Bulgaria: Recriminations fly as ITN quits government, and some quit ITN

Recriminations, insults, mutual allegations of being mobsters and a threat of court action were the order of the day on June 13 amid the estranged partners in Bulgaria’s now-fractured governing coalition.

The day saw an outgoing Cabinet minister and six MPs from Slavi Trifonov’s ITN party announcing that they were leaving ITN, levelling allegations against Trifonov that he, in fact, cared nothing for the ordinary Bulgarian people, or even his Cabinet ministers and MPs, with whom he had no contact.

The defectors portrayed Trifonov, who said on June 8 that ITN was leaving the ruling coalition, as acting solely in the interests of those who, behind the scenes, “governed” his actions, and accused him of acting unilaterally in his announcement that ITN was leaving the government and the parliamentary majority.

Their announcement was welcomed as courageous by We Continue the Change (WCC) party co-leaders Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and deputy PM and Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, who are seeking the 12 MPs needed to make up the shortfall to get the Budget amendments and other key legislation approved.

Petkov said that in ITN leaving the government, the “mafia” had lost its partner in the coalition.

In the third of a rapid succession of news conferences – first by the defectors, then by Petkov and Vassilev, and then by ITN, an MP for Trifonov’s party, Stanislav Balabanov said that the defectors had “proved that they are traitors”.

“The truth is that you have witnessed a bunch of lies without a single fact,” Balabanov said.

“On one scale at the moment are insinuations and lies, and on the other side we sit with the truth. We are under extreme pressure from the mobsters,” he said.

“Mobster Radostin Vassilev,” Balabanov said – referring to the Sports Minister who was appointed to government from Trifonov’s party – “is talking fabrications”.

Earlier, Radostin Vassilev had said, among other things, that ITN never had been a parliamentary project, but a business venture. ITN was leaving government not because of its falsely stated pretext of the North Macedonia issue, but because the other governing coalition partners had refused to hand over money to companies as it wanted, he alleged.

ITN parliamentary group leader Toshko Yordanov baldly levelled allegations that an ITN MP, Hristina Ivanova, had been threatened with being forced to resign from Parliament if she did not leave the ITN group.

Yordanov played a recording of what he claimed was a conversation to this effect between Ivanova and Radostin Vassilev.

Balabanov: “The whole conspiracy between Radostin Vassilev and other unknown MPs is actually an idea related to money, bribes and promises of posts”.

At its news conference, ITN repeated its claim of a handwritten note, supposedly by Petkov, of a plan for Bulgaria to back down on the North Macedonia issue.

The news conference was told that ITN wants Petkov to come to Parliament and take a lie detector test regarding the authenticity of the note.

The lie detector “challenge” was a reference to an earlier statement by the defectors that they were willing to take lie detector tests to show that they had not been offered money to quit Trifonov’s party and vote with the government.

Continuing the litany of sweet nothings, Yordanov, referring to Radostin Vassilev, said: “I am pleased that this mental waste is no longer with us and is organising several more like him. This is wonderful for our party.

“You heard that he had a meeting with Kiril Petkov in his apartment. Mr. Petkov’s morals are as good as his understanding of the constitution – none,” Yordanov said.

The niceties of the evening drew to a close with a statement – on Facebook, inevitably – from Trifonov saying that he would take court action against Petkov, Assen Vassilev and Radostin Vassilev.

“Today I heard several times that I am the mafia. It was said by the Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, the Minister of Finance Assen Vassilev and – I don’t know how to define him – Radostin Vassilev,” Trifonov said.

“I agree that in Bulgaria everyone can say everything about everyone, but they must take responsibility for their words,” Trifonov said.

“I once [won court actions against] the yellow press for their lies. I won all the cases.

“Now I will file court actions against Kiril Petkov, Assen Vassilev and Radostin Vassilev for their lies and insinuations. And, of course, I will win,” Trifonov said.

Consistently with his behaviour of the past few years, Trifonov was not present at the June 13 ITN news conference. His detractors within the remaining three partners in the governing coalition have pointed out that he has never attended a coalition council meeting, at which ITN has been represented by Yordanov.

Trifonov’s medium of choice to communicate with the Bulgarian public has been addresses via Facebook from his sofa, while he also has a cable television channel.

Trifonov did give an interview to Darik Radio on June 12, becoming irascible at some of the questions, the interviewer and the 90-minute length of the interview itself. Bulgarian news agency BTA said that in the course of the interview – a rare event, in the case of Trifonov – it transpired that the interview was held at Trifonov’s request.

(Screenshot of Balabanov from the Bulgarian National Television streaming of the ITN June 13 news conference)

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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.