Author: Chavdar Minchev – 09/09/2020
Since the beginning of 2020 Bulgaria has entered into a deep political and socio-economic crisis, combining economic recession, disruption of financial stability, crisis of political representation and of the established political system, institutional inefficiency. In short, there is a statehood crisis.
The main reason for this condition is the vicious authoritarian model of state government established in the last 10 years, the inefficient structure of the economy, the limitation and exhaustion of external financial resources, which have fed the Bulgarian oligarchic stratum for the last 25 years, the unfolding of a true clan war for distribution of the limited financial resources and redistribution of business and property.
An important factor in the crisis is the collapse of illusions and hopes that fed the vast majority of Bulgarians. Having started with hopes for more equality and prosperity, the citizens received much greater and deeper inequalities, both in terms of social status and income, and in terms of constitutionally guaranteed rights to free education, healthcare and pension insurance.
Despite allegations of significant external influence over the crisis, there are no clear actions so far from the main geopolitical factors (USA, EU, Russia, Turkey) in favour of the opposing parties. This could be explained by the lack of a clear political alternative to be evaluated. On the other hand, they all have no reason to be dissatisfied with Borissov.
Trump’s “directive” was implemented – to reach military spendings up to 2 % of GDP, eight F-16 aircrafts were bought and paid upfront to the USA at the maximum possible price. The construction of a logistics centre uniting 8 military bases in key locations in the country was allowed. It was agreed to build a NATO coordination centre on the Bulgaria Black sea coast. Bulgaria will participate with 20 % in financing the construction of the new energy pool in Alexandroupolis, which will serve entirely American economic and military interests. Bulgaria has also declared its participation with 20 million EUR in the Investment Fund of the 3 Seas Initiative, supported by the US.
The Balkan Stream pipeline, which is an extension of Turkish Stream to the Western Balkans and the Central European countries, is being built. Although slowly with Russian participation, the project for the construction of the Belene Nuclear Power Plant continues to progress.
Although not unequivocally accepted in the EU, Borissov still enjoys the support of important factors in the European People’s Party and albeit silently personally from Chancellor Merkel. Borisov himself openly stated that his party was created with the financial and consulting support of German right-wing foundations.
Long good personal relations, based on joint business projects, link Borissov with Turkish President Erdogan.
The crisis processes are developed in the context of a serious demographic crisis – for the last 20 years the population of the country has decreased by 25 %; Bulgaria is among the first in the world in ageing and mortality and among the last in terms of birth rate; the projections are the population to decrease by up to 50 % by 2050 compared to the figures from 1989. Over 1.2 million Bulgarians have immigrated permanently to Western Europe and North America. Another 500 000 are looking for seasonal work there – this way the country is deprived of its skilled workforce to a degree of inability to create a high-tech efficient economy.
The country has huge and increasing inequalities. The income of a large part of the population is extremely low. The severe problems in the judiciary and in major public spheres such as health and education have led to erosion of confidence not only in the ruling political coalition but also in all major political forces in the country.
These processes were deepened by the COVID19 pandemic.
At the same time, an authoritarian regime of government was established in the country directly connected and serving the interests of a narrow oligarchic circle formed around the Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and around Ahmed Dogan – the leader of the ethnic party of the Bulgarian Turks. The oligarchic social strata is 2-3000 people. Among it – several super-rich people who hold the business and financial capital in the country. Practically, the majority of public procurements and EU funds pass through it. Among them, a small part is linked to criminal groups and shadowy businesses from the late 90s. Corruption is ubiquitous and has established itself as a basic social technology in the management of public funds and in all public spheres. The legislation itself creates conditions for corrupt practices.
In recent years, the country has been governed solely by Prime Minister Borissov, who has managed to depersonalise the legislative, executive and judicial powers. At the moment, the only institution not under his control is the Presidential institution. President Radev asserts himself as a leading opponent of the regime, although under the Constitution his powers to influence are small.
Since 2009, democracy in the country has stopped developing.
There are all signs of election fraud – votes are being bought en masse, there is a significant corporate vote, voting protocols are being replaced, ballots are declared invalid, etc.
In law-making in recent years, there are almost no public discussions, and much of the laws are openly lobbyists.
In the established governance system, there is a strong degradation of governance and political standards.
Most of the decisions are taken under the pressure of the circumstances. They are controversial both with regard to the immediate regulatory efficiency and as an economic strategy, especially in the context of an ongoing and probably more lasting financial and economic crisis.
Since the beginning of July this year, a wave of protests started in the country, which does not subside and tends to become a permanent part of the national political landscape. The reason for the start of the protests was the entry of the Prosecution into the Presidency’s building.
The protests are mainly in Sofia – where key intersections and squares with tent camps are blocked and gather daily in the evening hours between 2000-20000 people. On a small scale, protests take place in other major cities in the country – Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse.
The protests are aimed at the resignation of both the Prime minister and the government. Along with this the demands include also the resignation of the Chief prosecutor, who is considered to be personally devoted to the Prime minister, to a group of oligarchs (Dogan and Peevski) and is their repressive bat against anyone who opposes power.
The protesters are mainly young people. It is believed that a large number are immigrants to Western Europe and the United States that have returned to the country.
It seems that some of the protesters have been funded by the affected by the government over the past 2 years large bankers and businessmen who have left Bulgaria or, by those that for 2 years now, together with their families, are detained by the investigation (it should be noted that their property and business are redistributed and embezzled by other oligarchs close to the power).
Dominating is the demand for a normal European state, for democracy, to stop robbery and corruption. The main slogan of the protests “Mafia Out” in itself shows the assessment of the protesters and their main focus. A major political request is the resignation and establishment of a caretaker government by the President to hold fair elections (as it is under the Constitution).
The protests have neither an unambiguous nor a clear political profile. They are supported by the main opposition party BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party), but the party does not participate in their organisation. (One of the reasons for this is the reluctance of the protesters to take any political form whatsoever).
A more visible political presence has the party of the right-wing “Da Bulgaria” (Yes Bulgaria), PP “Vazrazhdane” (Revival) and the civil reformist centrist movement “Izpravi se.bg” (Stand up BG), as well as individual targeted civil organisations (e.g. nurses, etc.).
According to information from various sources, the protests are supported and assisted by political forces in Bulgaria that seek to expel nationalists from power, as well as by political forces that wish early elections in the hope of returning to the Parliament (“Da Bulgaria” and the so-called “urban right”).
Both the first and second not only have supported, but also assisted in organising the protest actions.
On the one hand, such configuration has the advantage of being more independent, but on the other hand, it is incapable of formulating a political alternative.
It is noteworthy that for 60 days there are no visible initiatives for political identification of the protest.
How the government has reacted
The tactics of waiting and peaceful coexistence of power and protesters were adopted. “Protest peacefully and as much as you want”, “we will not succumb to pressure, we will not resign and we will continue to work for the good of Bulgaria”.
Borissov wants to prevent at all costs a caretaker government made up by President Rumen Radev. The formal explanation is that in times of crisis the country needs an active Parliament. The truth is, he’s afraid of blows by a caretaker government. He does not want anyone else to organise the next parliamentary elections. His mandate expires in March 2021, when, if in power, he would organise the elections (he has a slenderly built and tested technology for manipulating and winning the elections).
In order to avoid a resignation, a caretaker government and early elections Borissov used the idea of the necessity of convening a Grand National Assembly to change the Constitution and to “restart the political system”. If he succeeds in such a procedure, it would guarantee his governments at least another 18 months of governance in the hope that the processes will be contained. At least for now, that seems unattainable.
According to our analysis, the government is currently exhausted and is unable to make any serious changes to keep it stable in power.
The policy pursued by the government is extremely populist, which aims to mitigate tensions among the population, but cannot resolve the fundamental contradictions between the economic interests of the main business strata. The population itself, including benefiting social groups, evaluate these actions as attempts of the power to save and survive with taxpayers’ money. Moreover, in the context of reduced budget revenues, the government spends the fiscal reserve for these purposes and takes out new external loans. It is estimated that this can lead to options that will affect Bulgaria’s stability, with Turkey’s difficult behaviour, continuing conflicts in Ukraine, the situation in Moldova, tensions in Macedonia, etc. It is believed that the situation could get complicated with the expected implementation of the US Magnitsky law towards Bulgaria.
The forecasts are in two possible directions – withdrawal of the Prime minister, while preserving his leading role in GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) and a new broad expert government within the current Parliament or establishing a similar government after extraordinary parliamentary elections in early spring.
It is believed that Borissov’s actions show readiness for different options and configurations. There are growing contradictions in the ruling party itself and a growing formation of different centres in it. It is precisely these processes that will be the most accurate indicator in what directions the political situation will develop.
Our evaluation is that there will be an escalation of the protests, but so far they are not on scale and strength to bring drastic changes. There is also a lack of clear political action in this direction.
It is believed that at the moment in the country there are still no clearly identified political concepts, platforms and strategies for exiting this state of society and governance.
About the Author:
Chavdar Minchev is Executive Director at National Association for International Relations and Editor-in-Chief at International Relations magazine, Bulgaria