BULGARIA POLITICS

WHY DO SO MANY BULGARIANS LOVE RUSSIA?

In the 1990s and early 2000s Bulgaria, a former East bloc country, was an enthusiastic applicant to join both NATO and the EU. Twenty years later the initial enthusiasm has waned. There are now parties with sizeable, albeit still politically insignificant, support that demand a Bulgarexit, first from NATO and then from the EU. Their declared "love" for Russia is being echoed even by people who approve of NATO, the EU and the West in general.

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LIARS OR BEING LIED TO?

Тo understand the current predicament of the Changes Continued political party, one of whose leaders, Kiril Petkov, was prime minister in 2021-2022, one needs to consider the characteristically complicated background.

Kiril Petkov and his mate, Asen Vasilev, are both Harvard-educated economists who returned to Bulgaria and started their own businesses. Their ascend into politics was somewhat unexpected. They were put forward by... President Rumen Radev.

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WITH BOTH EUROS IN THE PAST

In spite of the protestations of the ruling "fixture" between PP-DB (Changes Continued of Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev and Democratic Bulgaria of Gen Atanas Atanasov and Hristo Ivanov) and Boyko Borisov's GERB about the "top national priority" of joining the euro zone, Bulgaria is still failing to handle the nuts and bolts. Its prospects to adopt the euro, notwithstanding its attempts of almost 15 years, are in the future.

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WHO IS AFRAID OF VASIL 'SKULL' BOZHKOV?

While Bulgarians left, right and centre are quibbling over the fate of a pile of stones crowned by some sculpted Red Army soldiers in central Sofia, the state prosecution service quietly terminated a case started by Vasil Bozhkov, one of this country's wealthiest entrepreneurs, alleging he was forced to give north of 60 million leva ($35 million) in bribes to Boyko Borisov (then prime minister), Vladislav Goranov (then finance minister) and Sevdelina Arnaudova (then Boyko Borisov's chief public relations officer).

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RUMOURS OF GERB'S DEMISE TURN OUT TO BE PREMATURE

Polling agencies got it wrong again

If the multitude of opinion polls were to be trusted, the election results would have been very different. The PP-DB (Changes Continued-Democratic Bulgaria), which currently runs the country through its coalition government with Boyko Borisov's GERB (which it insists is not a coalition but a "fixture") should have won Sofia hands down. It should have done a lot better in most bigger towns and cities as well.

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CHURCH OF DISCONTENT

Colourful and gilt-domed, looking like a toy, the St Nicholas the Miracle-Worker church in central Sofia is known to Bulgarians simply as the Russian Church. It is a hot spot for tourists vying to take a selfie with the gold-plated domes, the fairy-tale facade decorations and ornaments, and perhaps join the line of pilgrims in front of the crypt who wait patiently to be able to deliver their wish notes to the tomb of Serafim Sobolev.

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PP-DB'S FALSE STARTS

Notwithstanding the amendments to the Constitution proposed by Nikolay Denkov's "fixture" (the word he uses to describe the government), several bits of legislation put forward by the rulers and quickly voted into law have raised eyebrows and prompted a significant amount of laughter. Critics have viewed them not as just poorly thoughtover and hastily fixed (pun unintended) pieces of legal literature but as evidence that in spite of the huge claims of competence by the PP-DB "clever and beautiful" intellectuals the goods actually delivered have been at least substandard.

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UPS & DOWNS OF BULGARIAN ANTISEMITISM

А crudely-cut cartoon circulating on social media shows Former Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who is Jewish, being held by two Nazi-clad soldiers. The text (in Bulgarian) reads: "If you don't want Russian gas, we will give you some of ours."

This journal has rarely abstained from calling a spade a spade whenever it comes to the Bulgarian political apple cart, but in this particular instance we thought the cartoon was so tasteless, offensive and plainly disgusting that we will not reprint it, not even for illustration purposes.

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IT'S THE HISTORY, STUPID!

In 2013, when the Inland Revenue agency started a probe into alleged wrongdoing by then President Rosen Plevneliev, he famously excused himself: I am not a Martian. Plevneliev had been a minister for Boyko Borisov. The latter personally handpicked his nomination for president  – explaining, in his inimitable style, that if he had put forward a "donkey," it would have been elected.

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BYE-BYE, IVAN GESHEV

Three years after the event, the massive street protests that blocked the traffic in Central Sofia in the course of months, in 2020, seem to have achieved their original aims. Firstly, Boyko Borisov is no longer prime minister, and stands little chance of being reelected again. Second, Ivan Geshev has been fired as general prosecutor, the Bulgarian equivalent of the US attorney general, the British director of public prosecutions, Germany's federal public prosecutor general and France's procureur général. One of his deputies, Borislav Sarafov, was appointed a caretaker replacement.

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END OF 'MAFIA STATE'?

If anyone believed that the CC-DB, or Changes Continued-Democratic Bulgaria alliance, who lost the April election and are now the second largest party in the Bulgarian National Assembly, were serious in their declared and oft-repeated pledges they wanted to dismantle what they called Boyko Borisov's "mafia state" must have been in for a a bit of a surprise. According to a twelfth-hour agreement, GERB and the CC-DB announced they would actually become friends (!) in the name of "civilisational choices" and "geopolitical orientation" instead.

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LONG LIVE RED ARMY MONUMENT!

Whenever developed democracies hold a general election, at stake – usually – are pressing issues of the day. Oil, terrorism, immigration. Nuclear weapons. Abortion rights. Inflation. Climate change. The cost of living...

Not in Bulgaria, however. The election campaign – tepid even in Bulgarian standards – ahead of the 2 April ballot, focused on... a pile of stones in central Sofia. In an almost verbatim repetition of the old adage, some political parties bill it a monument to terrorists whereas others see it as a monument to... freedom fighters.

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WHO IS WHO AND WHO WANTS WHAT IN THE UPCOMING BULGARIAN GENERAL ELECTION?

It was called by President Rumen Radev, who is now the de facto ruler of this country, acting through the caretaker governments he appoints, because the previous election, in October 2022, failed to produce any kind of political alignment that could form a credible government.

There are indications that the same type of impasse may result after the next election, but there are some important details analysts, voters and observers should take into consideration.

A total of 23 political parties and alliances have registered to take part in the ballot.

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BYE-BYE, SCHENGEN

The Netherlands and Austria have decided not to endorse Bulgaria's acceptance in Schengen, the European system for police and legal cooperation that allows for passport-less travel between member states. The Dutch and the Austrians think Bulgaria has failed to reform its judiciary and police, and that the rule of law remains a distant prospect. Significantly, they do not see Bulgaria as a reliable partner in the Schengen Information System, or SIS, especially not when it comes to the sharing of sensitive and confidential data.

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WHAT ABOUT ROMANIA?

Especially in recent years Bulgarian politicians of various inclinations periodically trumpet that this country has fulfilled all the "technical requirements" for membership of Schengen, the police cooperation agreement between most EU states. They have implied that it should perhaps become a member of Schengen prior to Romania, the other former East bloc state that is in the EU but outside of Schengen.

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WHO ARE VAZRAZHDANE'S VOTERS?

Since the fall of Communism in 1989 and the introduction of multiparty elections the following year Bulgarians have been given a Constitutional right to go to the polls regardless of whether they actually live in Bulgaria or not. Whether this is good or bad is a question that political scientists continue arguing about. Some developed democracies (Italy, France) allow it, others (Denmark) do not. In the case of Bulgaria, the provision was originally implemented in an attempt to ensure voting rights for about half a million Bulgarian Turks.

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IS CHANGES CONTINUED TO BE CONTINUED?

The most readily available explanation why the Changes Continued government collapsed, propagated by former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and former Finance Minister Asen Vasilev themselves, is that because it stepped on so many corrupt toes within a short period of time the backlash from its opponents became impossible to withstand.

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IS IT REALLY ABOUT MAKEDONIYA-A-A?

Slavi Trifonov, the showman and crooner credited with propagating chalga culture in Bulgaria, could not have put it more plainly. As he "withdrew" his ministers from the outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov's reformist government, thus causing a major political crisis, he let out a rallying cry: "It's for Makedoniya-a-a!" His message was simple, yet powerful.

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WHAT FEEDS BULGARIAN NOSTALGIA FOR COMMUNISM?

Some years ago the Pew Research Center in Washington DC produced a survey indicating the levels of nostalgia in Bulgaria surpassed by far longing for the past everywhere else in the former East bloc countries. How come? Why would the citizens of what today continues to be the European Union's poorest, most corrupt and least free state want to return to a nebulous and increasingly distant totalitarian past? What differs the modern Poles, Czechs and Romanians – not to mention the former East Germans – who have long forgotten about Communism from their peers in the southern Balkans?

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