Job Swap 11

‘Bulgarian politics’ Category

  1. Job Swap 11

    January 20, 2013 by Christopher Buxton

    The story so far: As part of a European Union Inclusivity Initiative, British Prime Minister David Cameron and the GLB (Greatest Living Bulgarian) have swapped jobs. 

    David Cameron writes

    For the love of Boris will someone tell me what this word chalga means.  My cocktail party was completely ruined by beardy theatre folk and otherwise hot ballet babes accusing me of orchestrating the chalgafication of  Bulgarian society. Someone suggested that I was more interested in silicon enhanced tits than the Nessebur sand-dunes. Did we survive the Turkish yoke, Fascism and Communism to be smothered by boobs and arses?

    Scandals in Bulgaria are like the number 11 bus.  You wait and wait and then three of them turn up at once. You can be sitting by the steamy indoor pool in the Boyana residence for weeks, thinking that being in charge of Bulgaria is a doddle,- just like Boyko said it would be and then bang, bulldozers are demolishing sand-dunes in historic Nesebur, there’s a referendum on nuclear energy that’s worded in a way that no-one understands and your finance ministry has awarded a massive EU grant to a company called Piner that plays folk music on two TV stations.

    Now I quite like folk music. I remember quite fancying Maddy Prior, before I met Sam. And wasn’t Bulgarian folk music very much in vogue in the eighties? I can’t get enough of Kate Bush. So I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

    Reluctantly I consult my shadowy minder, Tsvetan. He looks apologetic, mutters something about Bulgaria’s pride and offers me his ipod.  I give it a listen and I get warbling ballad after ballad that would get 5 points on a Eurovision night. “Is this chalga?”  I demand. “No it’s Vesselin Marinov.” “So what is chalga?” But he’s done one of his vanishing tricks.

    I phone up Boyko. He gives me his dirty laugh. “You’re on your own there, Dave!” He does offer me an address of a nice matska who’ll teach me a dance called kyuchek. Very clean, very reasonable, very discreet. I say “No way Boyko, learning the horo was bad enough”

    He changes the subject to Europe. “Why are your MPs getting in such a lather? The EU normally sends me to sleep.” I know Boyko.  I saw the picture of you at the Nobel ceremony. His final words are:  “Don’t worry about referenda Dave.  I know a way of wording them so that nothing changes. Europe is a big pie.”

    Europe is a big pie. Typical!  I must remember to check Boyko’s waistline against Ken Clarke’s when I get back.

    Meanwhile the chalga debate is getting hotter. My minister of culture made a comparison with rap.  Gangsters, sex, drugs.  But as he points out a really vital part of Bulgaria’s economy and a driver for ethnic integration. I remember chatting with Prince Charles about rap. He always wears earplugs when he visits one of his youth projects. I say it’s a shame black people didn’t stick with blues and jazz. He shrugs and says he’s always liked Elgar.

    On the advice of my new media expert a Mr Trifonov, I consulted two experts in the field. But Aziz and Martin Karbovski didn’t hit it off.  They hit each other.  It ended up with them both grappling on the floor, calling each other pederasts. Mr Trifonov suggested they should be stripped to their underpants, greased and locked in a telephone box together.  It would make great TV.

    Talking about TV spectacle, I’ve just seen some bloke in a shiny suit trying to shoot Ahmed Dogan. It just goes to show the need for strict dress code rules at party conferences.

  2. Peter and the Wolf

    November 15, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    An interview on Bulgarian National TV with honourable dissident and former Radio Free Europe correspondent Peter Boyadzhiev has provided an explanation for the puzzling proliferation of nobodies in the 2009 election.

    In Spring 2009, we arrived in Bulgaria by car with fairly well defined hopes and fears for the upcoming election. The ruling Triple Coalition, made up of a seemingly absurd alliance of the Socialists, Tsar’s Party and Turkish Party were being challenged by established opposition parties – extreme Nationalist Party, ATAKA, the flawed Blue Coalition party of Kostov and GERB, a Centre-Right pro-European party put together by the populist Mayor of Sofia, Boyko Borisov.

    What took us by surprise as we drove down Bulgaria’s badly maintained highways were the proliferation of posters urging us to vote for parties and people we had never heard of. WE WANT CHANGE – a suitably empty slogan, deemed by some PR firm to speak directly to the Bulgarian soul – was the brainchild of a couple of businessmen who had formed a party called LEADER. It screamed at us every twenty yards. Who on earth – I wondered – would vote for a couple of nobodies who kept their proposed programme a complete secret? And where on earth or Hell did all the money come from to pay for this meaningless publicity? Slightly more specific were the one issue parties – Yani Yanev of the ORDER, LAW, JUSTICE party was the Martin Bell of the election campaigning against corruption. (It was difficult to find anyone who was not campaigning against corruption.) But at least Yani’s campaign was enlivened by ATAKA trying to smear his whiter than white image with accusations of homosexuality. Then there was a plethora of parties all featuring guns and claiming to be more Patriotic or Militaristic or Macedonian than ATAKA.

    On a local level, known criminals discovered they could be released or have their court cases indefinitely postponed if they stood as independent candidates. I was particularly struck by a poster of an indignant man poking a finger at me with the slogan: STOP THE SHAME. By the time I’d found out he was an ex-football boss whose case of causing death by drunk driving has been put off now for ten years, I’d received an open letter from him, demanding a meeting with the main parties in return for his withdrawal from the election. As if that was going to change anything.

    Well the proof of the pudding is in the eating. None of these independent candidates got elected. Only one of the spanking new parties won enough votes to enter parliament – though LEADER came astonishingly close. ORDER, LAW, JUSTICE did break through – though almost immediately they broke up after a mud fight. Currently Yani Yanev is cosying up to former head of National Security and alleged “Octopus”crime boss Alexei Petrov. So much – some might feel – for the fight against corruption!

    Of the main parties, the Tsar’s party was ousted from Parliament. Thanks to the nostalgia vote, the Socialists became the main opposition party, followed by the Turkish party – always sure of its electorate. ATAKA did less well than expected – especially in its stronghold of Burgas. Since the election the party has split, amid accusations that its leader is a) a traitor; b) a money-grubbing nest-featherer or c) a madman. How sad for the leader whose posters showed him being mobbed by old ladies!

    The Blue Coalition seems to have a new leader – I say “seems” because really there is little doubt that Ivan Kostov is still in charge – desperately trying to appear statesmanlike despite allegations that he has always been a Communist stooge.

    But for the moment none of these parties are of any significance as – for the first time in years – the election delivered a clear-cut winner with an absolute majority. Boyko Borisov is inhibited now only by his fear of losing popularity. This Achilles heel may prove fatal.

    So what light did Peter Boyadzhiev cast on the election? He claims on good authority that all elections since 1990 have been controlled by the old Communist elite. It was the Communists working through their State Security agents who, realising the inevitability of democracy, formed opposition parties and made sure that the leadership of each party was made up of reliable people. According to Boyadzhiev, since 1990 there have been only three governments that did not go according to plan – Philip Dimitrov’s, Jan Videnov’s and now Boyko Borisov’s. Boyko Borisov was not meant to have obtained an outright majority. The money that poured into obscure parties like LEADER was meant to produce a hung parliament.

    What the Communists had relied on – a low turnout in an atmosphere of apathy – was torpedoed by the leader of the Turkish Party Ahmed Dogan. His perceived arrogance brought out the voters and resulted in a GERB landslide.

    And so onto the next development! The popular Home Secretary has been locking horns with the slow, ineffective and some say corrupt legal system in his attempt to see significant criminals punished. He has found a surprising opponent in Yani Yanev, who is trying to undermine him with allegations of petty property fraud. If these allegations prove to be false it will be clear to some that Yanev is simply mud-slinging to the orders of the criminal elite. But the cynicism of a large number of Bulgarians will be confirmed.

    Meanwhile that most groomed of politicians, President Purvanov has announced the setting up of a new party of the Left – one to sideline pursed-lipped former Prime Minister, Stanishev and appeal to younger voters.

    Boyadzhiev claims Purvanov is old-guard Communist through and through and pulls all the State Security strings.

  3. An Outsider’s guide to Bulgarian politics

    April 15, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    A politician is an arse upon which everybody has sat except a man

    e.e. cummings

    With parliamentary elections looming in Bulgaria, the hot air of increasingly violent debate will leave most Bulgarians cold. There seems little credible alternative to an ailing sleaze ridden government.

    Ask politicians why they went into politics and in all countries you’ll get the same altruistic answer – something along the lines of improving the lot one’s fellow man. In the UK most still judge politicians on their competence rather than their venality. In the US ideology is still a key criterion. Bulgarians are much more cynical and view all their politicians as pigs jostling at the trough.

    Popular wisdom is that for the first seventeen years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, snouts were guzzling state resources and since 2007 the substantial subsidies provided by the EU.

    Amid continuous tales of routine corruption, ministerial links with organized crime and a voting system that bolsters patronage and ensures a disproportionate influence of minority parties over government, it is hardly surprising that many Bulgarians have lost faith in democracy and see politicians as irrelevant to their everyday lives.

    Partly to blame is the Bulgarian system of proportional representation. This has resulted in elections where electors are faced with lists of unfamiliar names rather than identifiable personalities. Once the election is over the horse trading begins, party ideologies are forgotten and the most unlikely coalitions emerge. The egregious example is the latest triple coalition of Socialists, Royalists and Turks.

    The middle classes in Bulgaria struggle on in the hope that the unfairness of a corrupt system will not affect them too closely. They moan about the system, pay the bribes and get on with their lives. According to surveys they have been at least until recently fairly confident about their individual futures in a country where the corollary of ineffective government is considerable tax evasion.

    Do Bulgarians feel more comfortable with stupid politicians?

    In the hundred and thirty odd years since Bulgaria emerged from Turkish rule, it would be fair to say that democracy has been largely a charade. People can forget that immediately before the forty five years of communism, there were long periods of repressive Tsarist rule – most notably from 1926 when a military coup resulted in the murders of 5000 people, suppression of popular parties and an eventual alliance with Hitler.

    In the history of Bulgaria since 1878, there have been very few politicians who deserve the title of statesman – all of these met violent ends. Stambolov, Stamboliski and Nikola Petkov are good examples. The few communists who might still claim Georgi Dimitrov as a statesman believe he was murdered on the orders of Stalin.

    In contrast the model and benchmark for all aspiring Bulgarian politicians has to be Europe’s longest serving Communist leader and national joke, Todor Zhivkov. Admittedly supported by the state terror system constructed by his Stalinist predecessors, he was still the ideal politician for the time when every thinking person knew the truth but dared not speak it.

    How much better to be reconciled to a shitty system than to have as your leader someone you could at least laugh at? And with pseudo democracy and the popularity of cheap satire this tradition continues.

    Following Zhivkov’s fall the first democratic president was a dwarf in a wrinkled suit with very dubious claims to having been a dissident. Former king and more recently Prime Minister Simeon Saksokoborgotski not only laboured under a stupid name but was famous for his inability to tell the time or date – especially following his promise to put Bulgaria right in eight hundred days. The current Prime Minister Socialist Sergei Stanishev born and educated in Russia used to wear a biker’s leather jacket with the legend: “if you can read this, Elena has fallen off the back of the bike.” This lame attempt at humour has not enhanced the figure he cuts at international conferences where he hovers like the guest invited by mistake.

    Nostalgia and Nationalism – key levers in popular vote

    An inescapable demographic is key to understanding the puzzling success of certain parties in elections since 1990. Bulgaria has an ageing population. The birth rate is high only among the distinct Turkish speaking and gypsy communities. A large number of enterprising highly qualified young people have emigrated.

    A sufficiently significant proportion of older voters can be persuaded to look at the past through rose-coloured spectacles – to a time when they fell in love, brought up children, got their first Lada and danced to Hotel California. They had secure undemanding jobs could call an ambulance every time they felt queasy and believed the crime rate was low because police could beat up thieves.

    Since 1990 the factories closed. The Health System crumbled. Pensions will not cover heating bills in the winter. Press freedom brought scary crime stories. Looking for the certitudes of their youth, most pensioners vote for the BSP – the party formed by the Communists in 1990.

    If older voters don’t vote BSP they are likely to vote for Ataka, the extreme nationalist party. Its leader, Volen Ziderov follows Mussolini in his espousal of extra-parliamentary action. With his shock of white hair and set expression of outrage, he is often to be seen scrambling to the top of a car, megaphone in hand, to address large crowds of supporters. Ataka depends on the paranoia and hurt national pride of the majority population. Its supporters readily believe in a version of history where Bulgaria has been the victim of some monstrous conspiracy. Sinister anti Semitism has for the time being been concealed by more popular attacks on Turkey and Europe.

    Ziderov’s job of polarising the nation is made easier by the persistent presence of the Turkish party in governments of every colour. Led by Ahmed Dogan the DPS has been effective in securing the votes not only of the Turkish speaking community but also of the Turks who left Bulgaria in the 80s but still have guaranteed voting rights. Dogan is a great political survivor but he and his party have been accused of major abuses, particularly in the areas they control at a local level. With polarization caused by Ataka, there is little hope that moderate Turkish voters will see that their interests are not best represented by the DPS.

    The curious failure of the Right

    In the heady months of 1990s democracy the CDC (Union of Democratic forces) was formed as the main opposition to the BSP. There is now considerable evidence that this party was packed with former communists, determined that whoever won the first elections, they would still be in control.

    Be that as it may, despite a confident CDC campaign featuring pop and film stars and the music of the Beatles, the first election returned a socialist government. Power then alternated till the disastrous Socialist regime of Jan Videnov saw shops emptied of goods, banks fail and serious unrest in the streets.

    The CDC’s chance came and the streets of Sofia filled with tight suited American economic advisors. Ivan Kostov implemented Reaganite shock therapy but the people were not ready for it. In the next election they voted for the newly returned Tsar. Kostov still lurks on the fringes of the right wing that seems now irreparably split.

    Ironically nick-named the Commander, because of perceived arrogance he probably still hopes to be recognised as a statesman without suffering the normal statesman’s fate.

    Won’t somebody help?

    Many Bulgarians still seem prepared to believe in the dramatic newcomer – especially if they seem strong and are without compromising past.

    The former Tsar Simeon II returned to Bulgaria surrounded by European educated Bulgarian “businessmen” – the children of former exiles – and his party promptly won the election on the promise of putting everything right in 800 days. They formed a coalition with the DPS.

    Part of Simeon’s attraction was that he had not lived in Bulgaria and therefore should not have been compromised by a shady communist past. Unfortunately his rule accelerated the creation of a new robber baron class. Miles of Black Sea coast fell into the possession of one of his ministers. A protégé became the new telecom magnate and arranged a meeting between the same minister and Bulgaria’s then most notorious gangster on his yacht in Monte Carlo. Inevitably as Simeon recovered his royal estates rumours began that he needed to pay off vast gambling debts.

    Optimism springs eternal and the latest figure to take on the role of strong leader out of nowhere is the demagogue and former body guard, Boyko Borisov with his patriotic party GERB (literally Coat of Arms). As Mayor of Sofia Borisov loses no photo opportunity to present himself as a fearless man of action, not afraid even to pick up a spade and clear the snow from the street. He will travel far to deliver outspoken attacks on the current situation. Most recently talking to emigrants in Chicago, he described the Bulgarian electorate as “bad human material”. Nevertheless he is predicted to do well in the elections. Bulgarians clearly don’t mind being insulted – Boyko is the unthinking man’s Christo Stoichkov.

    So we await the elections amid a plethora of accusations about vote buying. But, whatever the result, do not expect any Thailand style middle class revolt. Ziderov will be still on the street shouting about Turkish genocide. Ahmed Dogan will be relaxing by his yacht in Otmanlie and some kind of coalition will again emerge to face the wrath of the EU commissioners. And ordinary people will continue to go about their lives in a dark glow of cynicism