Sofia’s 2023 mayoral election run-off: Debating debating

With one day left to the official campaign period ahead of the November 5 run-off in Bulgarian capital city Sofia’s mayoral election, it remained unclear whether the two candidates would meet in a final debate.

Earlier this week, plans were for We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria-Spasi Sofia mayoral candidate Vassil Terziev and socialist-backed Vanya Grigorova to face each other in a debate on November 2 on public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) and commercial station bTV.

But on the morning of November 2, BNT confirmed that the debate would not take place, saying that Terziev had refused to participate in the proposed format.

Later on November 2, Terziev, via social networks, issued a challenge to Grigorova to a debate on Darik Radio.

Soon afterwards, 24 Chassa said that it would host the sole debate between the two candidates. Posted on its website at about 6pm, the “debate”, lasting little more than three minutes, consisted of the two candidates, never on screen at the same time, each answering the same seven questions.

The plan for the BNT-bTV debate fell through after Terziev suggested that several people from their respective teams join them in the studio to discuss Sofia’s problems jointly. Grigorova responded that for 15 years, she had not “had to be prompted by anyone during a debate”.

Terziev said that in recent days, Grigorova had not spoken about the city’s problems, but had attacked him that he had “run away” from a debate with her. He said that he had taken part in six debates, in three of which Grigorova had participated.

Meanwhile, both candidates, in separate interviews, were asked who Crimea belonged to.

Terziev replied that Crimea was Ukrainian: “There is international law, and on this topic I have also expressed my position – whose is Crimea and whose side is correct, and where should we be.

“What is my opinion on neutrality – Machiavelli said it well: when you pursue neutrality, you are despised by the victors and hated by the vanquished. So it is very important to have a principled position about which side of history you stand on,” he said.

Grigorova, asked the same question by Nova Televizia, said: “I don’t know if Crimea is Russian or not. What we are seeing is a war that has been going on for two years”.

Asked if Putin was an aggressor, Grigorova – who is backed by a local coalition of socialist, communist and Russophile parties – replied, irritably: “Could I not be responsible for Putin in the end?”.

She said that she was a candidate mayor, not a geopolitician.

Grigorova said that she would not fly the Ukrainian flag on Sofia municipal headquarters. The current mayor and ruling majority in the city council hoisted one there after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian flag will not fly at the capital municipality, because the national flag and the European flag must be flown at the Bulgarian institutions, because we are part of the European Union,” she said.

She also expressed opposition to Bulgaria joining the euro zone.

Grigorova described herself as a “supra-party” candidate and claimed that she could make up the 10-point gap below the percentage won by Terziev at the first round on October 29.

On November 2, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova denied that there were tensions between her and Grigorova.

Ninova said that Grigorova should “look at her phone” before claiming that Ninova did not congratulate her on her success in the first round.

After Grigorova qualified for the run-off in the local vote in Sofia, she and the leader of the BSP made separate statements in which they avoided mentioning the other’s name.

Grigorova did not thank the leader of the party , and Ninova, in turn, referred to Grigorova only as “the BSP candidate”.

Yesterday, the mayor of Pernik, Stanislav Vladimirov – formerly of the BSP – said that a new leader of the left was emerging – Grigorova. Grigorova told Nova TV that she could not become leader of the BSP because she was not a member of the party.

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