Can Europe Make It?

Charter to dismantle the plutocratic model of the Bulgarian state

An independent civil initiative to restore democracy and the rule of law in Bulgaria.

Lyubomir Uzunov
7 August 2013
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Flickr/Visha Angelova. Some rights reserved.

This is a translation of the official Bulgarian text of the 'Charter to dismantle the plutocratic model of the Bulgarian state'. The charter was first published in June 2013 and signed by 74 intellectuals, journalists, and public figures. Another translation of the Charter also exists on the website of the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Studies. This charter is a public document that helps explain to the international public the motivations and aspirations of the protests in Bulgaria.

The recent protests attended by tens of thousands of citizens across the country arose from a desperate concern over the state of government in Bulgaria. There is no doubt that we find ourselves amidst a profound crisis of the social contract and the complete discrediting of the state and its institutions. It is for this reason that the protestors have clearly and categorically expressed their unwillingness to any longer remain silent bystanders to the simulation of public order and democratic procedures.

The appointment of Mr. Delyan Peevski as director of DANS (State Agency for National) was neither accidental nor an unfortunate mistake. That is why it triggered the culmination of public outrage and revolt. His career and public image synthesize the pathological processes that have led to Bulgaria’s humiliating and seemingly inescapable predicament. ‘Case Peevski’ lays bare a web of hidden connections exercising an ever tightening grip on the political system, the media, the judiciary, national security and the banking sector. This web of special interests acts completely beyond the rule of law and in contradiction to the division of political powers, draining state institutions of their legitimacy and substituting the pursuit of the public good with corruption and the destruction of morality. The appointment of Volen Siderov as chairman of a parliamentary commission on corruption, conflict of interest, and parliamentary ethics is likewise no accidental outcome of this simulative political model.

The intense outburst of public impatience is further motivated by the complete failure of state institutions to react adequately and in the public interest during numerous revelations of the backroom politics ruling Bulgaria. The public disclosure of conversations between the former Prime Minister Boris Boykov, the director of customs security Vanyo Tanov, the former city attorney general of Sofia Nikolay Kokinov, and the former minister of agriculture Miroslav Naidenov did not lead to the sort of consequences that one would expect in a civilized nation following the disclosure of such damning facts. Repeated confrontations with the fact that the oligarchy has taken over our country is yet another reason why public outrage has reached this unprecedented level.

The current situation is exceptional and calls for civil consolidation around the fundamental values of democracy. Although we are hardly privy to the whole truth about who made what decisions during the years of the Transition[1], we can nevertheless observe quite clearly the disastrous outcomes for the nation and our own lives resulting from the grafting of oligarchy onto political power and the shift in values that has taken place. Whatever the immediate cause of the multiple government scandals in recent years – incompetence, irresponsibility, brute criminality or a combination of all these – the present time is decisive; it demands from us much more than decency and doing one’s job. It demands that we implement a coordinated, comprehensive civil effort to determine precisely and candidly the state of our democracy. This is the starting point for identifying the main impediments to a well-functioning state and outlining a roadmap to remove these impediments, impose rule of law, and restore genuine parliamentary representation.

Based on what we know from publicly available information and our own experience, we can highlight the following as points of reference for future and present action:

- The state has definitively strayed from its legitimate purpose and the public interest.

 - Corruption has become the core of political power and the principal motivation for seeking public office.

- The state is not only suffering defeat in the war against corruption; it is the source of indemnified corruption.

 - The government sector functions as a nepotistic web of secret interest groups and corporate cartels.

- The national security services support the oligarchy through public-private schemes to carry out contraband, traffic narcotics, launder money, embezzle national funds and European Union finances and are increasingly taking over the reins of political power, the media, and the public sphere.   

- The judiciary has been rendered vulnerable through consistent reinforcement of its exposure to political and economic influence, the illegitimate empowerment of various administrative offices, and tolerance of corrupt lobbies.

-  Law enforcement assumes and encourages a longstanding unvoiced consensus regarding the proper limits of its powers to prosecute and protect - limits it refuses to cross. This allows those directly responsible for the grafting of organized crime onto the state to remain unpunished. It also prevents the uncovering of the true political and economic factors that contributed over the course of the past twenty-three years to the development of the plutocratic state model. For instance: current law prevents the prosecution of politicians while they are still serving in public office. Moreover, even when backroom politics are within the limits of the law, this is hardly in the interests of the rule of law. (The most recent example: the court’s changed position on whether or not the former interior minister, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, broke the law when he obtained access through the SRS to records belonging to the parliamentary tribune).  

- It has become the norm for the media to avoid discussing certain facts and topics. This deprives citizens of the information they need to develop a shared view of the true state of the nation. It furthermore prevents them from arriving at an accurate grasp of their opportunities and political options to affect change and oppose the current state of affairs.

- The economy and financial sector function on the basis of cronyism. Under a state that has become an instrument for racketeering, and a legal system that doesn’t provide clarity and security regarding property rights and contracts, entrepreneurship is stifled and economic activity is suppressed by to the need to pursue basic security. This nourishes corruption and demoralizes our citizens because in order to provide subsistence for themselves, their families, and or their employees they are compelled to participate in and maintain the very system that oppresses and outrages them.

- In government administration, even amongst magistrates and those in charge of maintaining order, one finds a culture that is tolerant of passivity and inimical to independence of thought. It is the norm to wait for a turn to do someone a “favor” hoping the plutocratic web will reward you with an opportunity to grow within its framework and structure. Even when circumstances demand that individual members of the web be “sacrificed” (as in the case of Markovska, for instance), dependence and loyalty prove sufficiently strong to ensure the “sacrificed” remain silent.

- The political system functions like a clearinghouse for oligarchy in all areas where the oligarchic model exists. Political power, resources, and capabilities are distributed through the political system to ensure that plutocracy is reproduced in each successive election cycle by simulating public accountability and democracy. This democratic façade serves to legitimize the status quo before international watchdogs and makes only more difficult the unmasking and exposure of the hidden centers of political power.

We are still far from knowing the whole story about how the plutocratic state operates. This would require a thorough interdisciplinary investigation that looks at all the aspects and elements of this unbearable state model. What we do know, however, tells us that this model of social organization has penetrated to the heart of our ailing nation and our sham democracy. It is composed of a dynamic and informal web of small associations that work to spread the ethos of corruption and constantly incorporate new members. In this way, effective mechanisms for the political self-reproduction of plutocracy are developed by reinforcing loyalty, dependence, fear, and by undermining a broad-based, civic belief in the possibility of reform.

We also do know enough to be able to determine the best choice of tactics to fight the plutocratic regime. Focusing on a singular effort to try and eliminate the regime in one fell swoop, an effort embodied in the repeated popular enthusiasm for a savior figure (King Simeon, Borisov, Tzatzarov etc.), has not worked. We need to adopt a strategy aimed at the mobilization of small groups within key sectors at the root of the regime (the judiciary, the media, law enforcement, the financial sector, and the political party system). This means coming up with concrete programs and concrete measures to be implemented through local activist campaigns designed to engage - “bottom up” and as a system of coordinated efforts - the oligarchy in all its aspects. 

The experiences of the judiciary and investigative journalists in recent years show that focused activism can be surprisingly effective against a deeply rooted but complacent plutocracy. The same applies to the environmental and civil rights movements; in spite of a dysfunctional state, both have achieved significant legal and practical improvements in human rights and the rule of law.

For the first time, a visceral, intuitive understanding of and intolerance for our situation has reached critical mass. The recent (partial) exposure of the oligarchy and the resulting popular reaction are an unprecedented opportunity. For the first time since Bulgaria joined the European Union we can unite around one great common cause: to restore political order to government by systematically developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to dismantle the existing model of the state and establish democracy and the rule of law. This requires reforming those spheres of influence that uphold the oligarchy and allow it to deprive the organs of government of their proper authority. It also means reforming those institutions responsible for upholding the rule of law.

To this end, it is necessary that we:

1. Form expert groups, which will:

- Develop proposals and specific legislative reforms to voting laws and the law regulating political activities so that there will be genuine political representation. This will mean that any political group with ambitions to participate in the electoral process will have a realistic chance and sufficient time to mobilize, and formulate its proposals for how to overcome the present crisis in political legitimacy.

- Carry out a comprehensive legal analysis to determine the extent to which existing law empowers political and other institutions to abuse civil rights and freedoms. Develop proposals how to allocate authority between different state agencies so as to ensure coordination between them and a balance of powers.

- Propose measures for the governance of public assets that will prevent and disable the tendency under the existing model to use the state to support the oligarchy.

- Propose specific measures to protect the freedom of the press. This will entail: requiring transparency about the media’s sources of finance, formulating good governance practices, promoting investigative journalism, and adopting shared ethical standards.

- By building on what has been achieved to-date, propose legislative measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.

As the starting point for their appointed duties each expert group will present a detailed description of the plutocratic model as it functions in each of the core sectors critical to its existence and dismantling: the political system, the judiciary, the security sector, the media, and the financial system.

2. Establish a commission composed of jurists and public figures - trusted and respected by the public - to present the conclusions of the above-mentioned analyses, undertake its own further investigations, and provide a diagnosis of the current state of our democracy. This will give us all a chance to finally learn the truth about what took place during the Transition and who the responsible individuals were.

To this end, we will need an ongoing volunteer effort within the public sphere and the political domain to raise awareness of this new national goal and the critical urgency of bringing it to fruition. In addition, we need a sustained activist campaign that will use the instruments of the law and liberal democratic transparency to publicly attack all manifestations of plutocracy in all sectors of society. This will at once diminish the regime’s sphere of influence and breathe new life into our public institutions, the law and democracy.

With this charter, we – jurists, social scientists, journalists, active citizens, regardless of political orientation – have come together to express a shared commitment to reforming our country and a conviction in the values of European humanism and democracy, a shared understanding that human dignity can only exist where there is rule of law guaranteed by an independent judiciary.

Through this declaration we wish to propose a vision for the national effort and wish to share our conviction that only a collective effort by us all can ensure that we live a reasonable and descent life under a democratic government that guarantees its citizens equal access to opportunity and equality before the law.

Everyone who shows their support for this charter, by publicly declaring their position and activism against the current state model, identifies themselves as a barrier to the further development of this state model.

We urge you to disseminate this text and to sign up in support of it!

The full text of this charter, information on additional signatories, and updates on further activity will be announced at the following site: www.harta2013.eu

[1] The Transition refers to the period following the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria and the ensuing economic reforms paving the way for capitalism and a free market economy. During this period, the agricultural and industrial sectors, previously run by state-owned enterprises, were privatized, leading to the illegal expropriation of government assets and widespread embezzlement of government funds. Evolving from the state security apparatus, organized crime emerged during the Transition as a political and economic force.

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