Corruption is a major problem in the countries of Eastern Europe. The rule of law here is weak and local strongmen have a great power – so great that they can easily avoid the laws. “The law is a door in the middle of the open field and only stupid ones go through it” is a widespread proverb in this part of the world. But nobody could imagine how enormous or even hilarious, the dimensions to corruption can be.
In Bulgaria, Zhivko Martinov, a member of parliament for Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, is investigated after he received a bribe of four tonnes of sudjuk, a spicy dried sausage, from a business person.
Zhivko Martinov, the MP at the centre of the Sudjukgate scandal
Mr Martinov, in his second term as an MP from northern town Dobritch, allegedly told the business person that the sausages were for Borissov. Prosecutors say that an initial investigation had found that no sudjuk reached Borissov. Actually at the moment, it is not clear what happened with the meat delicacy. “Maybe Ramsay Bolton from TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ had taken it. He loves sausages” – Bulgarians say with laughter.
Amid the dull news day of July 17, the sudjuk case has given Bulgarians much to joke about on Facebook. The Bulgarian-language media, which appears seldom to understand or care about the nature of the Watergate scandal, affixed the “gate” – as they tend to do about every scandal du jour – to headline the affair as Sudjukgate.
GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption), the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, concludes that Bulgaria has implemented a satisfactory twelve of the nineteen recommendations contained in the Fourth Round Evaluation Report. The document was adopted at its 75th plenary session, which took place in Strasbourg from 19th to 23rd June.
Of the other recommendations, six are partially implemented, the report said. Bulgaria has not complied with the recommendation according to which ”GRECO recommended that the application of supplementary remuneration within the judiciary be subject to clear, objective and transparent criteria.”
But at the end of June, eight international business organisations urged the Bulgarian government to overhaul its corruption-prone and inefficient judiciary to spur growth and attract investment into the European Union’s poorest member state. The organisations, representing trading partners such as the United States, Canada, France, Austria and Italy urged swift and deep reforms to ensure judges and prosecutors are independent and free from political bias.
Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, has persistently had its knuckles rapped by Brussels for failing to impose a strict rule of law and jail high-level officials guilty of corruption. The county has for years been ranked as one of the EU’s most corrupt members in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, despite different governments pledging to crack down on widespread graft.
That has kept the Balkan country out of the EU’s passport free Schengen zone, kept investors away and is seen as a major obstacle to Bulgaria adopting the euro currency.
Against this background, it is alarming that the Bulgarian public is deeply unaware of what “judicial reform” is. According to the survey of the Median Agency conducted between July 12-18, among 1002 people at 125 points in the country, 86% Bulgarians say they do not know what the judicial reform is. Nearly half of them add that they are not interested. When we bear in mind that information, it is no surprise that none of the anti-corruption and reformist pro-EU political parties managed to enter the Parliament after the elections were held in Bulgaria in March.