Bulgaria's Volen - Too Free for the German Liking
In the beginning of February, the leader of Bulgaria's far-right, nationalist Ataka party, Volen Siderov, was briefly detained by the German police upon landing at Frankfurt airport over an incident on board of a Lufthansa flight.
Bulgaria just began to recover from the embarrassment caused by Rumiana Jeleva, our first nominee for EU Commissioner. On that same day Kristalina Georgieva filled the post, after an outstanding hearing at the European Parliament. But we did not have enough time to savor the rare feeling of pride before another local politician rolled Bulgaria in the mud, in plain European view.
Siderov boarded a Frankfurt-bound flight in Sofia, seemingly under the influence of alcohol. The 53-year-old Bulgarian politician, reportedly, refused to obey the flight rules - fasten his seatbelt during takeoff and landing, and remain in his seat. He is said to have tossed the food he was served, constantly hindering the work of the flight attendants and even going in the plane's kitchen. All attempts of the crew, including the pilot, to calm him down failed. Siderov further insulted the flight attendants with racist words, calling them Nazis, anti-Semites and blond-haired Aryans.
In an article published in the official Ataka newspaper, the politician gives his own account of the incident, claiming the flight attendants asked him where he is from and upon learning he is Bulgarian exchanged spiteful smiles. The nationalist felt deeply offended by being treated as “a second class person because of his origin,” and made an objection, which escalated to a brawl triggered by the crew, so he says.
Nice try, but this story does not hold much water - the many times I have flown on Lufthansa, or any other airline for this matter, I have never been asked what my nationality is. Such questions on board seem inappropriate and pointless, and definitely not in the stock-in-trade of a well-trained German crew.
What is even stranger is that Siderov, who for years now has been using fascist symbolic and rhetoric, chose precisely names as Nazi and Aryan to deliver the insult. Evidently, Nationalism in Bulgaria is ersatz, just like almost everything in politics.
The one sound explanation was probably offered by the Ataka Member of the Parliament, Desislav Chukalov, who said his leader traveled to Germany to be treated for some health issues. Certainly, a health condition can explain Siderov's behavior. For years, his impairment has been known to Bulgarians, who lovingly call him The Sick, but it is good that his own party finally confirmed it.
(*The name Volen is a rather poetic Bulgarian word for Free or Free Spirited. It rhymes with Bolen meaning sick.)
Or is Volen so sick and tired of being for months now subdued and docile in the shadow of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov? Is he missing his own loud speeches and screeching street protests so much that he couldn't not help it but lash out at the flight attendants?
Chukalov’s ardent defense, however, might prove too ardent and dig a deeper hole for Siderov. Upon landing he barely escaped arrest by the German authorities. The politician proceeded to insult the police officers and was released only because he showed a diplomatic passport. The case has been sent to the Prosecutor and the German Court is expected to rule next week, the Frankfurt police informed. If Siderov had been in Germany for personal reasons, as Ataka says, he might soon face very serious consequences.
Of course, the Nationalist did what he knows best – he threatened with law suits Lufthansa, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who confirmed the incident, and any Bulgarian reporter and media, who publish information about him being arrested in Frankfurt.
Bulgarians journalists are used to being harassed, beaten up, attacked with bombs, hammers and metal bars. The move might have worked locally. After all, Bulgaria’s press freedom ranks last in the European Union.
But suing Lufthansa is another matter.
Siderov was certainly hoping for the same positive outcome that emerged from another scandal he stirred some years ago. In April 2006, the car in which he was traveling on “Trakiya” highway got into an accident with another vehicle driven by a young man with his father and grandfather as passengers. They complained of being attacked physically and verbally. After the accident Siderov attempted to hide the fact that his driver had a criminal record. He was eventually charged with incitement to perjury, dragged the trial for years and after numerous failures to appear in Court and postponements, was finally acquitted two and a half years later. The driver took the blame and a suspended sentence.
Siderov, seemingly, did not take into account that he now has to deal with a German Prosecutor and a German Court. On top of it, Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, swears by the German support and trust while Ataka is the strongest backup of the PM’s GERB party, securing the much needed parliamentary majority. Borisov needs Siderov and Siderov needs Borisov – so the unthinkable happened – instead of suing, the Nationalist apologized to Lufthansa. The apology was accepted, but alas, the Frankfurt police spokesperson said the decision is still in the Prosecutor's hands.
Our homemade politician might just be forced to learn that Germany is not the “Trakiya” highway and Lufthansa is not driven by his personal chauffeur.
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