Many Bulgarians support GERB for strange reasons
Well, how did it happen that the GERB emerged first in this election? Do you now anyone who voted for them? The second time I got asked this question, I started thinking. When someone asked me for the third time, I knew the answer. Yes, I know 680,838 people who voted for Boyko Borisov. That's the number of votes the GERB garnered at the latest European Parliament election.
Perhaps the Italians were asking themselves a similar question in 2001, when Silvio Berlusconi got elected for the second time, and especially in 2008, when he got elected for the third time. In both the Italian and the Bulgarian case the core of the matter is quite simple: it is the mindframe. It is not about election agendas, it is not about right wing or left wing values, it is not even about influence and power, nor about the lack of alternatives. It is about the mindframe.
The voters' mindframe is a lasting, conservative, lazy quality. It is capable of ensuring a long life for the people who spend their time in politics unperturbed. They do not have to make any significant effort. They just have to be there in their capacity of what they are because in this way they can make up a large number of voters. In an attempt to describe the sea of voters that poses no danger for Berlusconi to drown, Italian reporter Beppe Severgnini articulated 10 factors for the success in Italy for someone like Berlusconi. Let us see whether they are applicable to the case of Bulgaria's Boyko Borisov.
THE HUMAN FACTOR. Most Italians think we are like each other. He is one of us.
What do most Bulgarians think about Borisov? He is one of us. He grew up eating lard toast and wearing Communist-era "sneakers." Plays football. He calls us "human matterial" (sic), but that's what we are, aren't we. He likes to listen to Slavka Kalcheva's Byala rosa, or White Rose, a popular chalga tune. He doesn't like "soft wrists," an euphemism for gays. He likes to build and renovate. He knows how to keep both dogs and people on a short leash. His English is as rudimentary as ours. He wastes no time on books. He can cosh his opponents with a bludgeon. In Bulgarian standards, he is predictable.
THE GODALMIGHTY FACTOR. Berlusconi knows that many Italians parade their subscription to the Church only to feel less guilty that they don't go to church and that they break at least seven of the 10 commandments on a daily basis.
Boyko Borisov's relationship with God is just like ours. He wears a red thread around his wrist as a mascot. He makes the sign of the cross and keeps looking up when he mentions God. A little paganism and a little Orthodoxy, peppered with a little superstition. God is his "boss," as he himself put it. Neither the religious can castigate him for his intimacy with God, nor the atheists can criticise him as someone who is religious.
THE CRUSOE FACTOR. Every Italian feels he is alone against the whole world – or at least against his neighbours. Personal, family, social and economic survival is the ultimate source for pride and joy.
Bulgarians know very well what it means to be alone. They trained that for 500 years when they were surrounded by hostile powers and had no one to complain to. In Bankya, Borisov sits alone "as a dog," as he once said. He is a self-made man – unlike Stanishev, who has followed his father's name. Borisov does not have a father like Stanishev. Furthermore, he has a grandfather who smeared his Socialist-era CV as a reactionary element. Boyko Borisov often boasts that the Communists "killed my grandfather." It is of little import whether that was his grandfather or great-grandfather, or for what reason and in what way the man got repressed by the Communists. Boyko keeps telling the tale in a way everyone can understand: whatever he accomplished, he did because he was a macho boy, not someone else's boy. He is alone on the island of a lonely country. His only friend is Man Friday – or, to be more precise, Man Flower.
THE TRUMAN FACTOR. Just like in Peter Weir's masterpiece, someone is helping us to think – and that someone is television.
Bulgarians love television, and the TV stations love Boyko Borisov. He wakes up early, never oversleeps like Sergey Stanishev. He zaps the channels and makes phone calls to editors whenever he doesn't like what he sees. He puts the journos where they belong. The people love it when journos are put where they belong. The more he puts the journos where they belong, the more the journos keep calling him. The journos call him by his first name, and the female reporters cast wet glances at him. The TV stations are in a rush to flirt with Borisov. In turn, he fills their airtime and increases their audiences. The TV audience is unlike the print media audience. In print, what you say matters. On TV, what matters is how you say it. Everyone knows what Boyko will say, but no one knows in what particular way he will put his foot in his mouth when he says it. Boyko is a soap. It is always clear what will happen.
The mind remains unchallenged. But there is always some chewing gum for the eyes.
THE HOOVER FACTOR. Just like the first Hoovers were sold by energetic, experienced and agile salesmen, so is Boyko Borisov an energetic, experienced and agile salesman for his own product: Boyko Borisov. He needs no publicist as he can handle his PR himself. He knows what sort of gait radiates confidence and respect in these climes. He commands the looks, words and body language that attract voters. He can take on a new part instantaneously. He succeeds in appearing real. What in most of Western Europe will look comic is in Bulgaria seen as charismatic.
THE ZELIG FACTOR. Berlusconi's desire to be liked by everyone is based on techniques befitting Woody Allen's film character.
Berlusconi is nothing to write home about. He may be a womaniser among women, young among the young, wise when there are elderly people present, and behave like an entrepreneur when entrepreneurs are in attendance, but he has never reached Borisov's height of being able to tell his companions that they are simple people and he is a simple man – and that's why they understand each other. Borisov is a mirror, really. Whoever stands in front of him can immediately see his own image. The advantage of being a nonentity is that you can impersonate everybody.
THE HAREM FACTOR. Many Italians prefer self-indulgence to self-discipline and do not deny that Berlusconi ultimately does whatever they would love to do as well.
Borisov's picture hangs in Bulgarian hairdressers' corner shops. Many women like you. Everyone is sure you have an exciting personal life, but no one can say an actual lady's name. Every Bulgarian dreams of a life like that. It makes no difference whether the tale has anything to do with reality. What matters is that Borisov epitomises the erotic dream of many Bulgarian women and men. The women want to have someone like him, the men dream of being like him.
THE MEDICI FACTOR. Many Italians' attitude to Berlusconi is similar to their attitude to The Vatican. They know that it cares mainly for its own glorification and interests, but they hope it will do something for them as well.
Borisov is a man who needs a single word to dispatch an airplane, to issue a permit, to help, to get involved, to grant. He keeps his word. He promised Parvanov not to touch Misho "The Beer," and he kept his word. The important thing is to be able to get to him. Being one of his voters certainly makes the road easier. When there is no state as such it is easier to have someone act like a statesman than build the state from scratch.
THE NO-ALTERNATIVE FACTOR. Before voting in what they think is right, the Italians vote in what they consider to be useful.
The GERB murdered politics as such in the name of some ostensible pragmatism. Right wing and left wing have no meaning in Bulgaria. Boyko Borisov perceives what is left and what is right as the two lanes of a motorway. The GERB supporters have started talking in his words: the complete lack of any social policy can easily be explained with the You-Can't-Eat-Asphalt adage. Borisov acts as what he had been trained for: he puts out fires. It may not be right, but it seems pragmatic. What-Is-Right is some nebulous concept of the future: in Bulgaria we live from hand to mouth.
THE PALIO FACTOR. In the Palio di Siena horse races what is more important than your horse winning is your friend's horse losing.
What mattered most in the European election? GERB's percentage points? No. What really mattered was that Boyko beat Stanishev again. GERB's voters did not suffer when Borisov didn't bother to appear on TV on election night. The sight of a defeated Stanishev was enough. GERB's victory was BSP's fiasco.
How many Bulgarians' votes were determined by these factors? So far, 680,838.