The possibility that Bulgaria’s European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva will be named as a candidate United Nations Secretary-General has led to Russia denying that it would be part of any such deal, and has irked the camp of Bulgaria’s current official candidate, Irina Bokova.
On September 11, a day after reports that Hungary, Latvia and Croatia, supported by Germany, would nominate Georgieva and that the Bulgarian Cabinet would hold a special meeting to withdraw Bokova to replace her with Georgieva, the Russian foreign ministry said that at the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, German chancellor Angela Merkel had tried to speak with Russian leaders about possible Russian support “for another candidate from Bulgaria, not nominated officially”.
Russian agency Tass quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zaharova as rejecting suggestions in Bulgarian media reports that Russia had been involved in talks on the issue, saying that the country would not be involved in “backroom games”.
Bokova, the scion of a Bulgarian communist family and a former deputy minister in a Bulgarian Socialist Party government, as well as a failed BSP candidate for vice-president of Bulgaria in the 1990s, has been described in several reports over recent months as having been the favoured candidate of the Kremlin.
Russia’s foreign ministry said that Merkel had clearly been told that the nomination of a UN Secretary-General candidate was the sovereign decision of that country “and any attempts to directly or indirectly influence such a decision are unacceptable”.
Bokova, whose camp punt her candidacy on the grounds that the UN has not yet been headed by a woman or someone from Eastern Europe, and claims that she has performed well in her current post at the head of Unesco, has in a series of straw polls among the UN Security Council members done no better than joint third. In the most recent one, on September 9, she placed fifth – though her camp points out that she had the most votes among the women candidates to head the world body.
In a Facebook post responding to the media reports, the official page of the Bokova campaign said that rumours of a candidate to replace Bokova adversely affected the UN Security Council because they showed inconsistency and the lack of a statesmanlike position.
The Facebook post said that it was “ridiculous” to say, as some reports had, that Georgieva would be the candidate of the EU-level European People’s Party, because candidates were nominated by countries, not parties.
Bokova, the post said, was the only official candidate and in practice had been “systematically sabotaged by a competitor from her own country”. It called on the Bulgarian government to reject the rumours and support its official candidate.
Bokova initially was nominated in the dying days of the 2013/24 ruling axis, a government nominally led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, that stepped down amid widely-supported public protests demanding its resignation.
Her nomination was confirmed in February 2016 by the current centre-right government headed by Boiko Borissov, after minority socialist ABC party leader Georgi Purvanov – a former BSP leader – threatened to withdraw his support for Borissov’s government unless it endorsed Bokova. Though Borissov gave in to this pressure, Purvanov later led his party out of the government anyway.
Georgieva previously indicated, early in 2016, that she would not be available to be the candidate because she would be continuing in her post in the Juncker European Commission.
However, the ground has been being prepared for some time for the nomination of Georgieva, who has an impressive range of experience at international level at the World Bank and at the European Commission and is widely respected.
Apart from the dwindling support for Bokova, it is seen as highly likely that her candidacy would be vetoed by at least one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom.
Bokova’s controversial candidacy has been backed in part by those who say that the next head of the UN should be a woman from Eastern Europe – a criterion that Georgieva meets.