The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

48 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy Marina Grayson Fighting Corruption and Russian Influence in Bulgaria Located on NATO’s eastern flank and characterized by deep historical ties to Russia, Bulgaria sits on the front lines of U.S. efforts to counter Russia’s destructive influence in eastern Europe. Bulgarians annually rank their country worst among European Union members in perceptions of corruption, and corruption is one of Moscow’s primary weapons to influence government decisions, control important sectors of the economy, and weaken Bulgaria’s ties with its trans-Atlantic allies. Marina Grayson’s outstanding performance significantly advanced U.S. work to fight corruption and counter malign Russian influence. She led U.S. Embassy Sofia’s efforts to support Bulgaria’s fight against corruption by engaging senior government officials, legislators, civil society members, and local leaders to advocate for judicial reform, the implementation of anti-corruption policies, and the imposition of sanctions on individuals involved in corruption. A top U.S. objective in the campaign to strengthen the rule of law in Bulgaria was passage of 11 pieces of judicial reform legislation. Grayson developed a strategy to advocate for the adoption of these bills during the three-month life of Bulgaria’s 48th parliament, identifying the three highest-priority bills and the key stakeholders to engage. During that period, Grayson led the embassy’s gradually escalating outreach to members of parliament, chairpersons of relevant parliamentary committees, and leaders of the most powerful parties, urging them to pass the legislation. Resistance was stiff, but by orchestrating a campaign of intense targeted pressure behind closed doors in tandem with a public diplomacy campaign making the case for reform, Grayson helped achieve the passage of four bills, including protections for whistleblowers, before parliament was dissolved ahead of new elections. The success of anti-corruption efforts in Bulgaria rests, in part, on ensuring that this issue is not perceived as a U.S. priority imposed on the country but as an example of the trans-Atlantic community supporting Bulgarians in reforming their own society. Given the economic costs of corruption, the business community was a natural partner in the campaign. Grayson worked closely with the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria to develop a conference on the rule of law, bringing together representatives from several other chambers of commerce and nearly half a dozen European embassies in a groundbreaking demonstration of broad international support for the economic necessity of these reforms. This event was a pivotal point in the campaign to pass judicial reform legislation. Recognizing that corruption also needs to be addressed at the local level, Grayson arranged the embassy’s participation in events with Bulgaria’s mayors, 10 of whom signed anti- corruption pledges and worked with the International Republican Institute to bring actionable plans to promote transparency back to their municipal councils. She also planned a meeting that included mayors from Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, where Russian influence is particularly strong. While securing passage of four bills was an important achievement, parliament failed to pass several other important bills before it was dissolved. Anticipating this outcome, Grayson spent months working with colleagues in the State and Treasury departments to prepare a package of sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. Crucially, she also coordinated with the United Kingdom to jointly announce sanctions under its equivalent authority. As a result, exactly one week after parliament dissolved without passing all the necessary judicial reform legislation, the United States and United Kingdom announced sanctions on several high-profile individuals widely recognized as having been involved in corruption. The announcement met with near-universal approval, and almost all political parties immediately pledged their support for passing the remaining elements of judicial reform legislation as soon as the next parliament convenes. “This was a whole-of-mission effort, with tremendous support from top embassy and Washington leadership as well as staff across multiple agencies, including dedicated local staff who had pushed for decades for these reforms,” said Grayson. I do believe that our efforts to shine a light on corruption and push the government to do better are having a real impact on the ground. —Marina Grayson Marina Grayson.