The Small Animal Slaughter Going On In Southern Bulgaria and Why It’s Important to the U.S.

The Yambol Region in Bulgaria borders North-west Turkey. (Photo from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yambol_Province_location_map.svg CC 3.0)

Over the past couple of weeks, Bulgarian Facebook has been blowing up with stories of the mass slaughter of animals supposedly infected with goat and sheep plague in the southeast Yambol region. The “common” Bulgarian people are using social media to arrange protests and expose corruption related to the slaughter. But is the corruption really there?

As an outsider, I am regularly shocked by the lack of media literacy among even intelligent Bulgarians that I know and respect. Sensational “articles” with few or no facts spread like wildfire: faster and further if they include aspects of racism against Roma or migrants or hints of corruption. Even “legitimate” newspapers tend towards hyperbole and questionable journalistic practices. For example, race is only mentioned when a Roma or Turkish-Bulgarian person commits a crime. Stories of ethnic Bulgarians committing crimes fade quickly, but stories of ethnic minorities are cycled around, sometimes for years, to bolster the deep-seated racism in the country.

It reminds me of a Facebook group from my city that I am no longer part of. The week before I left, someone posted pictures of Roma children playing in a public fountain. The fountain was one of the splash-pad type all over Europe, clearly meant to be enjoyed. It was a picture of the same fountain where my very white children play on a daily basis. But whoever took that picture put it on the Internet to support the general opinion that Roma people have no sense of propriety.

These little things make me quick to believe the Bulgarian people are just complaining about a situation because it fits their narrative. It creates a strong, “Boy Who Cried Wolf,” situation. So at first, I thought this story was nothing more than a similar panic with no facts behind it. There was just one problem. One of the people posting regular updates to the story was my mother-in-law. She’s an intelligent person who doesn’t usually post sensationalist trash. She also keeps a small herd of sheep, albeit in the northern region of the country. I didn’t expect these posts to continually come from her and, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t want to believe that she would blindly post something that wasn’t true.

I dove into the story, trying to make heads and tails of what is happening in Southern Bulgaria right now, and two days later, after watching too many videos and reading both Bulgarian and English articles on the tragedy, I am no closer to discovering a truth.

What I Know… Kinda

Animals in Southern Bulgaria, in three villages near the Turkish border, are being slaughtered. The amount of killed animals is somewhere between 1500 and 4000, with more sources reporting closer to 4000 at the moment.

The reason these animals are being killed is because of an outbreak of small animal plague. Different sources have referred to it by several different names but it is officially known as Ovine Rinderpest, or PPR. It is not common in Europe, and officials suspect the disease spread from Turkey (although there is no coverage of an outbreak in either Turkey or Greece). According to officials, it was probably spread through illegal livestock trading. According to locals, it was probably carried in by illegal migrants who had slept in animal pens in both Turkey and Bulgaria. Except the locals deny that there is any such plague. They insist their animals are healthy, the test results were faked, and the slaughter is due to government corruption.

The Theories

Now we get to the sticky part. There are maybe ten or more theories floating around as to what is happening in the area, all of them hinging on the idea that the animals are not sick and the tests were faked. However, these are the top three I keep coming across.

The Bulgarian Government Wants to Artificially Inflate Meat and Milk Prices

This was one of the first theories I read. People believe the reason the Bulgarian government is killing off the animals in the region is to artificially inflate meat prices for large farms in Bulgaria, which are controlled by friends of Bulgarian politicians. Also, to force Bulgarians to buy more expensive imported meat.

The Animals Are Being Slaughtered In Order to Depopulate the Area

This is perhaps the favorite theory going around at the moment. Supposedly Boyko Borissov, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, struck a deal with Angela Merkel to accept 150,000 illegal refugees from the EU (specifically France and Germany) in exchange for 3 billion Euro. Part of the agreement was that the immigrants would be housed in a migrant center/buffer zone close to Turkey with no Bulgarian citizens. So, to clear out the area, the Bulgarian government is first taking away the livelihood of the citizens in that area.

In this scenario it is important to note the accusation that the laboratory in France that confirmed the outbreak of PPR has been receiving illegal donations from the Bulgarian ministry of regional development in the sum of 50 million Euro.

The Roma Mafia Is Killing the Animals and Selling Their Meat

A few pictures have been circulating recently that show the people who are carrying out the actual slaughter of the animals. These people happen to be Roma, and the photos caption them as the “veterinarians” carrying out the slaughter. As an outsider, it is easy to see this as the government hiring cheap labor to complete an undesirable job. But to Bulgarians seeing these pictures, it is proof that there are no actual veterinarians involved and the whole ordeal is a scam.

In this version, the animals are not sick. The Roma mafia has organized this scam in order to get free meat that they will then sell on the Bulgarian market.

Of course two out of three of these theories rest on the most basic fears of Bulgarians: the fear of Roma and the fear of migrants. If we could throw in a theory blaming the LGBTQ population, the trifecta would be complete.

I would usually write this whole situation off as fear-mongering at its best, but the thing in this particular situation is that there is a very visible, heart-wrenching tragedy. The videos of the euthanasia process are difficult to watch for me, let alone these people seeing their animals die and not understanding why. At the moment, the locals are calling for a quarantine and further testing to confirm the PPR outbreak. But the Bulgarian government insists that immediate euthanasia is the only way to control the outbreak and cites possible EU sanctions against the export of Bulgarian meat and milk products if they fail to act quickly.

Unless you’re there, in the thick of the situation, it’s impossible to know what is happening… what the truth is. And most Bulgarians choose to stand on the side of the small farmers. I don’t blame them. After all, the government has not been great about keeping the farmers informed or talking to the media. Their excuse, also valid, is that animal owners would likely try to hide animals if they knew their farm would be targeted.

This is the situation you can expect when a population trusts neither the media nor the politicians. It is a situation when truth becomes not only difficult, but impossible, to parse out. It is a situation where you draw sides and stick with those most like you because you can’t believe anything you hear anyway. It is a time when facts cease to matter because they are impossible to obtain.

At this point I wish I was just talking about a small country in Eastern Europe. But unfortunately, it is sounding more and more like what is happening back home. With the integrity of both the US government and media weakening on a daily basis and falling in the eyes of the common man, this is the confusion and disorientation we have to look forward to. It is embarrassing to realize we will reach a point when people from other countries will point to us and say we are making things up because they fit our narrative. At the same time it’s terrifying to realize the perfect environment for corruption this chaos creates.

Whatever the truth is, I hope it comes out soon. And it will never take away from the one true fact in this story: the people of those villages are in an immense amount of pain. They, and their animals, are suffering. This is something the world should be aware of and supporting them through.

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