You always know a state has failed whenever it starts talking about an orchestrated campaign from outside to bring it down. Sure, there are the obvious suspects. Zimbabwe’s Mugabe has long since claimed that British enemies have been trying to topple him. If so, they haven’t been successful – sadly – because the 91-year-old despot is still partying while his people scavenge for elephant meat. Now Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro is trying to pretend that his people running out of toilet paper stems from sabotage by Yankee counter-revolutionaries.
Putin is now on this tack too. Everything is an anti-Russian campaign, an opinion that seems to be shared by gullible (or indoctrinated) Muscovites, some of whom blame the recent killing of Boris Nemtsov on the West. Sky News showed an old lady, who resembled 1980s leader Konstantin Chernenko in drag, saying America wanted to create a shooting gallery in Russia. She looked like the kind of baba who would have cheerfully wielded an axe against the Nazis at Stalingrad and so perhaps we shouldn’t be too disparaging.
Yet Bulgaria is similar in a way. Every criticism of its institutions is seen as treasonous. People freely curse politicians as they trudge through muddy potholes. Yet denouncing the country’s state-ingrained shortcomings, in particular its treatment of minorities, raises hackles perhaps because it’s seen as a challenge to Bulgarian values.
A recent NGO report on Bulgaria’s juvenile detention centres contained some not so surprising findings, notably that sanitation in such places is disgusting. More startling is that savage beatings of young offenders are commonplace. Suspects held in custody at Bulgarian police stations fare particularly badly. Apparently one goon in a uniform threatened to chop a suspect’s fingers off unless he confessed. The suspect in question did, of course, confess – to a crime he had probably never committed. The victims of such violence are mostly Roma, who are way over-represented in all penal institutions. (I should add that, in Bulgaria, the word “over-represented” has no sub-text – Roma may, or may not, commit more crimes but their “crimes” are usually pitiable; they can be jailed for stealing a chicken while Bulgarian career criminals walk free.) Bulgarian police, in particular, seem free to abuse Roma at will.
I can confidently predict reactions to the report in question. A succession of hard-faced nationalists will spit on the findings, alleging Western calumny to humiliate Bulgaria. Nothing, but nothing, will budge the thinking of this kind of conspiracy fetishist. If you dragged him to the offending detention centre, and shoved his face down a latrine, he would blame the stench on an elaborate Western plot to contaminate the country’s sewerage. If you brought good Bulgarians to verify that this is the fault of the institution in question, the nationalist would allege that the informants are despicable traitors or CIA-funded lackeys. If a Roma undid his shirt and showed his beaten chest and back, then the nationalist would surely say that he self-harmed to incriminate staff.
Bulgarian nationalism has an unpleasant tinge to it, rooted as it is in total denial about the country’s failings. It prefers to keep all kinds of scurrilous activities hidden behind cell doors, just as they were under communism. I always found the phrase, used of detained suspects in Britain, “helping police