“You are doing so great with your campaign against corruption”, he said and sighed. “We would have such a rich country if they stopped from stealing so much. You know, Bulgaria would really be a rich country”, he continued, rising his eyes that contained a silent revolt to the sky. His look, above the beautiful landscape surrounding us south from the border to Romania, says so much…
“We have everything we need here, we have hard-working people, who love their work, we have fertile fields, thick forests, clean rivers, we have an opening to the sea, land filled with resources, possibilities to earn a lot from industry and tourism… yet, the most part of the taxes we pay to the state go in the wrong direction, in the pockets of people who shamelessly steal from other people. This is why we do not even have a decent infrastructure. Besides, we are forced to pay bribes everywhere, from state administration offices to doctors and priests.”
The eyes of the young man in front of me descent to the ground. His fingers grab a leaf and tear it into small pieces. Frustration and revolt dissolve slowly into resignation. Everything he says sounds so familiar to me. In the last quarter of a century, the entire Romania was stolen. It was torn apart like a dead body, by greedy hands, it was devoured by hungry mouths, assaulted by incestuous minds that invade their own country.
“I have to give bribes to everything”, Maria tells me. She is another example of Bulgarian citizen working all day long and contributing to the corrupt system with some of her earnings. She is a little over 40 and her mother is a cancer patient, hospitalized in Sofia. “I do not pay bribes just to the hospital, whenever I visit, to make sure my mother is granted appropriate care, but also at public offices, under the counter, wherever it is needed, to solve my administrative requirements. I have a small company and I am struggling to keep it to the surface in this wave of bureaucracy and corruption. You cannot be a successful businessperson if you are not corrupt. The system will simply prevent you”, she says in a harsh tone.
“Do you think things will change?” I ask her. “Hey, how could they? A general cleaning would be needed. You cannot renew your home and make it beautiful it you keep all the dirt inside. It is not just the mentality that needs to be changed, but people as well. They need to be investigated, like you do, interrogated: “Let us see, where do you have all that money from, how do you justify it? If you cannot justify it, pay that money back to the state and go to prison for theft. Otherwise, nothing will change. We have to learn to be afraid of receiving and giving bribes.”
Everything she says sounds so familiar to me, too. We are doing this for so long. And yet, Bulgarians envy us. Because we have the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, and they hear about it, they read about it in the news. They yearn for the famous Romanian DNA, which not only has an impressive efficiency in revealing an octopus of corruption with huge tentacles, but is also very praised by the West and, as we see, it is an example for other countries struggling the public money theft disease.
Last year, corruption has reached in Bulgaria the highest level of the last fifteen years. The phenomenon has ramifications at the highest political level, according to a report created by the Centre of Democratic Studies (CSD). The study showed the entire world that, almost eight years after Bulgaria was admitted to the EU, the corruption has reached its highest level since 1999. Approximately 40 per cent of Bulgarians interviewed in the report say that they were requested bribe this year and 29.3 per cent offered bribe. Just like in Romania’s case, it is not just ordinary corruption, but also political corruption, and it shadows Bulgarians’ hopes that things will get any better in the future. We are so accustomed with that situation. Romania is among the most corrupted countries in the European Union, according to a chart conceived by Transparency International and published last month.
The difference is, though, that DNA has become the “scarecrow of corrupt people”, as described by the journalists of The New York Times.
“Nobody wants to be seen entering the DNA headquarters, except for people working there”, the American journalists accurately described the reality in today’s Romania. Almost no week passes without at least a businessman or a politician entering the headquarters of DNA as a free person and exiting it wearing handcuffs. Famous people who have exercised their influence in the last 25 years have ended up in prison cells, with their wealth seized and limited rights, and this state of things will contribute to the increase of Romanians’ trust that they can take their country back from the hands of corrupt politicians. Especially when the huge prejudices brought to the state will be returned to the unjustly impoverished budget.
There is only one thing that radically differentiates Bulgarians from us, Romanians. Ambition. They are so ambitious in any direction, so sick of always being on the top positions of negative charts related to their country, that they will not only found their own DNA, but they have also decided to beat us. This spring, the neighbouring country announced plans to create a special unit to investigate high-level corruption, based on Romania’s model.
Prosecutors, inspectors and investigators inside the newly-created institution will powerfully start their operations against corruption at the beginning of the year 2016, and the Bulgarian Government estimates that over 7,500 officials count be examined by the new anti-corruption authority. Moreover, citizens providing information about possible acts of corruption will be rewarded with money. There is a new reason of positive rivalry between Romania and Bulgaria. And something tells me, knowing them so well, that they will do great, perhaps even better than us at recovering the prejudices to the state budget.