Debate Rules Bulgarian Style

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | Author: Maria Guineva |March 25, 2009, Wednesday // 19:55
Bulgaria: Debate Rules Bulgarian Style

Bulgaria's two top contenders to rule the country after the upcoming Parliamentary elections held their much anticipated, and first of its sort televised debate Tuesday night.

The debate between Bulgaria's Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader, Sergey Stanishev, and the Sofia Mayor and the rightist GERB party leader, Boyko Borisov, finally took place in the "Referendum" show on the Bulgarian National Television (BNT).

The focus of the two-hour talk was the respective parties' policies to steer the country away from the harmful effects of the global financial and economic crisis.

To me it was the most boring and dreary debate ever. If I was not interested in it professionally, I would have switched to another channel long before its conclusion.

But I will set aside the PM's now oh-so-well-known, routine ramble about how his Cabinet was the best government Bulgaria has ever had, or the Mayor's non-stop bragging about his great deeds for Sofia's sake. I wish to comment on the debate's rules.

After having the opportunity to watch quite a few political debates in the US, to me the BNT show looked like a joke, a farce. The pure travesty of debate.

The huge differences first struck me when I realized that the two most prominent Bulgarian political leaders had to bring along a team of "experts" to pull them out of shaky grounds when questions got tricky.

PM Stanishev's team included the "heavy guns" - "one of the best finance ministers in Europe (per Stanishev's own definition), Plamen Oresharski, Deputy Economy and Energy Minister Yavor Kuyumdzhiev, and MEP Iliyana Yotova.

Borisov was joined by some largely unknown GERB party experts, including former Sofia City councilors.

Kuymdzhiev, following his leader's example was proudly boosting a bright red tie, while the ever beaming Oresharski has selected a red and blue one, maybe as a reminder of his former right-wing affiliations. After all, with elections around the corner, one never knows, right?

The GERB economists, on their part, were young and quite moving with their fresh faces, nervousness in front of the cameras, overflowing enthusiasm and the zealousness to please their "Hero Mayor".

Neither team, similarly to the respective Chiefs, did offer significant insights to the dull dialogue.

In addition to the main opponents' "helping hands", the debate's rules appeared quite a novelty to me. Yes, as it should be, they were strictly set in the beginning - the order of speaking, how turns will be taken, the allotted time for each speaker. The clocks were ticking. So far so good.

It soon became clear that no one even intended to follow to so-called rules. Each participant was interrupting their opponent(s), talking over them, going over the allotted time. Not to mention the personal attacks and insults or the fact that nobody's microphone was ever turned off during the entire debate, so the TV audience in the studio and at home could hear the "experts'' conversations and private remarks among their own teams.

So, here again, the first ever televised debate became a stark example how rules in Bulgaria are not to be obeyed. They are just recommendations, very broad guidelines. And they always apply to others.

As a former expat, after my return to the motherland, I have personally considered such rule bending as one of Bulgaria's main problems. Not that the country lacks laws, Acts and rules. It has maybe more than what is needed. But what good are they when they are never enforced? Never ever!

How do you expect citizens to obey traffic signals, respect public space or follow internet forum rules, when the moderators of such important, historical political debate are perfectly OK with twisting the rules they themselves have set?

When reproached of allowing speakers to go 2 minutes+ over their allotted time, the TV show host simply replied: "Yes, we have rules, but sometimes it is more important to hear what the person has to say..."


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