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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 08 JAN 2000 14:17:45 GMT

    Politicians Gone, Experts Take Over

    Serious Changes in Bulgarian Government

    AIM Sofia, 30 December, 1999

    The first reconstruction of the cabinet formed in 1997 by the United Democratic Forces (ODS) cost it ten ministerial posts, while six ministers from the former team of Ivan Kostov remained at their posts. Some of the most prominent politicians of the ruling coalition left their posts - three deputy prime ministers, minister of internal affairs, minister of defence and minister of justice, and a few others. Of the most popular names the only ones who remained in the cabinet are the minister of foreign affairs Nadezda Mihajlova and minister of finance Muravej Radev.

    The question which arises is what caused these drastic changes in the composition of the cabinet which for two years already successfully coped with the conditions of the currency board and which deserves merit for the invitation this country received to begin negotiations for joining the European Union. There are four versions and the truth is somewhere in between.

    What is most frequently underlined is the necessity to synchronise the work of the government with those in the countries of EU in order to make the course of negotiations easier. Besides, prime minister Kostov announced readiness to separate the party from the state. The fact that the two are interwoven affects negatively both the image of the cabinet and the work of the chief partner in ODS coalition - the League of Democratic Forces (SDS). If in 1997 the entire party leadership of SDS took ministerial posts, from now on the ministers will not be members of the "blue politburo" as the executive body of SDS is ironically called.

    The other two reasons are the favourite topic of the opposition. One of them is corruption. According to the opposition drastic changes are the result of necessity to cleanse the first echelons of the authorities of corrupt ministers which would be a motive for a comprehensive operation aimed at fighting corruption which is believed to be problem number one in the state. This topic is hovering in the air for more than two months already, and for a long time the public expects resolute measures towards revealing actual names of high officials involved. The other interpretation of the change by the opponents of ODS is that the government is in this way trying to acquire a new credit of confidence after a series of reforms which were difficult from the social point of view and which caused a serious drain of supporters of the ruling coalition.

    The most shocking was relieving of duty of the three deputy prime ministers, elite politicians of SDS and the coalition partner, the People's League. Evgeni Bakardzijev was considered to be the grey cardinal of the cabinet, he was in charge of elections in SDS. Aleksandar Boskov was the economist number one who has carried out privatisation of state enterprises in the past two years. Veselin Metodijev was the first choice of the People's League. Removal of all those in charge of repression ministries who were also popular figures was another surprise. This refers, for instance, to minister of the interior Bogomil Bonev who ranks fifth among politicians according to sociological investigations. He played a significant role in disabling the so-called "bullies among insurance companies" which were inherited by criminal groups dating back from the time of the dawn of democracy. Nowadays the street crime rate is much lower than in the years before 1997 parliamentary elections, although it is still too high for European standards. Bonev was the one who introduced changes in border control and initiated replacement of the old identity documents with new ones - two elements which might prove to be exceptionally significant in negotiations on taking this country off the negative Schengen visa list.

    The intrigue concerning Bakardi and Boskov is without any doubt the greatest. "Grey cardinal" earned plenty of negative points because of his totalitarian rule. He also failed to complete several exceptionally difficult assignments entrusted to him by the prime minister himself. One of them was delivery and transfer of natural gas through Bulgaria. Although at the time it was signed with Gasprom this contract was proclaimed to be extremely favourable for this country, it proved that Bulgaria was suffering tremendous losses because of it. His other serious failure was sale of the telecommunication company (BTK) which was expected to bring large profit to the budget and which was supposed to become a big business deal in 1999. However, despite all expectations, the contract on privatisation still has not been completed and according to the latest unofficial information from the Ministerial Council a new invitation for tenders will most probably be published. At the moment negotiations are still going on with Greek company OTE and Dutch KPN, but their dragging on as well as doubts about financial capability of the candidates such as OTE are listed among the blunders of Evgeni Bakardzijev. He personally caused animosity in the election campaign for local elections in October by his unmistakably underrating and despising behaviour to political opponents.

    Although not directly, Bakardzijev is accused of corruption as well. It should be stressed, though, that criticism at his expense is pale in comparison with accusations of his colleague Aeksandar Boskov. Practically from the very first days in the government, the minister of industry was nicknamed "Mister 10%" because that was his price in negotiations on privatisation of Bulgarian enterprises. Foul tongues say that Boskov has even become "Mister 20%" lately. If somebody should have actually been sacrificed in order to redeem the good name of the cabinet when accusations of corruption are concerned, it was certainly Boskov.

    Who is coming instead of the elite politicians of SDS? Majority of the new names in the government of Ivan Kostov are less popular politicians. Some of them, such as minister of the new big ministry of the economy Petar Zotev are coming directly from the ranks of the administration. He has until recently been in charge of privatisation and restructuring of the banking system. One can claim with certainty that the most powerful figure in the new cabinet is the minister of defence Bojko Noev who has so far been the Bulgarian representative in NATO. His nomination for minister is commented on as strengthening of Bulgarian candidacy for reception in the North Atlantic alliance. On the same day when he stated for the public the composition of his new cabinet, Kostov flew to NATO to a meeting with George Robertson.

    The prime minister appointed only one deputy prime minister, transformed a few ministries, but for the time being his nominees are in respect to their activities just pale copies of their predecessors. Perhaps their advantage lies in the fact that their names are unblemished and at least for some time they will enjoy confidence in the society, until rumours start circling about them, too, for corruption and malpractice.

    For the time being, there is no special agency in the cabinet which would be in charge of negotiations with the EU. It was expected that a special ministry for European integration would be established and the name of Aleksandar Boskov was mentioned as its head. However, prime minister Kostov is silent about who should take over this responsible and extensive task. Chances of the former minister of industry are despite everything high, because of his frequent contacts with partners from the West. Foreign minister Nadezda Mihajlova has already done a great deal for creation of a European lobby in support of Bulgaria, thanks to which it was invited to negotiations. As concerning minister of finance Muravej Radev, he remained in the cabinet thanks to the experience he has acquired in negotiations with international financial institutions.

    Georgi Filipov