By Arjan van Eersel and Vladan Lausevic

The 9th of December is international anti-corruption day.  The 2021 International Anti-Corruption Day seeks to highlight the rights and responsibilities of everyone – including States, government officials, civil servants, law enforcement officers, media representatives, the private sector, civil society, academia, the public, and youth – in tackling corruption.

ALDE pretends to be an anti-corruption party, often attacking other parties such as Fidesz in Hungary over corruption schemes linked to the criminal clan around Orban. But in the context of responsibility, how consequent is ALDE really in applying anti-corruption principles? Is ALDE doing as it is preaching? 

Bulgaria is the European Union member-state that traditionally scores as the worst of all states in the corruption perceptions index. Also Reporters Without Borders qualifies Bulgaria as the worst country related to press freedom. The lack of press freedom and high levels of corruption often go hand in hand, as the powers of the government’s institutions are often abused to repress the press.

ALDE member MRF (Movement for Rights and Freedom) plays a crucial role in Bulgaria’s corruption and lack of press freedom. Just as with Fidesz we see a party where a few individual oligarchs have significant private interest over the party. The MRF is mostly influenced by Ahmed Dogan, a former officer of the state security service during communism, and media mogul Delyan Peevski who controls most of Bulgaria’s media landscape. 

Just as Fidesz the MRF uses the party’s influence for the benefit of people and oligarchs close to the party’s leadership. The big difference between the MRF and Fidesz is that Fidesz tends to bash minorities, while the MRF created an image of being a party defending minority rights. However, there is absolutely no difference between the MRF and Fidesz in levels of corruption and repression.

Another major difference is that MRF oligarchs have captured Bulgarian institutions and society in such a way that the MRF doesn’t have to be in government to take control of situations, while Orban heavily depends on being in power. From this perspective, the situation in Bulgaria is much worse than in Hungary, yet only a few seem to notice that.

A good example of this is the incident around July 2020. Oligarch Ahmed Dogan occupied a part of a public beach near his mansion at the Black Sea. When anti-corruption politician Hristo Ivanov tried to exercise his right to enter this public beach he was refused access by, what later appeared to be, state security officials. 

The incident went viral, and the president of Bulgaria recognized the security officials and publicly condemned Mr. Dogan, as he has absolutely no right to use these services. The next day the offices of the president were raided. This incident so clearly demonstrates how far the mafia capture of the state in Bulgaria already went.The incident caused outrage in Bulgaria and people went out to protest on the streets in Sofia and near the mention of Ahmed Dogan. The reply of ALDE was shocking. Instead of supporting the people fighting for rule-of-law and liberal principles, as ALDE did in Hungary and Belarus, they sided with the Bulgarian oligarchy by tweeting that “Extremists are attacking Mr. Dogan’s private property”. This could not be further from the truth. It’s a textbook example of how insincere ALDE is when it’s about fighting corruption, as they will always defend ALDE tied oligarchs instead of those fighting for a better Bulgaria.

The United States even decided to sanction Delyan Peevski under the Magnitsky Act. Even Orban isn’t sanctioned under this act, so I think that says a lot. Yet ALDE keeps pretending as if the MRF is a perfectly normal liberal party. So on a day like this, I believe it’s good to reflect a bit: Is defending the miseries of Bulgarian oligarchy what liberalism has become nowadays? Well, we refuse to accept it. 

Usually when someone asks, ALDE will pretend as if the MRF has a problem of individuals and that the problem isn’t the whole party. However the situation is exactly the same as with Fidesz, as said earlier. No genuine liberal person would ever join this party. It’s not for nothing that the majority of individual members in Bulgaria became an individual member, because they don’t want to be associated with the MRF. 

The worst part is that ALDE’s leadership knows very well about the problems with the MRF, however ALDE deliberately chooses ignorance over defending liberal and European values. For example this article of BalkanInsight about the EU elections in 2014 shows very clearly how Guy Verhofstadt knows what oligarch Peevski is about, but refuses to act responsibly. With the EU elections in 2019 ALDE still didn’t get it and keeps up the ignorance, as this article of EuroActiv shows.

A similar situation regarding MRF and corruption exists in the Czech Republic, a state that for several years has been governed by former prime-minister Andrej Babish, the second richest individual in the country, and his ANO party. Babish, often described as a populist in media and mentioned in Panama Papers,  has been under several investigations for corruption including connection to private business and usage of EU-funds. 

During 2021, the EU-commision ordered Babish government to repay over 17 million Euros due to the conflict of interest and decided later that the EU-funds for Czech Republic would be suspended until the government fixed its conflict-of-interest laws .Also, Babish has used far-right political rhetoric regarding views on immigration, women and minorities but instead of kicking out ANO, ALDE decided to brand ANO as a liberal party and supported his governance. 

ALDE Romania’s membership was terminated over a name dispute, Darbo Partija’s was expelled due to homophobic statements by its leadership. Yet an oligarchic party that’s deeply involved in Bulgaria’s corruption and repression of the press is free to do so.  So I say that tt’s time for ALDE to make a choice about what they side with: Liberal values or Bulgarian oligarchy.

About co-author Arjan van Eersel:

Arjan van Eersel is a software/blockchain developer. He is a Pro-EU clasical liberal and former ALDE Individual Member country coordinator for Bulgaria.

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Vladan Lausevic
Vladan Lausevic
Vladan Lausevic is active as opinion-maker and co-founder of Syntropia community for democracy based in Sweden.
Anti-Corruption Day
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The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.

Vladan Lausevic

Vladan Lausevic is active as opinion-maker and co-founder of Syntropia community for democracy based in Sweden.

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