Ten Blunders of Bulgarian Politicians Worth Remembering in 2014
A selection of gaffes to which Bulgaria's political elite gave birth in 2014.
While some are related to a particular person, others involve much broader issues.
The order does not necessarily reflect the importance of certain events, but is generally related to their impact on Bulgaria's society.
10. ‘I’ll Tell You a Secret’
President Plevneliev attending an event called "25 Years Free Bulgaria" on November 11, 2014.
Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev gave a curious explanation as to where he spent November 10, the day marking the beginning of democratic changes, without being pressured by anybody into doing so.
"You ask me where I was on November 10? I will tell you a secret: I was on the square and I was at the rally. As students [Iliyan Popov, a friend of the President] and I drew posters on two wallpapers. One had the inscription, "Justice for the Culprits", and on the other one we wrote, "The palaces of [the Bulgarian Communist Party] Should Become Hospitals and Schools." With these two posters we went to the rally. What impressed me quite a lot was that when we went there we tried to give one of the posters to other people, but nobody took it. Nobody dared to take the second poster. This is my November 10."
The problem is that no rally was held on November 10. The first one was on November 18, a day after a Criminal Code article banning any critical positions about the Communist regime, was removed from Bulgaria's legislation.The two posters the President is referring to were from a demonstration set up by the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party party on November 17.
9. Slavi Binev: an Archon Takes over Culture in Parliament
Binev (L)'s name as head of the culture committee was proposed by leaders (R-1,2) of the nationalist coalition Patriotic Front of which his party is a member.
Slavi Binev, a former MEP and now a member of the nationalist coalition Patriotic Front (PF), was appointed head of Parliament's Culture and Media Committee in end-November. The decision opened the floodgates of a scandal which prompted well-known people from art and theater circles, along with other citizens, to demand his resignation, also staging a protest.
Hundreds protested against Binev's appointment in December, subsequently prompting the government to hint (and later openly say) he should step down.
Binev has enjoyed over the years dubious reputation as a businessmen, with many alleging he is related to the infighting among organized gangs in the 1990s. Some years ago his decision to acquire the title of "archon", without the consent of Bulgaria's Orthodox Church, also raised eyebrows. However, others defended Binev and praised him for his determination to retain the post despite pressure. They insisted that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is not much different, saying it was not clear why no demonstrations had been held against Borisov instead. Theater director Aleksandar Morfov quit the National Theater Ivan Vazon in protest, though weeks later he was appointed interim chief of the institution.
The affair, which resulted in Binev's resignation, created much media fuss, with an outcry of indignation that had not been seen since the summer of 2013, despite the fact there had also been other "controversial" appointments in the past two years.
8. Reformist Bloc’s Rejection of Borisov as PM: a ‘Trick’?
Radan Kanev (R) agreed to accept Boyko Borisov as Bulgaria's next Prime Minister despite his staunch opposition both in the run-up to the early elections and in the weeks after.
The Reformist Bloc, a loose coalition of rightist parties, had led a fierce campaign against conservative GERB and its leader, now-PM Boyko Borisov, ever since it rose to popularity during the mass anti-government protests that rocked Bulgaria in 2013. In reality, both member parties and voters were split over whether or not to back Borisov in a new cabinet, with the entire caompaign for the early elections looking rather like a flirt between the two entities that are now coalition partners.
Days before the October 5 elections, however, the alliance drew a line saying it could not accept Borisov as Prime Minister if GERB won and that was the condition to forge an alliance. Hours before the vote, Bozhidar Lukarski, who leads one of the main RB parties called Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), said in an interview that RB's position was “a trick” to lure the portion of voters which was motivated by a strong anti-Borisov sentiment. Lukarski denied having said that, but a recording with his words was leaked into the Internet. Still, the RB went on shifting its position by the hour, reaching a point where Radan Kanev, who leads another RB party, was suggested by GERB as an “alternative” head of the next government during the GERB-RB political talks. Within a day, it had already taken the opposite stance, accepting Borisov as “the only option” to become Bulgaria's Prime Minister. Lukarski, for its part, was appointed Minister of Economy.
Leaders of the Reformist Bloc parties attend a press conference after the October 5 early elections. In the words of Lukarski (R-2), their rejection of Borisov was "a trick".
A “trick” or a failure which Lukarski advisedly tried to mitigate? His actions might have been an attempt to conceal the lack of agreement among parties in the RB, a bloc where at least three forces are constantly aspiring for dominance. However, for RB voters who cast a ballot hoping not to see Borisov in power, the answer might be of no importance
7. Sergey Stanishev: to Be or Not to Be MP
Sergey Stanishev (L-1) had maintained he would give up his MEP seat after the European elections.
For months the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP)’s former leader Sergey Stanishev had insisted he was only formally leading in his party’s election ticket for the May 25 EU Parliament vote and would give up his MEP seat on the day after, conceding it to the next candidate in the list. Even after the BSP’s poor showing in the vote, which almost made it lose its place as a second political force, he angrily responded to journalists who asked him whether he would take the step as promised; time and again he pointed, quite impatiently, to what “he had already reiterated” and assured them he would only take part in the first EP sessions aimed at promoting Martin Schulz’s nomination to the EU Commission presidency; we should not forget Stanishev is heading the Party of European Socialists (PES) after all. His explanation therefore sounded at least plausible.
Somewhat expectedly, Stanishev chose to remain in the European Parliament, giving his opponents ground to say he had fled to Brussels to save his political career. This does make some sense, since he had grown increasingly unpopular with both voters for weakening the party during his 13-year-long leadership. But what strikes the most is that he misled his colleagues; Petar Kurumbashev, who had to take over from him as MEP as was initially planned, had quit the national Parliament and had (according to some reports) thoroughly prepared to go to Brussels. The “15/15 scandal” (see below) that ensued left Kurumbashev eventually pinning his hope on the next European elections.
6. The Negative Sides of Preferential Voting
Momchil Nekov (in the photo) ousted Sergey Stanishev, the former socialist leader, from the first position on his party's European election ticket.
For Bulgaria, 2014 was the first year in which the preference tool was used in voting, with citizens being able to point out their favorite candidate from a party's ticket. Both the party option and the preference option had numbers which voters could tick to have their say.
The introduction of this new tool resulted in some peculiarities.
Sergey Stanishev, who then headed the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and its election list, lost his first position in the list after being replaced by 28-year-old Momchil Nekov, an unknown candidate. Nekov's success is easy to explain: many supporters of BSP had ticked #15 (the party's ballot number) twice, both on the party and the preference option, thereby backing Nekov, candidate #15, instead of Stanishev (#1) or any other contender. Nekov chose to retain his newly-acquired MEP position despite attempts of some BSP members to talk him out of holding the seat.
The "Lucky 15" was not the only example last year, though; in the national poll on October 5, Bulgaria without Censorship sent Ana Barakova, an ill-reputed contender which had been endorsed by local party structures, to Parliament, after voters double-ticked BwC's number and her own number which coincided with that of the party. BwC expelled Barakova from the party's group and the Parliament thus started its first workday with an independent MP for the first time in history.
In November, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) expelled two lawmakers from its party group for "having availed of the preference tool" despite internal party instructions not to do so.
5. Hitting a French Official to Kick-start One's Own Election Campaign
Volen Siderov, who leads the nationalist party Ataka, was charged with hooliganism and infliction of minor injuries on a policeman. On January 6, the nationalist leader was involved in a conflict, which started on an airplane, where he insulted the French cultural attach?. Later in the shuttle bus at Varna Airport, Siderov continued with his assault, hitting a policeman and a passenger who had expressed his outrage at the incident.
This is definitely not the first incident involving Siderov, but became the best-known one, with France's Ambassador to Sofia Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes voicing his indignation and condemning Siderov, even saying Bulgarians should not vote for him and his party days before the European elections in May.
As a result of the scandal Siderov has had his immunity lifted twice over the past months, the second time being after he made it into Parliament in the October 5 snap poll. He agreed to renounce his immunity to face the criminal charges.
4. Bulgaria without Censorship Party Turning into Bulgaria without Barekov
Dubbed “populist” or "a claquer" by some and "a different politician" by others, Nikolay Barekov has enjoyed mixed reception ever since his party Bulgaria without Censorship was formally set up in the winter of 2014, having grown into a political structure from a political reality program aired by the private national TV7 station. Using bold promises Barekov managed to skyrocket his own popularity – claiming he would even be the country’s next Prime Minister. At a certain point, weeks after BwC was born into the political world, it had led to a precedent in Bulgaria’s parliamentary culture, with a number of MPs splintering off their groups in the legislature and first declaring “independence”, but then pledging alliance to Barekov’s party. It was the first time a political entity had made it into Parliament without running in elections, something Barekov quite often pointed out.
The ex-journalist gained an MEP seat after the European Parliament elections in May with 10.66% of the total for Bulgaria without Censorship - a staggering result given that most opponents were not taking the party seriously enough at that time. But it was back then that rifts opened inside the BwC-centered coalition. VMRO, one of Barekov’s key junior partners, quit the alliance (shortly after having sent its deputy head Angel Dzhambazki to the European Parliament) to join the Patriotic Front, an entity supporting the current government. BwC attracted several other parties including LIDER, one supposedly associated with the businessman Hristo Kovachki, achieving an apparently strong union for the early parliamentary elections held October 5.
Barekov (L) with his former partner Krasimir Karakachanov, the head of nationalist VMRO party which broke away from Bulgaria without Censorship to join the Patriotic Front
Following the national poll Barekov also chose to remain an MEP. It was maybe due to him being mostly in Brussels, or maybe for some other reasons, that the coalition promptly started to decompose. The parliamentary group of BwC renamed itself to Bulgarian Democratic Center (BwC). The coalition had already expelled the above-mentioned Ana Barakova, and within days Rosen Petrov, also a former journalist and TV scriptwriter, had abandoned the party’s governing structure, months after a bitter dispute between Barekov and the well-known anti-government protester (from the February 2013 wave) Angel Slavchev had forced the latter out. BDC then began showing inconsistency in its political positions, provoking outbursts from Barekov himself. While in Brussels, the MEP sent out tens of press releases to first condemn BDC’s moves in Parliament, then to distance himself from its position, and then to respond to BDC’s decision to draw a line between Barekov and itself, for its part. In the end, it turned out more than half of the parliamentary group consisted of non-BwC lawmakers who were beyond Barekov’s control. BDC even formally elected a Spokesman to point to its independence, and this caused the coalition’s founder to say BDC had fallen victim to the “mafia”. Thus Bulgaria without Censorship turned into one of the shortest-living political phenomena of the recent years, decomposing in just months after having been set up. It had used the effort and energy and resource of many people; it had brought hope to many others; and it started decomposing, torn by infighting, reduced to a part of the usual political landscape.
3. Petar Moskov: 'Reformer' or 'Fascist'?
Moskov (C) was subject to much criticism over what civil rights activists called "racist" remarks.
Health Minister Petar Moskov warned in December that no emergency medial teams would respond to calls in Roma neighborhoods unless their safety was guaranteed. Though he stressed he did not want to draw a line between crimes of people belonging to different ethnicities, he noted there was "a problem which had to be solved", insisting he would not wish to "guarantee the right of somebody to beat up doctors."
His comments were hastily condemned as "racist", with civil rights groups stating incidents with Sofia emergency teams did not necessarily involve Roma communities. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) even urged Moskov to resign, claiming he was threatening Bulgaria's ethnic peace by opening divisions along ethnic lines.
Moskov evidently chose the wrong approach, not using his words carefully enough when tackling a troublesome issue, with dozens of beatings on doctors reported every year across the country in many neighborhoods. Nevertheless, some experts praised him for "timely measures" in a sector where few dare to make changes, while others insisted his critics should point to an "alternative" that could also reduce incidents with medical teams to zero.
2. Bulgaria’s 2014 Budget Falls Victim to ‘Public Image’ Concerns
GERB's leader Boyko Borisov (now Prime Minister) and DPS's head Lyutvi Mestan had a cup of coffee in March, 2014. Their meeting fueled months-long rumors about their parties having a tacit alliance. This prompted Borisov to ditch his plans for a state budget overhaul to avoid any suspicion he is acting together with the DPS.
The crisis at Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) and failure to fulfill the 2014 budget's income statement provoked calls by a number of politicians and experts to amend the expenditure. Lawmakers then rushed to the plenary hall for an eleventh-hour vote which had to result in overhauling the budget, adding billions of BGN in debt and deficit. But the motion failed despite having the approval of all major parties, after conservative GERB, the biggest party, which was then in opposition, said it would take a U-turn and reject the update bill to avoid speculation that it had joined hands with the liberal DPS to topple the socialist-led government (in which the BSP and the DPS were the senior and junior partner respectively). Thus a bill which most MPs had backed was not passed to avoid “certain associations” in society. In the months that came, the interim government, which was said to be affiliated to GERB, went on reiterating the treasury was in dire straits due to miscalculations of the previous cabinet, while it was “image games” that had led to the situation.
1. How Many Sides Does a Pipeline Have?
US Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and John McCain (R-Arizona) meet with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski. Russian officials had blamed the Senators for Sofia's decision to ditch South Stream, but the Bulgarian government had apparently abandoned to play a double game. Photo: US Embassy Sofia
South Stream might sound like history to many; others just sigh out of relief, pointing to the general uncertainty the gas pipeline project brought about while it was still active. Useful or harmful, profitable or detrimental? Only one thing is for sure: whatever the truth, Bulgarian politicians placed a huge effort to conceal it. The previous Parliament, dominated by socialists and liberals, hastily approved a bill granting “offshore pipelines” a special status which would have helped exclude South Stream from Europe’s Third Energy Package; ministers and lawmakers nevertheless defended the step, failing to deny suspicions they had been asked by Russian energy concern Gazprom to accept the legal changes. When Brussels warned Sofia against going on with South Stream, - and when US senators visited Bulgaria, obviously discussing relations with Russia – PM Plamen Oresharski froze the project… in theory. In practice he did not stop issuing permits and did not halt construction activities. It thus failed both to defend its “interest” in the project, keeping Russia’s trust, and to win Brussels’ confidence, pledging its loyalty to the EU, the values of which it purports to share. It was only when Russian President Vladimir Putin ended the project that the EU praised Sofia for its move, though it stopped short of offering any alternative.
The rest is indeed history, though a lot is already known and a lot more could be told. But this development illustrates Bulgaria's failure to sit comfortably enough on two chairs, a mission many other countries are finding it easier to achieve.
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