The Swiss press met Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s official visit with a damming article about corruption and a mention of the much-hated by him Bivol

Turkish Drivers and Truckers Subjected to Extortion by Customs

Alexandre Lévy

The victims of this petty corruption are publishing online video clips denouncing the practices of local officials, while Sofia is negotiating the accession of Bulgaria to the Schengen area

The day when Bulgaria will become part of the euro area, the Customs and the police of the country will certainly have a good edge over the majority of their fellow citizens. Some of them have been already using the euro for years to supplement their wages at the expense of drivers. “There is no poor Customs officer,” Bulgarians say, accepting this now-proverbial corruption as inevitable or as a necessary evil.

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But today, it is the Turkish drivers and truckers who are blowing the whistle on these practices of which they are, especially in the summer, the main victims. “Social networks contain many specialized pages to provide advice to those crossing the Bulgarian borders and particularly to denounce cases of corruption,” says Vildan Bayriyamova, a Turkish-speaking journalist based in the south of the country.

Organized Racket

Turkish drivers have also equipped their vehicle cabs with small cameras to record their exchanges with the Bulgarian police. Disclosed by the site for investigative journalism Bivol, some of these videos have become viral, even causing the dismissal of an inspector. “That is not enough”, protested one of its main editors, Atanas Tchobanov, who speaks of an “organized racket”. One can see, for example, a Customs officer practicing savage checks on the highway, near the border. Gibbering in Turkish, he proposes to ease the formalities in exchange for some maavi (blue) bills, codename for twenty euro banknotes… “Just not karmazy (red)!” he warns in reference to the ten euro banknotes. In another video, one can hear a trucker haggling at length with a female Customs officer at the border crossing of Kapitan Andreevo, the main crossing point to Turkey, who is asking him to give her five euros. “That is the price to buy a soup, right?” he asks her before driving back to Turkey. At the sight of the flag of his country, the trucker thanks God for a long time for arriving safely.

“For one soup” – this is the expression that has become so proverbial that it even became the backdrop of a very popular television commercial for instant soups in Turkey which portrays the trials of a Turkish family during a road check in Bulgaria. “You are driving at 200 euro per hour, komshi (neighbor),” says the policeman before ending up with several packets of instant soups instead of a bribe.

“It shows to what extend we are associated with these appalling pictures in the popular psyche of our neighbors,” laments journalist Vildan Bayriyamova. Currently, some 400,000 Turkish trucks cross Bulgaria annually. The number of gastarbeiters, the Turks from Western Europe returning home for the summer holidays, reaches 2 million in some years – a true manna. For if before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “transit charge” was that of a pack of American cigarettes or a can of Coke, now it can be several maavi bills. For experts, it is this small-scale, but massive corruption that poses the most problems for the country’s accession to the Schengen area of free movement, and not the influx of migrants or the few Western Jihad candidates trying to reach Turkey by road. These are even despised by the unscrupulous Customs officers because they may disturb their much more profitable and much less dangerous petty schemes.

Schengen Accession

These bad practices have resisted the many attempts to reform and reorganize the police and the Customs that have been undertaken in recent years by the Bulgarian authorities who wish to join the Schengen countries. Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva, Minister for European Policy, is now trying to negotiate a “partial” entry (ports and airports only) by the end of 2015, admitting that the land frontier continues to elude European standards. Finally, to be fully convinced, just watch these other images – those of the folk band of Edirne whose members have chosen an original way to fulfill the “transit charge” at the passport control at Kapitan Andreevo. They played music. And the Bulgarian Customs officers have been entitled to the famous “Anisette, anisette, pass me a cigarette,” a song considered the anthem of partygoers and local bullies, celebrating material success – obviously a dream come true for many of these officials.

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