site.btaMedia Review: September 29
All media report on the Parliament's decision to have the Lukoil Neftochim refinery in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas process only non-Russian oil from October 1, 2024, onward. Television channels and the Bulgarian National Radio report that miners and energy workers have blocked key roads across Bulgaria on Friday morning to demand revisions of the Territorial Just Transition Plans.
NEW MILITARY AID TO UKRAINE
Trud quotes GERB-UDF leader Boyko Borissov, who while talking to reporters in Parliament accused the opposition of hypocrisy. According to Borissov, while the opposition is speaking against Bulgaria sending weapons to Ukraine, it was during the time when they were in power and had appointed ministers that "we were number one in terms of giving weapons to Ukraine".
FOREIGN AGENTS IN BULGARIA
In a bTV interview, Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) MP and former head of the parliamentary Committee for Control of the Security Services, Atanas Atanasov, said that the case with the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, known as the Russian Church, is an extremely serious scandal and a very serious failure of Bulgarian counterintelligence. "The rector of the Russian Church has been in Bulgaria for five years. How much longer was he supposed to be here? North Macedonia writes that [the clergyman] Vassian was expelled from that country for espionage," he emphasized.
Once again, Atanasov called on the Chairperson of the State Agency for National Security (SANS) to resign. "It is his structure (SANS), which he directly heads single-handedly and centrally, that is responsible, and not only for Vassian. He violated political neutrality. He came out with a political position, and I think he was politically encouraged by somebody [to do so], but at the moment it is impossible to say by whom," Atanasov added.
Atanasov said the Council of Ministers should have initiated a procedure to dismiss the SANS chairperson. He also mentioned that, immediately after the revolution at the start of the 20th century, the Russian Orthodox Church was turned into a weapon of the Russian state and, more precisely, first of Cheka [the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission] and then of the KGB. "To this day, it is known that the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is a colonel of the services," Atanasov added.
The Bulgarian National Television reports that Parliament voted to establish a new committee for monitoring the management of EU funds, with 140 votes in favour, 37 against and three abstentions.
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An article in Capital discusses the problem of blurred lines between media and those in power. Referring to GERB mayoral candidate Anton Hekimyan, the text reads: "In just one weekend, the director of News, Current Affairs and Sport in one of Bulgaria's leading TV stations turned into a key political figure of GERB. Establishing trust and strong political ties, however, takes more than a few days". The article then raises three questions: When did Anton Hekimyan start building his relationship with GERB? To what extent has this relationship influenced the coverage of the party on bTV? Has bTV Media Group been aware of this relationship?
In addition to answering these questions, bTV Media Group's management faces the challenge of defending itself as an independent media outlet. Their first test will be the coverage of the local elections, when journalists will have to interview their now former boss Hekimyan.
Capital points out that the media environment in Bulgaria has long been heavily polluted, and trust in the media is steadily declining. There are various reasons for this, but power plays a key role: from the obvious political attacks on critical media and attempts to discredit them, through attempts to silence them, to the "takeover" of convenient media outlets in order to control the flow of information.
24 Chasa reports that the head of the Council for Electronic Media (CEM), Sonia Momchilova, spent an hour in Parliament answering questions by the parliamentary Committee on Tourism about possible hybrid attacks on Bulgaria's summer tourism in the form of frequent media reports of pollution in the Black Sea after the Nova Kakhovka dam wall was blown up in June. Other evidence of hybrid attacks includes reports of inflated prices along the coast and located naval mines. Momchilova pointed at a report of a cow's body with no ear tag washed ashore the Black Sea coast as a likely malicious attack. There have been three cases of cow carcasses washing up on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast between the start of the summer season and June 15.
MP Dragomir Petrov of There Is Such a People said: "It turns out that a person who posts on Facebook a picture of a receipt for an ice cube priced at BGN 1 or for overly expensive steaks is more powerful than CEM". Petrov then proposed to have the Committee question the head of SANS, as SANS unlike CEM should be able to specify the source of the alleged attacks.
The daily proceeds to criticize the MPs for imagining CEM as an institution akin to a ministry of information, capable of ordering media what stories to publish.
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An article snippet on Trud's frontpage talks about the town of Etropole, Western Bulgaria, calling it a gold mine for a particular family comprised of Etropole's Mayor Dimitar Dimitrov and his brother Emil Dimitrov. According to Trud's investigation, it is a frequent practice to have the private company Ellatzite-Med to practically replace the municipality in some of its functions, such as constructing and maintaining state and municipal facilities on the territory of Etropole. The article alleges that the Mayor is often involved in conflict of interest by having companies owned by or associated with Emil Dimitrov, such as Maridel 2012, Inchip - 97 And Etropolski Buk, win public procurement projects. The article concludes that Etropole can be labelled the first private town in Bulgaria owned by a mayor and his brother.
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Telegraph's frontpage reports that taxi companies have a policy of firing drivers who have tested positive for alcohol DUI. While there is no legal method for an employer to check their drivers' traffic violations either in real time or upon request, as the traffic police would refuse to share this information, taxi companies require from their drivers to present their driving licences monthly. Drivers who have tested positive for drunk driving with blood-alcohol content level of 0.5 to 1.2 per mille could have their licence suspended for six months to a year. The employer cannot establish this instantly, which theoretically would allow the driver to continue driving passengers for up to a month, after which the driver would have to present their licence, leading to them getting fired.
Duma quotes the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), whose September 2023 Regional Economic Prospects report predicts 1.6% GDP growth for 2023, +0.3 p.p. revision on the Bank's May report. The improved forecast likely reflects the greater investor confidence on account of the newly formed government and planned fiscal consolidation. Growth for 2024, however, has been trimmed to 2.6% (-0.3 p.p. revision). The EBRD noted that the economy is cooling down amid weaker external demand and an inflation-caused consumption deceleration.
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An article in Capital looks at the proposed amendments to the Energy Act, which aim to have the state abolish regulated electricity prices for households, which would remove the role of the National Electricity Company as a public energy supplier, offer a mechanism to compensate energy-poor and vulnerable households, and remove barriers to competition of electricity suppliers so that anyone can freely choose a supplier.
The fears that are being stoked, mostly by entities such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Vazrazhdane, are that these changes will significantly increase household costs and bring the Bulgarian energy sector to its knees. However, if the reform were done properly, the effect would be the opposite - a fully market-based model in the sector that stimulates investment, improves the quality of services and even lowers final prices, the article argues.
The reason this is happening now is that Bulgaria is drastically late with the liberalization of the electricity market and already threatened by the European Commission with a penalty procedure. The reform is also key to the release of the second tranche of the Recovery and Resilience Plan of BGN 1.5 billion, which in turn is important for limiting the deficit in the state budget, and therefore for the adoption of the euro in 2025.
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Telegraph quotes head of the Varna Association of Restaurants and Hotels, Pavlin Kosev, who reported that the number of tourists in Varna, on the Black Sea, has increased by 15 to 20% year-on-year. Kosev emphasized that the increased tourist flow should not be conflated with higher profit margins, as those were diminished by higher inflation, energy costs and personnel wages.
Trud reports that the Ministry of Education and Science has released an online questionnaire for parents on what can be changed in secondary education to improve children's results in assessments and exams. Among the more pressing questions that the Ministry is trying to resolve are: Do you think grade repetition should be reinstated for grades 1 to 4? Do you think a compulsory Bulgarian language course should be introduced for children who finished grade 4 yet lack the necessary level of linguistic proficiency? Why does a significant number of children remain outside the education system and how can they be reintegrated? The questionnaire will be available until the end of October, after which the working group in the Education Ministry should reach conclusions and propose legislative changes.
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An article in Capital looks reports that university students were one of the groups worst hit by the high inflation, which is why student loans were quite popular in 2022. The average student loan here varies between BGN 5,000 and 7,000. A distinctive feature of student loans here is that the state guarantees them, which in theory makes banks and students more willing to grant and draw them respectively. The interest rate can be no higher than 7%, and there is a 10-year repayment period with grace period during the studies. The government will guarantee up to BGN 40 million in 2024, which is unchanged from the previous years but used to be BGN 50 million before 2021.
Telegraph reports of cases of GPs who refused to vaccinate their patients against COVID-19. Nikolay Branzalov, Deputy Chair of the Bulgarian Medical Association Board, was adamant that such behaviour is unprofessional and inappropriate. Branzalov said: "I cannot explain why they would be doing this. It is not appropriate for a patient to ask a medic for a vaccination and get a refusal".