Analysis: Round and round on Bulgaria’s ‘United Patriots’ roundabout

Misnomers in the names of political formations are common. Not all parties, or for that matter countries, that call themselves democratic are truly so. But in Bulgaria, the grouping known as the “United Patriots” is trading under a misnomer.

Leave aside the use of the word “patriot”, for many decades a much-abused term. Consider the use of the word “united”.

Formed of Valeri Simeonov’s National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), Krassimir Karakachanov’s VMRO and Volen Siderov’s Ataka, the United Patriots first stood together in the November 2016 presidential elections, and then in the March 2017 early parliamentary elections.

On a platform bringing together their common ultra-nationalist, far-right and populist policies and proposals, their place in the 2017 elections, as the third-largest group in the National Assembly, won them a seat at the government table.

Two of the three co-leaders, Simeonov and Karakachanov, became deputy prime ministers, with powerful portfolios. Siderov was appointed leader of the United Patriots parliamentary group. Like any minority government partner, they set about trying to become the tail that wags the dog.

None of the co-leaders is a newcomer to politics, though their careers vary in length. Nor were they new acquaintances when they formed their coalition.

The longer history is between Simeonov and Siderov. Simeonov several years ago founded a television station, Skat, in his home town of Bourgas. Its most popular presenter was Siderov, spouting torrents of ultra-nationalist sentiment to a niche that appreciated such fare. All the stuff familiar from most far-right orators in Europe – claims of pernicious control by foreigners, rhetoric against migrants, affirmations of loyalty to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, anti-LGBT messages, and that speciality of the Balkans, revulsion both for the memory of Ottoman rule and latter-day Turkey.

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