Three judges in Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court have asked the Constitutional Court to rule on a vital clause in 2006 legislation that enables the Dossier Commission to publicly identify people who were agents and collaborators with the country’s communist-era secret services.

Those in favour of the Dossier Commission process that has enabled the exposure of hundreds of former State Security agents and collaborators in fields from the diplomatic corps to government, media and the church are concerned that the process could be scuppered by an unfavourable ruling by the Constitutional Court.

Article 25, clause three of the law governing the commission allows the identification of people who were involved with former State Security and Bulgarian People’s Army intelligence services on the basis of registry log entries without the need for the evidence of documents directly signed by them agreeing to work for the secret services. This provision takes account of large-scale destruction of records of former secret services.

Those seeking to challenge the clause hold that it should be overturned in line with a 1997 decision by the Constitutional Court. But those who reject this argument say that the 1997 decision referred to a now-repealed law on disclosure of communist-era secret agents. A number of Bulgarian-language media reports have said that the Constitutional Court judges who made the 1997 ruling were themselves formerly involved with State Security.

The Supreme Administrative Court approach to the Constitutional Court arises from the case of Stoyan Stalev, whose career has included having been an adviser to then-president Zhelyu Zhelev and who was foreign minister in Stefan Sofiyanski’s caretaker administration, and who was redeployed from his ambassadorial post because of the current Government’s opposition to former State Security people serving as diplomats.

In Parliament on February 15, Ekaterina Mihailova of the centre-right Blue Coalition called on the President, Parliament, Cabinet and Interior Ministry to stand in support of the constitutionality of the clause, saying that a second attempt was being made to hide the truth about Bulgaria’s past.

Credit where dueThe question mark over the constitutionality of the clause was raised around the time some of the latest revelations were made about the activities of State Security and as many in the country waited for the Dossier Commission to say whether it had found links between the former communist secret services and Bulgaria’s 1990s "credit millionaires".

In the latest of a series of books based on the archives of State Security, the penetration of educational institutions by the secret services between the 1940s and 1980s was exposed. Significant numbers of students and pupils were recruited and even, at one point, there were more than 140 foreign students who were being employed by State Security as the communist regime sought to keep an eye on supposedly subversive activities while manipulating opinion among Bulgaria’s youth of the time.

As to the credit millionaires, there have been long been suspicions about links between the secret services and the rise of this group. In short, the credit millionaires were created through, among other things, the issuing of unsustainable loans, in turn used to set up shaky banks, foreign exchange bureaus and brokerage houses, while accumulated bad debt (often on loans given on extremely preferential terms) was routinely rescheduled. Some banks gave soft loans to companies owned by the banks’ shareholders – without requiring collateral. In other cases, people used restituted property repeatedly to secure multiple mortgages.

Combined with political patronage in the turbulent days after the beginning of the transition to democracy, manipulation of the system saw capital exported abroad, the creation of massive wealth on an essentially fraudulent basis and, to this day, public resentment of those who profited and – in some cases – failed to repay their debts. Beneficiaries of the credit millionaire system included individuals, companies, business groups and even football clubs.

An important piece in the foundation of today’s Bulgaria, the lingering aftermath of the credit millionaire phase includes prolonged and fruitless attempts to extradite some of those involved back to Bulgaria.

It is difficult to establish with precision how many millionaires there are in Bulgaria. At the end of 2011, the National Revenue Agency said that about 1600 people had declared incomes that year of more than a million leva, and 22 of income of more than 10 million leva. In turn, of course, there is no evidence whether any of these individuals built their wealth on the basis of the credit millionaire phase (to say nothing of the possibility that those who previously gained wealth illicitly may not be forthright in their dealings with the tax authorities). Further, as noted, at least some of those who got rich this way are outside the country, along with the money.

Consequences?Given that the Bulgarian constitution does not allow lustration, there are no direct consequences for exposure as an agent, although the current Government’s Foreign Ministry and President Plevneliev have made it clear that no one will in future become an ambassador if they have a State Security past.

There have tended not to be political consequences among the electorate, either, for instance in the case of Bulgaria’s immediate past president, named as having been agent Gotse, or others in socialist or Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) circles. Socialist and MRF political forces always have had the twin-pronged approach of voting against all matters involving disclosures regarding State Security, while also arguing that those involved with the socialist-regime secret services had been doing public service in the interest of Bulgaria’s national security. Centre-right groups respond to this latter argument with, to put it mildly, derision.

As has been extensively reported, none of those in the top echelons of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church identified as having worked for State Security has stepped down and, at this writing, the Holy Synod – made up mostly of former agents and collaborators – has yet to issue a public stance on the issue.

The Dossier Commission was expected to produce its report on whether any credit millionaires had been involved with State Security some time around mid-February, with some commentators in the Bulgarian media urging the commission to hurry up lest the Constitutional Court issue an unfavourable decision on the vital clause. Meanwhile, according to Bulgarian media, Dossier Commission head Evtim Kostadinov was making no comment on the court case, saying that the commission was a party to the matter.
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