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Media Review: February 8

HIGHLIGHTS
The news media Thursday highlight the ongoing farmers’ protests and disputes in the informal government coalition ahead of the rotation between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister in March.
FARMERS’ PROTESTS
Mediapool.bg says the cabinet reached an agreement with all farmers except grain producers on the second day of protests. Road blocks continue across the country on Thursday and negotiations with the protesters will continue on Friday. Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov Wednesday reiterated that the government was ready to support grain growers who can prove they recorded losses in 2023. The government and protesters agreed that BGN 150 million would be provided in support for producers of meat, milk and honey and growers of fruits and vegetables, oil-bearing roses, tobacco and wine vineyards. Agriculture Minister Kiril Vatev said the money would come from restructuring of the budgets of the Ministry and of State Fund Agriculture and would not affect support schemes for other sectors.
Trud quotes Bulgarian Agrarian Chamber Chairman Kostadin Kostadinov as saying that many producers will post a loss this year. He says that a farmer may report a profit in his tax return while ending with an operational loss because the farmers’ reporting period is nearly two years as costs are carried over.
Interviewed by the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), Simeon Karakolev, Co-chairman of the National Sheep and Goat Breeding Association and member of the leadership of the Bulgarian Agrarian Chamber, said all vulnerable sectors in agriculture except grain growing demand the same support as in 2022 and 2023 – BGN 178 million. He said the Bulgarian Agrarian Chamber has no political demands; its demands are financial and legislative. It is the Agrarian Chamber that defends the producers’ interests; there are some 13 organizations from the Agrarian Chamber and a couple of regional ones at the protests. There are 200 branch organizations in Bulgaria and each of them has its own demands. Karakolev is adamant that there should be a law on branch organizations to put things in order. This issue is part of a package of seven laws under discussion.
Petar Kichashki comments in Trud on the Europe-wide farmers’ protests in light of the concept that one should not do a good turn to the undeserving. Agribusiness in Europe works on the principle of the undeserved good turn, he says. Money from all taxpayers goes to farmers. As a result, they pay lower taxes, are exempt from VAT, get fuel subsidies and have a huge coffer of EU funds earmarked just for them. With this money, they buy state-of-the-art equipment and keep growing. With the concentration of huge holdings in the hands of a few people, they become too big to fail. Insurers pay for crops ruined by bad weather, banks issue loans secured by future subsidies, fertilizers are paid for in installments, and so on. In theory, this should lead to an abundance of affordable, high-quality agricultural products, but the result is quite different. Because of the huge (essentially social) payments to grain producers and the like, they start to churn out products of ever lower quality at ever higher prices. They believe they are entitled to be millionaires, to have a villa in Greece and a Ferrari. To achieve this, they must not only sell at high prices; they must also always take more and more money from society. Subsidies and EU money taught them that the money will keep coming. There is no other industry where no one cares if you are making a profit or a loss, Kichashki comments.
POLITICS
Sparks are flying between Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) and GERB ahead of the March rotation of Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mariya Gabriel.
Interviewed by bTV, Daniel Lorer MP of CC-DB said the rotation would take place regardless of the recent personal attacks. The governance programme says Denkov will be deputy PM and education minister after the rotation, but it does not say that Gabriel will be both PM and foreign minister, as GERB leader Boyko Borissov demands. Lorer also quoted Gabriel as saying on Wednesday that nothing had been agreed yet. The MP commented that GERB had been in office for a very long time; with Borissov heading the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee and Gabriel being prime minister from March onwards, they will have enough of a say on foreign policy. Lorer also commented on personnel changes in the cabinet after the rotation. While CC-DB has singled out the ministers of electronic governance and of health for replacement, it is in favour of minimal changes.
In a Nova TV interview, Lena Borislavova from the Executive Board of Continue of the Change said the rotation would take place as agreed, with as few changes as possible. She ruled out having the same person as prime minister and foreign minister on the grounds that this is not the case in any European country; the only exceptions in the world are Qatar, Fiji and Samoa. The important thing is not to put certain people in places of influence and then claim more and more as GERB does; the point is to see what will be in the country’s best interest, Borislavova said.
For his part, Boyko Borissov said it had been agreed that Denkov would be education minister after the rotation. He told reporters that GERB had nominated only the foreign minister in the Denkov cabinet, and if CC-DB does not want Gabriel as prime minister and foreign minister, GERB will name a different chief diplomat.
Interviewed by 24 Chasa, Kristian Vigenin, Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and of Parliament, says it would be a mistake to have one person as prime minister and foreign minister. He suggests that a career diplomat would be the compromise solution, and argues that Denkov is not qualified to be foreign minister.
On bTV, former caretaker prime minister and former defence minister Stefan Yanev said scandals were being used to deflect attention away from the real issues. Yanev, leader of the Bulgarian Rise party, said the cabinet’s performance should be reviewed before the rotation. “Without a discussion of the real problems and without a statement of plans for the future, all we get is talk of appointments,” he said.
An opinion piece in Duma says that once again, the battle is not about politics but about jobs. “This chronically plagues the Bulgarian pseudo-government: it is mired in personal ambition, unbridled narcissism, pathological greed and horrible inaction,” Alexander Simov says.
MAGISTRATES’ SECRET CLUB SEARCHED
24 Chasa and mediapool.bg report that police searched a magistrates’ secret club linked to Martin “The Notary” Bozhanov and seized computers on Wednesday evening. Bozhanov, who was murdered on January 31, is under investigation for leading a criminal group for influence peddling and threats to members of the judiciary. The Sofia City Prosecution Office is looking into his links with judges and prosecutors. Likewise, an ad hoc parliamentary committee has three months to find out facts about Bozhanov’s ties with magistrates. Talking to reporters, Atanas Atanasov MP of CC-DB claimed he had a list of magistrates who were card-holding members of the club, but would not give details.
In her appearance on Nova TV, Continue the Change Executive Board member Lena Borislavova asked why Bozhanov’s club was searched a week after he was murdered, and urged all people who have information about Bozhanov to come forward before the ad hoc committee.
Nelly Kutskova, former chairperson of the Judges Association, said on the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) it was important to know who frequented the secret club. Those people may not have committed crimes or violated their duties, but the fact that a judge or a prosecutor would enjoy this privilege is disgraceful as it reflects on their professional integrity.
TOURISM
24 Chasa says hotel and tour operators praise Tourism Minister Zaritsa Dinkova’s decision that Bulgaria should be advertised through public-private partnerships (PPPs) between businesses and municipalities. The tourism industry said the Ministry made a “revolutionary” move by suggesting PPPs between businesses and Black Sea municipalities for advertising Bulgaria by investing just BGN 5 million. Ventsislav Tanchev from the Association of Inbound Tourism Agencies, who represents several major German tour operators, comments that private partners – air carriers, tour operators and airports – doubled the investment to promote Bulgaria in an altogether new manner. Krasimir Stanev, CEO and Director of Albena AD, says he has had many calls from foreign partners asking how Bulgaria’s advertising campaign had been stepped up. The fact that Scandinavian partners are showing interest is very positive as this is a very important market, Stanev says.
ENERGY
Alexander Zagorov, Secretary of the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour, told BNT that “the energy industry we know is coming to an end but a new one has not emerged yet. Both investors and people working in the energy industry are losing interest, the skill shortage in nuclear power being the worst.
FOREIGN POLICY
Trud reports a Bulgarian delegation led by Parliament Chairman Rosen Zhelyazkov visited Kyiv and spent a few hours in a bomb shelter during a Russian attack on Wednesday morning. The parliament leader said Bulgaria is helping Ukraine with military and technical equipment at an important moment in the war when there is a shortage of these supplies.
HEALTH
Interviewed by Trud, Prof Radostina Alexandrova says an estimated 10% to 20% of all human cancers are associated with infectious agents, mostly viruses, plus some bacteria and parasites. Those agents include the hepatitis B and the hepatitis C virus, the human papillomavirus and retroviruses. Most people become infected with at least one of the known cancer-causing viruses in their lifetime. In rare cases, the infected cells may undergo malignant transformation, especially in the presence of a suppressed immune system or other cancer-promoting stimuli. About one in eight malignant tumours in humans is of viral origin. In the vast majority of cases people may not suspect the presence of a chronic infection.