Mon, May 20 2013
Interior Minister Roumen Petkov's complaint that people in Bulgaria are failing to acknowledge the positive work done by his ministry says a lot about the level of cynicism in Bulgarian society.
Yet it may be that there may be some reason for cynicism.
Presenting a report on the work done by the ministry in the two years since he took office as minister, Petkov offered statistics purporting to show that in many key areas, crime is down. These included a reduction in premeditated murders, rapes and other serious crimes. He said that a large number of organised crime groups had been broken up.
Petkov said that, proportionately, Bulgaria had far less of a crime problem than Germany, and its crime rates were below European levels.
On a similar theme, national police commissioner Valentin Petrov said in an interview the day after Petkov's news conference that insufficient acknowledgement was given of the successes against organised crime. Petrov also offered impressive statistics and said that it was not true to say that no successful prosecutions ensued after organised crime assassinations.
There have, to add to this, been regular bulletins about successful operations against smuggling of illegal drugs, and against people trafficking operations.
Both implied that there were political motivations in the refusal to acknowledge the successes against organised crime.
Petkov's complaints also had to do with the services under his stewardship being under-funded. After routine costs were dealt with, the achievements pulled off by his people were being done "by magic", he said.
There is, of course, another side. Media reports this year have highlighted continuing problems with alleged police brutality, especially against ethnic minorities. A court case involving alleged police complicity in a death in custody in ongoing. Not everyone is satisfied with police handling of the recent flare-up involving the Roma community in Sofia (while Petkov denies that there are serious ethnic problems in Bulgaria). Petkov defended the actions of his police, seen by some as unduly heavy-handed, in dealing with the coal miners' strike in recent months. Human rights organisations, according to media reports, say that 55 police in Bulgaria have been sued in the past two years for alleged brutality. Further, whatever successes may be claimed in the fight against organised crime, few sane and rational observers would accept that the problem is anywhere close to eradication. Rather, it would seem that those involved in organised crime are growing increasingly sophisticated and subtle, infesting their activities within the formal economy.
Yes, indeed Petkov is correct to say that those doomsayers who predicted that the shortcomings in the work of the ministry would keep Bulgaria out of the European Union were wrong. He is correct to say that predictions of special post-accession exclusions regarding the Interior Ministry's activities did not come to pass. Thanks may be too much to ask, but some acknowledgement that the ministry has made progress may indeed be due.
Yet it is clear that public cynicism, even in the face of statistics laden with impressive numbers being waved about by the minister, is likely to endure. If there is to be hope of a change of attitude, more high-profile successes are needed. In turn, for this to happen, those in charge of the public purse should pay heed to Petkov's message that law enforcement needs better resources.
Petkov is correct that the ordinary police officer should not, as an individual in a risky job, have to be exposed to public hostility when this is entirely unjustified. But before there can be a lasting change of public attitude for the better, it is clear that harder work, further reforms and improved resources are needed.
Resentment on the part of ordinary Bulgarians on the basis of the perception that those on the public payroll are skimming off the cream by paying themselves lavish bonuses would be quite understandable.
A dialogue is needed about how civil society responds in terms of gathering money and goods to help those in need.
Sensible people in Central and Eastern Europe, of course, will not confuse Wilders and his ilk with the tradition of tolerance of which the Dutch justly can be proud.
The performance of the Government in actual delivery of assistance – money and equipment – and in aiding recovery in the coming months must be kept under the most careful scrutiny.
Debate should be democratic, indeed, but it also should be rational and factual.