Boris Popivanov, Political Scientist: 'We Have Very Unstable International Environment'
Let us begin with what, in your opinion, was the most important theme in Bulgaria last week?
In fact, the most important thing last week was that the coalition negotiations were finalized and we have a new coalition government between GERB and the United Patriots. It became clear the distribution of political forces. You know that there was a lot of questions about the place and role of V. Mareshki's party ‘’Will’’ in this configuration - he had great claims at first, but now it became clear that he is ready to support the government for nothing in return.
It became clear also that the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP for Bulgaria) would remain an opposition, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) would also be opposition, but not as hard as they just does not agree with the extreme nationalism of the government. From here, we can conclude that, if the United Patriots dropped out of the government, DPS would not mind supporting a GERB minority government. This will be GERB’s backup option.
The past week passed with the handing over the first term of President Radev and the clarification of the positions; with the presentation of the coalition agreement as well as the priorities of Bulgaria in the period 2017-2021, from which several conclusions can be made: firstly the application for a four-year mandate, but in this case the most important thing is that GERB will try administratively to solve the problems that arose in 43th National Assembly.
This is actually the third term of Boyko Borisov. Until now, he has not completed a four-year mandate. Do you think this is possible now? Do you expect anything different or, after our presidency in the EU, there will be another parliamentary elections in Bulgaria?
It does not depend on him. Four years are a very long period, especially when we have very unstable international environment, which is changing not only by days, but by hours. Here I mean not only the relationship between the Great Powers, but also in our region. Within just a few weeks, due to the events in Turkey and Macedonia, the Balkans are quite different. The stability of a government in Bulgaria cannot be seen for months, what remains for a few years.
Sure, there is the main legitimizing factor of this government - the presidency of Bulgaria in the EU.
At least because of European reasons, due to pressure from outside, everything will be done to make sure that Bulgaria has a government and parliament at least until the summer of 2018. This is giving the new government a breath of fresh air at least for a year and a half. Otherwise, the entire state machine would be blocked and the EU Presidency of Bulgaria will fail as well.
There is no mention for reforming in the new government's priorities, the word that is most commonly seen is "stability" - a STABLE financial system, a STABLE health system, etc. This government does not plan to do anything new. What will keep them on the surface will not be their actions but I let me say it again - the image, the effect of this presidency.
We must not forget that despite our self-assessments, despite the fact that we think that Bulgaria is a stable country - compared to everyone else it is a country in which there is such widespread poverty and that's the main reason why Bulgaria cannot be stable in a first place.
What could lead to the collapse of a government?
There are many things that could break down a government. We have already seen that the great protests during the 42th parliament took place between June and November. After November, there was only one occupation of Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, but the protests went away few days after. Not only have they gone, but good economic indicators have emerged towards the beginning of 2014. There have been sociological levels of trust, which during this period showed that the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the Bulgarian Socialist Party are having a significant part of the trust of Bulgarian society.
Then an internal oligarchic scandal ruined the whole government. That's why we cannot talk about security and stability because within a matter of weeks, things can change. The social situation as well as the oligarchic circles have a significant impact Governments are usually victims of these battles between them.
Bulgaria Ranks Lowest Among All EU Countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. What’s your opinion about that?
It is enough to open them and to see that there is no claim to objectivity. There is one concept that is extremely popular in Bulgaria over the past 4 years - "backstage". There is no such thing in Bulgaria. Everything is in front of our eyes. If before the media made suggestions, they manipulated people, now they directly tell you how to think, who we need to blame - who is the bad guy and who is the good guy in the story.
If we had to ask ourselves who was sitting behind a post before, for example, now he is often signing it with his name and we don’t need to guess.
Practically now it is impossible for a politician or a businessman to meet each other without each of them separately to record the conversation and putting it in the media. There is no backstroke - everything is transparent.
These sadly low levels of freedom of the Bulgarian media are not surprising, on the other hand, if there is something new, it is that the dependencies of the media have become much more open and transparent.
One of the issues that could lead to a possible conflict between GERB and the United Patriots is the majority vote. What do you think about this? Do you support the majority vote?
The Bulgarian political elite aims to show that it understands more than the show elite. This is how the image of majority voting was created - society sees its supporters as supporters of democracy, and its opponents as supporters of the statuquo and the oligarchy.
No political force will want to claim itself as a supporter of the status quo and the oligarchy. The Bulgarian political elite will still have to show that it agrees with the majority vote.
Of course it is not suitable for a number of reasons which are already listed by the Bulgarian Association of Political Science.
Majority voting is not an end in itself. It is a reason to include Slavi Trifonov in Bulgarian politics. Thus, the majority voting is a "hot potato" and it creates certain problems among the political players.
None of them was concerned about the majority vote itself. The most convenient position is for GERB, because on the one hand, if they adopt such a change in the Election code, they could win the future elections. On the other hand - if the adoption of the majority does not take place - to win from the situation, in the role of its only defenders.
The question is how the other parties will expel the majority case. Within a week or two, this conflict will begin. By then the main topic will be the newly elected coalition government.
Then the Council of Ministers will begin to perform its basic functions and the main conflict will be this one. Because, as we have said, GERB and the Patriots do not come to power with the idea of changing something, which is why we cannot expect other topics but the problem of the previous parliament – the referendum.
This problem will transfer all the time between the coalition partners until there is no way to be neutralized.
It is not excluded to solve the problem in part - namely to introduce a partial majority element. Compromise option. I will use the lessons learned from the 43th parliament: The Electoral Code has been amended several times, with the participation of the United Patriots, who have forbidden the vote abroad and after that they have allowed it
On supposition that the next parliamentary elections are shortly to come, we can now accept any changes to the Electoral Code - even if we accept the majority vote, but until we get to the next parliamentary elections, there is no guarantee that we will not change it a few more times by returning it In the initial position.
What do you think about the proposal to restrict the voting rights of Bulgarians abroad?
Any limitation of rights is not democratic. The question is whether this is a limitation of rights. Because the whole process and desire to change the organization and way of voting abroad came out of its natural context. First of all, it is a package of changes related to the possibility to act on the Bulgarian political process from the outside. Second, it is not about limiting voting abroad but restricting voting outside of a European Union, which is a very significant difference.
Because limiting the vote in the European Union is impossible. As long as you have free movement of people and an opportunity for freedom of establishment and life in every EU country, every Bulgarian citizen who has settled anywhere in the EU has rights to vote. For this reason, such a principle could only apply to Bulgarians living in non-EU countries. In fact, they are only two - the United States and Turkey.
As for the vote in Turkey - it is not on a large scale. But while this vote is in the hands of the Turkish state as an organizer, as options and sections, this vote becomes uncontrollable - from 60,000, voters can become 600,000, especially after the referendum in Turkey, especially after the transition to presidential republic .
The issue of the organization of voting in our south neighbors is becoming increasingly worrying in view of the impact on Bulgarian politics. In this sense, the Constitutionalists should decide exactly what is a limitation of rights and what is another constitutional requirement - namely the protection of national security. This is the big mystery - how this can be achieved.
During the past few days, the Sofia’s Prosecution Office has begun investigating of the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (NEK). Why they did this checks and what is your opinion on the price increase?
What is happening in this sphere, especially when it comes to income in Bulgaria, is shame. This is terrifying and we will not feel it until December this year. The first bills that will matter are those in November. In this sense, this appears to be a time bomb destined for the coming winter.There is a certain limit for Bulgarian households to pay.
Energy is one of the sectors in Bulgaria, where most people took benefits. Often we pay old sins. We should not forget that for many years NEK has been in a state of bankruptcy. The Bulgarian energy holding is also in debt and is hard to keep on the surface. Besides that, our relationship with external partners and raw material suppliers is extremely uncertain and subject to political circumstances.
In this sense, the problem of the return of budgets is a very central issue. At the same time, however, the government should look for social buffers simply because the population will not be able to withstand this.
People will not rise to rebellion, they just will not be able to pay. When you have 1%, 6% irregular payers, the state will play its role with bailiffs. But when you more than half the people cannot pay their electricity bills, you cannot make sanctions. In this situation, everything is going to be blocked.
It would be good for the government in the coming months, to come up with a certain strategic plan to compensate households for price increases.
Is it impossible not to comment on the situation in Macedonia? What is happening there, according to you, and is it possible to get into a war? What will be the consequences for Bulgaria if it happened?
There is a great risk of starting a process of decay in the Macedonian state in front of our eyes. Because the independent history of Macedonia is 26 years old. Roughly speaking, it was divided into two periods, starting from 2001. And the so-called Ohrid Agreement and after it.
By 2001, the Macedonian political elite was trying to impose its understanding of a centralized state, where Albanians are a majority. They have, of course, the right to parliamentary participation, but they are outside the system of power in the broad sense of the word
From Kosovo History,1999 and continuing on with the armed conflicts in parts of Macedonia the situation is leading to a severe hopeless conflict, which was resolved with strong advocacy from NATO and the EU through the so-called Ohrid Agreement. Macedonian parties have agreed that Albanian parties will have their rights in government; That they will have the right to participate in the government. Since then, there has been an Albanian party in every government.This was a strong rebate in 2001, which was seen as a step towards federalization.
The second step comes now. The Ohrid period ended, which was linked to a compromise on both sides. Part of what the Macedonian Party retained was the following: the parliament will be led by a ethnic Macedonian, and the second is that the Macedonian parties will co-operate with the Albanian parties to make a government, but will categorically reject the Albanian parties' claims for autonomy, The Albanian minority as a constituent element as well.
It has come to the fact that after the conflict between the Social Democrats and the VMRO, the Social Democrats prefer to give all power to the Albanians, but not to allow VMRO to the powerto govern, which is no less the worst than the current situation there.
Unlike in 2001, when the EU and NATO made every effort to ensure and maintain the territorial integrity of Macedonia, there is now no such international unity. On the contrary, Western powers and Russia are now blaming each other for the state coup in Macedonia. They are currently using Macedonia for clashing geopolitical interests, which further complicates the solution of the problem.
It can no longer be resolved through understanding between Macedonian political subjects.
Will you agree with President Rumen Radev's statement that Macedonia should respect the democratic process and go to the negotiating table?
Even if we can assume that they can lead a dialogue that I doubt, it still does not work because the political forces outside will not allow them to do that.Russia and the West are fighting forces in Macedonia, based on a real ethnic conflict in the country of course.
Let’s not forget that This is not only in Macedonia. Similar situations for external intervention exist in Kosovo and Serbia. There is talk for attempted coup in Montenegro with Russian citizens who were extradited from there two or three months ago.
In Serbia itself, there was an attempt to assassinate President Vucic before being elected president.There are too many smoldering outbreaks in the Western Balkans and the fire can start from the most unexpected places and spread.
That is why Bulgaria should not be calm, as reported by the Bulgarian authorities after the conflict in Macedonia, simply because we are immediate neighbors and everything could easily be transferred to us.
The last few wars were in the Balkans. Not somewhere else. And not so long ago. Wars are completely possible - history and practice are showing this. The worst is that in recent years tensions have been increasing but not decreasing.
Internationally, we have already mentioned Russia and the West, but we should not forget Turkey because it is a country thanks to its Neo-Ottomanism that promotes Albanian nationalism. In this sense, the rise of Turkey as a regional force, the least that it can achieve is that it stimulates the Albanian elites for more radical behavior. Especially after the referendum in Turkey.
If we have to look at our region in detail, we have Greece - which is still under the influence of a severe economic crisis, Bulgaria - the poorest country in the EU, the Western Balkans have been in severe internal contradictions for centuries, the only force with international importance is Turkey. And in this situation between Turkey and the West, Bulgaria acts as a mediator.
It is important to say that the problem with the refugees moving from there is still unresolved. They continue to be over 2 million.
As a behavior, however, the Ankara regime is unpredictable. We must not forget that part of Turkey is in a state of fact civil war due to the Kurdish issue. It has become a place with a concentration of terror attacks.
There is a very serious smoldering tension and it is under question whether Turkey itself will remain stable.
What is the outcome of this situation?
The solution to the problem in Macedonia is to enter NATO and the EU immediately. It's not because she's ready but because the EU is based on the principle of inviolability of borders. And it will not allow a Member State to fall apart. If it happened with one member-state, then the others would fall apart as well. That is why the EU will engage with the integrity of the Macedonian state. This is the decision, another thing is that it will not happen. Macedonian state is going to break down.
My opinion is that the way down is already taken. For the time being, some solution to the problem will be found again with compromises between Macedonians and Albanians, but the story will repeat itself again in a few years.
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