Successor for Sacked Bulgarian Research Minister Nominated

The president of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Stefan Vodenicharov, has been nominated as the country's new minister of education and research. Former minister Sergei Ignatov was ousted last week after a government investigation found irregularities in how research funds were distributed. Bulgarian scientists had been protesting for months against what they said was widespread corruption at the ministry, especially regarding grantmaking at the Bulgarian National Science Fund (BNSF).

Vodenicharov, a metallurgical engineer, was elected as the academy's president in December. Before that, he was director of the academy's Institute of Metal Science, Equipment and Technologies in Sofia.

Nikolai Denkov, a chemical engineer at Sofia University who participated in the protests, says he is cautiously optimistic about the nomination. Vodenicharov has experience as an administrator in the academy, Denkov says. However, whoever takes over the ministry will have a difficult job and not much time. Elections are expected this summer, and it is unclear whether the minority government led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will remain in power.

More important, Denkov says, is that the parliament passes proposed revisions to the laws governing research funding. Good practices are not written into the current legislation, and they are also lacking "in the mentality of the people" at the ministry, he says.

The first task of the minister will be to try to repair the damage at BNSF. "Its credibility and capacity have been totally destroyed," Denkov says. "I hope the new minister uses the time to get work there going again."

The Bulgarian parliament is expected to vote on Vodenicharov's nomination on 6 February.