Top 10 Stories in Bulgaria's Politics in 2013
2013: an uncanny year of both upheaval and stagnation for Bulgaria's politics. The top 10 headlines – as we in Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) saw them – follow, in chronological order.
Ahmed Dogan: ‘Assassination Attempt’ and Resignation
Powerful – and controversial – Bulgarian politician Ahmed Dogan had been chairing the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms, supported by many of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks, since the party’s founding back in 1990. January 19, while Dogan was delivering his speech at MRF’s national congress in Sofia, a young man walked on stage and pointed a hand gun point blank at Dogan’s face. Whether the incident was the result of a premeditated assassination attempt or weird theatrics, photos of Dogan ducking the gun circled world agencies. Hours later, Dogan resigned and delegates elected Lyutvi Mestan at the helm of MRF - a party of lasting pivotal influence in Bulgarian political life, which in May was to become coalition partner in the new (an current) goverment.
February Social Protests
End of January and early February saw the strongest street protests in Bulgaria since the local economic and financial breakdown in 1997. Thousands came out in Varna, capital Sofia and other major cities to rally against the perceived widespread political corruption and economic trampling down of citizens by alleged cartels. The proximate cause: high electricity bills. Winter protests were pitted against the failure of cabinet after cabinet to secure economic prosperity and social justice for Bulgarians – apparently to their own benefit. The social outrage turned tragic as Bulgaria witnessed a string of deaths by self-immolation - acts of radical despair for which Bulgarians were not known in the past.
Resignation of the Borisov Cabinet
As protesters rioted and clashed with police, the center-right GERB cabinet of burly ex-PM Boyko Borisov grew uneasy. Simeon Djankov, Borisov’s star Deputy-PM and FinMin, was unceremoniously scapegoated after some 4 years of austerity policies. Two days later, on February 20, the Borisov cabinet resigned – just months before the end of its term in office in July. Parliament accepted the resignation, with other parties refraining from tabling new cabinet proposals. Enter the caretaker government of Marin Raykov, appointed by Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev.
‘Tapegate’: the Sequel
Since coming to power in 2009, the Borisov cabinet had become notorious for widespread wiretapping at the hands of GERB and cabinet strongman, Deputy-PM and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov. In April 2013, one of the most controversial recorded conversations leaked: a close chat among Borisov himself, former Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov, and ex-Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov. The three were apparently discussing – in quite cynical parlance – moves to thwart an ongoing investigation against Naydenov, appointments in the legal system, mishandling of public funds, etc.
General Elections and Convention of Bulgaria’s 42nd National Assembly
President Plevneliev scheduled early elections for May 12. The day before, prosecution uncovered in a highly publicized operation what appeared to be an illegally printed surplus of some 400,000 ballots – provoking accusations of planned vote rigging and politicizing the so-called reflection day. The outcome of the vote: a modest turnout of little over 50% sent four parties to Parliament, with close to 1/4 of ballots remarkably going for parties below the 4% threshold. For the first time in recent Bulgarian history, the former ruling party came out first again. But previous confrontation with other political actors left it isolated and unable to form a cabinet. The elections produced an uncanny distribution of MP seats: likely coalition partners, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement of Rights and Freedoms, got exactly 120 of Bulgaria’s 240 MPs, the rest going for GERB and nationalists Ataka.
The New Oresharski Cabinet
Realizing their situation, GERB relinquished their cabinet mandate. With no formal coalition agreement, the Socialists and MRF got together a cabinet proposal proclaimed as technocratic, to be presided by Plamen Oresharski, former Minister of Finance (2005-9). The composition of the draft cabinet left not a few disillusioned – both those who quickly saw shady corporate influences, and those who were hoping for a truly leftist cabinet after years of rightist policies. The new Oresharski cabinet was approved by Parliament and swore in May 29.
Summer Anti-Cabinet Protest Rallies
One of the first moves of the cabinet is one that still haunts it. After the new Parliament made important reshuffles in the structure of Bulgaria’s law enforcement agencies, June 14 PM Oresharski proposed and Parliament approved young MRF MP Delyan Peevski for chair of the now even more powerful State Agency for National Security (DANS). That same day, tens of thousands walked out on the central squares in Sofia, protesting against the appointment to the key security position of a figure controlling a growing media empire and allegedly connected to shady business interests. Peevski filed his resignation the next day. But rallies continued and grew, now requesting the resignation of the entire cabinet. This time over, they were concentrated almost exclusively in Sofia, and called for an end to oligarchy and the advent of true democracy, taking over anti-leftist overtones from the 1990s. The night of July 23-24, protesters blocked people working in Parliament and clashed with riot police. Protests tapered off in August, but there has been someone in the streets calling for cabinet resignation every night since June 14.
Tsvetlin Yovchev: a New Ambitious Career in Bulgarian Politics
Against this backdrop, the figure of Deputy-PM and Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev is reasonably one to come to the fore. Even more intriguing are the circumstances of Yovchev’s previous high-ranking appointments. Like some other cabinet colleagues, Yovchev is not affiliated with either BSP or MRF – but unlike them he first came to prominence during the rule of arch-rivals GERB. It was ex-PM Borisov who appointed Yovchev head of National Security (2009), a position he relinquished after a troubling installment of the wiretapping scandal, only to be appointed as chief of cabinet of newly elected President Plevneliev (2012), himself a former Borisov cabinet minister. During 2013’s politically and socially turbulent events, in his standing as minister Yovchev has made a strong impression to both fans and detractors with his composure and confidence. His is a political career to watch out for.
Energy Politics: Bills, Referendum, Strategy
It was the power bills and cartels that drove people in the streets and the Borisov cabinet out of power in early 2013. As the protests were starting, January 27, Bulgarians voted in the country’s first national referendum – convened with a petition started by the Socialist Party – for the future of the country’s nuclear energy. Although 60% voted in support, the results were not binding, as the turnout was little over 20%. Anyhow, 2013 put a focus on Bulgaria's energy sector. This far, the embattled Oresharski cabinet has managed to secure a reduction of electricity prices, and to vow a second one starting January 1, 2014. The stalled Belene NPP project, which occasioned the referendum, has been neither furthered nor conclusively terminated. At the same time, the government finalized negotiations with Russian energy giant Gazprom for the South Stream natural gas pipeline project, officially starting construction end of October. Cabinet also invited US company Westinghouse to build an additional reactor at Kozloduy NPP. Both projects are of strategic importance, but still face many unknowns in the months ahead.
Student Occupation and No End to Rallies
End of October students at Sofia University, provoked by the Constitutional Court’s reinstatement of failed DANS head Peevski as MP, began a weeks-long occupation of the main university building in central Sofia. Spilling over into the streets, the students’ protest in effect provided a continuation of virtually died down summer rallies against the Oresharski cabinet. Clashes with police in front of Parliament recurred again, November 12, but the government has this far shown no signs of planning to withdraw. Poignant photos flooded world media, yet once more the protest failed to attract significant masses across the country. However, easier times are not in store for the Oresharski cabinet in the foreseeable future. And Bulgarians remains politically divided and socially insecure in the quiet leading up to the new 2014.
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"I rather have some of this Chinese communism in Bulgaria than your nonsense “capitalism” or whatever system that may be!"
Excellent statement, In-fact I would prefer being under Soviet communism than the BS Capitalism we have now which has brought us nothing but misery. Of course I agree with you, I don't care whether they call themselves communists, or socialists, or capitalists, I am not picky, I would choose those who fulfill their promises, unfortunately those don't exist and in the end we may have to scrap politicians entirely altogether.
The main problem in BG is the excessive politicization of everything! (probably the main problem in many ways of the Balkans and even the entire Europe)
The bottom line here should be positive results and prosperity and NOT politics.
Nobody really cares what political “tribe” you are from and what are your colours when you deliver positive results and prosperity!
You can call yourselves communists, capitalists, nazis, conservatives, democrats, liberals, republicans, new democrats and etc. bullshit you wish to be but the bottom line here is what you deliver and is there prosperity!
I rather have some of this Chinese communism in Bulgaria than your nonsense “capitalism” or whatever system that may be!
Make money morons, NOT politics!!!!!