can hardly be crammed into Erdogan’s Islamist mould“. „It is not accidental that the predominant part of immigrants from Bulgaria [in Turkey] do not support Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party,“ the author writes. „At the presidential elections last year, the Bulgarian Muslims, expelled by the Zhivkov regime, who now live in Istanbul, Edirne, Bursa and Izmir, voted mainly for the opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.“ „Regardless of how powerful financial and logistical support Mestan and his co-consiprators will get, a new pro-Islamist party in this country seems a mission impossible,“ Subchev concludes.
An unsigned article in „24 Chassa“ quotes analysts as assuming that if an Islamist party appears after Lyutvi Mestan’s supporters break away from the MRF, its hard core will be in the Kurdjali area, where he has built a strong „enclave“ during his three years as MRF leader. For the time being, those who remained loyal to Mestan have religious education, received mainly in Turkey, and have worked at the Chief Mufti’s Office.
Sociologist Zhivko Georgiev comments in „Standart News“ that „Turkey’s present regime is a dangerous partner of the EU, of NATO, and of Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s winning strategy is minimum obedience in respect of Ankara and absolutely no servility and playing up to Erdogan’s unpredictable regime.“
„It is very dangerous for Bulgaria that an attempt is being made to justify an intra-party conflict like the one in the MRF by geopolitics and by the conflict between Turkey and Russia,“ former foreign minister Nickolay Mladenov said on Nova Television, quoted in „Troud“.
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A two-page retrospect of the outgoing year in „Standart News“ singles out seven political highlights: the firing of Interior Minister Vesselin Vouchkov, the lack-lustre performance of Velizar Enchev’s Bulgarian Spring Movement for Radical Change, Volen Siderov’s rampages and ensuing loss of parliamentary immunity, GERB’s landslide success in the local elections, the turmoil in the Socialist Party, the failed judicial reform and Justice Minister Hristov Ivanov‘s resignation, and the downfall of MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan.
„24 Chassa“ prints a timeline of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s meetings with 41 visiting foreign leaders in 2015. The daily found that the Balkan Gas Hub, the situation in the Middle East and international security have topped the agenda of the visits.
„Troud“ reports that in 2015 the Borissov Cabinet held 50 meetings, adopting 1,622 decisions. The agenda was the longest on December 16, with 55 items, and the shortest on October 30, with 9 items.
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Since 2007, when Bulgaria joined the EU, this country has earned 7,800 million leva from its membership, „Standart News“ reports, citing figures released by the Finance Ministry. During that period, Bulgaria has contributed 6,893 million leva to the EU budget and has received 7,516 million euro (14,700 million leva) from the EU funds.
„It is very sad that every government in recent years has been asserting that attracting foreign investments is its principal priority but neither a budget nor the requisite powers are allocated for this purpose,“ former InvestBulgaria Agency Executive Director Borislav Stefanov writes in an article contributed to „Troud“. He argues that the investment forums organized in various countries should not be the main investor-attraction measure. Stefanov notes that expatriates and competent experts in the state administration could be networked for this purpose, and the investors who are already here must be assisted by the State. He sees a significant potential in lower value added sectors like fruit and vegetable processing and in attracting smaller, family companies from Western Europe and the US.
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Financial expert Emil Harsev says in a „Troud“ interview that he expects a 4-5 per cent economic growth next year, which will be the start of a difficult but long-awaited recovery, driven by a greater competitiveness of the Bulgarian economy than in this country’s principal markets. Again, the software industry and outsourcing will be the key powerhouses, along with mechanical engineering and the pharmaceutical industry, petrochemicals and manufacturing. In Harsev’s opinion, the stress tests of the banks are useless.
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Interviewed forar „Standt News“, National Vine and Wine Chamber Chairman Radoslav Radev says that large wineries in this country pay 185 million leva in excise duty annually for processing 200,000 tonnes of grapes, while small distilleries use the same quantity but pay just 700,000 leva. According to the Chamber’s estimates, some 4,000 stills operate entirely in the grey sector and as few as 2,000 are officially registered with the National Customs Agency. „The amendments to the Excise Duty and Tax Warehouses Act target precisely those who produce hazardous drinks in industrial quantities without conforming to any requirements of hygiene and technology,“ Radev argues.
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The National Revenue Agency told „Troud“ that some 6.6 million leva more were paid in health insurance contributions on December 22 and 23, which was the deadline for restoring entitlement to health services paid by the National Health Insurance Fund by remitting the contributions due for three years back, or some 690 leva. After December 23, the required amount must cover a period of five years, or 1,263 leva. The number of Bulgarians without health insurance varies by source from 700,000 to 1.2 million. Nearly 250,000 of them can well afford the contributions but mistrust the system and prefer to pay for their medical treatment.
Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov and his wife Melanie expect their first child in April, „Telegraph“ reports, citing sources close to Mitov. The two were wed in a private family ceremony at the office of Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova on November 14. Mrs Mitov (nee Woodward) holds dual British and US citizenship and works in the non-governmental sector.