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German Education needs full Restructuring

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Authors: Nicolas Böhmer and Ajmal Sohail

In education and as a result in economy Germany seems to fall behind.

Shortage of skilled workers – this term disappeared somewhat in German media due to other important issues but it hasn´t lost its urgency. In contrary, Germany faces massive changes in various areas and these changes are much more complex than many have realized so far. In fact, skilled workers are more sought after then ever. The CNT Alliance has spoken with many entrepreneurs and people in management about various subjects, the shortage of skilled workers, education, educational background and educational system among them. First and foremost, we understood the employers often have a much different understanding of the term “Skilled Worker” than employees. And the politician’s communication is, again, a different animal.

Highly educated and most wanted skilled worker are enmeshed, well paid, further educated, protected and “imported” from other countries. But already “just” well educated skilled workers face a phenomenon: Enterprises like to hire people with a decent education which can quickly work at full speed in a strictly defined position with neither extensive education nor training on the job. A good, broadly based and profound qualification can become an obstacle since enterprises prefer particular and narrowly educated and therefore cheaper people – but also since the job definition doesn´t envisage flexibility: the companies still prefer “simple duty”-loving people believing in hierarchical structures who just do a defined job after strict guidelines. Holistically thinking and acting people being able to cross-link and multilaterally experienced will be filtered by the companies’ on-line job application portals right away.

But exactly such multi-disciplinary people would be needed today in nearly all areas and enterprises to cope with the fast change and the digital transformation. A rising number of leaders understand digital transformation cannot be explained away anymore and the simple duty-loving people provide the wrong, narrowly defined skills and they are inadequate for the challenges ahead. A remarkable number of the simple duty-loving people do not like the digital transformation, they perceive it as a threat to their job position and most importantly to the gathered sinecures. Besides this, the digital transformation asks for the extra mile which is not welcome to those people. The simple duty-loving employees become truly problematic as soon as they quietly and clandestinely oppose all alterations and sometimes even sabotage them. Such problematic simple duty-lover can be found from the basic jobs through all workers and management levels up to the C-level management.

Among the job applicants, we recognize a two-sided image. On one hand, a rising number of employees – based on our research more than half of the young and agile people – seeks for a fulfilling, exciting mission gaining appreciation within a coherent team to create success of the enterprise or organisation. On the other hand, many job applicants prefer simple, clear targets and commands and have no ambitions whatsoever to play a significant part – often due to small salaries hampering any ambition. It becomes more challenging for both sides to fulfil all the unsaid expectations. All this puts more difficulties in aligning a company towards future. And employees too have difficulties to find a proper job.

Jammed right at the beginning

The CNT Alliance has done research among educational facilities and supporting organisations in Baden-Württemberg and has undertaken several dialogues and analyses on all levels. The first educational obviations happen in day care. Beginning of August 2019 Carsten Linnemann, Member of the Bundestag, got onto an important issue: He asked for a pre-school programme for those kids with deficiencies in the knowledge of the German language. He then was berated, and the left-wing parties accused him of right-wing populism – but they did not understand that he actual has taken position close to their left-wing core. He named the striking failings in the educations system in an awkward way and in the following he was accused of discrimination. The named failings of the educational system do concern not only, but most often kids from migrants.

Language lessons are offered often in day care and are often financed by external sources – and evenly often not given according to the needs of the kids, but preferred according to budget, administration and options. Furthermore, due to the lack of appropriate teachers often the child-care workers take this duty over. Usually without corresponding education for themselves, with direct impact on quality. On top of this, some day care centres are understaffed therefore the language lessons are held as part of the normal day care routine with the same staff and the number of people as every day – resulting in a general drop in quality. There´s limited appreciation in the administration for such language lessons and similar: organization become more complex, puts more pressure on the already thinning staffing level and must be done along many others more. Under the line we see the funds being gathered, the activities are booked, but often merely delivered and pressure on the staff in the day care centres rises. Fail in leadership all along the line and to the disadvantage not only to the kids from migrants but all kids at the day care centre.  

Each year many kids enter primary school and quickly perish due to the lack of knowledge of the German language. Young people with potential become problematic – exactly what Carsten Linnemann said. And our experience shows such kids rarely receive the required attention in our standardized processes at public schools and will not be turned form problem to potential. But these young people with all their potentials are needed to create the future.

Educational stone age

Most schools still “produce” simple duty-loving people – people best in recalling memorized knowledge and applying it. That is much easier to schedule, educate and rate. Those not fitting into this scheme (e.g. lack of abilities or language skills) quickly get to the boundaries of the educational system and will be “selected”. This happens each year through the system of classes and ratings, up to the upper grades. Differently put: Those knowing the expectations and being able to correspond can take the chances. And those being able to e.g. cleverly quote existing knowledge, putting it into nice documents, presenting or writing it eloquently will receive nice ratings. All this creates employees being able to do exactly what there are told and requested. They rarely provide the abilities to think out of the box. Own developments, even forwardness, critical examination and the search for answers, lateral thinking and creativity are not wanted, even frown up and result in low ratings.

Such abilities – important in times of quick and profound changes – are neither asked for or facilitated at our schools, except for a few private schools. The schools truly are living after an educational programme of the last century which doesn´t suit our dynamic times at all. In this respect, the inadequate digital transformation of the schools by lacking hard- and software and on-line tools is just the tip of the iceberg. There´s a deficit on all levels of understanding all the new topics hitting the “educational concrete” with raising speed an intensity: the whole educational body hasn´t prepared itself for the new challenges, hasn´t acquired knowledge and tools, hasn´t ideas for developments in structure, content and education. On top of it, the educational body hasn´t really understood: all the topics are coming at high speed and need to be integrated equally quick. Furthermore, this also means lengthy, inflexible structured and conducted educational courses with pre-defined content will not work: the dynamic environment requires content, structures and the nature of education equal dynamism. The digital transformation changes itself and the whole environment so quickly, an educational model with given, static concepts and content will not work anymore. This is from hell for every responsible person in education.

Most tragic: digital transformation cross-links topics, something impossible for public schools today – and today it cannot teach such a cross-linking and superordinated thinking. Predominantly in higher education, the system lives through clearly defined, strictly defined and excluding subjects taught by highly qualified academics which then rate the students. These subjects sometimes live in competition to each other, there exist “relevant” and “neglectable” subjects and resulting in the fight for money for each subject ad faculty.

This change, fuelled by the digital transformation, is – as the CNT Alliance describes it –a social-technological change. This change happens multi-disciplinary, demands the cross-linking of even contrary issues and requires the going-together of areas and competences in order to achieve results and successes. “Interdisciplinary teaching” is discussed here and there but does exist in very few (private) schools only. However, the socio-technological change demands a comprehensive thinking and acting – a cross-linked thinking and acting which urgently needs to be taught at schools. Some people in the educational system stated similar thoughts but do not see the paths for the change.

Symptomatic for the “escapist attitude” of the educational system is the statement by the Minister of Education Baden-Württemberg, Mrs. Susanne Eisenmann, positioning herself fiercely against the students of the Fridays for Future Strikes: she supported the severe fines issued the City of Mannheim. She takes position against many students with qualities the German future urgently needs: an integrated, fact-based view and the willpower for change. But few have expected the strong worded reactions by the students, their supporters, organizations, the social media, media, but also by politicians. The City of Mannheim quickly withdrew the fines and stated, “fines should be very last measure”.

All this despite Susanne Eisenmann had to declare in fall 2018 Baden-Württemberg has done much poorly than before in recent studies about education:

“We quite simply have slept through a few little things during the past two decades.”

Her promised offensive in education focuses on improvements in the administration and is seen as questionable by many. Particularly in view of the huge challenges for more dynamic educational content and concepts in order to react to the recent demands, and to develop a vision and to imply them through strategies. And this to the benefit of the students and certainly not to the benefit of the administration. The recent approach is not much about education, and it exhibits the non-existence of visions among politicians. And the contemplated centralized university-entrance diploma (Abitur) for all Germany is just about to strengthen the old structure with classes and grades, too – and it doesn´t help at all: This just eases the steps from administered pupils to administered students and finally administered employees. But the German education politics needs a vision, and not a better administration.

In July 2019, Susanne Eisenmann demanded 1’080 new teachers for Baden-Württemberg. This figure seems to be legit in the face of 10000 additional teachers she said are needed until 2030, mentioned at the beginning of 2019. The CNT-Alliance, however, expects a 50% higher number. And these teachers do not grow on trees: In Berlin, more than the half of the 2’700 newly hired teachers are students themselves. These teachers are career changers coming out of other professions and now tackling the job as a teacher. These teachers can be good, but this situation also unveils Germany missed out countrywide to educate enough teachers and offering them decent conditions of employment. Quite a few teachers do never enter their jobs after the education, leave the job after a short period of time or even go to another country where they find better conditions. There are other professional categories in Germany affected by this phenomenon.

There´s another problem the politicians pussyfoot around: Not permanently appointed teachers in Baden-Württemberg get their resignations letters before summer – and will be re-hired after summer into the same position or a much similar one at a school just a few miles away. On first sight, the government saves several million Euros – but these teachers subsequently are paid by the employment office. This implies huge administrational efforts and creates extra costs never have been measured entirely – based on the information given to us this sleight of hand will not save any money but simply empties another wallet. Depending on the point of view this hurts between 650 and 1’680 teachers in Baden-Württemberg (all Germany approx. 4’900). Most tragic: This contemptuousness and this disadvantage in favour for saving money hits the students at the end.

Academization and appreciation

Contemptuousness respectively lacking appreciation doesn´t only hit the teachers and other professions, but also the graduates of many types of schools. There is an alleged solution: a study at a university and a title, both meaning a lot in German society. Meanwhile, several politicians as well as managers in Germany have been convicted carrying fake doctorates and not reached the degrees in their courses. It simply is tempting since the appropriate titles open doors, mean more money and the standing rises. Hunt and hunger for titles going on and lead to changed perception of values. Therefore, contemptuousness hits people without titles even if their work is desperately needed, e.g. nursing staff, crafts people, and many more.

Such paradigms and behaviours are divisive for society and include many more shady sides. The CNT-Alliance was invited to rate the presentations of the project work within an MBA study course as a second opinion at a university in Baden-Württemberg. The project work was relevant for the MBA, it included Credit Points. Summed up, the quality of the presentations of most project works lied on a disappointing low level. Sometimes, even fundamental aspects were missing, thus such presentations in fact were incomplete. Others were prepared and presented so badly; we understood the relevant issues only after we´ve asked a couple of questions. Other project works were so simple they would have been enough for a lower education only – but not for the MBA.

An associated problem are the requirements for the students which have been lowered for certain issues in many predominantly higher educations – also because students try to push through their personal interpretation of their accomplishments using the legal process. The schools try to avoid such confrontations, they are wearing. This is where the rigid system with grades and ratings severely hit back to the educational system and make them look absurd. The teaching staff is suffering much, and we heard teachers thinking about to withdraw from teaching. This might be possible for academics being also employed in the economy, but it is no option for those fully entangled with the system. Not a good situation for education.

Most disastrous: such a system releases badly educated graduates into the world, being equipped with standard knowledge, possessing a stable persuasion and nice titles. This toxic combination becomes a rising problem for enterprises. Some told us they often must first educate graduates to elevate them onto the level they originally were hired for – and for which they are much overpaid. Even worse for companies in which such dazzlers haven´t been uncovered over a long period of time due to their acquired eloquence and the established sphere on control until it´s crashing down like a house of cards. With much effect on cost.

Such graduates often are equipped with a remarkable all-inclusive mentality. They expect much from the employer, predominantly a fully safe job, a 9-to-5 schedule, free weekends and a nice salary. These safety-conscious simple duty-loving aren´t much interested to found their own enterprises and to put themselves into the headwinds of a start-up. The Ministry for Economic Affairs and the business development bank KfW bewail this situation, since start-ups thrive innovation and the digital transformation: Germany needs founders.

The Ministry for Economic Affairs and KfW understand the prospering economy being the main reason for the lacking readiness to become a founder. The CNT-Alliance questions this point of view since the Germany state of economy is cooling down for two years already – so this cannot be the sole reason. Besides the founder adverse surrounding with vast administration burdens, much spreading regulations and half-baked laws we identified the educational system as the obstruction to develop and support people being interested in founding a company. An educational system focused over decades on being the „supplier“ of simple duty-loving people for the administration and big corporations simply isn´t ready to do the opposite.

Education – lost out chance for the future

Depending on the “political general weather situation” the education in Germany is highly appreciated and supported but the next day just marginally respected. Vital in education is the integration of all the refugees – or better: the non-integration. This huge potential of people being willing to work – the vast majority – is much important for Germany since the country needs the manpower simply due to the demographic development. But much too often they fail in the German language classes where refugees advance slowly compared to the refence figures and show troubles to reach a usable level. Whether the courses have been adequately designed and the necessary attendance has been ensured is a question among the people of concern only. They are not answered by the institutes since this issue never was thoroughly observed and surveyed. But these standard courses and teaching materials particularly do not suit the needs of the refugees (and Germany), obviously.

On top of this, many refugees do not get the idea of the German education and training system which – in contrast to the one their home countries – is much more demanding, tightly structured and works much different. It certainly isn´t easy for people having been in laws, administration, government and municipalities, education, but also specific technical functions and similar in their home countries now must start all over again in Germany. Since the foundation, specific expert knowledge, preconditions and processes are different here, specific formations, graduations and certificates are required, or certain abilities simply are not needed in Germany. We face it with helplessness since we have no suitable educational programmes and support offerings for these people – and there are no ambitions to change this situation. This is a potential given away which then must be “fed through” by the employment offices just causing costs – instead of working in the economy. The frustration of these people after lengthy, unfruitful visits of the administrations is visible and seizable. Many of them think about going back to their home countries which is, in most cases, simply impossible. They are trapped between the systems.

Germany loses out a much higher potential with those people going – or better: falling – through the normal educational system. First, the educational system isn´t compatible with future and, at the other hand, isn´t fully compatible with human beings. A rising number of experts in education and economy take the position to eliminate the educational system descending from the very past times with its classes and ratings in favour for a future-oriented concept. For instance, if the content is taught through courses, pupils and students of any age, provenience, with and without disabilities not only could go the same school – depending on their abilities they also would participate the same courses which would increase their social skills, too. Cross-linked thinking and working would also be stimulated and finally there would be equality of opportunity for all. An interesting intellectual approach also for the digital transformation: Such an educational system would equip and foster competences, abilities and knowledge among young people so much needed to create the future. And such concepts would also work for further education, predominantly the concept of developments and innovations emerging out of the diversity of the participants.

During the digital transformation a company usually launches several test products – hardware, software and/or services – to check the market, to gather customer feedback and to develop itself as well as the offered services/products further. Such tests haven been and are executed in education too, and various educational concepts have been tested over many years and decades in many countries including Germany. In contrast to economy, this hasn´t led to developments within the educational system in Germany at all. But economy urgently needs a major push in education for being able to cope with the rapid changes and the international competition. And Germany needs this push in education and the integrating forces of a fresh education system to bring back together again the society which is drifting apart today.

The education system of Germany is in need for full restructuring, since it already causes harm to the country according to a number of educational specialists, politicians, and people from economy. The responsible politicians, however, ignore this situation. Society and economy already feel it increasingly every single day. Also, because the procrastinated digital transformation and the often-lacking orientation towards the issues of future and the future itself put several hundred thousand jobs at stake – which will let society go to pieces much quicker than it already does. Education is like the climate change: there are some evidences and many facts but today things still look pretty much OK – but they are not OK.

Co-Founder and Co-President of the Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance Germany; consulting, research, communications specialist and entrepreneur; develops strategies and subsequent concepts for economy, communications and politics; information gathering; analyst, translator, writer and content developer; international experience in industry, technology, media tech, research and education institutes, governmental entities, politics, the UN and more

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Why German car giant Volkswagen should drop Turkey

Iveta Cherneva

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War and aggression are not only questions of ethics and humanitarian disaster. They are bad news for business.

The German car giant Volkwagen whose business model is built on consumer appeal had to stop and pause when Turkey attacked the Kurds in Syria. A USD 1.4bln Volkswagen investment in a new plant in Turkey is being put on hold by the management, and rightly so.

Unlike business areas more or less immune from consumer pressure – like some financial sectors, for example – car buying is a people thing. It is done by regular people who follow the news and don’t want to stimulate and associate themselves with crimes against humanity and war crimes through their purchases. Investing in a militarily aggressive country simply is bad for an international brand.

As soon as the news hit that Turkey would be starting their military invasion against the Kurds, questions about plans for genocide appeared in the public discourse space. Investing over a billion in such a political climate does not make sense.

By investing into a new plant next to Turkish city Izmir, Volkswagen is not risking security so much. Izmir itself is far removed from Turkey’s southern border — although terrorist attacks in the current environment are generally not out of the question.

The risk question rather lies elsewhere. Business likes stability and predictability. Aggressive economic sanctions which are likely to be imposed on Turkey by the EU and the US would affect many economic and business aspects which the company has to factor in. Two weeks ago the US House of Representatives already voted to impose sanctions on Turkey, which now leaves the Senate to vote on an identical resolution.

Economic sanctions affect negatively the purchasing power of the population. And Volkswagen’s new business would rely greatly on the Turkish client in a market of over 80mln people.

Sanctions also have a psychological “buckle-up” effect on customers in economies “under siege”, whereby clients are less likely to want to splurge on a new car in strenuous times.

Volkswagen is a German but also a European company. Its decision will signal clearly if it lives by the EU values of support for human rights, or it decides to look the other way and put business first.

But is not only about reputational damage, which Volkswagen seems to be concerned with. There are real business counter-arguments which coincide with anti-war concerns.

Dogus Otomotiv, the Turkish distributor of VW vehicles, fell as much as 6.5% in Istanbul trading after the news for the Turkish offensive.

Apart from their effects on the Turkish consumer, economic sanctions will also likely keep Turkey away from international capital markets.

There is also the question of an EU company investing outside the EU, which has raised eyebrows. It is up to the European Commission now to decide whether the Volkswagen deal in Turkey can go forward after a complaint was filed. Turkey offered the German conglomerate a generous 400mln euro subsidy which is a problem when it comes to the EU rules and regulations on competition.

The Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber filed a complaint with the EU competition Commissioner about the deal, on the basis of non-compliance with EU competition rules. Turkey’s plans to subsidize Volkswagen clearly run counter EU rules and the EU Commission can stop the 1bln deal, if it so decides.

In a context where Turkey takes care of 4mln refugees — subject to an agreement with the EU — and often threatens the EU that it would “open the gates”, it is not clear if the Commission would muster the guts to say no, however. In that sense, the German company’s own decision to pull from the deal would be welcome because the Commission itself wouldn’t have to pronounce on the issue and risk angering Turkey.

While some commentators do not believe that Volkswagen would scrap altogether the investment and is only delaying the decision, it is worth remembering that the Syria conflict is a complex, multi-player conflict which has gone on for more than 8 years. Turkey’s entry in Syria is unlikely to end in a month. Erdogan has communicated his intention to stay in Syria until the Kurds back down.

In October it was reported that the Turkish forces are already using chemical weapons on the Kurdish population which potentially makes Turkish President Erdogan a war criminal. For a corporate giant like Volkswagen, giving an economic boost for such a state would mean indirectly supporting war crimes.

As Kurdish forces struck a deal for protection with the Syrian Assad forces, this seems to be anything but a slow-down. Turkey has just thrown a whole lot of wood into the fire.

Volkswagen will find itself “monitoring” the situation for a long time. There is a case for making the sustainable business decision to drop the risky deal altogether, soon.

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The future of Brexit: Where will Boris Johnson’s “fatal strategy” lead Britain to?

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attempt to negotiate a new deal with the EU on Brexit in the course of early parliamentary elections in the UK scheduled for December 12. If the Conservatives take upper hand, then, according to Johnson, Great Britain will leave the EU no later than January 31.

How will the upcoming elections affect Brexit? How Boris Johnson’s agreement with the European Commission could be assessed? The answers to these questions were provided by the participants in an expert discussion at the Valdai Club.

Stewart Lawson, member of the Board of Directors of the Russian-British Chamber of Commerce, head of UK Business Center in Moscow, Ernst & Young, has said that the current situation in the UK can be described as a scene in a bar where an Englishman, a Scot and an Irishman drink to forget the concept of Brexit “. Lawson made it clear that leaving the European Union without conditions would be a disaster. Nevertheless, the expert said that the UK had managed to avoid a situation in which there would be no deal at all, and also, with the arrival of a new agreement which Boris Johnson has reached with the EU, the situation has improved. “This deal is the best option for now,” – the expert remarked. However, he said, Brexit seems to be a story with no end and what is happening around it now is not even its first chapter yet.

Brexit continues to produce uncertainty, which, Lawson said is a big problem. In his opinion, the persisting uncertainty in connection with the UK leaving the EU affects business. On the one hand, the expert said, although Brexit will set Great Britain free from the US control, on the other hand, it will greatly affect the business climate, which continues to suffer amid the political uncertainty. The expert mentioned Nassim Taleb’s concept of the “black swan” according to which any forecasting may not take into account random, unknown factors. “We live in a world in which there are factors unknown to us. So it is necessary to have sufficiently flexible organizations capable of responding to situations that are in the process of development, ” – Lawson emphasized.

According to Alexander Kramarenko, Director of Development at the Russian International Affairs Council, Boris Johnson’s new agreement on Brexit is a major achievement for the British Prime Minister. Kramarenko attributes the success of Boris Johnson to his choice of a “fatal strategy” which allowed him to keep the stakes high until he won. With the help of this strategy, he managed to “cut open” the agreement on Brexit which had been signed by Theresa May. In addition, the “fatal strategy” has prompted the EU to concede on several issues.

The failure of Theresa May’s strategy is attributed to the fact that the former prime minister was a staunch supporter of a policy which required satisfying both parties, the UK and the EU. It was necessary to look for ways out of the EU instead of trying to stay there. “You cannot leave the EU and at the same time remain in the EU. And her agreement boiled down to just that, ” – Kramarenko said.

According to Theresa May’s agreement, by leaving the EU formally, Great Britain would lose the right to vote. Boris Johnson said that such an agreement perpetuates the “vassal” dependence of Great Britain on the European Union. “For a country with such a history as Great Britain, a position of this kind is not suitable. Either the UK is a member and takes part in all decisions, or it comes out and agrees on  something special. As argued by Boris Johnson, this special agreement is a free trade agreement of varying range of coverage, intensity and depth, but it would be an agreement of sovereign Britain, ” – Kramarenko emphasized.

First and foremost, Johnson’s agreement solves the problem of maintaining the status quo on the land border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The fact is that under the agreement, Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, is to withdraw from the EU, while Ireland remains part of the European Union. Thus, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the establishment of a clear-cut border between Northern Ireland and Ireland would jeopardize the Irish peace process. The EU, the UK and the Irish Government pledged to maintain this border under a deal that ended the civil war in Northern Ireland. The EU insisted that Britain remain in the Customs Union until this situation is settled. This would de facto keep Britain within the EU.

Under a new agreement proposed by Boris Johnson on which he secured the approval of the European Union, the UK will have to leave the EU’s Customs Union, and the customs border between Britain and the EU will pass via the Irish Sea. However, this threatens the unity of the country and could be an important step towards unification of Ireland, the expert believes.

Boris Johnson’s strategy has led to serious concessions from the European Union, Kramarenko said. Exiting the Customs Union will also allow the UK to clinch trade agreements with third countries. Moreover, the provision on “equal conditions of competition” will no longer be valid in the future, since it was moved from the text of the agreement to the Political Declaration, which is not binding.

What creates a major obstacle to Brexit is the current state of the British constitutional system of government, the expert said. “The opposition has deprived the government of the majority, thereby stripping it of the opportunity to rule the country or adopt new laws,” – Kramarenko said. Johnson’s achievement is precisely due to the fact that despite the opposition, he was able to cope with the opponents and postpone the date of Britain’s exit from the EU. “Now there is a significant degree of confidence that Brexit will take place and, perhaps, it will come as a gift for the New Year,” – Kramarenko said.

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Bulgarian far-right to shut down largest human rights NGO in Bulgaria

Iveta Cherneva

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“Why don’t they defend those who get robbed? Why are they only defending those that have trouble with the police? Why are they defending minorities? Do you know how many policemen are being investigated because of them?”

This is what you hear when the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister, Krasimir Karakachanov and others speak about the human rights organisation, The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. It is the largest and oldest human rights organisation in Bulgaria.

And now it is facing the threat of closure after the deputy prime minister – who is also Bulgaria’s Minister of Defense – called this week for the shutdown of the NGO. Members of his party, the Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO) – a Far-Right party participating in the ruling coalition – have filed a request with the Bulgarian Prosecutor General for a review of the activities of the human rights NGO, asking for it to be closed down.

Make no bones about it. This is an attack on our freedom.

This is why I have notified the relevant authorities at the United Nations about what is taking place in Bulgaria. Activities of this type directed against human rights defenders have no place in a rule of law state, let alone an EU state. As a prominent government official, Krasimir Karakachanov has a particular obligation to respect human rights defenders.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised his and his party’s actions this week. Over 70 Bulgarian NGOs stood by the Helsinki Committee, having sent a public letter of support condemning the attack on the NGO.

While my signal to the UN is currently being looked at, it is worth discussing why the deputy prime minister and others have such a huge problem with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, and organisations of this type.

The concept of human rights – by its very definition – protects citizens against the State and its organs, including policemen. That is one of the issues for Karakachanov. Well, welcome to the 21st century, Minister.

Policemen being investigated for misconduct is something we have to applaud, not something which shows how far things have gone. Bulgaria, with its post-communist baggage, has had a police system which traditionally has gone over and beyond what is allowed by law. Things of course are changing but you’ll always have policemen who abuse their legal limits. It happens in virtually every country. That’s why we need human rights organisations to watch for these things. And that’s a good thing.

When policemen catch an alleged criminal, they don’t get to beat them up or lock them up indefinitely. Period. These are the kind of cases that human rights NGOs like the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee look into. And they, by definition, will be focused on the actions of policemen and the State. That’s the name of the game; that’s what human rights are about. This is a concept that Karakachanov is not comfortable with; why should anyone be allowed to criticise the police forces? This to him is rather unpatriotic.

“Why don’t they instead look at and help the victims of robbery?” Well, human rights are not about the victims of robbery — if only it was that convenient. They protect citizens from their own state when that state violates their rights. Policemen do not get investigated for no reason, without any evidence of wrongdoing. Defending human rights is a very uncomfortable task because – by definition – the NGO has to go against the State. And for some, like Karakachanov, that shouldn’t be done because it leads to punishments for policemen when they step over.

Working for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights where I reviewed human rights complaints from around the world, I learnt that every country violates human rights – only the scale and extent differ. This is why it is crucial to have human rights defenders like the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee who can help victims on the ground. Having international organisations like the UN is not enough.

Let us turn now to the request to the Prosecutor General to look into the activities of the human rights NGO, with a view to closing it down for allegedly “interfering in the judicial system.” Interference with the judicial system is what lawyers and prosecutors both do, by definition. By presenting facts to push their own case, the judicial system is a place of interference. Justice is not static. Of course, human rights defenders advocate for, interfere, push for and defend their clients. This is their job. Karakachanov’s Far-Right party is uncomfortable with such a strong voice for human rights in the process. Prosecution is prosecution; human rights defense is, well, interference.

Next, we should discuss the role of the Prosecutor General who would have to opine on the request for the close down of the NGO. Euronews readers should be told at this point that Bulgaria is facing a scandal with the selection of the next Prosecutor General. Ivan Geshev, who is currently the number two in the Prosecutor’s Office, is nominated to become Bulgaria’s next chief prosecutor. The capital Sofia witnessed protests by thousands of people marching on the streets against Geshev’s selection as chief prosecutor, because among other things, he is the only candidate in the process. That is never a good sign. Questions are also raised about which oligarchic power circles Geshev would be serving.

Geshev, the deputy in the Prosecutor’s Office, is important in this case because his attitude towards this human rights NGO is well known. When he receives the annual report about the human rights situation in Bulgaria penned by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, he famously sends back literary works about the Bulgarian struggle for independence, in my view trying to educate the NGO about being pro-Bulgarian. Of course, criticising the system does not make an NGO anti-Bulgarian. The job of patriots is not to shut up.

A similar reaction has been noted by the current Prosecutor General who will be looking at the case. When he receives the human rights report about the situation in Bulgaria, he simply sends it back. The message by both is clear: they see no value in a report that reviews the shortcomings of the system. And they are the people who will be deciding whether this human rights organisation is closed or not.

Human rights violations are uncomfortable. They push officials to take a look at themselves and their colleagues, often loudly pointing out the injustices. Human rights are not about robberies; if only it was that convenient. Human rights are about what is wrong with the system. And the current top prosecuting duo are not interested in that.

Living in Bulgaria, I don’t want to see the country follow the example of Hungary where human rights NGOs and universities are pushed so hard by the authorities that they have to close and move. That is not the right path to follow.

The closing down of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee would be a blow to Bulgarian leadership and its human rights record. This will be not only a test for the Prosecutor’s office, but for Bulgarians and the EU.

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