Just before the final stage of the competition for the position of the managing director of Ivan Vazov National Theatre of Bulgaria, an inner source leaked curious information related to the current theatre’s management led by Marius Donkin, 73, applicant for a second term in office.

Marius Donkin was an actor with the National Theatre from 1979 until 2016. Then, he “won” the competition through a minute of dissent as stated in the Selection Committee report. However, he was appointed as the theatre’s managing director by the then Minister of Culture, Vezhdi Rashidov, part of GERB Political Party believed to have sprung from the Bulgarian mafia circles. In 2003, Donkin ran for Sofia municipal elections as member of DPS Party (the Turkish minority party in Bulgaria) with the personal benediction of the then DPS leader Ahmed Dogan. Donkin did not win the elections. He then changed his political preferences to NDSV (the party of the exiled Bulgarian king). The reason: NDSV along with DPS were part of the governing coalition presided by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Sergey Stanishev as PM. Up until 2016, Donkin has been politically inactive. On 1 September 2016, he was appointed as the National Theatre’s managing director with a five-year term which concluded on 1 September 2021.

The first task of the new manager at the time was to reduce the frequences of, mainly, Alexander Morfov’s shows, as these were totally banned from the repertory in the last three years (the emblematic productions of The Exiles, Don Juan, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Life Is Beautiful). Conveniently, Javor Gardev’s shows have also been cancelled (Behanding in Spokane, Hamlet, The Moth). Following a row with Galin Stoev, Delhi Dance was also cancelled, Margarita Mladenova’s Bogomils on Trial, and The Knight of the Holy Spirit, Ivan Dobchev’s Gueo. Because of poor management, Veselka Kuncheva’s The Last Temptation of Christ was also taken off the repertory, and so on and so forth. These productions were replaced by shows, unworthy for a national theatre made by highly questionable directors. With few exceptions – amongst which US Robert Wilson’s The Tempest by Shakespeare at the height of the covid-19 pandemic. However, this project cost the Bulgarian taxpayer over BGN 2 million (approx. over EUR 1 million, the director’s foreign team’s fees amounting to more than BGN 300,000 or EUR 150,000).

In 2017, a year after taking up duties, the manager Marius Donkin organised the founding of Osnovata Foundation. Amongst the founding members of the foundation was Lora Chenakova, the theatre’s International Department’s head who is currently also a member of the foundation’s Board of Managers. Also, she is the founding member and manager of Cineflo Plc. This means that together with Ministry of Culture’s salary paid to her as an employee at the state theatre, she also receives remuneration from two other entities. The aims of that foundation, whose accountable person is Chenakova, are participation in European projects, recruiting sponsors, organising activities on behalf of the theatre, of the spiritual culture, of the national idea. So far so good! However, it turns out that Osnovata Foundation paid BGN 27,425 for current repair works of the theatre in 2021; under a contract with Japan Tobacco International Bulgaria Limited Company with one owner, the foundation received BGN 70,000 for advertising – however, the advertising is carried out not by the foundation, but the theatre using its premises and print materials thus defrauding the entrusted institution; in a single day, the foundation paid BGN 27,640, BGN 29,280, and BGN 28,560 to Dary Travel (in the town of Pleven) for transportation; the foundation signed a sponsorship contract with Nobel Farma (Nobel Farma paid the foundation BGN 18,500) but it is the National that is “obliged” to advertise the company; the foundation signed a framework contract with the National Theatre providing advertisement services to the theatre while 8 persons are paid monthly salaries by the state for that job. All money paid either by the theatre, or the foundation does not exceed BGN 30,000. It is hardly a coincidence. Is the Public Procurement Law evaded? Are these contracts intentionally under the permitted threshold so that misappropriation and favouring can happen for those close to the management? Such malpractices remain, however, unnoticeable at the Ministry of Culture and the Public Financial Inspection Agency.

Theatre’s ticket sales for 2021 hardly amount to BGN 700,000 (EUR 350,000), while production expenditure is BGN 600,000 (EUR 300,000). However, Marius Donkin distributed as Christmas bonuses more than BGN 500,000 (EUR 250,000) which he does not officially have. He paid himself a bonus of additional BGN 10,000. This looks like a well known scheme – Violeta Nikolova, the former Registry Agency’s, paid herself BGN 53,000 in bonuses and was then convicted. In 2021 Donkin managed to acquire preferentially and at a non-market price a highly desirable state-owned apartment in Saborna Street in the heart of Sofia. All these happened at the height of the pandemic and the financial crisis, after two years of restrictions, and while most Bulgarians cannot make both ends meet.

It is quite understandable why Marius Donkin, long after the age of retirement, is anxious to get a second term as the manager of the National Theatre. Will this happen? We are about to see.

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