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Center Intern Update: Kraig Smikel

My internship with the Rule of Law Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria, has been an “experience” from the minute I arrived. The phrase, “hit the ground running,” perfectly defines my first hour in Sofia. Within the first hour I went from the airport to my flat, signed the lease, and then headed to a meeting with my supervisor, Latchezar “Latcho” Popov, and other local Christian attorneys. The meeting was an excellent moment to discuss the legal atmosphere of Bulgaria and reflect on how we felt as Christians in the legal profession.

The next day I was given my first project. The project required me to look at proposed legislation for the Bulgarian Criminal Code and compare it among neighboring jurisdictions such as Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Spain. Currently, Bulgaria does not provide alternative sentencing for criminals with drug addictions. Because of this, the therapeutic community of Betel Bulgaria used our research to petition the Criminal Code to establish alternative sentencing for drug addicts who have performed minor criminal actions under the influence of drugs.

Beyond this, I am currently working on two projects. The first is a case the Institute is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”); the second is a memorandum that analyzes proposed amendments to the Judiciary Act of Bulgaria. These being more long-term projects, I will address them in my next post, so stay tuned folks.

Latcho has been a great supervisor. Even with my short time here I have already begun to see him as not only a mentor, but truly a friend. His conviction towards integrity and the rule of law is beyond impressive. It is amazing to see a man who has dedicated his life’s work to these concepts and how hard he works every day. Latcho has also been a great host—such a great host that he scheduled for me to meet Justice Furnadzhieva of the Republic of Bulgaria Supreme Court of Cassation. This was an amazing experience as the Justice not only gave me a tour of the Palace of Justice in Sofia, but also shared her personal testimony with me on how truly anything can happen. When she began studying law in ’83, she never imagined she would ever become a judge because of her Evangelical Christian background and the control of the USSR and Communism in Bulgaria. Then, communism fell in ‘89, and because of that she now sits on the highest court in the nation. It was truly a great experience that educated me and left me extremely grateful for the opportunities presented to me.

So far the work and experience I have received have been very beneficial. It’s one thing to do legal work, but when you get to do that work and understand the culture that surrounds that work, it makes that work much more meaningful. Thanks to people like Latcho and Justice Furnadzhieva, and to God, true meaning has been brought to the work I am doing.

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