Bulgaria's short history of democracy is fraught with events and personalities unseen anywhere else in the former Warsaw Pact. In 1990, for example, less than a year after the removal from power of Todor Zhivkov, Eastern Europe's longest standing tyrant, Bulgarians went to their first general election with more than one party standing, and voted in... the people they were supposed to get rid of, the former Communists. In 2001, the former king, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who had been exiled to Spain since his infancy, made a triumphant comeback to his fatherland, set up a political party, and won a general election, thus becoming the first monarch in world history to be popularly chosen for prime minister.
These are facts that will probably go down in European textbooks of course, but nothing can compare to the emergence of Boyko Borisov, a member of the Communist Party while it existed, then a fireman, a bodyguard, an Interior Ministry general, a mayor of Sofia and... Bulgaria's prime minister in 2009-2013.
Regardless of his failures and achievements, there is little doubt that Borisov is the most divisive figure in Bulgaria in the 21st Century. Some consider him an underworld boss who amassed millions while in office, but others believe he contributed significantly to public welfare by being seen in attendance of inauguration ceremonies for stretches of asphalt road. Some find many obvious similarities between him and Todor Zhivkov, his former customer when he was still bodyguard, in terms of respect for democracy and the rule of law. Yet others tend to believe his pronouncements that he is an anti-Communist pro-Westerner, seeing in him an antidote to the Russia-friendly sentiments that run high in Bulgaria. Some easily see through his sleigh-of-hand populism citing the fact that Bulgaria is still in the grips of an economic crisis that most other European countries have successfully pulled out of years ago. However, many others really believe that his policies in the economy actually prevented Bulgaria from sliding down the road of a Greek-style economic disaster. Many see him as a thug who changes his mind several times over in keeping with his unpredictable moods and the interests of his oligarchs, yet many others absolve him on the grounds that everyone else in Bulgaria does the same. Many are disgusted by his unabashed demagoguery and profanity and are offended by his language that would be better placed in a gang of neighbourhood bullies than in the Bulgarian parliament. Yet many others are enchanted by what they perceive as man-in-the-street no-nonsense talk done by a man many Bulgarian women still covet.
There is one area, however, about which both his mortal foes and his enthusiastic supporters agree. This is his indisputable contribution to folklore. It is an area for ethnologists and psychologists (perhaps even psychiatrists) rather than political scientists to research, but as it has had a significant impact on the current state of public trends in Bulgarian society, Boyko Borisov's bons mots are at least a refreshing read as they are indicative of both the man who pronounces them and the sort of people who listen to him.
Dnevnik, the daily published by Economedia in Sofia, recently carried an extensive selection of the former prime minister's pronouncements on anything from political experience to awarding police dogs. Here are some excerpts, rendered verbatim to preserve Borisov's unique grammar and word choice.
"In keeping with the theory of probability or the Gaussian scale, there are a number of chance points. It is impossible for an accident not to occur. God forbid it does. A housewife does the washup every day, but some day she will cut herself, right? It is impossible to prevent these things from happening," said Boyko Borisov on the issue of frequent incidents where private security companies and the police shot at and killed passers-by, in July 2001, a month and a half prior to his appointment as Chief Secretary of the Interior Ministry.
"We catch them, but they let them go," Borisov surmised when the Sofia City Court released a group of people who had planted a bomb at a garage and then explained the traces of explosives on their hands with fishing.
In 2002, Boyko Borisov visited Sunny Beach. Two female reporters jostled to sit next to him. Both did. One complained: "General Borisov, two months ago, when you were in Burgas, you let a colleague touch your muscle. Won't you let another do it?"
"No problem," Borisov replied. "Everyone can touch my muscle."
In 2007, Borisov was mayor of Sofia: "This is the sort of poll I do for myself. I go out in the street and walk. If people tell me "Hi, Mayor, hold on and do not give in!" and even "God bless you, son!" – this is my polls."
In 2009, Borisov met with school kids at the Sofia City Library: "When I was young I liked The Three Musketeers, a book that taught us about power, honour, political intrigue; and also the books by Karl May and Meyne Reid. They developed a sense of justice. I always backed the Indians."
"I do not know anyone by the nickname of Stanley. Stoyan Sariyski was the boyfriend of my daughter. One evening I found her crying so I roughed him up." This is how Boyko Borisov explained, in 2009, a scandal involving a company contracted to construct the Sofia Metro. That company, owned by Sariyski, reputedly got a loan by the bank run by Borisov's then partner, Tsvetelina Borislavova.
At the beginning of 2009, Sofia was reeking in rubbish in what was dubbed the "Rubbish Crisis." Borisov's answer: "Sofia has never been cleaner. Every day I go out and count the ladies cleaning the streets."
In February 2009 Boyko Borisov was in Chicago, meeting with fellow Bulgarians and trying to garner election support: "Bulgaria's biggest problem is the bad human material in the country. What is the basis of the population at the moment? A million Gypsies, 700-800,000 Turks and 2.5 million retired people. The retired, stupid as they are, are nostalgic. They say, once upon a time we constructed the Haimboaz Pass, a wonderful road. There was a Pesho there, he was a nice guy... It's as if they think their youth will come back. This is what brings them in line to the ballot boxes to vote for Stanishev."
"In Bankya, if someone invites you to fight, you go out and fight. I am a man and I am waiting in front of his office." In 2009 Borisov showed up unannounced at Sergey Stanishev's office while he was prime minister to request a televised debate.
"Berlusconi came up from behind and started measuring my back with his palm. Then he threw open his arms and told everyone in the hall: 'This is a prime minister, nothing like yourselves!" remembered Borisov after a summit in Brussels, in 2009.
Borisov's lack of language proficiency is explained in his own Bulgarian words: "I am sorry I didn't listen to my mother and my class teacher. Because – not owing to the fact that I am not good at languages – we were a very poor family. As the saying goes, Cyril and Methodius, the holiday, on the 24 May, I relate it to lamb shoulder. It was then, because my father had a name day, Metodi, my mother used to cook lamb with potatoes. Shoulder. Not a whole lamb, just the shoulder. Once a year."
"I sit alone in Boyana, like a dog, and I watch football," is how Boyko Borisov explained what he was doing during the holiday season in 2010.
Asked about the similarities between himself and Todor Zhivkov, in 2010, Borisov answered: "To reach, to accomplish one-hundredth of what he did for Bulgaria would be a major success for any government."
His recruitment methods are summed up thus, in 2010: "I found and I met Mrs Anna-Maria Borisova there, at a crossroads before Tarnovo. She was with her husband. I chatted with her for half an hour, I more or less understood what she thought about reforms, cuts, uncompromising action and all that." Borisova was later appointed minister for health. In the same interview, Borisov added: "I wish I could find money somewhere to give away to the people... Ivan Kostov is absolutely right in calling me a leftwing populist. I love the people and I do not wish to inflict damages upon them... I am saddened to have to reach to the big axe and cut away everything that needs to be cut away at the moment."
In November 2010, Borisov defended his Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov: "To wag Tsvetanov is like to wag a hedgehog with a bare ass." In May 2014 the Sofia City Court convicted Tsvetan Tsvetanov of abuse of power.
Rosen Plevneliev is now president, but in December 2010 he was still Boyko Borisov's minister for regional development. This is how his boss ordered him to prepare for bad weather: "Snow is expected on Friday. Will you be surprised? I want you from now to start waiting with brooms and snow ploughs, when a snowflake falls you will catch it in midair! If I read in the newspapers that the snow surprised you again, I will be very angry."
On his personal hygiene habits, Boyko Borisov had this to say, in 2011: "I never shave on Mondays. This is what I decided. I never shave, I don't clip my nails and I don't give money to anyone on Mondays."
One of the former prime minister's favourite activities was attending inaugurations of anything from kindergartens and sports halls to stretches of asphalt road. This is how he commented, in 2011: "I am like a wizard. From each jacket I can fish out ribbons. We make first digs, then we have inaugurations, that's how we have a biography."
In Berlin, in 2011, Boyko Borisov gave a lecture entitled Democracy and Freedom in Bulgaria: New Government's Policies of Reform: "Then they sang in the jails, withdrew from the Arrogants criminal gang, went out and showed corpses. They go out and point – here, in this meadow, somewhere around here we dug in a corpse. My colleague Tsvetanov goes there with a bulldozer and digs out corpses."
One of his many abilities, that for playing football, prompted his nomination for Footballer of the Year 2011. Borisov mused: "I will not be modest for Footballer of the Year. I will proudly go and collect the prize. The thing about football is it is like female beauty and men's virility: no one will admit he is weaker."
As the economic crisis bit further and there was a serious price hike on foodstuffs, in 2011, Boyko Borisov offered a solution: "My family, for so long as I can remember, from when I was a kid until today, never bought spuds. We always sowed spuds. We dug them, attended to them and never went to the greengrocery to buy them – not my mother, my father, not my granny, nor myself. I can tell you how to grow them in case you don't know. They must be kept in darkness, to sprout, then dig with the mattock a little, put them in. There is so much abandoned land, everyone can grow potatoes."
Talking about youth unemployment to students in Varna: "No work? There is plenty of work for shepherds, for example. Lamb and mutton are in short supply in Europe, so... In vegetable production too. Well, someone doesn't have a job because he is an IT specialist..."
Further on the question of farming, Boyko Borisov had this to say, in 2011: "When there's no petrol, you will walk. When there is no electricity, you will light a candle. When there is no food and water, you will die. Bulgaria is a marvellous paradise for our petrol, foodstuffs and mineral water, there is gold flowing in the rivers."
One of Borisov's more macabre sayings came in the wake of a gruesome crime, the assassination of a girl from Pernik. When her body was found by a police dog, Borisov said: "Tsvetanov must now spend some cash from his salary and buy three-four beef steaks to treat the dog to." Borisov later apologised, saying he had been "misunderstood."
The former prime minister's wide-ranging competence entails archaeology as well. This is how he instructed archaeologists to work in the winter of 2012: "Dress up in padded work coats, bring on electric heaters. There is snow for three days. You will work as any other worker in Bulgaria... I will deliver heaters to you, to keep you and the roof tiles warm. If need be, Regional Development Minister Lily Pavlova will hold an umbrella over you, but you must be finished by the end of June." This is how Borisov gave instructions over expected delays of the Struma Motorway construction due to research of archaeological finds.
"Tomislav, have you signed anything? No, just children. We must do away with this lawlessness... Let's be concrete about the autumn, September or October... What are you doing on 14 October, Donchev? I asked your son and he agrees. Colleagues, put it down in your calendars, on 14 October Donchev and me invite you to a wedding." This how Boyko Borisov ordered his Eurofunds Minister Tomislav Donchev to get married.
Later in 2012, Borisov summed up his own private life, speaking to Love Style magazine: "I do not have a first lady and this doesn't bother me. There is an young lady that I am more intimate with. Poor thing, if I disclose her name they will skin her alive. When I am finished with my state jobs, I will marry her and bring her home."
"No star should be left unnoticed. Even if it blows up 10 years from now, nuclear synthesis must be controlled," said Borisov following a meeting with astronomers at the Rozhen observatory, in 2012.
Visiting a reconstructed church in Breznik, near Sofia, Borisov went on: "You want me to cut a ribbon in church, when the Boss is present? I cut ribbons only outside, where I am the boss. In church I am just humble. He sees everything and whoever pops up his head gets punished immediately."
In 2013, before the snap election that his resignation prompted, Boyko Borisov said: "Of all those who have been prime ministers, I am the greatest expert. I have been chief secretary of the Interior Ministry, mayor, prime minister. I was mayor twice. To let forward anyone who would have to get training in this from scratch – no!" Then he went on on a different occasion: "They say GERB ate up the fiscal reserve. No – it was eaten by the Bulgarian pensioners. 4 billion from the fiscal reserve went to raise their pensions."
When he was unable to form a government after the 2013 election Boyko Borisov boycotted the new Bulgarian parliament, prompting charges that he went for a seaside holiday instead. He had his reply ready: "I have tan. I never went to the seaside, I never went there. My tan was given to me by my father, may he rest in peace. I also wanted to be blond, fair and blue-eyed, but my father made me this way. I can see here there are similarly looking colleagues from Samokov."
"GERB has no media. I have just Facebook," Boyko Borisov told the media in 2014. During his tenure, Bulgarian media freedoms plummeted to rock bottom in the EU, according to international press freedom watchdogs.
Responding to a TV viewer's question how a citizen can survive with just 300 leva, Borisov said: "I stay in my house in Bankya. I do not move around. I do not go to restaurants. I do not spend much."
In May 2014 Boyko Borisov was enraged because the speaker of parliament had moved him to another office: "I just hope they won't take my Turkish coffee maker, the bandits. Because this Misho Mikov comes to work in the morning and his hangover is killing him. You can see how he wreathes in the rostrum."
Finally, asked whether he is ready to rule again, Borisov replied: "I have three governments ready – to rule on our own, to rule not on our own, for shadow and for sun... I have four. The BSP has none. There is no longer a bench for experts to sit on than mine."
The logical continuation of his thoughts came in another interview: "When there is a storm in winter, the man must do the driving."
While running GERB in opposition in 2013-2014 Boyko Borisov and his lieutenants did little if anything to propose any fresh or meaningful political agendas, but their success at the ballot boxes in the European elections in May has caused a major stir. Sensing that many Bulgarians will vote for him again and bring him back to power, Borisov, who kept a relatively low profile while he did not command the show, has pricked up his head again. No one can predict what the composition of the next Bulgarian parliament or government will look like, but unless he suffers a major defeat, which is unlikely, Boyko Borisov and his GERB will command a leading role in Bulgarian politics for years to come.