Friday, 26 October 2012

For the London people, the 2nd festival of Bulgarian culture is on in November

The website presentation is cool, and I think it was high time the Mission London prejudice faced some substantial address.

Take a look at the programme here.

Monday, 22 October 2012

New policy paper: "A ‘Balkan Autumn?’ Party Politics and Civic Manifestations in Bosnia and Montenegro before and during the 2012 Elections"

Take a look at my new policy paper published with the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). The paper reflects on party relations and civic trends in Bosnia and Montenegro in the time when the two countries held local and general elections, respectively - in October 2012. Is there a new hope for an emerging true civic participation in rigid, post-conflict societies as Bosnia (esp. the Republika Srpska) and Montenegro, dominated by a single party as of late? The paper is available here.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Bulgaria: Attempts at policy-making at the end of the mandate?

This week Bulgaria’s Finance Minister Simeon Djankov pushed through the cabinet an idea to start taxing by 10% individual deposits in banks. The move is controversial. Free-market protagonists say this will fuel the grey economy by discouraging conscientious tax payers from continuing to contribute; and it is not an appropriate policy for a ‘poor’ country as Bulgaria to try to levy on people’s savings. Political pundits make sure to remind what Djankov, a former top World Bank officer, said in 2010 that “taxes would not be raised” in Bulgaria during his term as this is its comparative advantage within the EU.

I am going to look at it from a public policy perspective. I am seeing, for the first time in these three and more years of government by the GERB party, a focused attempt at tackling the ongoing economic crisis. What have the cabinet been doing so far? Apart from revelling in populist, debasing road-shows, they stuck to tight budgets and pride themselves on a ‘macroeconomic stability’ which exists since true right-wing people imposed it in 1997. Frugality and decrease in spending has undoubtedly worked – Bulgaria looks like an island of serenity in a sea of Greek, Serbian and Romanian fiscal troubles. But GERB did nothing to actively engage the crisis. They had no clear-cut policy which to table and face critique by the observers; and then be implemented, for that matter. On the contrary – Djankov suspended public payments to private firms in the first year of the GERB government, only to keep the state records healthier, and maybe kill some small and medium-sized firms.

Now Djankov is trying to conduct monetary policy via fiscal tools within the limits imposed on him by the currency board. Monetary policy is formally impossible in Bulgaria now. But there are huge amounts of savings accumulating in banks by conservative, frightened individuals. Deposits rose by 54% in the last two years. People are scared to spend in this crisis, and prefer to amass for days unknown. Djankov, decently or not, is trying to engage that money into the economy. He doesn’t want the tax revenue per se – these stupid 10% on private savings mean nothing for Bulgaria’s budget. What he is doing is trying to make the opportunity cost for those crazy savers too high. He wants to see them spending some money in the real economy, and not having the banks as mattresses – as they did 15 years ago. He tried to convince the banks to relax and give loans more easily a couple of months ago. They did nothing. Banks are more scared than their depositors, and it is just normal, having Greece in the south, Frankfurt in the northwest, and Turkey in the east almost engaging Syria. Maybe by making the people decide to spend some of this fortune, cemented in the banks, the Bulgarian GDP could gain on domestic consumption. Just a bit.

A similar move is the recent decision by the GERB-dominated Sofia city council to impose fees on parking in central Sofia. Lots of ‘old’ Sofians protested: “How can you, for god’s sakes, require from us to pay for parking our cars in front of our own buildings, where we were born, etc.? A fee of 150 levs (€75) per year for this?! How dare you?” Come on… The whole idea of this fee is to discourage the presence of automobiles in the city centre. It’s not the money itself. Look at London and Rome and shut up. I want to walk and ride bicycle. This rule was another attempt of GERB to conduct public policy. Again, it happens at the end of the parliamentary mandate (in Sofia, the correlation parliamentary-local support is always valid, as in most capitals).

I want to make myself clear: Despite not holding a high opinion of the GERB party, I tend to notice public policy activity at the end of their mandate. For better or worse.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A new strategic overview of energy issues in the Western Balkans

In a recent short overview for the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS), I am looking at the strategic implications and perspectives of the energy situation in the Western Balkans. The paper is available here.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Отворено писмо до Ръководството на ПФК "Левски" преди реванша с ФК "Сараево"


Пише Ви дългогодишен фен на "Левски" от София. Моля да препратите следващото писмо към съответните отговорни лица в клуба, на особеното внимание на PR отдела.

Живял съм няколко години в Сараево като студент и бях втрещен от плакатите, които част от феновете в "Б" сектор издигнаха на мача с ФК "Сараево". Нацистки призиви, споменаващи името на подсъдимия военнопрестъпник Ратко Младич и осъдения и признат за такъв Аркан, както и подготвен плакат в интернет преди гостуването в Сараево, включващ срамното "Нож, жица, Сребреница", не могат да имат общо с историята и ценностите на нашия клуб. "Левски" винаги е бил символ на свободата и борбата с репресиите. Това, което определени елементи от привържениците си позволяват да пропагандират, очерня името на Апостола, на България и на футболния клуб. Гореспоменатите престъпници Младич и Аркан са виновни за избиването на хиляди невинни жертви по време на войната в Босна през 1992-95 г., факт, всепризнат по света и в България. България пращаше свои момчета след войната да опазват мира в Босна и е важен съюзник на ЕС и НАТО в усилията Босна и Херцеговина да стъпи стабилно на европейския си път. В момент, когато босненци отбелязват 17 годишнината от геноцида в Сребреница (извършен по заповед на Младич на 10-11 юли 1995 г.), такова безотговорно и брутално отношение на някои привърженици на "Левски" е не само недопустимо, но и наказуемо.

С настоящото апелирам към Ръководството на ПФК "Левски" публично да се разграничи и осъди проявите на някои привърженици от последните дни. Обществеността в Босна е потресена от случващото се и представители на медиите и гражданското общество се свързват постоянно с мен с въпроси какво се случва. Моля Ръководството да излезе с категорична декларация по въпроса преди реванша в Сараево и да я разпрати до медиите в Босна. Наистина, Ръководството не е отговорно за поведението на някои фенове, но една ясна и твърда реакция би била от полза както за ПФК "Левски", така и за неговите привърженици и за името на България като цяло.

С уважение,

Стефан Ралчев

Saturday, 30 June 2012

London and its significance

The Economist | London: London’s precarious brilliance via @theeconomist

Monday, 21 May 2012

Serbia's election saga and the implications for its EU path

Following is my comment on the presidential runoff vote held in Serbia on 20 May and its implications, as published on the site of the Institute for Regional and International Studies (

Tomislav Nikolić of the opposition Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has won the runoff presidential elections in Serbia held on 20 May and will be the country’s next president. He beat the incumbent Boris Tadić of the Democratic Party (DS) with 49.8% to 47%, according to preliminary estimates made by pollster CeSID. The election results have several implications.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Serbia’s novel, mysterious ways with the ex-Soviet Union

Serbia has lately shown a surprising activity in its relations with some countries from the former USSR. These seem to be just the next embodiment of the Balkan country’s wandering dualism in foreign policy, predicated on the two imperatives of European Union membership and inalienability of Kosovo.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The presidential bid in Serbia remains important, both for the show and for the institutions

Serbia held on Sunday, 6 May, a comprehensive election that didn’t pose many surprises but remains important in terms of the repositioning of the main political players on the domestic scene and the implications for the institutional checks and balances. Serbian citizens went to the polls to elect members of the national parliament and the regional parliament of the northern Vojvodina province, local councillors and mayors and a president. However formal and inconsequential the election of a president in a parliamentary democracy may seem, in Serbia this vote carries a special charge. It is both an outright, individualised expression of the performance of the main parties and actually a determinant of the balance of power among Serbia’s main institutions, given the president has the right to be formally member of a political party and keeps his influence there and in the parliamentary caucus.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Four chapters in a study on the Western Balkans

The Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) just published a study, The Western Balkans in 2010/11: Departures in Democratisation and European Integration in Europe's Southeast, in which I have four country-chapters on Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. I also contributed the conclusion. The study covers developments in the period from October 2010 to January 2012. It is accessible here.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Six things I learnt about wine in 2011

1. Pinot Noir has become arguably the most important phenomenon in my wine world. From Burgundy to Alsace to New Zealand to Chile, I have dived into these tender territories and depth. I have travelled the whole world in a galleon, and that boat’s name was Pinot.

2. Europe is sophistication. Red earthiness, mushroomness, floor rather than foliage; white crispness, limestone, sea rather than orchard. My land is somewhere in between, but my devotion is now with the Old World. Now that I have started to understand it.

3. Bulgarian small wineries are making charming headway. This country, which, contrary to local perceptions, has never been a major wine producer, has shown perceptiveness for small chateaux with master winemakers, and their output of wines based on indigenous and foreign grapes has struck me with its unpretentious quality.

4. Muscadet with Normandy oysters in Paris.

5. Muscadet with Normandy oysters in Brussels.

6. Chablis. On its own.