The messages that the US administration sent to Bulgaria in April and Serbia in November are equally straightforward, the only difference being that in Bulgaria, they already produced a big effect and a change of power took place, writes Antoinette Nikolova, a Bulgarian journalist.
Earlier this month several US lawmakers made public a letter criticizing the growing corruption and decline of media freedom in Serbia and called on President Joe Biden not to hesitate to impose asset freezes against certain Serbian individuals.
The reaction of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was strange. He said he does not fear a US asset freeze because, in his words, he doesn’t own assets abroad. In neighbouring Bulgaria, by order signed by President Biden, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three Bulgarians for corruption, as well as their networks encompassing 64 entities.
“The Administration believes corruption degrades the rule of law, weakens economies and economic growth, undermines democratic institutions, perpetuates conflict, and deprives innocent civilians of fundamental human rights”, the US Department of the Treasury stated.
This slap in the face obviously disturbed Vučić and his ruling party.
In their letter about Serbia, the US Senators point at the majority state-owned ‘Telekom Srbija’ and the private RTV Pink, which are flourishing thanks to “a mutually beneficial relationship with the government”.
At the same time, “journalists are subjected to almost daily attacks that increasingly come from the ruling elite and pro-government media”, as Reporters Without Borders found in its latest report.
“This looks like déjà vu. On the eve of the 4 April parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, two US Senators wrote that Bulgaria scored lowest in the European Union on both Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index and the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Following 4 April the Bulgarian government of Boyko Borissov fell,” Nikolova adds.
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