Thu, 08/26/2021 - 15:51

A guide to the strange names of Bulgarian political parties

Slavi Trifonov, the leader of There Is Such a People party
Slavi Trifonov, the leader of There Is Such a People party

A sober look at the current mess of Bulgarian politics in the aftermath of 12 years of Boyko Borisov may produce some unexpected if slightly idiosyncratic explanations. Perhaps Bulgaria's political parties are where they are at – namely, at each other's throats – not because they really want to "scrape off" each other from the face of the earth but because... the publicists who invented their names badly miscalculated in the first place. If you, as a foreigner, has trouble understanding what the difference between Stand Up! Mafia Out! and Stand Up.BG! We Are Coming! is, do not worry. Many Bulgarians don't get it either. So, here is, from the standpoint of linguistics, a brief guide to what these quirky names stand for – and what their bearers want to make out of them.

Stand Up! Mafia Out!, or IMV, ceased to exist as soon as it entered the 46th National Assembly. It had its origins in the anti-Boyko Borisov street protests in 2020, and its chief ringleaders are now MPs. For some reason they thought they should get rid of the word "Mafia" (in Bulgaria used metonymically to signify "organised crime," nothing to do with Italy) and substitute it with "we are coming," followed by an exclamation mark. What they probably meant was a warning to whoever gets the power: don't mess things up too much because we will start coming (out in the streets). Historians point out that "We are coming!" was also the war cry of the 1930s and 1940s Bulgarian pro-Nazi organisation called Brannik, or Warrior.

Seen from a wider perspective, ITN, Slavi Trifonov's There Is Such a People party, is not the first one in the world to have been founded by an entertainer. We have the comedian, Jacob Haugaard, in Denmark who entered the Danish Folketing in the 1990s on the sole election promise he would provide back winds for all cyclists. We have Ukraine, we have had Trump. But looking at ITN's name reveals a different story. Initially, it was called There Is No Such Country, or NTD. In Bulgarian, this can be interpreted as a metaphor for something ridiculous, like the Bulgarian peasant who went to the zoo, saw a giraffe for the first time and exclaimed: There is no such an animal! Bulgaria has become so absurd that it cannot possibly exist, Slavi Trifonov's scriptwriters were telling the Bulgarian public. The public agreed, but the courts, which were supposed to register the NTD, din't. They thought the There Is No Such Country name was offensive. So Slavi "Tall Guy" Trifonov switched to There Is Such a People. The meaning of this is that whatever happens, whatever the rulers do to the laity, the people will withstand and continue to exist. The courts promptly agreed to the name change.

Then we have Yes, Bulgaria! (with the exclamation mark). Founded by Hristo Ivanov in the late 2010s when he left Boyko Borisov's government in which he acted as justice minister, it did badly in the beginning. The only thing it achieved was to drive a wedge right through the heart of this country small but very vocal rightwing movement with the result being that neither it or the older DB, or Democratic Bulgaria, could garner a sufficient portion of the vote to enter parliament. They were out of politics for four years during which time they managed to iron out their differences and animosities, and come back on the political stage, in 2021. Yes, Bulgaria! is another difficult-to-understand Bulgarian metaphor. It is supposed to express an approval of Bulgaria as such. Not unlike Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia when it existed.

Bulgaria has spent almost as many years in a democracy as it had under Communism. It is now a member of both NATO and the EU. Supermarkets and even shopping malls are in existence, Bulgarians can travel freely without exit and entry visas, the lev may soon be substituted with the euro. But some things are more difficult to change. One of them is the propensity of Bulgarian politicians to think up silly names for the political parties they found.

In 1990 Bulgaria was given a Grand National Assembly which was supposed to hammer out a new constitution to replace the old, Communist-era one. The SDS, or Union of Democratic Forces, was the chief anti-Communist group. Because it disagreed what to do with the proposed new constitution and 39 SDS MPs went on a hunger strike over the issue, the SDS split in three. There was a SDS, another SDS-Liberals and yet another SDS-Centre. Predictably, the voters were confused. And so were the various SDSs' members. Twenty years on some of them joined Boyko Borisov's GERB.

Bulgarian post-Communist history knows even more outlandish examples of political parties' silly names. In the early 1990s there was a party called Bulgarian Eagle. In 1991 it garnered 0.1 percent of the vote and promptly went into oblivion, like an eagle flying away.

Then there was the BBB, or Bulgarian Business Bloc, not to be confused with the eponymous company producing fruit juices. Why on earth would someone name a political party a business bloc will probably remain a mystery for good, but what some people still do remember is its flamboyant leader, Zhorzh Ganchev. Being taller and of stronger build than Slavi Trifonov and sporting a memorable moustache, Ganchev, who is now dead, will go down in history with his memorable adage: Bulgarian, don't look at me so stupidly!

Historically, the ITN, the DB, the IBGNI and so on are being joined by a plethora of smaller or bigger political parties that have at various times and with various agendas vied to enter the Bulgarian National Assembly. These include a party that wanted to turn Bulgaria into a Switzerland in the Balkans, a grouping calling itself Granite, a Chamber of Experts political party and a Long Live Bulgaria! (with the exclamation mark at the end) political party. Some did succeed. The Party of Bulgarian Women, or PBZh, was used by the equally oddly named NDSV, or Simeon II National Movement, to propel Former King Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the position of prime minister of a republic, in 2001. 

Issue 179-180 Boyko Borisov

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