Bulgaria elections 2017: Daily roundup, March 20

Monday March 20, the beginning of the final week of the election campaign ahead of Bulgaria’s early parliamentary elections, was marked as World Happiness Day. Considering that one of the contestants in Bulgaria’s elections is called the Coalition of the Dissatisifed, it may not have been universally celebrated.

There may have been a moment of some happiness for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, as Volya leader Vesselin Mareshki said that the BSP’s programme was the closest to his own.

Most polls see Volya as having a good chance of winning seats in the National Assembly being elected on March 26, making it a potential partner for the larger parties in expected talks on a coalition government.

Mareshki, best known for his cut-price pharmacies and fuel stations, said that Volya would be prepared to enter a coalition only with parties that were prepared to meet at least three of the six points in its governance programme.

“We will support only a government that fulfils three of our points. And our three main points are that the fuel price should be 1.80 leva instead of 2.50 leva, and housing should cost from 300 euro a square metre for young educated families. Without these points, we will not give our support to anyone,” Mareshki said (having listed two, not three, points). He said that currently the BSP was closest to these points.

Volya leader Vesselin Mareshki.

“The BSP has been making an effort to catch up with our programme, repeating every day what we say. Kornelia Ninova has now repeated about the 10 billion leva plundered from Bulgaria, which we have been talking about since last year,” Mareshki said.

The goal of his party was to create a strong, stable and long-term government, he said. “We are fighting for complete victory. The pollsters will be very surprised. We will have more than 16 per cent, and probably more than 20 per cent,” he said.

Mareshki said that by taking part in politics, he was going against his personal interest, and his business could gather only negatives from his decision. At the same time, he indicated willingness to sell all of his pharmacies to the state at minimal cost.

BSP leader Ninova, meanwhile, has told residents of the town of Septemvri: “Help me to bring courage, freedom of opinion, the power to stand up, to be not afraid of anything, not afraid of political repression, not to bend before any politician, not to kiss the hand of a politician, as they do in another party” – the last being a reference to GERB members being seen on video kissing the hand of Boiko Borissov.

BSP leader Kornelia Ninova, holding bouquet, at an election event in Septemvri.

“We want to return to freedom,” Ninova said. “We want to bring honour and dignity on the international scene. Enough of us being humiliated there. Enough bending back and obedience to superiors. Enough national betrayal – for a photograph with the boss and a pat on the shoulder. We will not retreat from the position (that) the BSP is for the EU, but they should treat us as an equal to other European nations,” she said.

March 20 also saw election campaign videos in play once more.

On the YouTube channel of Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party, a six-minute video was posted, with a Turkish-language voiceover, on the theme of the “regeneration process” and relations between Muslims in Bulgaria and Turkey.

The “regeneration process” was carried out the final decades of the communist regime in Bulgaria, and involved gross violations of human rights in forcing Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity to adopt Slavonic names. Among its consequences was a mass exodus of Bulgarian Turks to Turkey, where they continue to be a significant electorate.

The Central Election Commission already has banned two DOST videos, one because of the participation of the Turkish ambassador, and the second because it had sub-titles in Turkish. Bulgarian electoral law permits canvassing only in Bulgarian.

The new video includes a thinly-veiled attack on the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – a party that traditionally had a large ethnic Turkish support base, and which Mestan used to lead before being ousted for backing Turkey in its late 2015 dispute with Russia. The video also makes references to the support that DOST enjoys from Turkey.

The nationalist United Patriots, which have been strident in their criticism of Turkish intervention in Bulgaria’s March 2017 elections, had some foreign assistance of their own, posting a video endorsement of the coalition from Anders Vistisen, a member of the Danish People’s Party and an MEP in the European Conservatives and Reformists group.

Vistisen, a colleague in the European Parliament of Angel Dzhambazki of the nationalist VMRO, part of the United Patriots, says in the video that he hopes that Bulgarian citizens agree that the country needs a firmer, more conservative and reformist leadership.

In the video, the Dane – speaking in English, with Bulgarian sub-titles – says that VMRO is the European Conservatives and Reformists group’s most important ally in Bulgaria, and “together with them we have a very strong commitment on topics such as European security, a common border control and to limit Turkey’s influence over Europe”.

The Kurdzhali branch of Borissov’s GERB party approached the district prosecutor’s office in the town with a complaint against DOST MP candidate Mihridzhan Izet for posting a cartoon on Facebook, depicting Turks rushing to invade Bulgaria in 1341 and doing the same, this time in a bus, in 2017.

GERB said that the image, with foreign flags, conveys that another state supports the coalition and invokes “periods in the history of the Bulgarian state associated with the invasion of foreign troops on Bulgarian territory”. This violated the Criminal Code by propagating or inciting discrimination, violence and hatred based on nationality and ethnicity, according to Borissov’s party.

A day earlier, on March 19, former President Rossen Plevneliev said that it was not only Turkey that meddled in Bulgaria’s internal affairs, but Russia did the same, funding many Bulgarian political parties.

Plevneliev, who was head of state from 2012 to January 2017, said that in recent days there had been action by the State Agency for National Security expelling Turkish citizens.

“Obviously Bulgarian authorities have enough evidence and clearly the words of the President from this point of view are measured,” Plevneliev said, referring to his successor Roumen Radev who said on March 17 that intervention by Turkey in Bulgaria’s domestic affairs was a fact.

But Plevneliev said that not only Turkey’s intervention but that of Russia should be talked about.

“I would have been happy to see the Bulgarian President point that way too,” Plevneliev said. He said that while there was suspicion about Bulgarian parties financed by Turkey, “there are many that are financed by Russia,” he said.

“In the past there has been not a single report about how Bulgarian politicians have concluded agreements and have worked in close co-operation with Russian non-governmental organisations, advocates’ offices, which are financed by Russia, and many others,” Plevneliev said.




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.