Analytical observer, "Voice of Russia"
Senior Researcher, Institute of Russian History
Russian Academy of Sciences Ph. D. (History)
The political crisis in Bulgaria which continued for a greater part of this summer resulted in formation of a new government. The National Assembly confirmed the Left-Center government to be headed by Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev. The coalition includes the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the former ruling centrist party led by ex-monarch Simeon II Sakskoburggotski, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, representing ethnic Turks. The three parties control 169 of the 240 parliamentary seats between them.
The alignment of political forces and the distribution of sympathies within the Bulgarian society demonstrated an important tendency symptomatic of Eastern Europe - in a situation when the society appears to be torn between "liberally"
and "socially" oriented poles, initiative is taken over by socially and nationally oriented parties and politicians. This was largely due to the polemics and crisis brought about by the fiasco of the EU Constitution and the attempts to pass the European budget. At the time when the new EU members expressed preparedness to make sacrifices, revise legislative norms, change economic priorities and, quite often, renounce effective economic models, the "old Europe" - France, the Netherlands, UK - expressly demonstrated national egoism, which obviously whipped up protest attitudes in the east of Europe.
Bulgaria was the first country to reveal this tendency.
"Who is marching out of step?..."
The June 2005 parliamentary elections in Bulgaria ended in victory of the Leftist Coalition for Bulgaria led by Sergei Stanishev's Socialist Party, which was followed by a political crisis - the victors lacked strength and experience to form a viable cabinet, whereas the losers - NMSII (National Movement for Simeon II) - no longer had authority to form a government. The resulting political deadlock truly conveyed the state of the Bulgarian society.
Like most ex-members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), Bulgaria has passed through several stages of self-determination in the new geopolitical reality. In the beginning, there was renunciation of socialism and friendship with the USSR, euphoria over the bright common European future and "developed capitalism", readiness for restoration of monarchy - the 2001 parliamentary victory of the National Movement for Simeon II in the hope for national-state consolidation under the "Tsar", and belief that the "800 Day Program" would really lead the
country to a stable economic development. In those years, the chance to be admitted to NATO and EU was regarded as a symbol of self-determination. As we know, Bulgaria was really admitted to NATO - yet there may be problems with being admitted to integrated Europe.
The major total of the Right cabinet's rule included growing social differentiation, the lack of social support, shock reforms, and Bulgaria's involvement in the Iraqi intervention. All of these resulted in social discontent and apathy. The "Tsar" was blamed, in the first place, for the absence of whatsoever program or strategy for development of Bulgaria - as a result, he lost the elections to Socialists.
The renunciation of values of the preceding historical period, in itself, did not lead to prosperity, and dismantling of socialist economy did not guarantee a way out of the severe economic crisis that extended over 15 years. The political pendulum started gradually shifting to the left, which became evident in the local elections that were held in the autumn of 2003, when even in Sophia Socialists managed to increase their representation by 10 % at the expense of right politicians from NMSII.
In June 2005 elections, the Coalition for Bulgaria led by the Socialist Party got 32% of votes, followed by NMSII with 21%, the Turkish minority's Movement for Rights and Freedoms (9.5%), and, fourth, "Attack" (7%).
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (nicknamed "Turks party") has a special status in the Bulgarian political spectrum, playing for many years the role of "political balance". This is partly due to the personality of its leader, Ahmed Dogan, who was a dissident in the developed socialism epoch, a human rights activist
standing up for the rights of the Turkish minority oppressed by Todor Zhivkov's regime. Today, Turks make up about 17% of Bulgaria's population. The Turks party is characterized by extreme consolidation and consistency - they are always waiting for the other participants in the political scuffle to have it out, after which they join the victor. The party's support has always been a prerequisite for forming the government because neither Socialists nor the Right possessed a majority and both of them needed a partner. This time, Ahmed Dogan demanded a greater portion of power for his party. In 2001, Simeon II let them head the Ministry of agriculture and occupy governor posts in regions with a Turkish majority. This time, Stanishev promised Dogan five out of 18 ministries and eight governor positions. At any rate, the current political weight of "human rights activists" is way above the proportion of the population they represent (17%).
Disillusionment with the policy of the government headed by Simeon II was not the only reason for the victory of the Left. Many people sympathize with Sergei Stanishev, the young Socialist leader. He is 39 years old, his mother is Ukrainian, and his father was a high-ranking party official in socialist Bulgaria. Stanishev is a historian by education, he graduated from the Moscow State University, yet young people know him well as a "super" rock musician, a lover of all kinds of extreme pastimes. When it comes to politics, however, he never is the one for any extremities - at any rate, he brought his party to the Socialist International, where he is in the company of Blair and Schroeder. The new leader's basic merits include communicability and the capacity for compromise solutions - these revealed themselves in the course of the recent crisis, as well as in Stanishev's being able to establish good
partnership relations with Brussels, simultaneously retaining Moscow's sympathies. Stanishev has before him a long and laborious task of "doubling the GDP" and raising living standards of his people. He honestly admits, "I cannot promise easy and miraculous solutions that would change the country in a minute".
He cannot, however, disregard the fact that the protest attitudes that have been building up in the Bulgarian society over the past two years have in the long run resulted in formation of a new political force - the coalition "Attack", which immediately managed to clear the parliamentary barrier and seriously influenced the process of cabinet formation negotiations that time and again came to a deadlock, making new elections imminent (it is the possible landslide victory of "Attack" in new elections that forced Simeon II and Sergei Stanishev come to an understanding). "Attack" representatives were not invited to the coalition government, staying in opposition.
What color is "Attack"?
The coalition "Attack" incorporates nationally oriented movements and parties of different calibre.
"It is a new stratum of the Bulgarian society that is going to lose from the process of the country's eurointegration modernization, sociologist Antony Gylybov points out. - In other words, these are rather dissimilar, separate social groups and subgroups, that could only be brought together at such a short notice thanks to radical utterances. This makes political support for "Attack" impermanent, and even the slightest manifestations of normal attitudes on the part of this coalition will start eroding the support it is getting". The coalition includes five parties - "Attack" proper, led by Volen
Siderov, the Union of Patriotic Forces and Reservists "Defense", the National Movement for the Salvation of the Fatherland, the Bulgarian National Patriotic Party and the political club "Zora".
The main objectives of the Coalition have been most clearly formulated, which immediately gained it both vocal advocates and opponents. These include withdrawal from NATO and withdrawal of the Bulgarian contingent from Iraq, revision of the results of Bulgaria's negotiations with the EU and a new discussion of the terms that put Bulgaria to a disadvantage, putting an end to Bulgaria's dependence on the IMF and World Bank, revision of privatization deals, etc.
"Attack"'s program has a precise social and national orientation. Iordan Velichkov, chairman of the "Defense" Union, believes that the emergence of "Attack" came as a surprise for the entire political class of Bulgaria, yet this is "not an accidental phenomenon or just a concept - its emergence was meant to satisfy the need for a patriotic notion in Bulgarian political life". Iordan Velichkov notes in his comment on "Attack"'s social program, "Revision of privatization deals has been conducted in a number of East European countries, yielding positive results. The program raises the issue of expropriating property and assets acquired unlawfully - in the first place, by politicians. Bulgarian politicians are the wealthiest in Eastern Europe, and it is the business of public justice to find out how they got their wealth".
Such words were surely not to the liking of most of his colleagues in parliament - but these words inspired the electorate.
"Attack" leaders do not regard Bulgaria's partnership with the EU as equitable. They believe that the closure of the third and
fourth power generating units at Kozlodui nuclear power plant was an economically unjustified measure.
The radical Bulgarian politicians are closely watching the processes that take place in Western Europe. Velichkov points out, "We are committed to assertion of Bulgarian interests in Europe in a fitting manner, which is what other states are doing, too. You know what happened in France - the state which is one of the vocal advocates and proponents of European integration - when French interests were infringed upon. The same is true for Holland. In other words, "Attack" demands that Bulgarian interests be asserted in a fitting manner within this exceedingly vast economic, political, and now also military community. We should be implacable whenever Bulgarian interests are infringed upon - but it does not mean we should oppose the EU in general".
Referring to "Attack"'s political affiliations, its opponents often describe it as "brown" or "red", yet its leaders reject such labels. They are prepared to back whatever initiatives of whatever political forces that would serve national interests. Today, according to them, division into "right" and "left" is not relevant at all. It is much more important whether or not political activities of certain parties and leaders meet national aspirations and social requirements.
Some analysts are in a hurry to describe "Attack" as an "orange" force - however, in contrast to Yushchenko's "Maidan" that appeared overly theatrical and controlled from the outside, "Attack" is an independent force oriented to state interests, which will be much harder to drive away from the political field than it would be to pull down the tents of Kiev demonstrators when they are no longer needed. It is orientation to protection of national
nterests and values that distinguishes "Attack" from numerous pseudo-protesting political formations used by anti-national reformers in their struggle for power (the way it happened in Serbia and Macedonia, Ukraine and Georgia, similar scenarios are currently being prepared for Azerbaijan and Byelorussia). When viewed from this perspective, the experience of Bulgarian politicians is truly invaluable.
Volen Siderov, the leader of "Attack", formulated its credo in a most concise manner, "You may withdraw from NATO like de Gaulle, or you may stay in the EU, but it should be a Europe of nations rather than a pyramid, which it is today".
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