Ahead of the July 1 launch of her political party, Citizens for Bulgaria, Meglena Kouneva has embraced a strategy of portraying herself as an outsider, taking on an entrenched political and economic cartel – a message not dissimilar to the one used in her failed 2011 presidential bid.
Half a million Bulgarians voted for her in October last year, a statistic that Kouneva, who was Bulgaria’s first European Commissioner, cites as proof that an electorate disillusioned with established parties are seeking an alternative.
Certainly, from some of the names on the party’s initiative committee announced on June 10, it is clear that there were some politicians who were looking for an alternative.
Those who have hitched their stars to Kouneva’s wagon, however, come from the centre and the right – and generally from parties whose own fortunes are in decline, to varying degrees of severity.
Predictably, there are no high-profile names from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right ruling GERB party (which pollsters current assert will take the largest share of votes in the 2013 parliamentary elections) and nor are there any household-name figures from the largest opposition party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
Notably, while polls in the October 2011 elections showed that Kouneva had taken votes across the political spectrum – at the time, raising speculation where she would place her party – Citizens for Bulgaria has declared itself to be a right-wing party.
The committee includes Daniel Vulchev, who was education minister in the 2005/09 tripartite socialist-led coalition, and who has parted ways with the National Movement for Stability and Progress, the party formed around former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg.
That party went from triumph in the 2001 parliamentary elections to a minority share of government in 2005 to winning no seats in the National Assembly in 2009. It did, however, win European Parliament seats in 2009 – when Kouneva headed its electoral ticket.
A less prominent name, but also formerly of Saxe-Coburg’s party, is that of volleyball star Plamen Konstantinov.
Proshko Proshkov, who was the 2011 Sofia mayoral candidate for the now-defunct Blue Coalition (he got 11.5 per cent of the votes in a first-round defeat) and was a member of former prime minister Ivan Kostov’s right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, has signed on with Kouneva.
Proshkov describedBulgaria’s political parties as “staging theatre in which we are a captive audience”.
Others with name recognition, albeit of other than formidable political significance, include Petar Stoyanovich, formerly of the right-wing Gergyovden movement. Elsewhere in the mix, which includes academics and members of the legal, medical, architectural and IT professions, are composer Stefan Dimitrov and actor Malin Krastev.
Kouneva said that her party was for people who did not want to live in aBulgariasplit in two between oligarchs and those who were cheated.
By no means the only politician to try this in recent years, she invoked the memory of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) rallies of old, in the heady days of mass rallies against the government headed by the Bulgarian Communist Party’s lineal successor, the BSP.
It is imagery laden with sentiment for Bulgarians with vivid memories of those days – though in no recent election (footage of the rallies is a popular choice with, naturally, the rump of the UDF itself) has it translated into voter mobilisation.
Touching on a recurring theme in Bulgarian politics, the involvement in public life of people who formerly were communist-era State Security agents or collaborators, Kouneva said that would-be members of the party would not be checked formally but would be asked to sign a declaration that they had not been affiliated to State Security. “It is important to believe them,” she said.
A declaration signed by the members of the initiative committee said that five years after the country’s accession to the European Union,Bulgariawas less like a European country, and increasingly fewer citizens felt that the country was orderly and safe.
Five years after EU accession, the declaration said,Bulgariacontinued to beEurope’s poorest country, while unemployment, illiteracy and social exclusion were reaching dangerous levels.
Public policies openly served private interests, the economy was monopolized by those close to power, and small and medium-sized enterprises were “on their knees”.
Populism held sway, according to the declaration, moving on to a direct reference to Kouneva’s keynote theme of a “political cartel”.
After this litany of complaint, the declaration proceeds to what it is the party will stand for – “we are united in the name of the European future of Bulgaria…in the name of freedom, responsibility and fairness”; Bulgaria as a strong country of free people, where health is protected, quality education guaranteed, where poverty is fought, where justice is guaranteed for its citizens.
On justice, the declaration says that the way to success would be based on labour, education, talent and initiative.
“We believe that this is possible only when creating fair and enduring laws, applied by the relevant administration, and guaranteed by impartial and independent courts.”
The declaration closes with a rallying call, “we believe we know the answer to the question of to who Bulgaria belongs – its citizens”.
(Photo: European Parliament)