Thursday, 10 February 2011

Independent: Labour's star speaker

6.2.11? by Daphne Caruana Galizia

The Labour Party wheeled out its star speaker to thunderous applause at its annual general conference. No, it wasn't Inspector Farrugia, who spoke later with a diskors mqanqal. It was the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, who was voted out of power in 2009.

The Labour Party spent much of my lifetime taking direction from Libya, North Korea and Romania under Ceaucescu. Now that we're in the European Union, no thanks to its efforts, it's going to start rubbing shoulders with the worst-performing EU member states. It could have brought in somebody from the Greek socialist party to tell us where Malta is going wrong with the economy. But Greece wasn't part of the former Soviet bloc, and its socialist party isn't packed to the gills with Communists who transmogrified, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, into socialists - so New Old Labour international secretary Alex Sceberras Trigona doesn't like them as much.

Sergei Stanishev began by telling the Labour delegates that Maltese families can have job security only if there is a socially sensitive government with a clear vision. He is right, of course, except for the fact that he meant Labour. Perhaps he is the only person among us who has read the electoral programme which New Old Labour man Karmenu Vella hasn't written. Mr Stanishev, who was educated at Moscow State University, who had Russian citizenship until 1996 and whose father was a member of the Communist Party Politburo, would have been most impressed.

Mr Stanishev was at great pains to draw on the similarities between him and Joseph Muscat who, he said, is "known in Europe" (jafuh in-nies, eh). Nobody appears to have briefed him properly, or he would have known that on the most significant political matter of all, Dr Muscat and he part company. When he was prime minister of Bulgaria, Mr Stanishev committed his party to seeking EU membership and worked hard towards that end. His counterpart in Malta did the reverse. He campaigned hard against EU membership and he wrote articles and produced television programmes explaining why we should vote No.

Members of the homosexual ghetto which Labour set up to hive off the fairies and dykes, which is how the redneck delegates see them, would have been disappointed at Mr Stanishev's failure to mention gay rights. But better that he said nothing than say what he really feels. When Bulgarians held their first gay pride parade as late as 2008, Prime Minister Stanishev was aghast, telling the press that he did not approve of "the manifestation and demonstration of such orientations". The queens should have stayed in the closet.

Women don't fare much better. To impress his party colleagues with his masculinity, Mr Stanishev once roared up to a meeting on a motorbike, with these words emblazoned on the back of his jacket: 'If you're reading this, Elena must have fallen off en route.' Elena is the woman he lives with. The Labour delegates might find that sort of thing amusing. After all, post il-mara huwa d-dar, and men should be paid a living wage so that wives don't have an excuse to go out to work and make them wash their own socks.

Far more serious are the accusations of corruption and failure to deal with corruption which were levelled against Mr Stanishev by the European Commission when he was prime minister. The Guardian – Britain's mainstream leftwing newspaper that is generally in thrall to socialist politicians – ran a piece in 2008 that revealed plans for real estate development on a part of the Bulgarian coast that is under EU environmental protection. The Guardian was interested because of the involvement of a British architectural firm, which had partnered up for this purpose with Prime Minister Stanishev's brother.

Around that time, the BBC reported that the European Commission planned to block almost $1 billion in funds destined for Bulgaria as a penalty for its failure to tackle corruption and organised crime, which prejudiced its chances of joining the Schengen area. This was under Sergei Stanishev's watch, which means that he is a fine one to tell us what to do and how to do it, though a most appropriate speaker for a Malta Labour Party conference.

The European Commission's nine-page report on the failure of Mr Stanishev's government to deal with organised crime and corruption was, the BBC said, "possibly the most scathing ever written by the EU executive about a member state". The report concluded that Bulgaria "has to make the commitment to cleanse its administration and ensure that the generous support it receives from the EU actually reaches its citizens and is not siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime."

That same week, Bulgarian newspapers published a leaked document by the EU's anti-fraud office, which investigated irregularities in the spending of $50 million in farm-funds. The document said that "powerful forces in the Bulgarian government and/or other state institutions" are not interested in punishing the corruption.

Mr Stanishev denied the allegations, but one of his most powerful ministers, the minister of the interior, was forced to step down after newspaper revelations that he had meetings with crime bosses, and allegations that his officials had leaked confidential information to members of the Bulgarian mafia. Then the head of the government's roads agency was forced to resign after giving contracts worth €50 million to his brother. The Sunday Times (London) said at the time that this "confirmed the worst fears of those who doubted the country's suitability for EU membership...despite repeated promises from the Socialist government of Sergei Stanishev to guarantee financial and legal probity, patience is wearing thin among fellow EU members. Since 2000, Bulgaria has had 150 mafia-style killings but not one conviction."

When The Sunday Times spoke to him, Sergei Stanishev said his government hadn't had time to concentrate on corruption or organised crime because it was too busy preparing for EU membership. "The government and parliament worked without any summer or winter holidays the year before our accession because it was very important to prove to ourselves as a nation that Bulgaria, when mobilised, can achieve goals," he said. "Somehow there was a kind of relaxation mentality. 'We did everything well, so we can relax', and this is a very substantial part of the problem now."

Sergei Stanishev's fragile coalition was not returned to power when Bulgaria held its general election in 2009. But his tribulations are not over. The Bulgarian press reported last summer that he is to face prosecution for the disappearance, while he was prime minister, of classified documents belonging to the State Agency for National Security, which was set up to fight top-level corruption and organised crime.

I'm guessing that the Maltese socialists were told nothing of this as they sat and listened to him (ara x'wiehed gabilna Joseph), filling the air with their clapping. And I'm betting that none of them bothered to Google him before the speech or after it, either, because if Joseph, Toni and Anglu presented him to them, then they must accept him unquestioningly. The odd thing is that no reporter appears to have bothered Googling him, either – though today's stories might reveal otherwise.

Sergei Stanishev told his audience at Labour HQ in Mile End that the European Union needs more socialist parties in government for the sake of transparency. The man has a nerve, but then he's a socialist. He was there as the guest of people who have a nerve, too, like our minister of industry from 1981, who is now writing the would-be Labour government's electoral programme for 2013 to 2018. It's a damn shame Mr Stanishev didn't illustrate his talk with a Powerpoint presentation of some examples of successful and transparent socialist governments in Europe – Spain's, for example, or Greece's, or Portugal's. Or even his own.

But that's an idea for Labour's annual general conference next year.

1 comment:

  1. God, she's so awful. I have a feeling she just really wanted to write the phrase "fairies and dykes," and was looking for a way to put it in someone else's mouth so that she can keep up her "posh progressive European lady" facade. Keep writing about the 70s and 80s Daphne! It's the only card your party has left.