The assault on Ahmed Dogan: a heroic salvation or a sad Bulgarian vaudeville

Mariya Ivancheva
Maria Ivancheva este doctorandă în Sociologie şi Antropologie Socială la Central European University. Cercetarea ei se axează pe trecutul şi prezentul socialismului, aşa cum cum transpare acesta din istoria mişcărilor studenţeşti şi din reforma contemporană a educaţiei superioare în Venezuela. Maria este membră a colectivului de la Centrul Social Xaspel şi a grupului local Reţeaua Transeuropa, din Sofia, Bulgaria.

mariya ivancheva(De regulă, CriticAtac publică articole în engleză doar pe pagina specială la care trimite butonul ENGLISH de pe bara de sus. Astăzi facem o excepţie şi publicăm un articol despre un eveniment important şi recent din Bulgaria, ca avanpremieră la o nouă pagină internaţională care va fi găzduită pe site-ul nostru şi care va publica, pe lîngă autori CA, şi autori de stînga din întreaga Europă de Est.)

Ahmed Dogan, the all-time leader of the Bulgarian party “Movement for Rights and Liberties” (DPS). whose voters are mainly Bulgarian Turks, was attacked with a gun at the VIII National Convention of the party on Saturday, 19th of January. DPS has been in Parliament constantly since 1989, often as a coalition partner of the parties in rule. The Convention of DPS took place at the National Palace of Culture. It had delegates from Bulgaria and Turkey, and visitors from the Liberal International and the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist Party: two organizations whose members DPS is. The offender, Oktay Enimehmedov is a 25 years’ old Bulgarian citizen. He is of Turkish ethnic origin, and resides in Bourgas. Enimehmedov is a student at the Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Geodesy University in Sofia. The young man has a criminal past related to robbery and physical assault. Enimehmedov has been a political activist in DPS-Bourgas and was a candidate for the Municipal Council in the city.

The events in brief: at midday on Saturday Enimehmedov, a tall and strong young man, former box champion, walked freely up to the tribune of the Convention. At that time Dogan was making his speech at the rostrum. Enimehmedov pointed a gun at the white-haired small-built Dogan. DPS’s leader made an astounded mimic. He raised his left arm toward the offender. Instead of shooting, Enimehmedov started a fight with Dogan. At that point only, Dogan’s security and a number of male delegates at the Convention jumped at the stage. They disarmed Enimehmedov. They pushed him on the ground, crossed his arms behind his back, and then started physically abusing him. A number of delegates, among whom current and former MPs from the National Assembly, both Bulgarians and Turks, jumped up the stage. They started kicking and beating the young man with honest and brutal aggression. The offender was made to knee and trapped by two guards. While this happened, a young man pulled the pants of Enimehmedov down. He pushed his fingers into his pocket and took out a pocket knife; then the pants went down and the fingers into the behind of the young attacker. Тhe offender was taken out of the hall and beaten again, then put into an ambulance (surprisingly, not a police car) and taken away. The gun laid on the ground for a good half and hour. It was later revealed it was futile. It was a gas pistol. It had three bullets: two watch-fire bullets and a pepper-bullet that is used by shepherds to protect themselves against cattle. All three bullets could not have possibly caused any serious damage.

Back at the Convention, by then broadcast by many TV and radio stations with national coverage, Loutfi Mestan from DPS condemned the attack against Dogan. He said that such an attack against the leader of a Bulgarian political party was a threat to the ethnic peace in the country. Despite the Turkish origin of the offender, Mestan said that the accident showed the anti-DPS moods among Bulgarian society and created the conditions of interethnic tensions. Graham Watson, MEP and President of the Liberal Democrat and Reformist Party at the European Parliament, was a guest of the congress. He expressed his deep concern. He said their party has observed Bulgaria over the past few years. They were deeply worried about the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in Bulgaria. The head of the Liberal International Hans Van Baalen spoke after Watson from the rostrum of the Convention. Van Baalen expressed concern about the health of Dogan, and a confidence that DPS was a “true warrant of democracy and stability in Bulgaria”. The Chair of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Sergei Stanishev, former Prime Minister and coalition partner of DPS during the previous mandate of the Bulgarian Parliament, spoke to the media later during the day. He said that the assault was a repercussion of the constant hate-speech against DPS and the Bulgarian Turkish minority. The right-wing party Law, Order, and Justice (RZS) produced an open letter to the media. They called the assault “an Asian drama” through which Dogan perpetuated his permanence in power. Ivan Kostov from the parliamentary conservative right-wing party Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) and former Prime Minister said for bTV that accusations of staging the incident were nonsensical. Kostov claimed that the assault should be taken at earnest and investigated. He pleaded through the TV the Prime Minister Boyko Borissov fired the Head of the National Security Service.

The controversy over the reasons of the assault would probably loom in the media over the next days or weeks. Over the last few days, the National Convention of DPS was already expected to “produce surprising news”. The resignation of Dogan as a party head was expected. Yet, the surprise that it actually produced came undone. The theatrical act, played with a fake gas pistol – which on top of that failed to shoot – started as a thriller, but ended as vaudeville or pulp fiction. The questions around the security of the hall have been posed by journalists and not answered satisfactory by the Minister of Internal Affairs or the Head of the National Security Service. Ahmed Dogan has been one of the eight “most protected” people in Bulgaria. The National Security Service has provided Dogan with constant protection after a number of life-threats and previously attempted assaults at the expense of millions of dollars yearly. This makes the smooth moves and uninterrupted trajectory of the offender up to the stage of the huge conference hall utterly suspicious. The fact that an armed man was allowed to enter the hall of a party convention is also embarrassing, especially given that a scanner was set at the entrance. Yet it turns out that only media representatives went through the scanner: the delegates and guests of the congress were not asked to do so. The personal security of Ahmad Dogan from the National Security Service went up the stage only after Dogan’s hysterical reaction pushed Enimehmedov back. At a press-conference in the afternoon, the Head of the National Security Service, General Todor Kodzheikov, claimed that his service did not provide extra security to the DPS Convention beyond the bodyguards of Dogan. A letter was send by the Headquarters of DPS to the Security Service days before their National Convention. After the assurance that they have hired a private company for internal protection, the Convention organizers asked tongue-in-cheek if the National Service could provid security “according to their discretion”. Kodzheikov claimed such a formulation required that his people instructed the private security guards. He did not feel the need to provide additional security.

The questions and concerns, which the assault against Ahmen Dogan has created in the Bulgarian public sphere, go beyond pure security questions. The concern about the “violation of interethnic peace” in the country by Sergei Stanishev and Loutfi Mestan is misplaced and cynical. It comes only now, ironically occasioned by an attack of a Turkish Bulgarian against another member of the same ethnic minority. At the same time, for years now ethnic minorities and migrants in Bulgaria have been suffering violence and discrimination: a fact that the Bulgarian political class and media have been mostly silent or openly negligent about. The voices raised to condemn the violence against Dogan as “an assault on Bulgarian democracy” also sound at best delayed. For the last decade – under a number of governments in which DPS has been coalition member (2001-2009) – Bulgaria has entered a new cycle of political and economic violence, mightier than the one which started in the early 1990s. Politicians and mafia bosses and executives have not been spared. Yet ordinary citizens and small-scale businessmen have been those who have mostly suffered violent austerity, total dispossession of economic rights and securities. They have been exposed to random assaults by mafia groups, often related to (and respectively not sanctioned by) the government. The lack of significant media and public reactions to the physical and sexual aggression of MPs from DPS delegates against Enimehmedov has showed the numb indifference of the Bulgarian public to displays of violence.

The cheap theatricality and melodrama of the event have also not escaped anyone. While numerous interpretations claimed that the planned act was a matter of internal conflict within the party lines of DPS, the real reasons for the assault are still to be discovered. A facebook montage has pronounced Ahmed Dogan “Winner of the Oscars for best male lead of 2013”. The assault has been interpreted as staged by most journalists and people in public forums and media alike. The possible beneficiaries of the not-even-masterfully staged attack on the leader of DPS could be plenty. On the one hand, the act comes in the last months before the parliamentary election in July 2013. The assault could be against the power of the current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov: an autocratic populist politician who has taken issues with Dogan’s property. This Borissov has done to win the popular support among ethnic Bulgarians, whose hate against the minorities has been confirmed by the rising power of right-extreme parties in the country. Playing on an ethnic card, however, has been a tool of the government to oppose not just DPS, but more importantly, the Bulgarian Socialist Party. A hard-core neoliberal party, BSP has ruled the country over the mandate before Borissov came to power in coalition with DPS. It has helped greatly the increase of privatization, organized crime, dependence on international organizations and Russian investment and resources and the weakening of institutions of justice, media, and democratic participation: a miserable direction of development which the current government has only helped to perpetuate. Thus, the assault against Dogan before the eyes of MEPs and the European community could as well serve to destabilize the country and melt down the electoral advantage of Borissov’s party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB).

On the other hand, the constant convergence of Bulgarian parties around economic interests of dominant national and international business elites, has made less and less Bulgarians have any illusions that there is a real political tension between the parties in power. Staging an assault against a leader of a political party is a luxury distraction, which the whole Bulgarian political elite may benefit from. The attempted murder of Dogan has come at the end of a week saturated, day by day, by a number of local and national protests. Thousands of Bulgarians in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Bourgas, have contested the destruction of reservation lands along the Black Sea coast. Parents in Sofia have challenged the controversial Education Law. Last weeks’ protests against the privatization of the Bulgarian rail roads have been followed by a solidarity blockade of a central road in Sofia. Left-wing, anarchist, and syndicalist youngsters came out in support of the continuous strike of the workers of one of the last state-owned enterprises, the Vazov Machine Plant in Sopot. The workers of the small town have been left without salaries for half a year. The attack on Dogan also came one day after the discovery that the government allotted the cosmic sum of 600 000 Euro for the “logo” of Bulgaria: an ugly drawing similar to a single poached-egg. This price could have paid the salaries of the workers in the Machine plant, or could have been used in better ways in crisis-stroke Bulgaria. Last but not least, the assault happened two weeks before Bulgarians vote at the first referendum after 1989. It is on the issue of nuclear power development. A dubious procedure of mock-democracy, the referendum will still be a decisive barometer of the coming parliamentary election. Yet GERB has not taken a clear stance on it.

After the assault on his life, Ahmed Dogan was thoroughly examined. No physical damage was found, though he was alleged to have suffered a mini-heart attack while at the hospital. He reappeared sanguine and smiling at the Convention hall at 4.40pm. He remained there during the evening along the 600 guests and 800 delegates who have witnessed the attack. The Convention, shown on media with national coverage, was restarted and his report was read till the end by the female Vice-Chair of the party, Filiz Hyusmenova. Along sarcastic critique against Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the report was imbued with the clear rhetoric of Dogan’s high moral integrity: from the resistance movement against the “Renaissance process” into his key role as a builder of Bulgarian democracy. Dogan’s speech ended with his statement of the resignation “after he gave the initial momentum” of DPS, which – he said – was not a leader-centered party. He proposed as a new leader Loutfi Mestan – a Turkish Bulgarian MP from the fortress of DPS electoral force, Kardzhali, and also a former member of the Bulgarian socialist-time Secret Service. Loutfi Mestan was elected with a significant majority. The applause that broke at the end of the speech confirmed that worship and martyrdom has been bestowed upon the controversial former leader of DPS, Ahmed Dogan. In the mean time, Enimehmedov has been mostly forgotten. His location and condition only became known to the Bulgarian media late in the evening. During the day he was “not in condition” to be questioned, but now an investigation has started. Ironically, beaten up and publicly sexually harassed at the Natioanal Convention of DPS, the offender became the only victim of the assault.

Yet, arguably, victims of the act are all Bulgarians, regardless of their ethnic origin. In a country with a glaring interethnic conflict, the class-conflict has been suppressed. Dire economic problems and acute austerity have been subdued under ethnic scape-goating of certain minorities and a heavy mixture of media and political masquerade. And while random police, mafia, and economic pressure and violence have become the everyday reality of people in the country, the conflict that surfaced in the media on the 19th of January is just the tip of the iceberg: a cold iceberg that is slowly but heavily submerging the country into further political and economic crisis.

Ahmed Dogan (1954)has arguably become the most controversial political figure, and the symbol of the multiple layers of corruption of the Bulgarian transition. Born to a mother from the Muslim Roma community, he has been adopted by a Turkish father. He has gained renown for his participation as an activist during the so-called “Renaissance process”: the forceful renaming of the Bulgarian ethnic minorities in the late 1980s. It was only later that Dogan’s secret file was opened and it turned out that he has indeed participated, but as an agent of the state’s Secret Service which repressed Turkish activists. After establishing DPS Dogan became the unquestioned leader of the party. He has turned it into the party that has been able to change the direction of Bulgarian politics upon a number of occasions. Betraying the coalition with the first democratically elected government of the Democratic Forces (SDS) in 1992, DPS has entered coalition governments with the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement of former King Simeon II. Dogan has accordingly strengthened his political and economic power. He has openly confessed his participation in the strong “rings of companies” that sponsor his and neighboring parties. He has also claimed he was the one person who decided on who gets what state funding. A philosopher by training, Dogan has been given a million-strong grant from the state for “consulting” a huge water dam project as a “civil engineer”. Most importantly, Dogan has become one of the key brokers of the ethnic vote in Bulgaria. Being able to arrange the firm (and sometimes forced) voting of Turks and Muslim Roma people alike, his party has achieved an unbeatable 10% in all Bulgarian parliaments since 1989. He has also allegedly become a key conductor of the grand speculations with fake votes. Buses with Turkish Bulgarians with double citizenship from both countries have been transported across the border each and every election day, to vote a number of times. Dogan’s lavish private property and the whole empire of firms and people around him have made him a hegemon. And while the current government has publicly taken issue with his property, Dogan has still remained the Untouchable in Bulgarian politics.


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