Bulgaria – the conservative GERB ( Citizens for European development of Bulgaria) party and the nationalist United Patriots (UP) reached agreement on crucial policies which has paved the way for forming a ruling coalition. GERB and UP agreed on the sticky issue of pensions which a call for large increases had been a key element of the United Patriots’ election platform. The nationalists promised to increase minimum pensions from a current 84 euro to 150 euro per month.

When GERB leader Boiko Borisov resigned late last year and triggered a snap election in a bid to win a larger majority in the Parliament and in the following elections in March, his party won 96 of parliament’s 240 seats, leaving it short of a majority.  The third-placed pro-Russian, anti-Turkish coalition United Patriots – a controversial alliance of three nationalist parties, took 27 seats.

Growing nationalism

United Patriots have capitalised on a growing mood of nationalism in Bulgaria since hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa began crossing the Balkan peninsula from Turkey, en route to Western Europe two years ago. The alliance is staunchly opposed to immigration and has called for legislation to address crimes committed by Bulgaria’s Roma minority, an increase in pensions and a reduction in electricity charges. During the election campaign, their supporters had blocked traffic from Turkey for a full week, in a bid to hold off incoming voters from Bulgaria’s southern neighbour.

Turkey is a popular historical target for the tirades of Bulgarian nationalists. The continue to play on the strings of strong islamophobia in the Bulgarian society as well as on the fears of the imaginary possibility of a restoration of the Ottoman Empire- a theme which incredibly, is sometimes considered in the Turkish public eye. Besides United Patriots, another party has stirred the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Bulgaria’s election spectacle – Dost, who recently seceded from the main party of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria- DPS ( Movement for rights and freedom). Bulgaria summoned Turkey’s ambassador and recalled its own ambassador to Turkey after a Turkish diplomat appeared campaigning for Dost. DPS is seen like an intercessor of the secular stream in the Turkish politic, but Dost is seen as a supporter of the Neo- Ottomanism and the growing ambitions of the Turkish president. Erdogan has himself accused Bulgaria of turning its back on its Turkish-speaking citizens, while Bulgaria’s interim Prime Minister and President Rumen Radev issued rare statements against Turkey, including a swipe on Turkey’s own poor record at maintaining a democracy.

Populism and false promises

Days after the election, the interim government of Bulgaria formed by the Socialists, which remained the second power in the elections, has proposed legislation that envisages the introduction of the principle of domiciles for all types of elections. This would allow the vote only to citizens who have lived in Bulgaria for at least three months before the date of the election. The proposal also provides for tightening control over the political agitation of different languages from the Bulgarian language, as well as the participation of religious persons and institutions in the election campaign. Changes to domiciles would prevent the vast majority of Bulgarians abroad to participate in elections. The proposal was withdrawn, but it marks dangerous trends in the Bulgarian society and politics. All political powers- in right and in left, who are slowly but surely moving towards xenophobia and cheap populism, put their cards on confrontation with the neighbors and hollow rising of income, without real improvement of the economics, increasing the productivity and fighting corruption.

If the ruling coalition between nationalists and conservatives in Bulgaria is to be formed, this trend will intensify. And this could be a problem for the EU- the Balkans are a sleeping volcano, but they are still the “powder keg” of Europe.

Milen Marinov
Bulgarian journalist and devoted to the European cause.

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