2011 Through the Lens of Press Photography

12 март 2012, Автор: Elena Koleva
Публикувана в 2011 Media Monitoring Report

This review of the pictures of political events in the Bulgarian press in 2011 focuses on the scandals in politics, the election campaign, the riots in the village of Katunitsa (see below), and the wave of public, trade union and sectoral protests in Bulgaria. Those key events, and especially the scandals, continued the trends seen at the end of 2010. The wiretapping of senior government officials and leakage of tapes recorded with special surveillance devices (SSD), the consequences of the arrest of an alleged organized crime group called ‘Octopus’, and the establishment of the image of notorious businessman and ex-secret service undercover agent Alexey Petrov (the purported head of the ‘Octopus’) as one of the powerful of the day formed the media picture at the beginning of 2011.

The Scandals in Politics: Figures and Movements

The so-called Tanovgate (a scandal that erupted after the leak of a wiretapped phone conversation between the prime minister and Vanyo Tanov, the director of Bulgaria’s National Customs Agency, allegedly implicating them in corruption) was depicted in the press through photos of the above-mentioned figures, the interior minister and senior officials at the State Agency for National Security (DANS) and the interior ministry, as well as through a large number of political cartoons and sketches (Sega, Dnevnik).

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Cartoon by Hristo Komarnitski illustrating the article ‘SSD Links Them All, SSD Splits Them’ (‘SRS vse gi svarza, SRS gi deli’), Sega. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov as puppet-master of his wiretapped subordinates, Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, Customs Agency Director Vanyo Tanov, and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov. Source: Sega, No. 17, 21 January 2011.

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Cartoon by Ivan Kutuzov illustrating the article ‘State Without Guarantor of Law’ (Darzhavata bez garant za zakonnost’), Dnevnik. Profile of Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov with ‘the big ear’ of the interior ministry and bugs (SSD) flying out of his ear. Source: Dnevnik, No. 18, 26 January 2011.

The photos of a worried Vanyo Tanov in the 24 Chasa, Trud, Standart and Sega dailies erected a media screen around the figure of Borisov. The leaks and problems with corruption damaged the image of the interior ministry even further. The political battles moved to the media scene.

The photos of the blast outside the office of Galeria (the weekly that released the tapes together with Yane Yanev, the leader of the RZS party) continued the scandals over wiretapping and the government’s unclear relations with the underworld, and made journalists a party to the political conflicts. But the familiar faces shown by the press hid, as it were, or did not allow the public to see the face of the true perpetrator of the blast.

Political photos promoted the image of RZS leader Yane Yanev as a media jack-of-all-trades and ‘spokesman’ on the wiretapping issue, while Alexey Petrov was depicted as the main opponent and rival of the prime minister. But the RZS’s failure in the elections radically reduced the visual interest of the Bulgarian press in the party and Yanev, which had risen sensationally at the beginning of the year.

Through photos of Kasim Dal and Korman Ismailov, two senior figures expelled from the DPS (widely regarded as an ethnic Turkish party), the press portrayed the DPS as a supporting, not leading, player in 2011, and its leader Ahmed Dogan as a lonely actor on the political scene.

The nationalist Ataka party and its leader, Volen Siderov, were not spared the scandals either. The press visually illustrated the split in the party through three focuses: an ethnic focus, through the clashes between Ataka supporters and worshippers outside the Banya Bashi mosque in Sofia on 20 May 2011, during a rally protesting against the use of loudspeakers to sound the call to prayer; a family focus, through Siderov’s resignation demanded after the elections by his stepson and MEP Dimitar Stoyanov, and his split with his wife, Kapka; and an in-party focus, through the MPs who left the Ataka parliamentary group. Seen in this way, the split revealed to the public the image of the otherwise implacable and hard-line Siderov as a betrayed and insulted authoritarian leader, a lonely player. Last summer’s ethnic riots in Katunitsa and the wave of protests around them, which Siderov used to his advantage, were the political culmination of his media image in 2011.

Neither did the right wing succeed in living up to its successes of previous years. The elections upset the visual status quo where Martin Dimitrov and Ivan Kostov (the leaders of the SDS-DSB Blue Coalition) were depicted in tandem, and pushed to the foreground the, until then unfamiliar to the public, figures of the right wing’s candidates for president and for Sofia mayor, Rumen Hristov and Proshko Proshkov.

The only opposition party whose position remained comparatively stable was the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Sergei Stanishev’s election as President of the Party of European Socialists (PES) received wide visual coverage. As an addition to the image of the leader and as a symbol of the new beginning, 24 Chasa, Trud and Sega published family photos with Stanishev’s newborn daughter.

As a whole, the visual representations promoted in the press conveyed the message that the government was active – pictured outdoors, on construction sites, motorways and among the people, headed by Boyko Borisov, while the opposition was passive – weak, confined to the institutional walls of parliament and party headquarters. The complementary aspects of media curiosity about the personal did not change the general impression.

The Event of the Year: 2011 Elections

The presidential and local government election campaigns were combined into one in the media, but the presidential election remained dominant. At the start of the election race, the amount of photos published in the press clearly showed who the major contenders were: the presidential candidates of the ruling GERB party (Rosen Plevneliev) and of the BSP (Ivaylo Kalfin), and among the candidates for Sofia mayor, Yordanka Fandakova (GERB), Georgi Kadiev (BSP), and the less popular Nikolay Pehlivanov of Ataka. The other candidates did not have a distinct visual profile and appeared in the press from time to time. The representation of the BSP was reduced to key visual metaphors and party symbols such as red roses, full halls and pop singer Lili Ivanova, while GERB kept its now traditional repertoire: Boyko Borisov, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, concert stages, white balloons, pop singer Veselin Marinov. The papers largely abandoned their role as analyst and critic, and tended to merely report the elections. Despite the chaos in the counting and transportation of the ballot papers on election night and in the overall organization of the election process, the government kept its strong position in the period after the elections. Rosen Plevneliev continued to be represented as a protégé of Boyko Borisov. Several weeks after the elections, the photos of the smiling new president continued to fill the front pages of the leading newspapers. The newly elected vice-president, Margarita Popova, visually remained in the shadows.

The cameras again captured Boyko Borisov in his characteristic political activities and inimitable manner of communication, but now new figures appeared around him – such as Barcelona football legend Hristo Stoichkov. Stoichkov’s media fame was evidenced once again through numerous photos in the press: his appointment as honorary consul of Bulgaria in Spain, his role as supporter of the GERB election campaign, his reception of the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the Plovdiv University, his visits to the European Commission and the European Parliament in the company of GERB MEPs and EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva. Thus, through the Stoichkov ‘emblem’, the media obligingly helped GERB to enrich its image as a Berlusconi-style party.

The political comics produced online by Dnevnik readers added news value to the media publicity of the campaign. The editors of Dnevnik posted photos, asking readers to invent and add their own captions. Thus, the institutional background was turned into a canvas for experiments in the genre of political satire. The captions added by readers offered a fresh perception of the all too familiar political figures and widened the space for interpretations in the field of the visual representation of politics. The great interest in Dnevnik’s initiative became a sign both of the growing role of cooperation between the media and the public, and of the public’s weariness of the uniform and often insufficiently critical attitude of many media towards the powers that be.

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Part of the political comics produced by Dnevnik readers during the election campaign. The heroes of the comics include Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov; President Georgi Parvanov; GERB candidates for president and vice-president Rosen Plevneliev and Margarita Popova; vice-presidential candidate Polya Stancheva; opposition leaders Ivan Kostov, Martin Dimitrov (Blue Coalition), and Sergei Stanishev (BSP); Sofia mayoral candidates Yordanka Fandakova (GERB) and Stefan Sofiyanski (ODS). Source: Dnevnik, No. 191, 11 October 2011.

The Aftermath of Katunitsa: Conflicts, Protests, Social Tensions

On 26 September 2011, a young man was deliberately run over and killed by a minibus in the village of Katunitsa. Suspicions about the perpetrators focused on the notorious Bulgarian Roma mafia boss Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, and his clan. The case caused public outrage. The photos of the burning mansions of the Roma bigwig and the furious crowd that had set them on fire infuriated the public. Sega, Trud and 24 Chasa published front-page photos of tattooed youths naked to the waist with covered faces, the night fires at the mansions of Kiril Rashkov, overturned cars. They showed a chaos which was associated with the government’s failure to cope with the situation and which gave rise to protests and social discontent. The hotbed of the conflict continued to smoulder: months later, a photo of the by-then formally charged Tsar Kiro flipping his middle finger at Katunitsa residents as he was led out of the courtroom again provoked their simmering but now controlled aggression because the perpetrators had been arrested after all.

The media and political year 2011 ended with strikes, mass protests and organized arson attacks. If Time magazine named The Protestor as Person of the Year, this seemed to apply fully to Bulgaria as well. The photos of protesting trade union members, railway workers, farmers with tractors, and citizens became the alternative focus of the formal depiction of people in power and in opposition. The stopped trains, the protests against the pension reform, against fuel prices and doctors’ mistakes, against shale gas extraction, heated the pages of the Bulgarian dailies. The photo reports captured a tendency that is gathering huge media momentum: the protests are awakening and activating Bulgarian society. The protests shown in the Bulgarian press began to visualize the social portrait of the discontented citizen, of the awakened voter.

The spate of arson attacks on cars, whose photos appeared on the pages of Bulgarian newspapers in December, was a nail in the ‘coffin’ of Interior Minister Tsvetanov. The scorched hulks sadly attested to the interior ministry’s weakness and built the invisible profile of the arsonist as a victim of the transition or as a representative of organized crime.

One novelty in the visual representation of politics in the Bulgarian press in 2011 was the (albeit sporadic) debunking of the image of Boyko Borisov as Messiah and Saviour. The last photos of the prime minister in 2011 often showed a tired face, a dark and haughty gaze. At a motorbike race at Arena Armeets, a new sports hall in Sofia inaugurated by the prime minister himself, he was booed by the audience and this was shown by the media. This event was the first public ‘smearing’ of the prime minister. We are yet to see whether in 2012 this trend will also become a lasting trend in the visual representation of Boyko Borisov in the Bulgarian print media.

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