South Stream, backstage dealings and diametrically varying views on the role of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms in Bulgarian politics were among issues on the minds of politicians as they campaigned on the weekend of May 10 and 11, two weeks ahead of the country’s European Parliament elections.
As ever, there was no real distinction between domestic political squabbles and issues in the European Parliament contest.
Some entries in The Sofia Globe’s election campaign notebook:
* Boiko Borissov, leader of centre-right GERB and not an MEP candidate, said that he did not want to hold a debate with Sergei Stanishev – leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, of the Party of European Socialists and list leader of the BSP candidate ticket – because Stanishev had dropped to the level of an MEP.
Stanishev was on the same level as Tomislav Donchev, number one of the GERB candidate list, Borissov said.
“We want the battle for the European Parliament to be focussed on European issues, to be between the people that protect our interests there,” said Borissov.
In an interview with television station bTV, he said that in Bulgaria, matters in politics were decided behind the scenes.
“I beat them in the parliamentary elections, but it did not bring me anything,” Borissov said, referring to the outcome of the May 2013 national parliamentary elections in which GERB got the largest share of the votes, but in Parliament found itself without allies and had to concede to second-ranked BSP getting the mandate to govern. Behind-the-scenes deals with the MRF and Ataka led the BSP to power, he said.
* The Reformist Bloc, an alliance of centre-right and right-wing parties currently without seats in the National Assembly, has referred Energy Act amendments on the South Stream gas pipeline project to the State Agency for National Security, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov and the European Commission, the bloc’s Martin Dimitrov said.
This came after allegations that the amendments had been drafted by the South Stream transit company itself. Deputy energy minister Ivan Ayolov has denied this, saying that the amendments were drafted by Bulgarian MPs although afterwards the “expert opinion” of the South Stream company was sought.
Dimitrov said that Ayolov was concealing the truth.
GERB said on May 9 that it would table a motion of no confidence in the cabinet on the grounds of the energy sector and in particular the South Stream issue, although a few hours later it said it would table the motion only after clarity on the state of the National Electricity Company’s financial position.
* Filiz Hyusmenova, number one of the European Parliament candidate member list of the MRF, said that South Stream should be a matter for further discussion among EU member states.
Hyusmenova said that the resolution approved by the European Parliament calling for a halt to South Stream in response to Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine had been “a bit rushed”. The MRF is, at EU level, part of the liberal ALDE group, a matter that has been the subject of a campaign by Bulgarian anti-government groups who hold that the MRF hardly belongs as part of ALDE.
Hyusmenova said that the latest developments “lead us to the conclusion that Europe needs a single energy policy and the more we delay this, the more our energy dependency grows”.
* MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan, in an interview with local media, said, “we are not a problem for Bulgaria, neither the MRF nor our constituents. Bulgaria should be proud of the members and supporters of the MRF, because we are the wealth of Bulgaria. The MRF will win these elections, without aggression and with tolerance. That is because the language of aggression has no future, and there is no alternative to the language of tolerance.”
* Petar Kurumbashev, an MEP candidate for the BSP-led Coalition for Bulgaria, said that every vote for Georgi Purvanov’s ABC movement was a vote for GERB.
With former foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin as its number one candidate, ABC is standing in Bulgaria’s May 25 European Parliament elections as a rival to the BSP, of which Purvanov is a former leader.
Kurumbashev said that ABC tore away some leftist voters, thus helping GERB. He said that he did not believe that ABC would win a seat in the European Parliament, but was standing in the way of a “landslide victory” for the BSP.
“I understand that every team has its problems, but it is one thing to criticise the captain and his game, and quite another, in the middle of the game, to put on the shirt of another team,” Kurumbashev said.
He said that, “I keep hearing that the government is not doing its work, but every government has its mistakes, actually the government is working at full speed, and things are beginning to happen. Since the transition, there was only one ‘error-free’ government, and that was the Borissov cabinet, and we all saw what followed after them – that needs no comment,” Kurumbashev said.
* Nikolai Barekov, leader of Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC), sought to clarify what he had meant when he said earlier that he was nostalgic for Bulgaria’s communist era.
(Barekov, a former talk show host, is 41 and so would have been 17 when communist dictator Todor Zhivkov fell from power in Bulgaria.)
In an interview with bTV, Barekov said he always had been a right-wing person, but had begun to miss the former regime because then in Bulgaria, “there was at least a basic security for the young man”.
“Did capitalism have a human face? It forced two and a half million Bulgarians from the country,” said Barekov, adding that he preferred Zhivkov watching him from behind the curtains, rather than (former MRF leader and the party’s current honorary president) Ahmed Dogan.
Barekov said that he would never sell BWC to the MRF. He denied being a friend of Delyan Peevski, the controversial MRF MP and scion of a mass-media-owning family whose abortive appointment to head SANS in 2013 sparked huge anti-government protests.
“I’ve known him about 15 years ago when he was leader of the young wing of (Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s) National Movement for Stability and Progress, but then our ways parted and I do not have the honour of being among his closest friends,” Barekov said.
* ABC leader Purvanov said that most likely, Bulgaria would have early national parliamentary elections this autumn.
The agony and frustration that had engulfed the government and the National Assembly showed that the current administration had no future, Purvanov said. This was realised even by those who were governing the state, he said in an interview with Nova Televizia.
He said that the party holding the mandate to govern (the BSP) was heavily dependent on external factors.
“For a long time, decisions are taken not by the national council of the BSP, but somewhere else on the floors of Positano Street (BSP headquarters) or in some other place, and then handed on to the leadership organ of the socialists,” Purvanov said.