The Transparent Unifiers of Civil Society - Bulgaria's Political Cliches
In the last minutes of New Year's Eve in Bulgaria, the country's President is traditionally presented with the honor to recite his last New Year speech all over again on a square in downtown Sofia. While he is going on about the state's bright future despite difficulties, people are watching him on their TV sets, impatiently waiting for champagne bottles to burst open.
Nobody expects the head of state to say anything besides generic stuff on this particular occasion – and nobody is listening.
Ever since the new presidential elections campaign kicked off in Bulgaria, I feel the main runners have been reciting their New Year speeches most of the time. The general public has been bombarded by almost nothing but clich?s for months now.
As annoying the politicians' overused phrases are, they provide a vital insight into the image they are trying to create in the country and abroad. They reveal what the candidates are most desperate about.
Playing the "independent unifier" card
"If elected, I will be the President of all Bulgarians" – this is not Captain Obvious speaking, this is what the country's outgoing President Georgi Parvanov said back in 2006 while campaigning for his second and last term in office. Of course, what he meant was that he wanted to become "the unifier of the nation", a clich? Bulgaria's politicians have been using for a while.
In 2011, those running to become Parvanov's successor are repeating the same message on a daily basis in one form or another. While there is nothing unusual in the message itself, there is an intriguing detail in the way the major candidates are trying to create a convincing "unifier" appeal.
Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria's former EU Commissioner, has been claiming she is a strictly "non-partisan" candidate. She has stated that she is a representative of the country's civil society and has no affiliation with any political formation whatsoever, including the ones within the former three-way coalition from where she started her political career.
Kuneva has gone further to say that a President should definitely be non-partisan in order to unite the nation, defying the way most established Western democracies see things. Something in the lines of "civil society is very important" has been her answer to virtually all questions she has been asked.
Rosen Plevneliev, endorsed by the ruling centrist-right GERB, had declared on several occasions before his nomination was revealed that he is "an expert and not a politician". After he suddenly became a politician, he shot a pathetic and cringeworthy campaign video in which he declared he wanted the civil society to "determine his agenda". Plevneliev is not a member of GERB.
Ivaylo Kalfin, the candidate of the left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), is not a member of the political formation that endorsed him, either. He has called for "dialogue" and has pointed out that a President should not divide the nation. Needless to say, the civil society has its major role in his vague rhetoric, too.
Bulgarians despise politicians. After many years of disappointment, "politician" and "politics" have become dirty words in the country. As a result, politicians have started to pose as quasi-political representatives of civil society, independent by all means.
Even though Parvanov has admitted being a politician, he also employed the "independent" strategy while running for his second term, as he distanced himself from BSP, his party of origin, and was endorsed by an initiative committee, a motley crew of public figures, an example now followed by the likes of Kuneva.
Transparency gone wild
Corruption has been a major issue in Bulgaria for many years now. It would be impossible to determined who coined the term " transparency" given the abundance of political messages over these years, but everybody is using it. Virtually every single day, a politician vows to be transparent.
However, no candidates have succeeded in naming any concrete and plausible measures against corruption during the ongoing presidential campaign in Bulgaria. Repeating "transparency" as a mantra will not fight corruption and will not make one seem transparent, but rather invisible.
The major presidential runners in Bulgaria have been careful enough not to engage in an excessively fierce black PR campaign, as they are aware that the "civil society" is sick of that. Saying terrible things about one's opponents is a tactic chosen by more controversial candidates, like alleged mafia boss Aleksei Petrov. A peculiar clich?, "certain individuals", emerges in such cases, as in "my opponent is linked with certain individuals from the crime underworld."
In Bulgaria's police reports, "individual" is used instead of person (for example: "The individual shot another individual, which caused the latter individual to die."), so it is not surprising that Interior Minister and head of GERB's electoral campaign Tsvetan Tsvetanov has been saying "certain individuals" quite often, too. It is an obvious attempt to destroy political opponents while playing it safe.
As Plenveliev, Kuneva and Kalfin are considered the main runners, Bulgaria's next President will most probably be a mediocre and dull public speaker using an abundance of clich?s in order to appeal to the general public. It remains for the voters to find out whether he or she will cope with actions better than words.