One word suffices to describe Rumen Radev’s stay in the presidential office on the eve of his second year there.
The president is a hypocrite. No matter whether he is aware of that role or simply does not understand what he has taken up and what he is doing.
And since calling someone a hypocrite is not a joke, I start with the arguments.
The gap between the statements Radev makes and his real actions is growing wider and wider. The latest example is from a few days ago.
“In the outgoing year we did not do what was necessary to make 2019 easier. Quite the opposite: it was a year of corruption scandals and erosion of democratic rights and institutions. Problems were put off rather than solved. We reconciled ourselves to stagnation and timelessness, to the lack of purpose and reform,” Radev declared in his New Year’s address. And added, “I believe that in the past years Bulgarians got used to breathing the air of freedom and will not allow it to be restricted. I am convinced that our people can cope with any crisis and impasse by overcoming selfishness and fear and uniting their efforts in the name of justice, law, sovereignty and the enlightened future.”
It was only two days later however that one of the darkest legal initiatives of the government was promulgated in the Official Gazette with a presidential decree. Amendments to the Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Assets Act legalized the possibility for the Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Assets (KPKONPI) to seize property when the owner has been acquitted by the court or the criminal procedure against him has been terminated by the prosecution itself.
The amendments were criticized by a large part of the legal community in the country. They were drafted in haste in order to invalidate the interpretative decision of the Supreme Court of Cassation of December 7, 2018, according to which the termination of a criminal procedure is an obstacle to the sustenance of the claim for forfeiture of assets by KPKONPI.
Why is (not) that a problem for Radev
What can the president do? The favorite answer of each Bulgarian head of state when he does not want to be active on whatever issue is that his powers are limited. Yes, the president cannot edit the laws of the government. But vetoing laws is quite an efficient method. Less than a month before he generously sanctioned the amendments concerning “civil confiscation” Radev vetoed the amendments to the Corporate Income Taxation Act. They introduced a new environment component in the tax on vehicles that actually increased the tax.
The problem of course is important on the level of everyday life. However, it will hardly produce any important benefits or losses for the lack of freedom Radev constantly talks about.
Only two days before imposing the veto the president addressed the nation on the occasion of November 10:
“Twenty-nine years later the foundations of Bulgarian democracy are critically endangered. Freedom of speech is a memory of the past. The fourth power has abdicated its corrective role. The professional standards in the media have collapsed and with them, citizen’s trust in the information presented. Propaganda suffocates pluralism. Free thinking is punished. The familiar mechanisms of the party-state are revived. Democratic institutions are in atrophy. Decisions are taken in the dark, often unilaterally. Lobbyism and corruption penetrate the entire system of state government and make it arrogant, with no fear of sanction. Laws are drafted increasingly frequently in the interest of business circles and lobbies, not citizens.”
That was Radev’s first statement in which he spoke about the problems in the media and the lack of freedom of speech. Three days after declaring that the country needed more freedom, the president signed off the controversial amendments to the Mandatory Deposit of Printed and Other Matter Act proposed by Delyan Peevski, Yordan Tsonev, Hamid Hamid and Velislava Krasteva form the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The amendments oblige publishing companies to declare even their minor donors to the authorities. In the conditions of a seriously distorted market dominated by the publishing monopoly of Delyan Peevski that is a heavy blow on the small independent publishers who are critical of the government and who rely on donors to survive.
Two lines can be seen in Radev’s behavior.
One is moving along the path of least resistance. The president quite obviously chooses not to engage himself with topics that are important for the public but that could affect his public image. To say it simply, president Radev is afraid of going actively into topics that could bring him mud-slinging by the media around GERB and Borisov, as well as by those owned or controlled by Delyan Peevski. And that is a substantial part of the market.
Whether the president willingly takes that position or is advised to take it is impossible to say. Most probably Radev’s aides and mentors do not what his carefully promoted image of a new politician caring for the people to suffer from something so imaginary to the mass reader/viewer as the establishment of a horrible repressive body to control the uncomfortable, KPKONPI.
In the light of his own behavior Radev’s calls for shaking off fear are rather comic. They should hardly be taken seriously. At least because the president himself obviously does not believe in the use of that shaking off.
The second line of Radev’s behavior is directly copying Borisov’s manner while constantly criticizing the government in his statements. Radev shuns painful and critical topics on which he can be active. But he does not miss a chance to be populistically active. Let us recall his veto on the tax on old automobiles, his stand against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention etc.
If added this is the hypocritical stand of the president in relation to the future political entity he is going to ride after the end of his term, the quantitative accumulation comes a little too much.
But Radev’s hypocrisy most probably should not be surprising. Suffice it to think of that moment during his election campaign when Rumen Radev declared that Bulgaria needed judicial reform that included reform of the prosecution. Minutes later his position was deleted from his Twitter profile and it turned out that presidential candidate Radev had never called for reform of the prosecution.
And if the president could allow himself to have a whole set of excuses for his behavior in the first months or even the first year of his term, two years later he cannot.
Radev’s aides will increasingly often face the problem of ensuring that he preserves his rating without looking like a man of straw who learns his words by heart, recites them on TV and then signs whatever has been left for signing on his table.