On the eve of Bulgaria’s former ruling party GERB’s national congress, one that is expected to usher in some change in the top ranks of the party, the main issue that has Bulgaria’s media abuzz seems to be just how big of a step back Tsvetan Tsvetanov is poised to make.
The fact of Tsvetanov’s reduced role does not appear to be subject to debate – the former interior minister in the GERB government has already been relieved, in December 2013, of his duties as regards the day-to-day running of the party’s parliamentary group, replaced by former Parliament speaker Tsetska Tsacheva.
In recent days, Tsvetanov was also mildly rebuked by GERB leader Boiko Borissov, who said that Tsvetanov should not be making any claims concerning the work of the country’s prosecutor’s office unless he had evidence to back his words. (This came in the context of Tsvetanov’s public squabble with media magnate Delyan Peevski, with the two exchanging mutual accusations that the other exercised undue influence over the prosecutor’s office.)
Instances of Borissov criticising Tsvetanov – his closest ally for more than a decade – have been so exceedingly scarce over the years that some local media wondered whether this was proof of a rift between the two. In some circles (not all of them sympathetic to GERB), Tsvetanov has been described as a millstone around the party’s neck, but Borissov has steadfastly refused to cut his ties to Tsvetanov.
The former interior minister is the subject of three investigations, two of which are already being heard in court, all stemming from his time in office – charges include failure to exercise his duties as minister to ensure proper oversight over police eavesdropping, but also failure to authorise wiretapping of a senior police official suspected of accepting bribes in exchange for alerting alleged criminals of investigations against them.
The court cases against Tsvetanov were among the reasons cited by Borissov when he gave the task of running the parliamentary group to Tsacheva – though it was not an issue of lack of trust, rather that Tsvetanov had too much on his plate to add parliamentary minutia to it, as Borissov put it.
Borissov has shown in the past he is prepared to jettison those who have become a liability – including the once-popular former agriculture minister Miroslav Naidenov and the once-influential former head of Parliament’s legal affairs committee Iskra Fidosova – but Tsvetanov is a special case.
Tsvetanov first came to public attention in 2005, when shortly after winning the Sofia mayoral by-election, Borissov appointed him deputy mayor of Sofia in charge of security and public order. However, Tsvetanov had already become Borissov’s most trusted aide-de-camp several years earlier, when the latter kept scaling new heights of popularity as the interior ministry’s chief secretary.
A former track and field athlete with a degree from the National Sports Academy and a post-graduate diploma in law from the University for National and World Economy, Tsvetanov joined the interior ministry in 1987 and was working for the ministry’s human resources management department at the point that Borissov was appointed chief secretary of the ministry in 2001.
Tsvetanov became Borissov’s closest lieutenant as operations assistant in 2001 and followed Borissov to the Sofia city hall in 2005, although his tenure as deputy mayor would last less than a year. At the end of 2006, when Borissov sought to parlay his high public approval rating into tangible political muscle, Tsvetanov was the one trusted with the task of party-building – Borissov could not do so himself as the law at the time banned mayors from being party leaders (a law widely seen as put on the books as an obstacle to Borissov’s ambitions for loftier office).
Tsvetanov made no secret he was merely keeping Borissov’s seat warm – indeed, more than once he spoke quite proudly of the fact. When the new party, GERB, won the parliamentary election in July 2009, his reward was the interior minister and deputy prime minister portfolios in Borissov’s cabinet.
A string of high-profile police operations made Tsvetanov the minister with the highest public approval rating in the government (after Borissov himself) and the prime minister often spoke glowingly of the successes of his “colleague Tsvetanov”.
At his peak, in early 2011, Tsvetanov appeared a shoo-in as GERB’s nominee for the presidential elections at the end of that year, but a string of highly public rows – the leaking of wiretaps that alleged Borissov asked customs officials to go easy on a brewery owner, as well as revelations that Tsvetanov had acquired several properties in Sofia (an investigation by the revenue service at that time found no wrongdoing) sank his ratings, so much so that GERB instead chose regional development minister Rossen Plevneliev as its nominee (and he did go on to win the election).
Tsvetanov’s public approval never recovered – it was only hurt further by his attacks against judges and his habit of making announcements about ongoing investigations, some of which were later proven wrong, as well as the claims that surfaced last year, during the parliamentary election campaign, that the police had carried out unauthorised eavesdropping.
For all of Tsvetanov’s legal troubles, Borissov has not wavered in his support, saying that the courts were ultimately the only ones that could issue a verdict. Some observers have speculated (at times gleefully) that Borissov could not afford to alienate the man that hand-picked so many people when building the party, but whether such pronouncements are true or just the partisan wish-fulfillment fantasies of political opponents, only time will tell.
(Tsvetan Tsvetanov and Boiko Borissov. Photo: gerb.bg)