Bulgarians both look for capitalism with modern face and are skeptical towards change

The 14 November 2021 parliamentary elections in Bulgaria gave political space to a new party that promises change. Vladimir Mitev discusses about change and status-quo in an interview for the Polish site Strajk.eu

Change Continues’ leaders Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev (source: YouTube)

The 14 November 2021 parliamentary elections in Bulgaria gave political space to a new party that promises change. Vladimir Mitev discusses about change and status-quo in an interview for the Polish site Strajk.eu

With much of the votes at the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria that took place on 14 November 2021, there is a clear winner – the anti-graft party Change Continues. Its political intentions deal with modernisation of the country in a number of domains, with judicial reform being one of the priorities. The Bridge of Friendship blog has written a number of articles on the Bulgarian protests of 2020, which were the beginning of the fall of the government of Boyko Borissov. Following the 4 April 2021 parliamentary elections a interim government was formed by the president Rumen Radev, in the conditions in which the post-Borissov political elites are unable to agree on a clear majority in parliament. The 14 November 2021 elections were the third parliamentary elections for this year and it is still not clear whether the political crisis will be overcome after them. 

Change Continues – the newly established party, took more than 25% of the votes. Boyko Borissov’s GERB remained second with more than 22% support. The Movement for Right and Freedoms – a political party, supported by the Turkish minority, but also having an important Bulgarian businessmen in its list, is the third force with a bit over 13% of the votes. It is followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which got a bit over 10%. Then comes the formation of the showman Slavi Trifonov “There is Such a People” (over 9,5%), Democratic Bulgaria (a party of the urban middle class – a bit over 6% and the party Revival (less than 5%), which run on discourses of patriotism, anti-vaccination and critique of Western integrationists circles.

On the same day presidential elections were held – with the incumbent president Rumen Radev being unable to win them at the first round, but having a large distance from the second candidate – the rector of the University of Sofia. The Bridge of Friendship blog will probably reflect on the Bulgarian political situation after the election of the new president in other articles. What we offer now is an interview, which was given to Strajk.eu – a Polish progressive outlet. The interview was done by Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat – a Polish journalist specialist in matters of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. 

What we must know about the new winning party and its two leaders?

It is a party, which is formed around two charismatic former ministers – the financial and the economy one, that made a stronger media presence after the fall of the Borissov government and the establishment by the president Rumen Radev of a caretaker government in the spring of 2021. In short, it is a party that promotes “zero corruption”, innovation in the economy and “honest” business as opposed to the oligarchic business that forms clientelist networks. It is a party that aims at the middle class, as the Bulgarians that want social change and modernisation after the long period of atemporality that was related to the rule of former prime minister Boyko Borissov. 

Having said that, there are also some controversies, related to the otherwise appealing message and charismatic leaders. There is a feeling that there is some rapid political incubation or engineering around that project. E.g. the Constitutional Court established that Kiril Petkov – as the minister of finance (between May and September 2021), occupied his ministerial position in violation of the law, because he had dual citizenship (a Canadian one besides the Bulgaria one) at the time he assumed office – a fact, which he didn’t declare in the beginning. Another controversy might be seen in the fact that the new party didn’t have technical time to run on its own registration for the elections and had to rely on a few smaller parties, which provided their registration for the candidates of Change Continues. One of these parties is known for siding with extreme right political formations in the past. And there were also controversies regarding some of the candidates of the party – because of their behaviour of political nomads, or because there are some disputes how exactly should be interpreted the fact that a sponsor of the party runs for member of the parliament or is announced as possible minister even before the elections and the coalition negotiations for any government. In other words, the claims of “zero corruption” might be a challenge for the party in a society such as the Bulgarian one, which is dominated by in-groups, oligarchy, and fluid standards of anti-corruption. In any case, the support which Bulgarians gave to this party can be seen as sign of hope or desire that after the 12-year rule (with small pauses) of Borissov, Bulgarians want capitalism and a state “with human/modern face”. But on the other hand, the relative lack of a clear and easily obtainable parliamentary majority might be seen also as scepticism or fear that change might not be for good.

Will Bulgaria finally get a stable government?

Bulgarian society continues to be divided politically and to lack a culture of cooperation. That is especially valid for its political superstructure. If we have a look at the distribution of the places in the parliament, it turns out that a future government, led by the Change Continues, should also have the support not only of the Democratic Bulgaria (a party of the urban middle class), but also of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (which is known under its leader Kornelia Ninova as being “conservaitve” in terms of values, as party of nostalgics and as party of “the old type”) and the party “There is Such a People”, which could be labeled as some kind of populist formation, whose stances on a number of issues are unclear, but which is also seen as retrograde by the urban elites, who are presumably leading “the change” now).  

What next with GERB and the structures it built over Bulgaria – and what next with socialists?

These two parties are branded as parties of the status-quo, of the old type of political culture and capitalism (oligarchic/clientelist one). The Bulgarian Socialist Party got a bit more than 10%, which suggests a huge crisis in the public support for it. People don’t seem to recognise it as a positive actor in the current context and with its current messages and stances. 

As for GERB, the support for it remains stable. Its results should be read in the context in which Angela Merkel will no longer rule in Germany and the future government will be led by the Gerrman Social-Democrats. We can expect that on a European level the European People’s Party, to which GERB belongs, will be losing influence. In any case, for the time being GERB remains supported by its circles. And probably it already undergoes a certain process of recalibration so that it could be part of the era of Biden. 

There is a feeling that Borissov will not be allowed to return to power in personal capacity. But his party ruled Bulgarian for a long time and remains influential. And perhaps that will matter in the conditions in which we expect that Rumen Radev will receive a second mandate as a president at the second round of the presidential elections after one week. 

There is a feeling that the Bulgarian society with its authoritarian tendencies is moving from the regime of a general from the internal ministry – Borissov, to the regime of another general – this time from the army – Radev. There will be a need for contestation of the political currents that are currently being established in power. And perhaps what is seen now as a status-quo and old-type of political culture might serve a positive role in the future, if it manages to modernise and renew as well.

Photo: Urban landscape in Bulgaria (source: Pixabay, CC0)

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