The Red Nuances of Bulgaria's Black PR
The Internet site boykostov.org, featuring an active election anti-campaign against the leaders of the two main opposition parties, Boyko Borisov, and Ivan Kostov, became notorious in Bulgaria in May, and continues to enjoy huge popularity, fueled by the recently airing TV clips.
The site, created trough the strict adherence to all "black PR" rules, warns voters that if they "support the informal leader of the young, right-wing Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, Borisov, they would end up with the leader of Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), and former Prime Minister, Ivan Kostov."
The site features the quite ingenious transformation of Borisov's face into Kostov's image, reinforced by the admonition - "if you support Boyko, you will get Kostov." There is another negative slogan ending the clip: "If they win, Bulgaria loses."
Mincho Minchev, the Member of the Parliament, known for forever bouncing between the nationalist "Ataka" party (he was elected MP on "Ataka's" ballot and later left them) and the ruling "Coalition for Bulgaria," and leader of the obscure "Nova Zora" (New Dawn) party, claims ownership of the idea, while the realization has been the work of "some very talented boys", so he says.
According to Minchev, a "buy one, get one free" promotion at a local supermarket has given him the inspiration for the advertising campaign against the most likely new Bulgarian PM, a campaign that became immensely popular among the public and the media.
A checkup of the domain, conducted by the news TV channel RE:TV, revealed the site has been first registered on April 23, under the name of Azer Melikov, as the author, the administrator, and the IT person for the site. The registration has been changed later to the name of Ivan Petrov.
The story becomes even more intriguing when one takes into account the fact that there is someone named Azer Melikov in the political Cabinet of current PM and leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Sergey Stanishev. Melikov is an IT expert and Chair of the Managing Board of the "Information Services" company.
Melikov is Stanishev's Head IT advisor. Before joining the PM's political Cabinet, he has worked at the BSP International Department - the Department where Stanishev's skyrocketing career also began.
Melikov has been appointed Chair of the Managing Board of the "Information Services" company over personal instructions from Stanishev, while the same company has been selected by Bulgaria's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) to count the ballots at the upcoming elections.
We, most likely, will never learn the truth about who exactly had purchased the boykostov.org domain, but the mere fact that Melikov's name is involved, casts a shadow over Stanishev's closest circle participating in a malicious campaign against his main rival and on the integrity of the company that will count the ballots during, maybe the most vicious, elections since the fall of Communism.
In the political talk show of RE:TV, the host Ivan Bedrov, said he had spoken to Melikov, who first stated he was not authorized to talk to the media about the site, but later denied any involvement.
In the mean time, the "Nova Zora" party and its leader, Mincho Minchev, are insinuating that someone else had used Melikov's name to reserve the domain, suggesting "Coalition for Bulgaria" internal intrigue and a plot, masterminded by Stanishev's enemies inside the Coalition and BSP, aimed at discrediting him.
The logical question here is why those people, who used the name of the unsuspecting Melikov to harm Stanishev's reputation, would later change Melikov's name to Ivan Petrov. If they tried to hurt Stanishev, why did they attempt to cover-up the name of his advisor?
The owner of the company hosting the domain said the site's registration had been paid for in cash, in the office, something quite unusual since reserving a domain is usually paid by a bank transfer or credit card. The cash payment, of course, did not leave a trace about the person reserving the site.
Mincho Minchev, himself, told RE:TV that the individual in charge of the site is indeed named Ivan Petrov, but refused to offer further details. When asked about the value of the project and how it was founded, Minchev said he could not answer, because his accountant was not at work that day. (The day of the interview.)
In the mean time, the weekly "Capital" discovered that there is a similar domain boykostov.com instead of org, registered under the name A. Borisov on the very same day the other site was reserved - April 23. Curiously, boykostov.com has been registered on the server of a hosting company in the city of Sliven, while the boykostov.org is registered in Sofia. The possibility that two people independently registered a site with the same name on the same day is probably one in a million, but this truth might never be revealed either. The Sliven hosting company refuses to disclose the identity of the client, who had paid for the domain.
Strangely enough, just in the last few days the domain was changed from boykostov.org to boykostov.info.
In addition to the domain's registration, the campaign cost is the other factor fueling the mystery around boykostov.org.
Minchev claims it is funded by "Nova Zora" but admits that the party is only receiving a small State subsidy, some membership dues and insignificant donations, money that definitely would not be enough to finance such large-scale campaign, including the site, internet banners, posters and TV clips.
It must be noted that "Nova Zora" has representation in the current Bulgarian Parliament because they won seats in coalition with the nationalist "Ataka". Consequently, "Nova Zora" is receiving 20% of "Ataka's" State subsidy or about BGN 60 000 per quarter, a modest amount, that Minchev himself admits the party is yet to receive for the first quarter of 2009.
The National Audit Office, by the way, informs they do not have any report about the donations received by "Nova Zora".
The price of the campaign, according to Minchev, fluctuates significantly in his different media statements. He told the weekly "Capital" that "Nova Zora" had slated a total of BGN 150 000 for the upcoming elections, in a RE:TV interview he said BGN 160 000 have already been spent on the media election campaign, while in the daily "Standard" he stated the amount of BGN 120 000.
Minchev is adamant that the party spends its money without exceeding the budget, meaning for quite a while they set aside all of their subsidies to finance the anti-Borisov ad.
The media agency "Argent", which until May 16 had a contract with "Nova Zora", told the weekly "Capital" that the planning and the purchase of media time had cost Minchev's party BGN 220 000.
Minchev says the internet site is "cheap - about BGN 4 to 5 000," but never listed the cost of the TV clips, the internet banners and print version of the campaign in the media.
"Argent's" representatives further say that the initial campaign design has been rejected by TV channels, radios and newspapers due to its anonymity. The "Nova Zora" logo has been then added in order to sell the ads.
"I am not someone who would coordinate what so ever with other people," Minchev declares when asked if he had ironed the details in advance with his coalition partners from BSP.
Minchev, (who admits of having been a "consultant" for the Communist Regime State's Security), and his party, are definitely part of "Coalition for Bulgaria" for the elections for both the European and the Bulgarian Parliament.
BSP officially differentiate themselves from the campaign, but Stanishev has offered some double-meaning answers when asked by reporters about his opinion. He said the campaign was "doing a good deed for the society, showing voters Borisov's intentions to bring back Kostov and the entire status quo of his discredited 1997-2001 Cabinet."
Here is another one of the PM's answers: "BSP is not the author of this campaign. But, I myself, as a citizen and a politician, believe that BSP has the mission to not allow the country to go back to the 1997-2001 period."
Is the black PR going to work or it is going to backfire? The election results will, hopefully, tell, depending on who is counting the ballots
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"The site, created trough the strict adherence to all "black PR" rules"
I think you mean "black propaganda", as opposed to the white or grey varieties. In fact this site qualifies as "grey propaganda", in that the source is unknown.
"Propaganda can be classified according to the source and nature of the message. White propaganda generally comes from an openly identified source, and is characterized by gentler methods of persuasion, such as standard public relations techniques and one-sided presentation of an argument. Black propaganda is identified as being from one source, but is in fact from another. This is most commonly to disguise the true origins of the propaganda, be it from an enemy country or from an organization with a negative public image. Grey propaganda is propaganda without any identifiable source or author. A major application of grey propaganda is making enemies believe falsehoods using straw arguments: As phase one, to make someone believe "A", one releases as grey propaganda "B", the opposite of "A". In phase two, "B" is discredited using some strawman. The enemy will then assume "A" to be true.
In scale, these different types of propaganda can also be defined by the potential of true and correct information to compete with the propaganda. For example, opposition to white propaganda is often readily found and may slightly discredit the propaganda source. Opposition to grey propaganda, when revealed (often by an inside source), may create some level of public outcry. Opposition to black propaganda is often unavailable and may be dangerous to reveal, because public cognizance of black propaganda tactics and sources would undermine or backfire the very campaign the black propagandist supported."