The Bulgarian post-election landscape can be summed up in a single phrase: everything went as planned. The caravan has passed. Last year’s barking dogs are now applauding. And the Left is dying.
The elections in Bulgaria this past Sunday (November 14) raised
the usual set of questions
for anyone who has even tangentially followed the country’s political process.
Why, in the poorest country in the EU, devastated by neoliberalism, where social inequality and a completely dysfunctional health-care system should have turned at least half of the population into revolutionary communists, does the Left continue to agonize?
Why do Bulgarians make the same mistake over and over again? Why do they willingly sign a blank check to some banana-strewn heroes?
Why is it that aristocratic pompousness (Simeon II), ludic coarseness (Boyko Borissov), or youthful feistiness with a Canadian passport (Kiril Petkov) are so appealing that the electorally capable part of the nation appoints such misunderstandings as its new saviors without hesitation?
Each of these questions necessitates a separate dissertation, but the common thread will be the Bulgarian Left’s cowardice and indolence, its political and moral capitulation to its opponents, and its disregard for its own electorate.
However, the examination of these factors and their manifestation in this election season must be preceded by a description of two concomitant circumstances. This rather unique non-political symbolic characterization of the recent election conveys
the socio-cultural environment of contemporary Bulgaria
more effectively than any dissertation.
Despite its predictability, this election was relatively interesting; at least in some ways. It was the first time a presidential election and a parliamentary election were held concurrently. But none of that really matters because it will be remembered primarily for one bizarre scene.
In Sofia, at one of the polling stations, a middle-aged woman refused to give the electoral commission her receipt after casting her vote on a computer, despite the fact that she was legally required to do so. She started to flee. She was pursued by the commissioners, the men of providence, and a police officer who happened to be nearby. When they were about to apprehend her, the citizen crumpled up the receipt, placed it in her mouth, chewed it, and swallowed it in an act of protest and desperation. The Balkan extravaganza, however, did not end there.
On election day in Sliven, one of the Covid-afflicted patients in the local hospital, who was on oxygen, decided to smoke a cigarette. He didn’t go outside, or even to the bathroom, because unplugging all the cables and tubes connecting him to the medical equipment was difficult. As a result, he smoked in his hospital bed. Because the mattress was polyurethane, it caught fire immediately. The hospital was evacuated; three patients were suffocated by smoke, and one was burned. We haven’t had enough of the plague and the fourth wave, with people dropping like flies in Bulgaria; we haven’t had enough of a health-care system ravaged by three decades of capitalist restoration; there just had to be some element of the
Balkanic surge of madness and stupidity straight out of Kusturica’s imagination.
But let us return to the elections, about which we now know almost everything now. The presidential election will be extended until next Sunday due to the overwhelming victory of incumbent Roumen Radev, who has demotivated his supporters to the point where a run-off will be required. As previously stated, the outcome is a rather foregone conclusion — Radev will be reelected.
More noteworthy are the results of the National Assembly elections (the unicameral parliament of Bulgaria). Seven parties will send representatives, but only one of them is considered leftist, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).
Unfortunately, it is now facing death after years of agony under the current leadership of Kornelia Ninova. Relegated to fifth place, mixed with an exotic for Bulgaria plankton of liberals (Democratic Bulgaria) and nationalists (Revival), it is on its way to the graveyard, dragging behind it a
baggage of ‘achievements’ that many on the Western European Right would envy.
For thirty years, BSP effectively guarded its left-wing lawn, preventing any other organization from contending even minimally in terms of programmatic competition. Second, the party implemented a 10% flat tax in Bulgaria. It also sent troops to Iraq, invited the United States to build military bases on the Black Sea, backed the Bulgarian mafia’s open assault on the special services, severed the head of the only serious industrial project in which Bulgaria was to be involved — the South Stream — and finally declared war on the Istanbul Convention and ‘gender ideology.’
The BSP has never yet experienced such a brutal collapse,
despite the fact that it was clearly on its way to do so.
It is entirely the fault of the party’s current leader, Kornelia Ninova. Her idea of flaunting ‘left-wing conservatism,’ ‘protecting the family from genderists,’ and the involvement of the entire party apparatus in a brutal internal crackdown on opponents have completely wiped out the remnants of leftism that the BSP’s biggest fans and staunchest sympathizers still saw in it. The BSP’s fortunes deteriorated from election to election. It was impossible not to notice, given that Bulgaria had three elections in the previous political season alone. For over a year, Ninova’s opposition circles, which she has not yet crushed with her bureaucratic steamroller, have been desperately sounding the alarm. But the chairwoman is adamant, and even yesterday, after the full extent of the BSP’s tragedy was revealed, she told reporters that the leadership’s resignation “is not under consideration.” After stating this, she moved on to apocalyptic scenarios for ‘Bulgarian democracy’ if voter turnout remains so low.
Ninova, however, conveniently overlooks one critical factor in her concern for citizens’ electoral engagement — herself.
Since the beginning of the transition, the BSP has actually been
the bedrock of ‘Bulgarian democracy.’
Yes, it’s dwarfed, handicapped and lopsided, but it’s still a liberal democracy of some sort. Only on the surface does this appear to be a paradox.
After all, this is the only party that operates within the paradigms established by the current political order for such organizations. It is a party that, at least until recently, had an electorate with its appropriate segments: hard and soft. It had a program that it didn’t particularly bother with, but it did use it in public debate and, to a large extent, it consolidated its position thanks to its political, rather than emotional, postulates; as well as thanks to its history. In other words: it did represent a section of the Bulgarian society. It also served as a psychological buffer for the majority of the population, which had been yearning for the People’s Republic since the early 1990s.
In recent Bulgarian history, no other party has really met the criterion for being one. These were and are random clubs, assemblages of bureaucrats (past and present), unprincipled, completely unpolitical, and solely focused on a concerted effort to plunder everything Bulgaria produced during the Zhivkov era. The rather weird brotherhood of ex-policemen and mafia maniacs led by Boyko Borisov, i.e. the GERB party, is unquestionably the pinnacle of this pathology. Let us add — it was Angela Merkel and her fellow politicians who actually created and cultivated this monster.
Meanwhile, Ninova’s tenacity has caused the BSP electorate to disintegrate. Even the most ardent and sometimes rash supporters of the party were unable to withstand such intense pressure. They felt abandoned or even attacked by the ‘mother party.’ Another factor that deters sympathizers and activists is Ninova’s ostentatious perfidy towards the internal opposition. The slander and insult campaigns launched by this woman could serve as a model for the Polish Institute of National Remembrance’s prosecution department. It is difficult to say how aware this person is of the broader context of her actions, but the fact remains that her actions contributed most to the drop in turnout, as she dealt a severe blow to her own electorate, the most important social group for ‘Bulgarian democracy.’
The obsession of the BSP chairwoman now is
‘readiness for dialogue.’
She hopes that the election winners, the Harvard Brothers (both graduates of the same university), as they are known in Bulgaria, Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev, will be willing to negotiate a coalition with her. After another typical Bulgarian ‘party,’ Continue the Transition (PP), which they hastily formed, won the elections, the duo declared to all and sundry that they are ready for talks with all parties except the GERB and the equally discredited Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). Because the Harvard Brothers have already winked at Ninova, it is entirely possible, though not necessary, that she will be involved in the process of government formation by the Harvard Brothers. Among other things, by using the famous phrase “achieving left-wing goals with right-wing instruments.” This, aside from demonstrating the general indolence of Bulgaria’s political class, was a clear signal for the BSP to abandon the fight against ‘genders’ and swiftly return to its most treacherous positions from the times when of the introduction of the flat tax at the turn of the century. There can be no doubt that the Harvard Brothers’ intention is nothing but consolidating and deepening Bulgaria’s neoliberal dystopia.
Ninova, on the other hand, is unconcerned about this. She is only hoping that by promising full support for the new government, she will be given, if not a ministerial position, then at least an ‘expert’ government position. She’ll then proclaim herself a ‘winner’ and a ‘great strategist’ for ‘bringing the BSP back into government.’ Of course, this claim will only be true in a parallel reality where Kornelia Ninova and her clique have been operating for a long time.
Meanwhile, in the real world,
other factors determine the quality of a political leader. In the last 48 hours, at least a few of Ninova’s party colleagues have publicly suggested that she resign immediately. One of them, Anton Kutev, who also serves as the interim government’s spokesman, made a similar call and added, “Resigning under these circumstances requires personal bravery, which is why I believe Korelia Ninova will not resign. Morals and a strong personality are required for this. Both of these qualities are clearly lacking in the chairwoman.”
Ninova’s determination to quickly witch-hunt and find a scapegoat, on the other hand, was undeniable. Kristian Vigenin, campaign chief for the BSP, was revealed to be the culprit. It is reasonable to compare this reaction to that of other leaders. For example, Hristo Ivanov and Atanas Atanssov, the leaders of the small sect of Bulgarian liberals known as Democratic Bulgaria, immediately accepted responsibility for their party’s poor electoral performance, despite the fact that they will almost certainly be invited to coalition talks with the PP first. Even Krassimir Karakachanov, the leader of the nationalist grouping VMRO, resigned along with the rest of the party’s leadership after it became clear that it would not send deputies to the National Assembly. In these circumstances, it’s difficult not to conclude that the Bulgarian right has a stronger moral compass than the Bulgarian Left.
However, ethical deliberations are far less important right now than political assessments and conclusions. These are the ones that the Bulgarian Left is most deficient in. There are, however, some, one could argue, special figures who continue to give hope to those on the Left who are most steadfast.
Elena Ioncheva, a Bulgarian MEP with rather stable social democratic convictions and one of the most active oppositionists within the BSP, is one of these people. Here’s a remark she made during a conversation with Baricada.org journalist Kydrinka Kydrinova, which she also shared on social media.
We, the Left, have a responsibility to protect the BSP; we must not allow this party to be pushed out of active politics. The Bulgarian Left must be at the forefront of fundamental changes. To represent and protect working people, we must fight for power. With Kornelia Ninova at the helm of the party, it is clear that this will never happen.
Following the November 14 elections, she publicly stated that the issue of her resignation had not been raised within the party. So, to be clear, I’m raising it right now. The party’s defeat is dramatic, as evidenced by the results of this and previous elections. In such circumstances, the only appropriate course of action is for the leadership to resign without any special requests. In such circumstances, any politician’s moral compass points only one way: resignation on her own initiative.
For the third time this year, the BSP results show that confidence in the party leadership’s course is plummeting. Some thought it couldn’t get any worse after the party received only 370,000 votes on July 11, 2021. On Sunday, November 14, it was revealed that, yes, it could. The number of votes cast had dropped below 200,000.
There is no European party leader who would not resign in the face of such a disastrous outcome. The Bulgarian Left does not deserve such humiliation. I am confident that the Left will be the first political force. This is demonstrated by the fact that President Rumen Radev enjoys widespread support and will almost certainly be re-elected for a second term.
Social democratic parties are becoming increasingly important across Europe. In Bulgaria, Ninova has transformed the BSP into a conservative party close to nationalists and, at times, openly in collusion with GERB. Ninova’s face is not the face of change; it is the face of the status quo.
For more than a year, I have been warning about the dangers of the party leadership’s policy choices. Ninova’s acceptance of blame for the BSP’s defeat will not weaken the party’s position in the upcoming coalition talks. On the contrary, it will have a positive impact because it will send a clear signal to potential partners that the BSP has a future and that it is a responsible party capable of holding its own leaders accountable.
It is past time to break the silence on the BSP and return to the model and political culture that has given us strength: open debate, critical thinking, social policy, and progressive solutions. We cannot postpone the most important conversation: the one about the deep leadership crisis, the lack of genuine leftist ideas, and the inability to inspire voters and offer adequate solutions to problems. Enough with the airs and graces! We will not be able to reform and change the country unless we can reform our own party!
Yoncheva concludes her commentary on a positive note, claiming that the Bulgarian Left, united under the banner of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, can fight for political authenticity and independence, as well as lead systemic change in the country. This optimism necessitates a great deal of determination, a willingness to work hard, and a serenity that we should wish for every Bulgarian leftist activist in these difficult times.
Photo: Kornelia Ninova, the chairwoman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (source: YouTube)
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Bulgarian and Polish activist, journalist, editor, publisher and translator. In the late `90 active in the Polish left and later in the labor movement, particularly the biggest Polish labor confederation — The All-Poland Trade Union Alliance. Until 2012 editor-in-chief of its weekly magazine. Contributor at Baricada.org and Strajk.eu, Polish correspondent for the Bulgarian National Radio.
Currently working as an editor and journalist for the Polish labor portal Strike and as a correspondent to the Bulgarian National Radio in Poland.