What will probably go down in history as the dullest election campaign in Bulgaria post-1989 was marked with a single trait. Politicians vying to get into the European Parliament (with all the goodies this entails, including salaries of about 8,700 euros per month plus copious allowances plus good pension plans, and so on and so forth – unthinkable for ordinary Bulgarians or for Bulgarian national MPs) resorted to a tried-and-tested technique to woo voters: scaremongering. Regardless of what the guys from GERB, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation and Democratic Bulgaria promised they would do if elected, their main message was fear. Vote for us, or else!
The textbook definition of "fear" is based on emotion and irrationality rather than common sense.
Some fears are shared by several parties that may or may not be related to each other. Importantly, one man's fear may be another man's blessing, and vice versa.
Here is an inconclusive breakdown of what kinds of fear work best for the various Bulgarian political parties and their supporters.
Fear of Turkey
Any mention of the Ottoman Empire, a part of which Bulgaria was in the period 1492-1878, prompts strong sentiments in most Bulgarians. Whether the Ottoman domination was a "Turkish Yoke," the standard term used under Communism and still being used by subscribers to the ideas of the "Patriots," continuous to be a highly contentious issue. As a result of the Communist-era propaganda that was shoved down the throats of generations of Bulgarians, any level-headed debate about the historical facts of the period is next to impossible. Significantly, any mention of the historical facts is usually placed not in the history books, where it belongs, but on the numerous Internet sites which represent it as "news" and "current affairs." Debating it is current politics, not history.
Consequently, some Bulgarian politicians view modern Turkey as the direct heir to the Ottoman Empire. Turkey wants to "restore" its possessions in "Christian" Europe and will seize any chance to roll in the tanks, they tell their voters. And many believe them. It is like having an Irish election focusing on England wanting to invoke a new potato famine.
Works Best for: VMRO, National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, Ataka
Fear of Russia
Russia is an enemy. Full stop. Putin's Russians are subversive provocateurs who engage in shady deals, promulgate fake news, excel in hybrid warfare and sometimes commit political assassinations.
Why the legitimate worries about Putin's Russia, as far as the Bulgarian self-declared right wing is concerned, are being overblown out of proportion is easy to explain. It is an obvious reaction to the many decades of Communist propaganda where Russia and the Soviet Union were represented as "double liberators" (once from the Turks, in 1878; and once more from the "monarch-fascists," in 1944). As is usually the case in the Balkans, the concerns about Putin transcend into the realm of history. Bulgaria's new "democrats" engage in spectacular but largely meaningless debates about whether Count Ignatiev, the 19th century diplomat, was a friend or a foe, and whether the eponymous street in Central Sofia, which has been under reconstruction over a year – whith no denouement in sight, – should be renamed to someone unaffiliated to Russia.
Applying modern standards to historical events is at best silly, but Bulgarians love that – and love to indulge in the associated scaremongering.
Works Best for: Democratic Bulgaria
Fear of the West in general and the EU in particular
Gone are the days when some Bulgarians were wary of EU membership because they were told Brussels would ban Bulgarian tripe soup. Fear of the West in general and the EU in particular has become a lot more sophisticated. The EU now wants to destroy the Bulgarian national identity. It wants to make gay marriages "compulsory," it wants to force Bulgarians to dress like "homosexuals," and it wants to obliterate the Bulgarian nation as such by importing hundreds of thousands of Muslims to southern Bulgaria.
The scaremongering works remarkably well.
Works Best for: Ataka, BSP, the Orthodox Church
Fear of DS, or the Communist-era State Security
Bulgarians of many shades and hues – interestingly, including some modern intellectuals – continue to believe the DS mythology.
What is the DS? The spooky acronym signified State Security, an unit of the Communist-era Interior Ministry now dubbed the "repressive arm" of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The DS was disbanded in 1990 and its employees were either fired or relocated to other Interior Ministry departments. Many of its notorious files were destroyed.
Bulgaria's new democrats, however, think that the DS has continued to operate in some cryptic way throughout the period of democracy, clandestinely pulling the hidden strings of most important events in Bulgaria and enriching its operatives in the process.
In a nation where conspiracy theories work astonishingly well, the DS is the ideal tool: it was secret, it was shady, it was both sinister and corrupt.
Infamously, Bulgaria never properly dealt with its Communist past. As late as 2008 a government agency, the so-called Dossiers Commission, was set up to open up what had remained of the Communist-era secret police files. It has been doing this selectively, working exclusively with pieces of paper compiled by DS operatives and never seeking to verify whether what the self-serving operatives put to paper had any link to actual reality. In this way, paradoxically, the Dossiers Commission has become the mouthpiece of the organisation whose archives it was supposed to declassify and explain.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, GERB's second-in-command who recently gained notoriety with his real estate purchases at knockdown prices, is an outspoken supporter of the commission. So are some political parties, groupings and individual citizens who take every word written by the former DS as the gospel truth. They are usually inspired by a small group of hacks who promulgate the "findings" of the commission about events in 1951 in the present tense, as if they happened in 2019.
Works Best for: Democratic Bulgaria, GERB, many identifying themselves as "rightwing," "pro-Western" or "intellectuals."
Fear of "invading" Muslims in general and asylum-seekers in particular
Bulgaria was left largely unaffected by the migrant crisis in 2015-2016, and the few asylum-seekers who ended up in Bulgaria sought, and many found, ways to leave it for the West as fast as they could – for obvious reasons. Yet, many Bulgarians are mortified that large amounts of Muslims are waiting at the Turkish border in order to penetrate Bulgaria and start raping Bulgarian wives.
Nothing tickles the Bulgarian fear factor better than the prospect of having your wife raped by an "invading" Muslim.
Works Best for: Everyone except the Turkish-dominated Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
Fear of Communism
That is Boyko Borisov's favourite. Notwithstanding the fact that young Boyko Borisov was a member of the Communist Party and refused to leave it when, in the early 1990s, the fire brigade where he worked was "depoliticised," the "Communists are coming" is his standard war cry. He has won all of the elections since 2009 with it.
Hardly anyone believes him except some diehard "anti-Communists" who apparently have trouble understanding that the GERB he has built has a lot more in common with the Bulgarian Communist Party than the BSP, which is its formal heir. Yet, many, just like under Communism, try to get along by going along.
Never mind the intricacies of language. Vote-for-Me-Because-I-Protect-You-From-Communism continues to work well 30 years after Communism has gone.
Works Best for: GERB
Fear of "fascism"
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think that Bulgaria between the first and the second world war was a "fascist" state. Historically, there is little doubt that Bulgaria in the interwar period was not a liberal democracy in the modern sense (what country in Europe was, for that matter?), but "fascist"?
Anyway, some people typically to the left of the political spectrum claim the right wing wants to restore "fascism." Their fears are mainly fed by the right wing itself. Sometimes it displays nonagenarian figures, including leaders of pro-Nazi organisations in war-time Bulgaria, representing them as "democrats" and fighters against Communism.
The question what is better, a Hitler or a Stalin, continues to be asked in earnest in the Bulgaria of 2019.
Works Best for: BSP
Fear of "genderism"
It all started in 2018 with the Istanbul Convention to protect the human rights of children and women. The wording the convention used included concepts that were novel to the majority of Bulgarians. Cunning politicians immediately seized the chance to capitalise. Ideas such as "gender, "gender-based violence" and so on prompted a deputy prime minster to state: "There are phrases and words in the convention which give serious grounds for society to doubt if they will not be used to impose unconventional conceptions of gender, such as the third sex, and to legalise same-sex marriages in Bulgaria at a later stage. These issues really worry our society."
As a result of the outpour of public angst against what the hacks were quick to bill "genderism" the Bulgarian Constitutional Court declared the convention unconstitutional and Bulgaria rejected it.
"The genders are coming" is now a battle cry for anyone who wants to be opposed to Western ideas of multiculturalism, liberalism and respect for human rights.
Works Best for: BSP, the "Patriots," the Orthodox Church
Fear of Norway
Yes – many Bulgarians fear... faraway Norway. The reason? Norway's legislation to protect the rights of children. It started with the case of a Bulgarian woman who was married to a Norwegian. After a divorce, the social services had her children placed in care because they concluded the mother was a flight risk and suspected she manipulated them against their Norwegian father. The case was blown out of proportions in Bulgaria.
Bulgarians were led to believe that Norway has "legalised" paedophiles and incest, that its government would take away children from "normal" parents and give them to same-sex couples, of which Norway planned to have 90 percent by 2050(!). Norway, the narrative goes, now schemes to impose the same on Orthodoxy righteous Bulgaria.
For Bulgarians, any imposition of stricter protection laws for children will ban them from being able to smack them, punish them corporeally, "send them to the Gypsies" as the Bulgarian saying goes, and in some other way take away what their legitimate rights as parents are. So, many Bulgarian parents tend to think they own their children and are therefore entitled to what they, not society, think is best for them. Liberal Norway, the one with the 90 percent of same-sex couples by the year 2050, is a particularly dangerous threat, they fear.
Works Best for: BSP, the "Patriots," many people with children.