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Harry Cassin
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Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
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Elizabeth K. Spahn
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Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
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Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

Bulgaria Hits Bottom

Corruption is strangling its economy and robbing people of hope for prosperity and freer lives. As foreigners pull the plug on investments there and its stock market falls — for 20 consecutive trading sessions now, down 82% overall — Bulgaria continues to be under the world’s anti-corruption spotlight.

The European Union, which it joined in January last year, recently suspended aid, fearing that hundreds of millions of Euros were likely to end up in the hands of criminals.

Meanwhile, Bulgarians trying to expose the graft or fight against it are running for their lives. Like the founder of Frog News, Ognian Stefanov, who started the anti-corruption web site a year ago. Leaving a restaurant in Sofia this past September, four men attacked him and, as the International Herald Tribune reported, methodically shattered his most sensitive bones with pipes and hammers, breaking his elbows and both legs in four places.

“Certain people just decide they can react anyway they choose,” said Mr. Stefanov, who needed eight hours of surgery and remembers that night as a blur of pain. “The saddest thing is that they can decide anything they want. They are untouchable here.”

The IHT has run an excellent series of stories on corruption in Bulgaria. It rounded up those reports Sunday in an editorial:

When the European Commission decided in September 2006 to admit Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union, nobody pretended they were really ready.

The thinking was that EU membership would keep them safely out of Russia’s orbit. There were also hopes that joining the European political mainstream would accelerate their efforts to rein in organized crime and corruption. The latter was a fairly astounding miscalculation.

What actually happened, as Doreen Carvajal and Stephen Castle have reported in detail in the IHT, was that the prospect of billions in EU subsidies only encouraged the criminals to diversify from smuggling and extortion and to burrow into the political and judicial systems – the better to siphon off EU money. . . .

The IHT articles chronicled how those who tried to expose or combat the criminals in Bulgaria were regularly threatened, maimed or killed, and how these crimes routinely go unsolved. The result, the reporters were told, was that people have come to accept corruption as an unavoidable fact of life and have become apathetic about fighting it. . . .

As we said in July this year, Bulgaria’s leaders need to make a choice: get rid of the sleaze or lose global credibility — along with public international aid and legitimate foreign private investment. Sadly, the sleaze is still there and growing worse and, as always happens, it’s driving out the honest money and well-meaning people.

Readers with recent experience in Bulgaria are welcome to comment.

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