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Center Intern Update: Kraig Smikel

In front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
As I woke up on my last day at the Rule of Law Institute, I began to reminisce about my time here in Bulgaria and with the Institute. It’s crazy to think that just a little over five weeks ago I arrived in Sofia, and now it is my last day in the office, and after tomorrow I will be flying back home. The Institute has been a blessing. I have been able to do some real work that has made an impact. As promised, I will now provide some details about one of the projects that I consider the highlight of my work during my internship.

At first, this project was supposed to be a quick response to a request from the Sofia Bar Council about proposed amendments to the Bulgarian Law on the Judiciary, but it turned out to be something much larger. During a meeting with another Justice from the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Justice brought up one of the proposed amendments that we were writing a response for. The issue the Justice brought up was that the amendment required judiciary members to submit information about their religious affiliations to a committee that inspects their backgrounds to see if there are justifiable doubts as to the impartiality of a judicial member “arising from participation in a personified or unincorporated non-profit organizations (societies, clubs, lodges, etc.).” The apparent issue with this statement is that it is ambiguous, and the Justice was concerned that this committee could use religious affiliations as a reason to remove members from their positions by stating that they are a member of a “society, club, lodge, etc.” 

With the Egham RFC
Because of these concerns, I wrote a memorandum discussing these issues. The memorandum discussed how this amendment was ambiguous, as well as unconstitutional based upon the Bulgarian Constitution, and in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The memo also provided definitions of “secret societies”, and applicable statutes from other European jurisdictions were provided to further address the issues. The memorandum experienced great success after its presentation at the Republic of Bulgaria Supreme Bar Council. Such success that the Bar Council published the memo on their website.

As stated, this project was the highlight of my work. In Bulgaria, there are issues with corruption in government authorities, especially the Judiciary. The proposed amendment would have been another way for corruption to occur, so if the memo made a difference in the battle against corruption, then I say that’s a major win and a move in the right direction against corruption and an improved Bulgaria.
In front of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral
As the famous phrase goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” With all of the hard work I have put in, I have had the honor of enjoying multiple experiences along the way. For example, I had the honor of presenting at the Rule of Law Institute’s 20th Anniversary Jubilee Forum, where I received an Honorary Diploma for my efforts. As stated in my last post, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Justice Furnazhieva of the Republic of Bulgaria Supreme Court of Cassation and have a tour of the Palace of Justice. Also, I had the privilege to attend an exclusive lecture given by Justice Salim Joubran of the Supreme Court of Israel at the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice.

Along with the educational experiences, I have been blessed with the opportunity to adventure around Bulgaria and Europe. Other than exploring Sofia, I spent a weekend at the Black Sea visiting Burgas, Promorie, and the historic city of Nessebar. I had an amazing weekend in Panichishte, Bulgaria at Rila Mountain, where I was able to attend a camp for underprivileged youth where Latcho’s wife Lucy gave presentations to the youth. Also at Rila Mountain, I hiked to the Skavavitsa Waterfall and visited the Rila Monastery. Also, I spent a weekend—not long enough at all—in Istanbul, Turkey. I can definitely say that it’s been a great balance of hard work and fun, but overall an amazing experience.
At the Black Sea in Burgas

In conclusion, I have to say my time spent here has been a once in a lifetime experience. It’s amazing to look back and see how much I’ve done in six short weeks. I came across the globe and met Latcho, someone I truly call a dear friend. I was able to create work product that is actually making a difference in a culture that I have learned so much about. I also was overloaded with different types of experience.

In the end all I can is that God has honestly, truly, and undoubtedly blessed me with the life I have. He has shown, and continues to show me what he has planned for me, while providing me with the tools and mentors to achieve this goal. This internship with Latcho has been one small, but amazing step in that plan. I cannot wait to see the rest.

Here are some additional photos from my time here in Sofia:

At the Skavavitsa Waterfall at Rila Mountain

At the Rila Monastery

Latcho and I