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>Bulgarian centre-right develops, weekly


The Sofia Weekly’s online news update (15 September) reports further developments on the fractious Bulgarian centre-right. The political equation both in Sofia and nationally is also complicated by the existence of the declining liberal-centrist/reformist bloc headed up by heir to the (notional) Bulgarian throne Simeon Saxecoburgottski currently in office and in coalition as a junior partner of the Bulgarian Socialists. As they have just introduced a 10% flat tax, as ever, the centre-right seems confined to anti-communism and faction-fighting over electoral alliances.

“Bulgaria’s UDF Faces Split in Sofia over Mayoral Race

The decision of Bulgarian rightist party Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) to endorse Martin Zaimov as its candidate in the mayoral race in capital Sofia is threatening to split the party’s supporters in the city.

After unsuccessful talks with incumbent Boyko Borissov, the party teamed up with the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) to back up Zaimov, who oversaw Bulgaria’s currency board regime for six years in 1997-2003.

But one faction came out against Zaimov on Monday, pledging its support to Borissov’s GERB party by signing a coalition agreement.

The faction, who calls itself the UDF National Discussion Club, claimed Zaimov’s nomination was a ploy on behalf of DSB leader Ivan Kostov to “bury UDF”.

UDF party leader Plamen Yurukov hit back at the rebels, downplaying the threat of a split within the party’s ranks.

“I don’t think there is a split in UDF. The [club’s] ringleaders are dependent on Borissov through their positions in the boards of municipal companies, but they won’t confuse our supporters,” Yurukov said.

The faction now face exclusion from the party, although it was up to the local party organisation to decide on the issue, he added.

Bulgaria’s Rightists Want Collaborators Out of Parliament

The right-wing hard-liners from Democrats for Strong Bulgaria called for kicking out of parliament the nineteen MPs who were exposed to have been agents and collaborators to the secret services.

The demand was voiced from the parliamentary rostrum by Vesselin Metodiev, deputy chair of the parliamentary group of Democrats for Strong Bulgaria.

At the beginning of September a special panel released the names of 138 agents and collaborators to the secret services, who have been members of Bulgaria’s parliaments since the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.

On the list were the names of president Georgi Parvanov and 19 current members of parliament, including ethnic Turkish party leader Ahmed Dogan, deputy parliamentary speakers Yunal Lyutfi and Petar Beron, chair of the parliamentary group of the Bulgarian People’s Union Krassimir Karakachanov.

Bulgaria‘s Former President Petar Stoyanov Quits Parliament

By Milena Hristova

Former Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov gave up his seat in parliament months after stepping down as leader of the biggest right-wing party the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF).

A day earlier Petar Stoyanov tabled his resignation as MP, which was approved Friday morning with 119 votes. Four MPs voted against and another four abstained.

“Despite this fact I have the deepest respect for Bulgaria’s parliament and its MPs and wish them success in their future work,” Petar Stoyanov said in a statement, circulated to the media.

Petar Stoyanov is one of the emblematic figures of the Union of Democratic Forces and Bulgaria’s transition to democracy.

Stoyanov’s political career took a flying start in 1990 when he became UDF spokesman in the second-biggest town of Plovdiv only to be appointed two years later Deputy Minister of Justice in the first non-communist government of Bulgaria since 1944. He resigned in 1993 after the dismissal of the UDF government.

On 3 November 1996 Stoyanov was elected President of the Republic of Bulgaria by winning 2,502,517 votes equal to 59.73 % of the votes cast. He swore in as President of the Republic on 19 January 1997 and stepped down in 2002 after a defeat by current Socialist President Georgi Parvanov.

In February 2004 Stoyanov was nominated for right-wing leader of UDF, but gave way to Nadezhda Mihaylova. He took over UDF leadership in October 2005 after Mihaylova stepped down, citing lack of support as the main reason for her withdrawal.

Stoyanov resigned as party leader after UDF, once the dominant centre-right party in the country, failed to win a single seat in the European Parliament elections in May.

UDF has been in a steady decline since 2001, when the party lost the general elections following four years of needed, but painful reforms.

It never recovered from the shock, splitting into three smaller parties since then, progressively losing ground in public opinion polls, which show it could fail to make it into the next parliament altogether.”

>A post-communist Costa in the making? Western expats enter local politics in Bulgaria


The excellent online Sofia Weekly newsletter reports that – post-EU enlargement a German, UK national are likely to run for municipal councils in the central Bulgarian town of Gabrovo on the ticket of the centrist populist/centre-right GERB party founded and unofficially led by Sofia mayor Boyko Borissov, which seems to be making the running in re-uniting the fractured Bulgarian centre-right. As ever local elections serve as a testing ground and laboratory for alliance-building that the CEE centre-right needs to do regularly and in spades. Given the vogue in Western Europe for buying holiday and retirement homes in Bulgaria and Romania – endlessly featured in how-to-a-buy-second-home-and-escape-to-the-sun programmes on TV in the UK – I begin to wonder whether in 10-20 years these countries will develop the same large pockets of expat West and North Europeans as France, Portugal or Spain. Given their EU voting rights in local elections UK and Dutch voters are already a significant voting bloc in local politics on the Costa del Sol, with their ‘community leaders’ sought after as another element in clientelistically-assembled local political alliances. There is, I believe, already some pretty serious sociological research on the expat British minority in Spain undertaken by social geographers, but as far as I am aware nothing by political scientists.

Meanwhile back in Gabrovo, the German reportedly owns a furniture factory in the picturesque mountain town, while the Briton has bought a house in the are. Polls suggest GERB will do well in the October local elections

>Bulgarian centre-right stirs?

> Today’s online edition of the Sofia Echo carries the following reports about centre-right politics in Bulgaria suggesting a degree of recuperation and realignment:

11:50 Tue 28 Aug 2007
The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB, met on August 27 2007 to discuss the upcoming municipal elections in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. New UDF leader Plamen Yurukov and DSB head Ivan Kostov met to discuss a joint nomination for the upcoming mayoral election. The two leading right-wing parties plan to create an electoral coalition. They also plan to prepare a common list of candidates for municipal councillor, according to Focus news agency. Since 2001, rightist parties have performed poorly in elections, a streak that culminated with a defeat at the elections for European Parliament in May 2007. Though there have been bad relations in the past among some of the politicians in UDF and DSB, it is still possible that their co-operation might lead to a successful campaign. “

10:38 Tue 28 Aug 2007
Opposition parties in Bulgaria’s Parliament launched a sign-up list for the impeachment of President Georgi Purvanov. Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria MP Neno Dimov initiated the list, said. Bulgaria’s constitution envisions two possibilities of impeachment of the president, in the case of high treason or in the case of a violation of the constitution . According to the opposition, Purvanov committed both, as it was proved that he had co-operated with the communist-era secret services. The president committed high treason, discrediting Bulgaria before its allies in Nato and the EU and before the world, opposition members said. He made the country look like an unreliable partner and even an instrument of foreign interest. The opposition also claimed that Purvanov violated the constitution by breaking the oath to obey the law and to be led by the people’s interests in all his actions. The president hid his collaboration with the former secret services in his own interest. The second constitution violation was that the president failed to serve the whole nation, and on the contrary, separated it. “

>Bulgaria: Flattened by flat tax?


Bulgaria’s new system of flat corporation and income tax – introduced at the start of this year by a government led by those unlikely free marketeers the Bulgarian Socialist Party – has, reports the Sofia Echo (citing Bulgaria’s office of national statistics) mainly clobbered those on low incomes and freelancing in liberal professions due to its abolition of many tax allowances. The logic, as with many weakly reforming post-communists states that have adopted flat taxation, seems to be to spur economic growth increasing the overall incomes of those at the bottom and then use the improved state of public finances to pay some targeted compensation to badly affected loser groups. These impacts seem to stem from its very low level in Bulgaria (10%), which makes it attractive to investors and business however, and the lack of a clear package of compensation for groups such as families with children, reports a subsequent SE. This is an interesting contrast with the proposed Czech flat tax trumpeted by the Civic Democrats in 2006, which carefully engineered things to offer some protection low income (or, at least lower earning) groups – mainly I think via some allowances and a proposal for a flat basic income type benefit payment to all citizens – and the much watered down proposal of the current Civic Democrat-led minority government for flatter taxes, which inadvertently clobbered middle income groups.

>Sucked into a democratic black hole


Surfing the web after an exam board made bearable by biscuits and tangerines on the house, I come once again on Ivan Krastev on comes up with a typically barbed commentary about the ‘black hole’ of populist politics in CEE. The basic picture presented is less than original (and I suspect less than true) – populist bad guys like Robert Fico and the Kaczynski are stalking the region driving off decent liberals like himself from office and influence. I did, however, like the usual cynical-cum-ironic take with CEE seen as more akin to France, and perhaps more the France of the mid-19th than the early 21st century. True, there are differences

In France, pensioners are beneficiaries of the status quo, and so never protest; in central Europe, pensioners are the losers and so protest all the time. Moreover, in Paris almost everyone is frightened by the invasion of the fabled Polish plumber, while in Sofia or Warsaw the public is indifferent or at least less hostile to the invasion of the French banker.”

CEE liberals are, however, like their mid-19th century French counterparts in wishing to bypass and restrict the democratic influence of the market-hating masses through the introduction of limited suffrage. These days – in fact as J.S. Mill realized, even in those days – that couldn’t mean anything is crude as a property qualification, but a cut off based on education and a notion of citizenship based on ‘capacity’ (that favourite EU buzzword) rather than rights. Krastev then hits the bulleye, astutely noting that

“It is perverse but true – in this age of democracy, elites in Europe are secretly dreaming of a system that will deprive irresponsible voters from the power to violate the right of wisdom. At the same time most citizens are convinced that they have the right to vote but not the right to influence decision-making.
The outcome is politics where populists are becoming openly anti-liberal, and elites are becomingly secretly anti-democratic. What central Europe is lacking is genuine reformism: the kind that is responsive to the demands of the people without falling victim to populist primitivism. This gaping black hole in the national politics of the member-states, more than anything else, threatens the European project today.”

He is thinking of Bulgaria and CEE, as coursem – where as we know populism is vapid, anti-elite but is basically ‘centrist’ and moderate, not the Neanderthal force Krastev rather crudely outlines which , if not ‘genuinely reformist’ and hooked up with society in the way he enviages, seems able to deliver some of the goods some of the time. More irksomely still (although as good CEE modernizing liberal he doesn’t say it) his comments could, I suspect, also apply to established West European and North American democracies rather than just being part of some post-accession, post-communist malaise.

>Bulgaria’s euro-elections: another dose of ‘centrist populism’?


Bulgaria’s incoming Euro-election results are interesting, but not totally surprising. Initial reports suggest they had been won by the Turkish minority party Movement for Rights and Freedom. But despite polling well just over 20% of the poll – probably due to the fact that admit a derisory turnout (26%) it was roughly twice as better at mobilizing as all others – it is the ruling Socialists (ex-communists) and the newly formed Movement for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) who come out on top, each with an estimated 21% of the vote. The once all-conquering Simeon II National Movement (NDSV) gets hammered and continues its political decline, while the far-right Ataka increases support to 14%, although given voter absenteeism and disillusion this doesn’t strike me as a huge breakthrough. The story, which for me is the political breakthough of GERB led by former mayor of Sofia Borrisov, which although tinged with more than a dose of populism seems set take over as the main force on the liberal centre/centre-right in Bulgaria, a role previously played by the Union of Democratic Forces (aka United Democratic Forces) and the NSDV. Apart from showing that being the capital’s mayor can be a good springboard for forming a new party in a fluid system and/or a presidential bid (think Lech Kaczynski in Poland, Basescu in Romania), it seems to yet another example of what as been termed ‘centrist populism’, the rise of broad liberal reformist middle of the road parties trumpeting their newness, European-ness and lack of corruption, which appear from nowhere and then rapidly exhaust themselves in office – this seems a particularly marked trend in the Baltic, where (at least in Latvia and Estonia) there is no strong communist successor party to anchor the left (whatever that happens to mean) of the political spectrum. Indeed, perhaps this ‘centrist populism’ pattern is the future of the centre-right in many CEE states – and thinking of France, where centre-right parties and sub-parties have emerged, merged and re-(e)merged since at least the 1960s perhaps this is not actually just an innovative or unknown pattern.
Predictably, there is scanty immediate information on the the party in English, although Bulgarian radio has two brief informative overview reports on its foundation – here and here. I guess one could painstakingly build up a mosaic from diverse English languages sources, but somehow I think it might be quicker to learn Bulgarian…