Peter and the Wolf

15/11/2010 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.