A special meeting of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms on December 24 fired Lyutvi Mestan as leader of the party and from all party posts, from the parliamentary group and expelled him from the party.
The special meeting of the MRF Central Council was held after a sharp verbal attack on Mestan by party founder and former long-time leader Ahmed Dogan was made public on the MRF’s official website.
Dogan, in an address at a Christmas party, denounced as a “gaffe” Mestan’s declaration in the National Assembly following Turkey shooting down a Russian Air Force bomber near the Syrian border.
A party spokesperson told reporters after the meeting that Dogan had told the meeting, which she said was attended by about 70 per cent of the members of the Central Council, that Mestan’s fate was the same as that of anyone “who acts against the national interests of Bulgaria”.
All the decisions regarding Mestan had been unanimous, she said.
The top three posts occupied by Mestan, as party leader and in its Central Committee, will be temporarily occupied by a triumvirate of three MRF members: Chetin Kazak, Mustafa Karaday and Rushen Riza. They will collectively manage the party pending the holding of a national congress, expected in March 2016.
Mestan was not at the meeting of the MRF Central Council. Due to celebrate his 55th birthday on December 24, he attended scheduled meetings in his home town of Kurdzhali, where he told an unscheduled news conference ahead of the Central Council meeting that he did not intend resigning as MRF leader and said that no one had asked for his resignation.
Mestan told reporters that the Central Council meeting on December 24 was illegitimate because, he said, the party’s statutes prescribed that only the party leader could call such a meeting.
But he said that he expected to receive a “nice present” for his birthday from the Central Council meeting, an allusion to expectations that he would be relieved of the party leadership.
The Central Council meeting – lasting just less than two hours – was held, not at the Sofia headquarters of the MRF, but in Sofia’s affluent Boyana residential area at Dogan’s home, popularly known as the “Saray” – a Turkish word that can mean palace, royal court or seraglio. Tight security, including by police controlling road traffic, surrounded the venue of the meeting.
Arriving at the meeting at Dogan’s home, Dzheyhan Ibryamov, responding to Mestan’s allegation that the meeting was illegitimate, said that Mestan should read the party statutes. Ibryahmov said that apart from the party president, a Central Council meeting may be convened by a third of the members of the party.
MRF deputy chairman Tuncher Kurdzhaliev described Mestan’s behaviour in giving his morning news conference on December 24 as “embarrassing, but only slightly”.
Mestan, speaking to Nova Televizia on December 24, stood by his statement in the National Assembly on the Turkish downing of the Russian bomber. He said that he did not accept the political assessment that his declaration was a mistake, saying that it had “established the Euro-Atlantic orientation of the MRF”.
He said that he did not understand why, after what he described as 19 years of faithful service to the MRF, someone would ask for his dismissal.
He denied that he had “escaped”. “I am in Bulgaria and now I am in my home town of Kurdzhali and in the coming days will be here. Do not expect me to run away somewhere to hide,” Mestan said.
He intended taking part in all the events in the coming days organised by the MRF, including its commemoration of the actions by the former communist regime in forcing Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity to change their names to Slavonic ones. That episode in communist Bulgaria, which involved gross abuses of human rights, is an emblematic one for the MRF, frequently invoked by the party.
Bulgarian-language media speculated that a major part of the background to Dogan taking down Mestan was that Mestan, leader of the party since succeeding Dogan in that post in January 2013, had sought to emancipate himself from the honorary chairman and this had proved fatal to his political career.
Dogan, who at the time of Bulgaria’s communist era was a State Security agent (code-names Anguelov, Sergei and Sava) was a founder of the MRF, which he led from 1990 to 2013. When he stepped down as party leader, though becoming honorary chairman, he was succeeded – as had been widely expected – by his lieutenant, Mestan – State Security’s Agent Pavel.
Radan Kanev, leader of the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, said earlier that the events showed that claims that anyone but Dogan really ran the MRF were myths. In a Facebook post on December 24, Kanev expressed indignation at the MRF holding a meeting of this kind on Christmas Eve – a day that Bulgarians customarily spend with their families.