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Boyko Borisov's “Russian roulette”

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Regular parliamentary elections in the Republic of Bulgaria are due to take place on 4 April 2021. At the elections, 240 representatives/deputies in the Bulgarian National Assembly will be elected according to the proportional system with closed lists. The total number of electoral units is 31. Depending on the size of the electoral unit between four and 16 representatives/deputies get elected from it. The election threshold is 4%. - writes IFIMES, the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies

In 2016, the Bulgarian Parliament adopted a law on mandatory participation in the elections with the aim of increasing the legitimacy of representatives in the country. The sanction envisaged for the voters to neglect their obligation to vote at the elections is removal from the electoral roll. However, the removed voters have the possibility to be reentered into the electoral roll. Nevertheless, this does not resolve the problems. This is an undemocratic law because the right to vote implies that each voter can decide whether or not he or she would participate in the elections. Voters are not to be coerced to vote or sanctioned if they do not vote. Hence, this in itself is an indicator of ignorance/non-recognition of democracy and the undemocratic spirit of the regime in Sofia. Bulgaria has a large diaspora which traditionally does not participate in the elections. This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic the participation in elections will be rendered more difficult even for the voters living in Bulgaria. 

As there are no accurate records, it is assessed that the diaspora includes between 2-2.5 million citizens. In example, there are around 700,000 Bulgarian Turks, who had survived a calamity in the 1980-ies of the last century, living in Turkey, and around 300,000 living in Greece. Will they participate in the elections? The Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), an ethnic party of Bulgarian Turks, is trying to galvanize as many ethnic Turks as possible to participate in the elections. 

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) published an analysis titled: 2021 Elections in Bulgaria: Bulgarian 'assault' on North Macedonia,


Identity crisis 

Has Bulgaria managed to develop a European identity over the 14 years of its membership in the EU? Namely, Bulgaria is constantly faced with an identity crisis. Throughout its history the process of “Bulgarization” was forcibly conducted in Bulgaria. An example are the Bulgarian ethnic Turks. 

A point of concern is the present systemic stigmatization of Roma. The terms that the ruling structures use to refer to the Roma include “gypsy parasitism”, “gypsy crimes”, etc. At the same time, the authorities are striving to cover up the true number of the Roma in the population. Namely, according to official statistics the Roma comprise around 5% of the population, while the real percentage is two times higher. 

Bulgarians are attempting to present themselves as superior with respect to others and as some kind of a “higher and superior nation”, particularly with respect to the Macedonians. At the time of globalization the similarities and closeness among peoples will progressively increase, identities will become intertwined- all as a part of an inevitable process. As Macedonians have a high level of national awareness and connection with the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC-OA), the negation of their identity and language is pointless. Owing to the circumstances, the Macedonians took Bulgarian passports in order to be able to find employment in EU member countries.  Majority of Macedonians would give up their Bulgarian passports if North Macedonia gets coopted into the EU. Taking of Bulgarian passports is in no way a reflection of their identity or identification with Bulgarians but simply an existential issue (literary a matter of fight for survival). Namely, the Bulgarian authorities have already experienced a fiasco in this respect because a negligible number of Macedonians holding Bulgarian passport, which is below the statistical error, will participate in the upcoming elections in Bulgaria. 

Bulgaria has also disputed the identity of ethnic Turks. Bulgarian Turks have been stripped of their rights through the policy of forcible assimilation and the massive exile in the 1980-ies, under the regime of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov. In example, in the period from June to September 1989 alone around 340,000 ethnic Turks emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey. This was an act of ethnic cleansing, not voluntary departure, as the Bulgarian authorities had presented it at the time. 

Analysts believe that the political rhetoric of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zakharieva (GERB) and the controversial VMRO-BND leader and Minister of Defense Krasimir Karakachanov aimed at negation of identity and language of Macedonians reminds of the rhetoric of Italian fascists in relation to the Slovenians, in which they negated the identity of the Slovenians and the Slovenian language in the early XX century. In Bulgaria patriotism is closely connected with the identity crisis. 

Borisov has been the Prime Minister for 10 years already. In this period the Bulgarian rating with respect to the liberal democracy index has dropped. While Bulgaria became an EU member in 2007, it has still not embraced the true European values, including liberal-democratic standards. Borisov has not been in the Bulgarian parliament for a year already. Dictatorship of the “silent majority” has been established. The reporters have become the adversary, while Borisov's regime resorts to a monologue- one way communication. Withdrawing of money from the funds should not be the very goal of membership in the EU but a means to assist the states to faster and more easily adjust to the political, economic and social standards that exist in the EU and in such a way participate on an equal footing in all the activities within the EU. Integration into the EU, awareness of belonging as a country to a large community, awareness that every citizen of Bulgaria is simultaneously a citizen of the EU, a large political and economic space with 450 million citizens and the largest space in the world ruled by liberal-democratic standards – is something that does not exist with the majority of Bulgarian citizens. The absence of the feeling and perception that they are Europeans, that they have one common identity and should promote common European values of unity and solidarity, is one of the major problems that Bulgaria faces. Unfortunately, not many in Bulgaria have that feeling. Bulgaria, which has been under the scrutiny of Brussels for years already, is no longer forced in any way or given any conditions regarding the respect of liberal-democratic standards, as it had been expected to do during the process of its integration into the EU.  The situation is similar in some other countries that had earlier become EU members. 


International position of Bulgaria 

The Republic of Bulgaria is a state with numerous problems. In this most underdeveloped country in the EU citizens live at the brink of poverty. The economy is ineffective, financial resources are limited and mainly already exhausted. A strong element of oligarchy, which includes around 3,000 individuals, has been established and is now engaged in the fight among clans for distribution of limited financial resources and redistribution of power, property and contracts. The business and financial capital in the country is controlled by several superrich tycoons. In fact, majority of public tenders and resources from EU funds goes through them. Crime and corruption are omnipresent and have become the prevailing “social technology” in management of public funds, as well as in all public spheres. The laws themselves create the conditions for corrupt practices and corruption has become a social norm. 

Bulgaria is trying to find a new balance between its obligations towards NATO and the traditional emotional ties with and sympathies for Russia. As a NATO member, Bulgaria is responsible for a 354 kilometer- long eastern border of the NATO alliance. The border on the Black Sear is less than 500 kilometers away from Crimea and directly neighbours with the area controlled by the Russian Black Sea fleet and the Russian air force. As Bulgaria has the obligation to control Russian military activities at the Black Sea, it is trying to find the right balance in its relations with the two sides. 

Emotional ties with Russia are deeply rooted in the Bulgarian society. The historical and cultural links with Russia and the sympathies for Russia are in collision with the fear spread through the media that Bulgaria could easily be pulled into military showdowns on the Black Sea. Russian President Vladimir Putin had stated that Russia and Bulgaria have historically enjoyed close ties and that Russia will develop its relations with Bulgaria “on all tracks”. 

Essentially, only two “tracks.” Specifically, one is the “South Stream – Balkan stream”, which is an important economic project and an instrument of Russian foreign policy. The other is the attempt of Russia to use Bulgaria to influence (dis)unity between the EU and NATO in order to divide both of these organizations with respect to the sanctions and the security policy, as it has partly already managed to do. That is why Bulgaria is a suitable playground for implementation of “secret activities and operations”, which is confirmed by the fact that one of the main posts of the Russian intelligence service in the region is located in Sofia. Russia has numerous supporters among Bulgarian political elites and citizens, which could be characterized as pro-Russian orientation. 

State Department report critical of Bulgaria

The latest State Department report titled “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bulgaria[2]” of 30 March 2021 is critical of Bulgaria. The part of the report dealing with the freedom of association reads: „Authorities continued to deny registration of ethnic-Macedonian activist groups such as the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden, the Society of Oppressed Macedonians, Victims of Communist Terror, and the Macedonian Ethnic Tolerance Club in Bulgaria, despite a May judgment and more than 10 prior decisions by the European Court of Human Rights that the denials violated the groups’ freedom of association. On October 1, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed in an interim resolution “deep concern” with regard to authorities’ “formalistic application of legal requirements” applied persistently to refuse registration to the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden and similar associations since 2006. In November 2019 the prosecutor general acted on Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) leader and defense minister Krasimir Karakachanov’s complaint about attempts by two associations, the Civil Association for Protection of Fundamental Individual Human Rights and Ancient Macedonians, to create a Macedonian minority. The prosecutor general petitioned the court to dissolve the associations, accusing them of a political agenda threatening the unity and security of the nation.”


Boyko Borisov's “Russian roulette” 

Due to its geopolitical position, as well as its close spiritual and cultural relations and connections with Russia, Bulgaria was “invited” to act as a mediator and alleviate the dispute between Russia and the West. Majority of Bulgarians support such a role of the state. However, majority of politicians understand it is entirely unrealistic that a small country as Bulgaria, which is on the brink of poverty, is suddenly positioned as a major peacemaker on the international scene. Nevertheless, Bulgaria has remained divided on the issue of its policy towards Russia. 

Boyko Borisov is playing with the Russians, and Russia has an interest to have its men and women in EU and NATO institutions. Borisov's mindset is that of the KBG. The recent exile of Russian agents is a kind of a farce. Russians have under control the security-intelligence and the defense system of Bulgaria. The exile of several Russian agents means nothing for the Russian position in these sectors in Bulgaria. However, it is important for Borisov to show himself in the eyes of the West as a true fighter against Russia and Russian interests. It is worth reminding that his party, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, was established by the CDU and under the auspices of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is also his political patron. Is she also the protector of his crimes? Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has strong connections and influence on the Turkish DPS party, is also important for Borisov.  Erdogan and Russia support Borisov. The role of Germany in the region cannot be assessed as positive. If we take into account the fact that the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is the key man for the “North stream” pipeline and Putin's man of trust, then the role of Germany in Kosovo, which is directly opposed to US interests, is of no surprise. A point of specific concern is the role of CDU/CSU members in criminal activities in Bulgaria, which has received more than 40 billion Euros from the EU just because it is an EU member. The failed attempt of imposition of Christian Schmidt (CDU) as the new high representative of the international community in BiH is a sign that one should be cautious when it comes to the German policy for the region. There is also the Germany’s protective relationship towards the Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović.

The current Bulgarian government is a hybrid of “Orbanism” and “Trumpism”, spiced up with crimes/mafia. Boyko Borisov is trying to play “Russian roulette” with all and as a result he has become an unreliable partner whom nobody trusts anymore. Because of the modus operandi and the problematic nature of the Bulgarian Government, the new US adminsitrationn will probably reconsider its relations with Bulgaria, which had openly demonstrated its support to Trump and the Visegrad Group countries (V4).

Analysts warn that Russian security-intelligence services are deeply involved in the security-intelligence system of Bulgaria, which can realistically undermine the security of NATO. This is why Bulgaria is referred to as the Russian “Trojan horse” in NATO. Therefore, inclusion of Bulgaria in exchange of highly classified intelligence can constitute a risk for NATO. Within the framework of the NATO system, intelligence is selected and differentiated so that Bulgaria has no access to important intelligence. 

While Russia did not manage to prevent integration of North Macedonia into NATO, it is now trying through the Bulgarian blockade that is veto, to prolong the beginning of the accession talks between North Macedonia and the EU. Therefore, a reasonable question to be asked is does Russia exercise its interests in the region through Bulgaria. It is interesting that recently in the European Parliament representatives of the CDU/CSU had voted in favor of support to Bulgaria and against the proposal to officially criticize the Bulgarian government regarding the obstruction of the beginning of negotiations between North Macedonia and the EU. The EU adopted the report on North Macedonia, but not the amendment on “provocative conduct of Bulgaria.” The amendment by the Greens and socialists regarding the provocative conduct of Bulgaria towards North Macedonia was not accepted because of the blockade by representatives from the European People’s Party and European conservatives (EPP), where the CDU/CSU has a key role. The authorities in Sofia are doing everything possible to try to “idealize” the situation in the country, which has already become a “case country” in the EU and NATO. 


Bulgaria requires thorough decriminalization and demafiaization

The coalition capacity of the DPS, which is connected with the mafia structures and is closer to the GERB, will be important for the establishment of the new government. The GERB is also cultivating relations with the mafia structures and functions as a cartel, not as a political party. The DPS has already conducted some “hygiene activities” in order to prepare for the coalition with the GERB. The removal of tycoon Delyan Peevski from the list for the parliament and the sale of his media business seems to be a part of the attempts of the DPS to prepare itself to be suitable as a public coalition partner of the GERB. 

The VMRO-BND will probably remain below the election threshold, despite the transfer of people, materials and topics (“North Macedonia”), which were provided and serviced by the GERB. Even if the VMRO-BND manages to become a part of the parliament, and the three parties (GERB-DPS-VMRO-BND) get more than 121 seats, the negative trustworthiness of such a coalition would be a problem from the very start. In such a coalition the GERB would become even more vulnerable to corruption scandals of Boyko Borisov, because of the growing impression that the umbrella of DPS's prosecution will remain above it. In general, the GERB's connection with the DPS, which is already known to the public, will be clearly confirmed. On the other side, the VMRO-BND will once again get rather convincingly exposed as a pendant to the GERB-DPS tandem.  From this point of view, the open GERB-DPS-VMRO-BND coalition seems as an agreement on political suicide. Bulgaria needs thorough decriminalization and demafiaization, for which there has been no political will so far. 

According to analysts, if the orchestrated attacks on North Macedonia do not stop, the EU and the US will find a political option that will represent the future of Bulgaria. Boris's attack on North Macedonia is a suicidal move, which will firstly cost him, and then Bulgaria as well, because the US will not allow Bulgaria to blackmail anyone, and particularly not North Macedonia, which became 30th member of NATO thanks to the support of the US. 

Analysts believe that the upcoming parliamentary elections will therefore be an exceptionally big and important opportunity for the Bulgarian voters to turn their back to such social deformations and request democratic development of their country, towards the necessary prosperity and true respect of European values, including good neighbourly relations, recognition and appreciation of diversity and plurality of modern society, which is what the EU truly is. Maintaining the current status quo in Bulgaria is unsustainable. 

Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Sofia, 1 April 2021    

Footnotes:
[1IFIMES - The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia,has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.
[2] Source: US State Department, Report »2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bulgaria«, link: https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/bulgaria/

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Bulgaria

Bulgarian general elections: Anti-establishment parties make significant gains

Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent

Published

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Forming a new government might prove more difficult than expected, following Sunday’s parliamentary election. Though the ruling GERB party came out first, it only got 24.2% of the votes. PM Borisov could be facing quite the challenge in trying to put together a parliamentary majority needed to remain in power.

Anti-establishment political groups recorded significant gains, with the biggest surprise of the election coming from the pro-European, anti-establishment party called "There is Such a People". The party formed barely one year ago and led by a former singer and actor is expected to get 17% of the voted, tied for the 2nd place with the biggest opposition party- the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

The new parliament is expected to be very fragment with newcomers gaining seats. With less than half of the total votes counted, the political scene looks something like this:

The new anti-system populist party "There is Such a People" (ITN) led by the TV star and singer Slavi Trifonov came in second with 19%, followed by the Socialists with 14.9%.

Democratic Bulgaria Anti-Corruption Party and Center-Left Alliance “Get up! Down with the Mafia! ” one of the groups behind the massive anti-corruption protests demanding the resignation of Borisov obtained 11% and 5.1%, respectively.

Ethnic Turkish Party - The Rights and Freedoms Movement won 8.7% of the vote, while nationalists from the VMRO, the current coalition partner of the prime minister's conservatives, won just 3.6%, far below the electoral threshold of 4 %, on the verge of being excluded from parliament.

The partial results compelled prime-minister to suggest the creation of a cross-party expert government given that his party did not obtain an absolute majority.

"I propose to make peace - let's install experts to take responsibility and let's do everything we can to get out of the (coronavirus) pandemic by December and start moving forward," Borisov said in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Bulgaria's parliamentary election comes amid anti-corruption protests that have been taking place for over 6 months.

Boiko Borisov, an increasingly controversial politician, has been at the helm of the government in Sofia since 2009, for more than 10 years.

Negotiations for the formation of a new government are expected to take several weeks and the holding of early elections cannot be ruled out, as the unexpected rise of the ITN party further complicates negotiations.

The outcome of talks to form a new government will be hard to predict given the complicated situation.

Although Borisov's victory seems clear, the ruling party (GERB) will need at least two more parties to form a majority. However, all the new parties said that they would not ally themselves with Borisov, and the Socialists ruled out any entry into a coalition with him. But even the increasingly divided opposition does not seem to be able to ally itself against the Conservative prime minister.

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Bulgaria

Bulgaria PM seen losing quarter of seats, no clear path to hold power

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov (pictured) lost around a quarter of his seats in parliament, leaving him with no clear path to hold on to power after voters angry at corruption in the EU’s poorest member state flocked to protest parties.

Borissov’s centre-right GERB party will still be the biggest group in parliament after Sunday’s election, and the prime minister proposed overnight that his rivals accept a cabinet of technocrats.

“I offer you peace,” he said in a video streamed on Facebook. “This is my proposal for all, enjoy the results for two, three days and then consider - what is stable and what is not.”

But political analysts say surging anti-establishment and anti-corruption parties committed to toppling Borissov would be unlikely to accept any such offer.

“Forming some kind of national salvation cabinet would be extremely difficult, on the verge of impossible,” said Daniel Smilov, with Sofia-based Centre for Liberal Strategies.

Leading financial newspaper Capital said the 61-year-old three-time prime minister’s fate was sealed: “Borissov won the election, but lost the power.”

Initial results from Sunday’s election showed GERB with just 25.9% of the vote, down from 33.5% four years ago.

TV HOST’S NEW PARTY PLACES SECOND

Second place went to a new anti-establishment party founded by TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov. His There Is Such a People party won 18%, pushing aside the main opposition Socialists whose vote share plunged to just 15% from 27.9% in the last election, according to the partial results.

Trifonov has refused to join any government including either GERB or the Socialists, leaving little scope for him to step in and form a government if Borissov fails.

Two other parties that reject Borissov will also enter parliament: the anti-graft grouping Democratic Bulgaria and protest party Stand Up! Mafia Out!

Both were behind major anti-corruption demonstrations last summer that eroded Borissov’s grip on power.

Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova said her party was ready to join an anti-GERB alliance.

“After this election, GERB cannot rule and Borissov will not be prime minister,” she told reporters.

Borissov, a burly former fireman and bodyguard, has kept public debt low and ensured Bulgaria’s path to the euro zone. But Bulgaria’s reputation for corruption - Transparency International ranks it worst in the EU - has scared away investors and held Bulgaria back from catching up with its richer Western peers.

With long talks to form a government or even another election possible, Bulgaria may have difficulty tapping the EU’s €750 billion ($884bn) coronavirus Recovery Fund and its readiness to adopt the euro currency in 2024 could be affected.

($1 = 1.6628 leva)

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Bulgaria

Bulgarian premier’s party wins general elections: Exit polls

James Drew

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Exit polls in Bulgaria showed that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party won Sunday’s (4 April) general elections, writes Ihvan Radoykov.

According to the Alpha Research exit poll broadcast by the Bulgarian National Television (BNT), seven political parties and coalitions passed the 4% election threshold.

The poll results showed that Borisov’s GERB party received 25.7 % of the votes, while the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) became the second party with 17.6% votes.

Led by showman Slavi Trifonov, There Is Such A People (ITN) received 15.5% of the votes, while the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, majority of which are Turks, received 11% votes.

The right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, left-wing coalition of Stand up! Mafia out!, and far-right Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) led by Krasimir Karakachanov, defense minister of the Borisov government, entered the parliament.

Voters in Bulgaria went to the polls on Sunday for the country’s 11th parliamentary elections since the overthrow of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in 1989.

Some 6.3 million eligible voters, including around 850,000 Turks and Muslims, voted to elect members of the 240-seat National Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament, from 22 political parties and eight coalitions.

Sunday’s vote was the first regular parliamentary election since 2009, following repeated snap polls.

The elections hold special significance for Bulgaria’s Muslim and Turkish population, as they served as a chance for the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party to regain power.

The party, formed at the start of Bulgaria’s journey toward democracy, has a majority of Turks among its members and has played a key role in the country’s politics for over three decades.

The MRF has been in opposition since the GERB formed a coalition government with the ultra-nationalist United Patriots (OP) alliance in 2017.

Bulgaria’s Turkish and Muslim population has traditionally voted for the MRF.

Borisov’s GERB party also wooed Turks and Muslims in the country, but the OP alliance based its electoral campaign to a great extent on hostility against the minority communities.

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