This is a text that I wrote especially for the Ukrainian site Espresso.tv, that became quite poppular in Bulgaria with its live streamings from the EuroMaydan protests. The title is theirs. The text in Ukrainian is here. This is the original text I sent to the editors:
The pro-Russian coalition, supported by Bulgaria’s Socialistic party
The current Bulgarian government is supported by the Socialists, by the party that is called by many “the party of the Turkish minority” — the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and by the radical nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-capitalist party Ataka. As the sociological polls show – the great majority of Bulgarian citizens hope that this government will resign at the end of July, following year-long mass protests in the heart of the capital Sofia. In fact, the government may resign before this text is finished.
The parties that form the ruling coalition have either strong oligarchic dependencies or are heavily dependent on Russian economic and geopolitical interests. These facts are widely commented in Bulgarian media especially after nearly 14 months of constant, incessant, peaceful daily protests. The recent crisis with one of the biggest banks in Bulgaria – Corporate Commercial Bank, called by many “The bank of Politburo” and recently referred to as “The Bank of the Mafia” is a vivid example of that.
The case of the Ataka political party is a bit different. Its relations with the regime in Kremlin and the Russian geopolitical interests are highly visible through their doctrine, their political discourse, concepts, political contacts and international activities.
Oligarchy tried to fully capture the State in Bulgaria
Almost 14 months ago, after snap parliamentary elections, a shady oligarchic figure – media mogul Delyan Peevski – was appointed by the parliamentary majority as the chief of the National Security Agency, DANS, after amending a controversial law, concentrating dangerous amounts of power in DANS’ hands.
It is said that Peevski and his mother singlehandedly control the majority of print media in Bulgaria and nearly all of the distribution channels (the kiosk chains, especially the notorious Bulgarian LAFKA chain) and have very strong positions in electronic media and the distribution of digital TV signal. Their group is supposedly the strongest oligarchic, economic, media and political group, nearly a cartel, that allegedly exercises almost full control over many institutions in Bulgaria, including the Prosecutor’s Office, the Supreme Judicial Council and many structures of the Judicial system, national security and the fight against the organized crime.
Anti-mafia protests erupted soon after the oligarchy took power
On June 14th, 2013, the day of Peevski’s appointment as the National Security Agency’s boss, tens of thousands protested for hundreds of days in the capital of Bulgaria and the protest movement’s ideas widely spread around the country.
The protesters were addressing the ruling political elite as “red trash” and “mafia”, due to its communist background and supposed criminal dependencies.
The Bulgarian connection in the Ukraine Crisis
In the end of 2013, two important things happened in Bulgaria and Ukraine:
Bulgaria started the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline and the Ukrainian president Yanukovich refused to sign the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.
Obviously, if there was any pressure on Ukrainian officials at that time from Kremlin, it could have been additionally reinforced by the official position of Bulgaria on South stream as well. It’s needless to remind that the EU strongly objected the project which was even called by the Commission “illegal“and “noncompliant” to EU legislation in its Bulgarian part.
It is necessary to say that these days, especially during and shortly after the European elections that took place in all 28 member states on May 25th, the anti-Ukraine, anti-Maidan and anti-European propaganda in Bulgaria grew extremely strong and hysterical and is still supported, though with less strength, by the pro-Russian and pro-Putin circles, mainly inside the Socialist and the “Ataka” parties. All that can be heard and read in the media, controlled by the ruling coalition, is negative propaganda describing Ukraine as a “fascist” country and regime, and the south-east part of Ukraine as a place where an army of volunteers defends and protects the rights of Russians from deadly threat.
Even propaganda tools in Bulgaria are similar to those in Russia.
The leading propagators of the psychosis, claiming that Ukraine fascists murder innocent people, are politicians and opinion-makers close to the Socialists and the national-socialists from “Ataka” — the party that officially opened its European elections campaign in… Moscow.
Copying their Russian ideological fathers and brothers, the Socialists and the National-socialists started to wear the orange-black ribbon of the Medal of Glory of the Corps Guard of the Soviet Army. Not willing to be so directly related to the communist times, they were calling it the Ribbon of Saint George, which is of similar design, but with yellow and black stripes…
Some of the most “outspoken” members of this “Russophile” community openly criticize the European Union as being guilty of “funding fascists and Bandera followers that took power by terror and force in Ukraine”, literally repeating the Putin’s propaganda talking points.
The pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian and anti-European propaganda goes even further — to open calls to Bulgarian society to quit the EU and get closer to Russia and even join the Euro-Asian Customs Union.
The European failure of the pro-Russian National-socialists in Bulgaria
Fortunately, the consensus the Bulgarian society reached about two decades ago – to associate with developed democracies and pursue membership in EU and NATO was not seriously during the European parliamentary elections earlier this year. The Socialist party and Ataka were heavily defeated (Ataka didn’t even won a single MEP seat) and the other radical national-socialist and anti-EU parties got just several thousand votes, rather insignificant even for the 7.3 million population of Bulgaria.
The former Communists of Bulgaria and their Russian umbilical cord
There is a way more serious concern that Russian geopolitical interests are widely propagated and supported by mighty groups in the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). BSP is a member of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament and its chairman Sergey Stanishev (born in Hersones, Ukraine and a Soviet and then a Russian citizen until 1996) is also a Chairman of the Party of the European Socialists. The most obvious and most recent public battles in which BSP supported Russian interests were the South Stream pipeline and the Belene Nuclear Power Plant.
The South stream project seems to be a “life or death” question for the Socialists
Strongly supported by the Ataka party, the BSP does not and in any way seem to be willing to comply with the Third Energy Package of the EU in the part that deals with the gas markets in the EU, especially in its diversification part, although we have to admit that the Bulgarian Foreign Minister speaks in favor and in accordance with the official European position on the South Stream pipeline. Yet, it is not enough to counterbalance the strong Russian pressure on Bulgaria by all political and economic means.
Independent commentators and analysts explain the strong support of the ruling coalition parties for the Russian energy projects with huge financial interests that arise from subcontractor companies, close to the ruling coalition in Bulgaria, which are to be engaged in the South Stream pipeline construction.
It is important also to note that Gennady Timchenko’s Stroytransgaz Consortium won the tender for the construction of the Bulgarian part of South Stream. Now, due to EU and USA sanctions, things will have to be rearranged.
The pro-European democrats
The right-wing politicians, the Democrats, most of the Greens, the Social-Democrats, the Socialists, who oppose the current BSP establishment, and citizens who were protesting for more than 400 days in row, strongly disagree and object the project in its current form.
Their view on the matter is that all financial interests, related to the South Stream pipeline, seem to be powerful enough and economic circles linked to those interests seem to be strong enough to seriously shake the economic and financial stability of Bulgaria. They claim that recent events, concerning the attack on the fourth largest Bulgarian Bank – Corporate Commercial Bank, which may not be bailed out after all, support their point of view.
Economic and financial dependencies
Briefly, some right-wing parties and protesting citizens are those who support the Ukrainians in their struggle against the soon-to-be former pro-Russian corrupt and criminal government. They also support the Maidan. They want the Gazprom protégés out of Bulgaria and those are the people that met the MFA of Russia, Lavrov, shouting “Putin H*ylo” and “this is not Moscow here!” in front of the President’s Office in Sofia.
In conclusion, it won’t be improper to draw a parallel between the over 400 days of protests in Bulgaria and the process that started with Euro Maidan in Ukraine, as both aim to fight corrupt power and political elite and to minimize Kremlin’s political influence on their country.
Both in Ukraine and Bulgaria, Kremlin’s pressure drives the country away from Europe and from a working and effective democracy. Both in Ukraine and in Bulgaria, the success of civil society is of a vital importance for their European future and the success or the failure of civil society in one of the countries will influence the other.
The most recent words of the President of Bulgaria seem quite relevant: “We see an aggressive and nationalistic Russia that does not stop its support for separatists and the provocations against the territorial integrity of a European country, such as Ukraine…”
А historical review
Bulgaria has an interesting history from regarding relations with Russia for the last century and a half.
Russia – the Liberator
Since the end of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria, as result of the Russian-Turkish war (1877-1878), Russia is generally referred to as the Liberator of Bulgaria. Even the Bulgarian Communists, who are the top pro-Russian force in Bulgarian politics since 1918, and who came to power few decades later, would name in some points of their history the act of liberation “the so-called liberation mission”, the achieve independence “a semi-independence” and the resulting Bulgarian state – “a quasi-independent state”. They would describe the condition of the Bulgarian society as result of this liberation as “times of mass corruption, bribery, and assassinations of politicians”.
Russia – the aggressor and the occupant
Some 66 years later (in 1944), at the end of WW II, Bulgaria was in a period of dramatic political turmoil, wandering between the Great Powers, and although an ally of Nazi Germany, until then it was nearly succeeding to avoid direct confrontation with the Allied forces (despite the fact that the largest Bulgarian cities were bombed regularly by the Allies, especially in 1944). In the last weeks before September 9, 1944, Bulgarian governments were changing within weeks; Bulgaria declared neutrality and was trying to start peace negotiations with the USA and Great Britain.
This was the time when the Third Ukrainian Front of the Soviet (Red) Army approached Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Communist party prepared for an armed uprising on September 8-9th, 1944. While the Soviet troops occupied Bulgaria without a single shot being fired, on September 9th, Bulgarian Communists took the power by a Coup d’état.
The popular Communist myth is that Russia has liberated Bulgaria twice – once during the Russian-Turkish war in 1877-1878 and once by the Soviet army in 1944.
The occupation of a state that has declared neutrality is questionable and cannot be called “liberation”. It resulted in loss of sovereignty, economic catastrophe, severe repressions (about 30 000 killed in the first month only) and long lasting Communist dictatorship – until 1989.
The Soviet Army stayed in Bulgaria until 1947
In the mid-80s of the 20th century, following the processes in the USSR, the “Perestroika” started in Bulgaria as well.
Ever since, Bulgaria is in a state of never ending transition from communist dictatorship to democracy. It can be said that the country is still in post-communist times and still suffers the social, economic and political disadvantages of the post-Soviet sphere of influence.
There are some points that are of essential importance if we are to discuss the present situation in Bulgaria and its official position in relation to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
Although the Communist rule was declared a crime by a special law in 2000, the BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) proudly call themselves successors of the former Communist party and have never come to terms with their totalitarian past and pro-Russian sentiment.
They are still trying to preserve (actively or passively) the surviving communist and Soviet symbols (monuments, for example) never mind that they symbolise a widely condemned era of an inhuman regime, allegedly responsible for almost 100 million human lives worldwide.