Hardly anybody speaks out against Galevi brothers
Trouw, 3 juli 2009

Like Big Brother he watches you in every street in the small town of Dupnitsa. From behind a curtain, off a fence or an enormous billboard. Everywhere you see the election posters of List 21 with the big, bold head of Plamen Galev. Sometimes it's accompanied by a poster of List 11, with the just as gigantic and if possible even more bald head of Angel Hristov. Always beneath the picture of Galev, never above it. Just as in real life Hristov always stays one step behind his partner, and never stands in front of him.

Together they are known as the Galevi brothers and they are Bulgaria's most notorious aspiring members of parliament. Just two weeks ago they were still in protective custody, on the suspicion of violent extortion, intimidation and the forming of a criminal ring. By standing for parliament in next Sunday's elections they retrieved their freedom. The Bulgarian court can grant immunity for the duration of the election campaign to candidates that are imprisoned without having been sentenced. If the Galevi Brothers get elected the next parliament will need to decide whether their immunity will be lifted again or not.

It seems inevitable it will come to that. Dupnitsa, 65 kilometres south of Sofia, is part of a small constituency, where a small number of votes guarantees a seat in parliament. And the Galevi brothers are sovereign in the area, according to criminologist Tihomir Bezlov. Through extortion and the use of their contacts in both the upper- and the underworld (Galev and Hristov have served as officers in a special police unit) they have created a feudal empire. Their tentacles reach deep into the Bulgarian capital. Last year the then minister of the Interior had to resign for maintaining relations with the two.

"The people in Dupnitsa are completely dependent on the Galevi brothers", said municipal councillor and former mayor Purvan Dangov on a pavement cafe opposite the town hall. The two have set up an 'advisory council' and every decision the municipality takes goes by them. "They decide on who gets a permit or who can do a certain job and at what price. The law doesn't provide for such a council, but here nobody wants to talk about it."

Dangov is one of the few people who openly resists the duo. None of the political parties in Dupnitsa want to go into questions concerning the Galevi Brothers and national politicians remain noticeably silent. "Every party has someone on it's list who is related to the Galevi brothers", said Mr. Dangov. "I think of it as my responsibility as a politician to speak out against them. But if I wasn't a public figure, I would be silent as well. My reputation protects me. A hundred people have testified in Sofia against 'the brothers'. Just try to imagine how they feel, now that the two of them are out of jail. Those people are emotionally damaged and will never dare to speak out again.''

Some inhabitants of Dupnitsa however seem to feel honest sympathy for the notorious duo. Take insurance adviser Diana Gradevska: "I know them as good people. They are always prepared to help others", she said. "What is being said about them in the media is just not true. They have done good things for Dupnitsa. Thanks to them, the infrastructure has improved and the town park is renovated. When they get to parliament they will continue to work for us." For this reason Mrs. Gradevska had put up not just one, but four election posters of the two.

The bold heads of Galev and Hristov shine as well in the sidewalk café where Purvan Dangov sits. "If you take the posters down they will know it immediately", he said. "On a regular basis they check whether the posters are still hanging. All day their bodyguards, they have over fifty of them, drive through the streets in black SUV's. Just to let us know that they are still here."

Fear for fraud at Sunday's elections
Next Sunday there will be parliamentarian elections in Bulgaria. It is expected that they will end in defeat for the current government. That government has steered the country into the European Union, but ordinary Bulgarians have not profited from it. The country is the EU's poorest member state and organised crime and corruption have risen in recent years. For this reason the European Commission blocked in 2008 hundreds of millions of euros of funding. The Netherlands insist on extra sanctions, because Bulgaria doesn't make enough efforts to solve the problems. Sunday's elections are overshadowed by scandals. Numerous known criminals have managed to get on the election lists, and the government tried to change the election laws in order to secure a victory. Vote buying and election fraud are expected to occur on a large scale.