More of the Same? Are Bulgarians Insane?
The article was originally published at Novinite.com on April 11, 2012. Following the lead of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s party in the early general elections on May 12, Novinite.com Editorial Staff decided to republish an abridged version of it.
Quote No 1:
"In Greece, we want to have a prime minister like you – a patriot, a responsible man, who builds this country."
Greek tourists speaking to Bulgaria's then Prime Minister Boyko Borisov during his visit to the border town of Sandanski
Quote No 2:
"It took us a long time to get it into our heads that the burly man who gets off the Bulgarian prime minister's car is Boyko Borisov himself, not his bodyguard."
A German TV station cameraman, based in Brussels, speaking in a private conversation
"Usually we come to Bulgaria to shoot "local colors" stories. Germans find them interesting, but I can see life is hard here," the German cameraman told me with an unnerving and a bit humiliating compassion in his eyes.
Well, what I found hard at that moment is explaining to him why the poorest and unhappiest voters in Europe are expected to give a thumbs-up to the status quo at May elections, according to polls.
First I had to explain the phenomenon to myself. Why does Borisov continue to be popular even though we are getting poorer and unhappier?
Despite his numerous U-turns on key issues like taxes and energy projects, as well as his washout staff policy, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov remained consistent in his role of a winner, a man of the people, one who takes pride in his lack of diplomacy and smooth statesman-like manners.
Strikingly, this combination seems to agree very well with most Bulgarians.
When he entered office, at the peak of the crisis, Borisov's impressive presence and intimidating manner made people believe he is a solid rock they can rely on amid the turbulent waters of the global markets and Brussels' lack of manly resolutenesss.
Later as almost all decisions were taken only to be revoked, it appeared as if he is more into giving the appearance of action rather than making serious changes. (As one popular commentator jokingly noted, Borisov is changing his staff faster than veteran Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor used to change her husbands.)
Nevertheless Borisov's intimidating manner - bossing around like a shameless, short-fused, bull-necked tyrant with a don't-bother-me-cause-I'm-too-busy expression - turned into a model that his PR machine deliberately imposed and Bulgarians seemed to applaud. The model was applied in forming his brainchild GERB party, in selecting the future members of parliament and the ministers. What all these had in common is the lack of governing programs, priorities, principles, serious and in-depth analyses.
The trouble with this model is that it is very much mafia-like - it is all about personal charisma, force, ties and has nothing to do with universal tools and rules inherent in a democratic country. At one moment even the masterminds behind the government, those who pull the strings, went out of the closet.
Translated into economic terms, the facts paint the classic picture of an oligarchic rule, managed by a handful of people.
Sill let's imagine that Borisov sincerely started off with good intentions. What went wrong?
The blacklist includes huge deficit of justice, lack of major reforms, needed to help Bulgaria make its state sector more efficient and catch up with other EU members, inclination to conduct policy benefiting particular people, failure to attract or at least prevent driving away foreign investors, who create new jobs, failure to pursue an eye-catching anti-corruption agenda.
You may argue that it has always been like that in Bulgaria ever since the communist take-over in 1944.
True, but let's not forget that Borisov's party GERB won the elections on the promise to put an end to the pharaonic rules and mafia-like tactics and bring those guilty for the country's collapse to justice. Failing that promise is his crime.
I will take the liberty to illustrate this crime with a flagrant and clear enough example.
An Open Society survey recently found out that for the five years of EU membership Bulgaria has failed to use the new opportunities to improve the lives of its citizens, refusing to follow in the footsteps of Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Estonia who put it a lot of effort to do that.
For example, in the category "healthcare quality" Bulgaria ranks at the very bottom - 35th - among EU member states and EU aspirants.
Even Albanians live longer and suffer less than Bulgarians, the survey said.