At the very end of its presidency of the Council of the EU, Bulgaria’s government lost all decency and got involved in a huge scandal highlighting its cynical attitude towards children with disabilities and their parents, writes Krassen Nikolov.
For years mothers of disabled children have been protesting against the state that is ignoring their problems. The protests escalated at the end of May, when mothers declared a long-standing open-ended protest and settled in tents in front of the entrance of parliament. The goal was to remind MPs about their problems. The motto of the protest is “The system kills us.”
Social Minister Bisser Petkov was the only one who showed some understanding of the protestors’ demands. Two weeks ago, Petkov resigned because he was powerless to help people without political support [he needed budget]. The resignation was first accepted by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, but the mothers of the disabled children stood in Petkov’s defence. So Borissov changed his mind and left the Minister in office.
Even then, the prime minister showed he was not particularly touched by people’s problems. He said that he left Minister Petkov at place to get rid himself of the problem of the protesting mothers.
Two months earlier, Borissov said he cried when he saw on TV a report about the disabled children. However the children and their parents have been left to struggle for years, this example showing how much the Prime Minister has been informed about what is happening in the country.
The cynical attitude became more visible this week. The newspaper Sega revealed that Deputy Social Minister Rossitsa Dimitrova has used a €4200 business class airplane ticket to attend a disability congress in New York. The revelation about the expensive travel shocked the wider public and especially the protesters. Dimitrova said she did not see any problem.
However, on Wednesday, her resignation was requested and accepted by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, although the scandal is not over. Dimitrova enjoys the political protection of the junior partner in power – the United Patriots. Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov, who is leading one of the three parties in the Patriot’s coalition, defended Dimitrova with a thesis that astonished many.
“I disagree with the resignation of Rossitsa Dimitrova, she was sacrificed by the Prime Minister. Her ministry is in my attributions, but I was not consulted about the resignation. I categorically state that she is a good professional. It’s not the business of the (protesting) mothers how much the plane’s ticket of the Deputy Minister costs”, Simeonov said.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s statement that it’s not the taxpayers job how their government spends public money took social networks by storm. But the scandal unfolded further. A day after Simeonov’s statement GERB announced that Rossitsa Dimitrova will continue to work for the government.
The head of the GERB group in the National Assembly Tzvetan Tzvetanov said that Dimitrova was not responsible for the scandal with her expensive plane ticket to New York. He commented that there was a secret plot against her that left Borissov no other choice than accepting the resignation.
In fact, nobody except the mothers of disabled children, a small part of independent media and social networks had attacked Dimitrova. In this context, Tzvetanov revealed that Dimitrova will take on a new post – advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov’s political office.
The defying attitude of those in power to the problems of disabled children was adopted by other players. The most brutal statement was made by the president of one of the two largest syndicates in the country – Dimitar Manolov, who lost his nerves at the meeting of the National Council for the Integration of People with Disabilities.
Manolov shouted at the mothers of disabled children and said they should be ashamed because “they are walking their children around the streets”.
“Stop walking these unfortunate children on the streets. Be ashamed a little, be ashamed a little”, turned Manolov to one of the mothers involved in the discussion. She had asked him why the trade unions did not start drafting legislation and solving the problems. “Yes, be ashamed, I’m serious about it, absolutely serious. Because what you do with your children is inhuman”, he said.
The next day Manolov apologized, but not completely. He said the demands of people with disabilities are being used for political purposes. This is not true because on Wednesday the opposition Socialist Party of Bulgaria tabled a no-confidence vote against the government for what they see as a failure of the security sector policies. The parliamentary opposition hasn’t used the current scandal for political purposes yet.
The protesting mothers want the dissolution of the National Council for the integration of people with disabilities due to its “blatant inefficiency”. They insist on an investigation into trade unions and the way they use funds from the national budget and EU money. Mothers of disabled children want the prime minister to invite foreign experts to help carry out reforms related to the problems of people with disabilities in Bulgaria.
“We will continue our protests in all forms authorised by law, including with the assistance of the European institutions. The plundering of the society at the expense of people with disabilities in Bulgaria must be stopped! With reforms! “, says a letter by the protesters to Prime Minister Borissov.
In the three public TV channels, the strongest support for the protesters’ demands comes from the showman Slavi Trifonov (bTV).
“In all my life so far, I have often asked myself, what is it like to be really wicked? You know – we see bad things every day, but I’m talking about being really wicked. And last week I found the answer “, Trifonov commented regarding the plane ticket to New York.
“The theme of the [New York] conference was: “Let’s leave no one behind by fully implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. This further complements the absurd picture -” no one left behind “and mothers sleeping in tents before parliament”, Trifonov hammered out.