In April and May I wrote several articles for the London Progressive Journal on the political situation in Bulgaria. These were before and just after that country’s general election. The first articles were largely based on reports by Transparency International: the latter about my experiences as an observer at the elections. This article comes after I have re-visited Bulgaria to find its democracy in a very delicate state indeed.
Just before I left I wrote an article for the Gibraltar newspaper ‘Panorama’ in which I stated how much I was looking forward to this visit. The last had been tense to say the least: now with the BSP, Bulgaria’s socialists, the largest party in the new government I was looking forward to attending the Party of European Socialists Council which was held last weekend. I had also allowed time to see more of the country and to visit friends made during the elections.
However my image of a Bulgaria now at peace with itself was far from accurate. There seemed to more police around than usual when we arrived on the Tuesday night. On the Thursday our friends in Kyustendil where we were staying told us of protests in Sofia and in local towns. By the time we came back to Sofia for the PES Council on Friday we had been summoned to a security meeting and the event was held amidst tight security.
To wind back in time the populist GERB government had been brought down in February by angry, violent street demonstrations. The centre right party was accused of abuses of democracy, links to organised crime, election rigging, creating an economic crisis whilst allowing electricity prices to rise, which a country with 50 per cent of its population in extreme poverty, could ill afford.
After the May 12 election GERB was still the largest party but its number of MPs had collapsed and no other elected party would pact with it. Hence the second placed BSP, which was the only party to increase its vote and number of MPs, formed a coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a member of Liberal International. Together they have 120 of the 240 seats in Parliament and hence rely on the support of the nationalist party ATAKA to rule. However ATAKA is anti Turkish and anti Roma whilst the MRF speaks for both. It was a pact to restore a functioning democracy amongst parties who largely had nothing in common. Whether it is a marriage made in heaven or hell remains to be seen currently it is in purgatory.
On May 29 former finance minister Plamen Oresharski, an up to now respected figure, was appointed Prime Minister. He had the support of the BSP and the other two parties. GERB has largely boycotted parliament since they were ousted from power making a mockery of the elected chamber. ATAKA, who previously supported GERB in government, have also been absent on occasions.
At a time when Bulgaria needed peace and stability Oresharski made a number of major political blunders. There are now street protests in Sofia and wider Bulgaria over the inclusion of the MRF in the new coalition and the decision of Oresharski to appoint MRF MP Delyan Peevski, a controversial media mogul who is linked to a corruption scandal, as head of the State intelligence agency, DANS. This latter decision was quickly revoked and acknowledged as a mistake but the damage was done.
A regional governor from the MRF, Ventsislav Kaymakanov, has been appointed in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city, which has caused more street protests. Dozens of people have also gathered in front of the building of the district administration in the city of Blagoevgrad to protest against the appointment of Musa Palev as district governor. These Turkish appointments have been made in areas where virtually no Turks live.
The MRF is a party whose main goals are the interests of the Muslims and its principal electorate are the minority groups Turks, Roma, Muslim Bulgarians and Bulgarian Turks in Turkey. The MRF is widely distrusted, has been accused of major election abuses alongside those of GERB and its ethnic and religious orientation breaks article 11 of the Constitution of Bulgaria.
Many of those Bulgarians who wanted a new dawn after the May 12 elections are in despair that the MRF are in government and suspect them of pulling many strings in their interests to keep the coalition in power.
If you read one English on-line Bulgarian newspaper, which obviously supports GERB, you would be led to believe that Sofia and wider Bulgaria is witnessing street riots of the same intensity as those that drove GERB from power. There are no such protests. However GERB wants people to believe the country is in ferment and they are being called back to save the nation.
In contrast if you scan the BBC or other reputable websites for news you will find little or nothing of the unrest – but protests there are.
I watched a lengthy one pass last Friday evening which went on for some 40 minutes through the main streets of Sofia. It was noisy but so peaceful that police only escorted it to show the way. These were not GERB supporters but largely young people who want a new start for their country.
These people feel let down by the new government that includes the MRF and which has made serious errors from day one. It is hard for them to accept that the BSP, to be pragmatic and to bring stability to Bulgaria, have to pact with this party as well as ATAKA that are an anathema to the majority of ordinary people. The BSP itself is in turmoil especially over the original appointment of Delyan Peevski with resignations and a vote of confidence which BSP Leader and PES President Sergei Stanishev won. It has to be said many PES leaders from around Europe, whilst fully supportive of the BSP and Stanishev, share many of the protestors’ legitimate concerns. Rarely in recent years have socialist principals been so keen tested.
The unpalatable alternative is fresh elections with the likelihood that GERB would again seize power with the inevitable decline of Bulgaria into an authoritarian, corrupt State. It is an unholy mess and that is why I say democracy in Bulgaria is in a very delicate state indeed.
By the by Transparency International in Bulgaria is producing a report on the May elections with recommendations for improving the electoral process for the future. Once that document is produced I will bring you its findings – in English.
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on June 28 2013)