Boyko Borisov's government, which came to power in 2009 largely owing to its promise that it would fight corruption, has spectacularly failed to deliver. Instead of improving what many citizens view as a hopelessly corrupt society where nothing can be achieved unless you know and bribe the right people in the right places, it has got itself so enmeshed in the practices of its predecessors that Bulgaria has been downgraded, according to the Transparency International global annual index.
Greece, seen by many as a state where corruption is inevitably the necessary evil in all aspects of society, is now ahead of Bulgaria, according to Transparency.
Bulgaria ranks far below the EU's average of 6.7 on the 10-point index. With just 3.3 points, it takes 85th place out of 183 countries surveyed. In 2008 it was also at the bottom of the EU rankings, but scored slightly higher, at 3.6 points. Its current position is similar to where it was in 1999, just after the wars in former Yugoslavia, when organised crime, smuggling and tax evasion were a way of life for many of the now nouveau riche Bulgarians.
Transparency suggests that a country scoring 10 out of 10 does not know corruption as such, whereas in a country scoring nil nothing can get done, owing to widespread political and economic corruption. Predictably, New Zealand, Denmark and Finland are at the top of this year's index, while Somalia and North Korea (surveyed for the first time) are at the bottom.
Bulgaria ranks next to Jamaica, Panama and Sri Lanka. Namibia, Samoa, China, Lesotho, Rwanda and Macao score higher than Bulgaria. Closer to home, all Bulgaria's neighbours, with the exception of Serbia (not an EU member) do better: Turkey ranks 61st, Macedonia is 69th, Romania 75th and Greece is 80th on the index.
Transparency's index does not identify any particular area of society where corruption is more widespread than another, so it is impossible to say whether the judiciary or the police are more corrupt than the health services or the media. To compile the index and assess a state, Transparency uses several independent sources, including reports by the World Bank, Freedom House, the World Economic Forum and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The findings of Transparency come as no surprise to most Bulgarians, who have become used to having to survive in a country where bribing officials is a way of life. The culture of vrazki, or strings – as in "shoe-laces," has become so omnipresent that ordinary citizens now have to cough up bribes and baksheesh virtually everywhere they go. Instead of tackling the problem of corruption at its core, the actions of the GERB government, intended to deter small-time corrupt bureaucrats, have instead created a climate of fear where no one dares do anything without a superior's approval. The real effect of this has been not to thwart corruption, but to "consolidate" it, by collecting most of the proceeds from it into one coffer. GERB has done little to make institutional changes in the bodies set up to fight corruption, making it difficult if not impossible to convict anyone of corrupt practices, even in the most blatant cases.
Boyko Borisov, the prime minister, who was in the running for the honorary title "Best Footballer of the Year," appointed Diana Kovacheva (blonde woman pictured left), the manager of Transparency International's Bulgarian office as the new minister of justice, just ahead of the release of Transparency's 2011 index.