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Georgy Kolarov: Bulgaria to change its political orientation

Georgy Kolarov. Photo: noravank.am

The left-wing forces are taking to the streets for a second day already in Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv and other big cities in the Republic of Bulgaria. People are rallying in support of the presidential pair - socialist-backed candidate, the former Air Force Commander Rumen Radev, who won the first round of Bulgaria's presidential elections and Iliana Iotova, a European parliamentarian, journalist.

Representatives of the Bulgarian majority (it is likely to turn into minority within few decades) are divided into the left and right forces, moderately wealthy, moderately poor and extremely poor, pro-Russian, pro-European, and pro-American people. No social strata (except the financial-economic oligarchy, indeed) are indifferent to the geopolitical orientation of the country.

If Rumen Radev and Iliana Iotova win, the sanctions against Russia may be removed or reduced and new talks may be launched to resume the South Stream project. European bureaucrats in Brussels and “mentors” in Washington will not like this, indeed.

If representatives of the ruling force – parliament chairwoman Tsetska Tsacheva and Admiral of the Bulgarian Navy Plamen Manushev win, nothing will change. However, victory of the opposition candidate in the first round will make both them and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov listen to the opinion of the pro-Russian politicians and the public views. It is no secret that more than two-third of Bulgaria’s citizens historically have pro-Russian views and advocate for development of relations with Russia in all possible fields. Considering that Muslims account for about 15% of the total population by official data, but, in fact, this figure is about 25%, most of the ethnic Bulgarians are still Russophiles. Both Washington and Brussels are well aware of that fact.

At the last meeting (before election) of the Supreme Party Council of the oppositional Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Major General Rumen Radev easily resisted the “attacks” by his opponents inside the party and independent leftist intellectuals who blamed him for disorderliness and oddness. However, he failed to reconcile the current leaders with the former ones who founded the country’s second largest political party – The Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABR). As a result, Radev has lost the support of at least 4% of voters in favor of the former minister of foreign affairs, presidential candidate, European parliamentarian Ivailo Kalfin. So far, the latter does not harry to support his rival to nominate a single candidate from the left forces. Quite the contrary, he insists that the people have to make a hard choice on November 13, as neither of the presidential candidates invigorates them. However, ABR’s voters (mostly former members and supporters of BSP) will hardly behave the way he did. Despite all their respect to him, they are likely to vote for Rumen Radev and Iliana Iotova.

This does not apply to the voters of the third left-of-center candidate Tatyana Doncheva, a lawyer leader of the Century 21 Movement, a wealthy woman, a friend of Ilia Pavlov, the late owner of Multigroup business conglomerate. For instance, it is hard to imagine that her right-hand in Bulgaria’s largest city Varna, businessman-restaurateur Zhelyazko Karakeshev (who grew up together with the author of these words), who had studied and worked in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland for long years may urge his supporters to vote for the pro-Russian candidate.

Rumen Radev is suspected to have pro-Russian orientation and close contacts with such Russian companies as Gazprom, Rosneft, Rosatom and others. He spent long years in the Bulgarian army. Analysts say if this tandem wins the post of the president and vice president, it can make a policy U-turn in the country and maintain and develop economic cooperation (in energy sector, first) with Russia. Health Minister Petar Moskov has already said: “Radev means Parvanov, and Parvanov means Putin!”

Sofia’s second rapprochement with Moscow happened after Georgi Parvanov was re-elected as president (2002-2012) – he was the party chairman in 1997-2001 before being elected as president. Pro-European and pro-American forces still blame him for traveling to Moscow much more frequently than to Brussels and Washington and having regular meetings with Vladimir Putin over the bilateral relations and the situation in the world. Now he leads the ABR and claims (so far uselessly) equal rights with the leadership of the BSP to support their presidential pair in the runoff voting. Let’s wait and see what will happen. There are several days left until the end of the week.

Conservative right-wing and naturally pro-European and pro-American candidates for president and vice president are generally going to support Tsacheva and Manushev in the runoff voting. Among them is the pair from the Reformist Bloc Traycho Traykov, the former minister of economy, an outspoken critic of the South Stream (he so far refrains from supporting the candidates from the ruling force) and Brigadier General Sabi Sabev who appears to have personal problems with his previous colleague Rumen Radev (at least, mass media write this). There are experiencing discrepancies now: Radan Kanev, the leader of Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria – the most authoritative party of the Reformist Bloc – has already hinted that so far he is not going to support anyone during the runoff voting (he would like to become the president). Meantime, the remaining historical leaders of the right-wing conservative forces have already urged everyone to vote for Tsacheva and Manushev pair not to let Socialists return to power and to end Bulgaria’s dependence on Russia in the field of energy, defense, and tourism.

After losing the first round of election, some discrepancies appeared inside the ruling GERB Party too. Critics insist that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the symbol of the party – keeps his promise and resigns after the first round. He promised to do it if his candidates lose the election.

Two candidates have already lost the election, but received quite serious number of votes from uneducated, lumpen and marginal masses. These candidates are businessman engaged in pharmaceutical sector Veselin Mareshki (independent candidate) and former prime minister and finance minister Plamen Oresharski (candidate from Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a party protecting the interests of Turks, Gypsies, and Muslims), who ruined the South Stream project. Mareshki has already said he would support Tsacheva “though with disgust.” Oresharski hints he will support Radev. Both are trading with their votes.

The outcome of the second round of election depends, first of all, on the decision of the United Patriots from the ruling coalition Patriotic Union, part of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO – not to be confused with the Skopje-based party of the same name) and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB). Still oppositional Attack Party has joined the Patriotic Union. IMRO nominated its candidate for president, Krasimir Karakachanov, the leader of the Party and vice chairperson of the parliament. Attack Party nominated Yavor Notev, deputy head of the party, a well-known lawyer for the post of the vice president. Both received more than 15% of votes in the first round. Their address to voters will be crucial for the Sunday voting result.

The history of IMRO, NFSB and Attack Party is full with acute contradictions, in the relations with Russia, first. National revolutionaries from IMRO are traditionally pro-Russian. Their historical leader Todor Alexandrov was assassinated in 1925 for his aspirations to cooperate with Comintern. Attack Party declares its pro-Russian orientation by 100% giving the rightist pro-Western forces a reason to call it “the party of the Russian nationalists” (despite its Fascist symbols). NFSB separated from Attack Party after personal discrepancies between close relatives: the leader of the party Valery Simeonov is the godfather of Attack Party’s leader Volen Siderov, though the latter has already divorced from his wife Kapka, who, in turn, has her own small national-patriotic party.

The internal disputes of the Bulgarian nationalists were seriously influenced by Gennady Gudkov, a well-known Russian politician-businessperson, who built his luxurious mansion not far from Burgas Port when Valery Simeonov was the head of the Burgas Community Council. The ordinary national patriots from the three parties say if Siderov reconciles with Karakachanov and Simeonov, it will mean that Gudkov reconciled with Putin…Yet, it is not known whether this is true.

The situation in Bulgaria is developing dynamically and changes may happen at any moment. Yet, it is hard to say if these changes will make the country closer to Russia or the vice versa. Radev and Iotova would have more chances to win if the heads of the organizations calling themselves Russophiles united and became more attractive to the two-third of Bulgarians who love Russia. Unfortunately, many of them are wealthy, their children are studying in the West, and they have disputes with each other.

For instance, this May in Sofia, one of those organizations held a conference timed to the Great Victory over Fascism. Prominent historians and political scientists were invited from Russia: Yelena Ponomareva, Andrey Fursov, Andrey Baranov. However, the organizers “forgot” to invite colleagues from most of the other Russophile organizations.

Consequently, it is early to make any forecasts concerning the runoff result.

Georgy Kolarov, PhD in Political Science

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