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Elections in Bulgaria: drifting away from Russia to Turkey?

The mid-term parliamentary elections in Bulgaria have shown the ambiguity of the country’s policy. Turkey tried to influence the elections directly. Europe did that indirectly. As regards the Bulgarian authorities, they failed to satisfy the wish of most of their citizens to turn their face back towards Russia.

The Bulgarians were shocked to know that the winner was GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria). Each second comment in Bulgarian social networks says something like “we have turned them away twice and they are back again to re-impose their will on us.” Established in 2006 as a flagship of European integration in Bulgaria, in 2009, Boyko Borisov’s party was already very popular in the country.

But in 2013, the Bulgarians saw that its promises were empty and that instead of benefits they faced growing prices. Borisov resigned, leaving his country in anarchy. His last words were “let them find someone better.” Very soon, the Bulgarians saw that there were no alternatives to Borisov and they brought him back. During its second term, GERB fully destroyed Bulgarian SMEs and closed the South Stream project.

In 2016, the Bulgarians tried to topple Borisov again. Amid high poverty and growing emigration, they began recalling the happy Socialist times. The leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party Rumen Radev promised the benefit of improved relations with Russia and they preferred him to GERB’s candidate Tsetska Tsacheva. But once Radev came into power, he forgot all of his pro-Russian plans and carried on the European integration programs of his opponents. The Bulgarians were disappointed but not strong enough for giving all of their votes to GERB. They gave that force just 32.6% of their votes, with the Socialist Party given 27.2%. Experts say that Borisov’s key trumps during the elections were his contacts in district election committees and focus on Gypsies and emigrants.

Whatever the results, the Europeans rushed to declare the elections transparent and democratic. But just a 5% advantage is not enough for GERB to repose in its laurels – in order to be able to form a cabinet, it will need a coalition with other political forces. The Socialists and their leader Korneliya Ninova are not going to cooperate with GERB but are keen to form their own cabinet if their rivals fail to form theirs. Ninova has all chances to do it as the third in the race was the United Patriots, a force that polled 9% of the votes.

We can compare the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the United Patriots with A Just Russia and the LDPR – the slogans are almost the same, simply the former are leftists and the latter are rightists. The United Patriots do not like GERB but history shows that one can do anything just to get into power.

The most possible ally for GERB is the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), a force representing Bulgaria’s Turks and Muslims. Before the elections, Borisov supported that party in its fight against its former leader Lyutvi Mestan and his new force, the Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance (DRFT). This force is the project of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and while, MRF fights for the rights and freedoms of Bulgaria-based Turks and Muslims, Mestan and his men are going to force the Bulgarian authorities to recognize Turkish as the second national language in Bulgaria. Erdogan even appeared in DRFT’s campaign video and even said once that the Bulgarian authorities were putting pressures on Muslims.

The Turks’ efforts have had reverse effect. The Slavonic majority still remembers the centuries of the Ottoman rule. In response to Erdogan’s statement, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said that his country was not going to teach anybody democracy but nor was it going to learn democracy from a state that has problems with human rights. Quite unexpectedly, Borisov supported Radev and even said that if the Turks continued to be active, Bulgaria might respond with “own Crimea.” As a result, DRFT got just 3% of the votes, with MRF remaining the only serious Muslim party in Bulgaria.

One more force that can join GERB and MRF is businessman Veselin Mareshki’s Volya, a force that polled just 4% of the votes. In his last interview, Mareshki said that he was ready to consider all interesting proposals.

Before the elections, U.S. and European mass media claimed that Russia would interfere in the elections and would pressure Bulgaria with gas and common history. But during the race, the key topic was Europe and Turkey. It seems that this will be Bulgaria’s geopolitical priority in the years to come, while the wish of ordinary Bulgarians to restore their brotherly relations with Russia are still beyond Bulgarian politics.

Alexey Toporov, specially for EADaily

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