An article by: Dušan Proroković

Parliamentary elections in Bulgaria have not even been held, and during the election campaign one of the most frequent questions is: how to form a new parliamentary majority? How to argue about the establishment of a parliamentary majority when the election results are unknown? Simply! The upcoming vote on June 9 cannot be seen as an isolated event. The elections and the pre-election campaign can only be analyzed as part of the process that continues from 2021. Since then, Bulgarians have gone to the polls as many as five times (three times in 2021, then in October 2022 and April 2023). This is their sixth vote in a row.

Instead of protecting human rights and freedoms, the key issue in NATO’s new strategic concept has become energy security

That is, this is the fifth early parliamentary election in a row. During the second decade of the 21st century, the Balkan states were “pushed” towards stabilocracy one after the other. With the adoption of the new Strategic Concept of NATO in 2010, instead of the previous protection of human rights and freedoms around the world, the key issue for this military alliance becomes energy security. For the sake of reminding the readers, it should be emphasized that this is the period when ideas about at least two big projects on supplying Europe with natural gas, which are related to the Balkans, appear. The first was the Western Nabucco project (in the meantime, the US abandoned this unrealistic project), and the second was the Russian South Stream project. Without any doubt, in the first decade of the 21st century, NATO recognizes Russian energy influence in Europe as a threat and tries to reduce it. This thesis will be fully confirmed in 2022 after the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis and the destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline.

NATO considers Russian gas exports a powerful weapon

For NATO, Russian gas pipelines are becoming a powerful weapon, more destructive than nuclear potential. Bulgaria was at the center of this conflict. For a very simple reason: both planned projects were supposed to extend through the territory of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government led by Sergej Stanishev (at that time the state president was also from the ranks of the Bulgarian Socialist Party – Georgiy Parvanov), even earlier, before the adoption of the NATO Strategic Concept and the launch of the thesis on the Nabucco project, signed three strategic energy agreements with Russia. The first on the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, which would connect sources in Russia with consumers in southern and central Europe; the second about the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant; and the third on the construction of the Burgas-Alexandropoulos oil pipeline, in order to bypass the overloaded Bosphorus and transport black gold more easily through two ports (Bulgarian and Greek ports) to the Mediterranean.

Through cooperation with Russia, Bulgaria was supposed to become the energy hub of Southeast Europe. However, due to NATO’s new priorities, Bulgaria is not allowed to do so. The establishment of Boyko Borisov’s stabilocracy with the abundant help of Western partners automatically meant the cancellation of cooperation with Russia. Of the three mentioned, only one was realized, the Turkish Stream gas pipeline was built (it was no longer South Stream, because Turkey joined this game and thus it became one of the most important energy hubs for Southeast Europe, and unlike the planned South Stream, the built gas pipeline was smaller capacity), and that is because the other three participants in this business – Hungary, Serbia and Turkey – firmly insisted on the implementation of the contract. By the same principle, the ambitious intentions of the Chinese partners to use the favorable geographical position of Bulgaria through the Belt and Road and the 16+1 format and make it a transit zone from the Middle East to Central-Eastern Europe were later sabotaged.

The palace of the Bulgarian parliament

It was important for the U.S. to have a stable parliamentary majority in Bulgaria that followed U.S. foreign policy

Stabilocracy means that elections were formally organized in the country, but also that there were no equal conditions for all participants in those elections. Borisov became the guarantor of the achievement of American geostrategic goals, which were first articulated through the Strategic Concepts of NATO, and then to some extent through certain decisions of the EU institutions. For the USA, it was important that there is a stable parliamentary majority in the country that will follow the American foreign and security policy, while the issues of democracy, transparency, respect for human rights and freedoms became secondary. After 12 years of rule, Borisov’s stabilocracy collapsed in the elections in April 2021 under the burden of fierce accusations of corruption and various types of abuses, but also due to the essential stagnation that manifests itself on every level. Bulgaria became a member of the EU, it was already in NATO, but the lag in relation to the developed European countries did not decrease. On the contrary, in certain areas (such as education and science) it became greater than ever before. In parallel with that, the depopulation of the country took place, which took on catastrophic proportions.

An astonishing information from the last census shows that a decrease in the number of inhabitants is recorded in all territorial units of regional self-government. Bulgaria has “lost” 11.5% of its population since 2011, with the smallest “minus” in Sofia of 1.3%, and the largest in Vidin of around 25%. Along with Vidin, two other northwestern areas – Montana and Vraca have an identical trend. Paradoxically, these are the border areas towards Romania, therefore a part “inside” the EU, a quarter of a century ago it was stated that significant corridors connecting Sofia with rich western countries would pass through there. The ratio of urban and rural population is 74 – 26, with the fact that 48% of populated areas have between 1 and 199 inhabitants. Half of the places inhabited today will be empty in two decades. Half! Villages will remain empty. Almost all, or the overwhelming majority. For comparison, with, for example, Serbia, this is significant, since the Bulgarians did not have the worst sanctions in the history of modern international relations, nor the comprehensive economic and political isolation of the country with accompanying stigmatization, nor were they bombed by NATO, nor did they have part of their territory occupied, nor do they have Kosovo, nor Republic of Srpska, nor Srebrenica, nor other “eternal topics” that “argue them with the West” and easily cause crises and destabilize the existing political environment.

A demonstration in Sofia in support of the friendship between Bulgaria and Russia

Bulgaria is a full member of the EU, but that changes little

On the contrary, Bulgaria is a full member of the EU and NATO, with all the benefits it brings, including non-returnable billions of euros every year, ensuring security, and recognizing the “status” of a reputable partner. Again, the demographic indicators are worse than in the case of Serbia. Why is that? Probably also because “demographic minus” is not only a story about poverty, insufficient development of infrastructure, economic backwardness, necessary reforms and the “unfortunate nineties”. This is also the case with the ” unfortunate 2000’s”, the consequences of uncritical acceptance of the neoliberal concept, new value patterns and the sacrifice of one’s own development visions for the sake of “immersion” in supranational entities. In such a framework, on the one hand, progressive de-sovereignnization was encouraged, while on the other hand, collective self-confidence dried up just as quickly. Elections were turned into collecting capillary votes, that became the essence of democracy; politically correct apologists of the European Union model or lawyers of multinational corporations were appointed as ministers, for whom no one voted, nor did they feel any debt to the voters, having obtained the seats in such a way; the bureaucracy was calibrated according to the requirements of the EU and NATO, therefore it was accountable to Brussels and Washington, not to the citizens of the country who supported it by paying taxes.

Stabilocracy influenced the spread of hopelessness, and after the fall of Borisov, this was also reflected in the political system. Completely trapped in the Euro-Atlantic agenda (which is also a consequence of 12 years of stabilocracy and the uncritical institutional binding of Bulgaria to the USA and the EU), Bulgaria has no room for maneuver to devise an original policy, and at the same time, it does not benefit from this policy. At the same time, after 2022, a split within the Bulgarian society is increasingly felt. Throughout history, Bulgarians have been considered the biggest Russophiles in the Balkans. Even today, there is a huge number of Russophiles in Bulgaria, but being for Russia within the Euro-Atlantic agenda is not only not allowed, but also punishable. Politicians who dare to articulate such a policy face incredible difficulties.

Bulgaria has been unable to create a stable parliamentary majority for three years now

Therefore, from 2021, a stable parliamentary majority cannot be established in Bulgaria. Boyko Borisov’s party still has a stable rating, it is probably the strongest at the moment. They win 20 to 25 percent of the vote, but they remain an undesirable coalition partner. Twelve years of stabilocracy left consequences for relations with other parties. As for the other parties, they are fragmented and often oriented towards preserving their own parliamentary status, and therefore unprepared for significant compromises during negotiations on establishing a parliamentary majority. The “There Is Such A People” list, led by television presenter and singer Slavi Trifonov, won the most votes (23.8%) in the July 2021 elections, and today it is fighting for the census. The rating of the list led by Kirill Petkov which won the most votes in the November 2021 elections (25.3%) seems to have halved to date (the upcoming elections will show that, but if it hasn’t really halved, then in any case it is significantly lower). Parties with a long tradition like VMRO have disappeared from the political scene, and the once powerful and undisputed Bulgarian Socialist Party is struggling with a rating that is no longer even in double digits. During that time, various factions that broke away from the once great parties are fighting for the 3 percent voter turnout and thus making the already complex situation even more complex (the rule in Balkan politics is that parties that are formed in this way cannot deal with ideological enemies or ideological friends after the elections because they just broke away from them and therefore quarreled with them). The exception to all of the above is Kostadin Kostadinov with his Revival party, which took the place that was once filled by parties like VMRO or Ataka. From election to election, Kostadinov wins an increasing number of votes and mandates (in April 2021, his party won 2.4% and remained below the census, and in November 2023 it was already at 14.3%). However, since his party is sovereignist, defenders of the Euro-Atlantic agenda classify him as an ultra-nationalist, anti-LGBT, right-wing populist or Eurosceptic. Which, in the conditions in which Bulgaria finds itself, is not exactly a recommendation for coming into power. Unless he wins so many votes that his party becomes indispensable in the negotiations on the parliamentary majority.

Another exception is the “Movement for Rights and Freedoms”, a party for which representatives of the Turkish national minority and other Muslims vote, and whose result is continuously in the range of 300 to 350 thousand votes, which in relation to the turnout then amounts to about 11 to over 13 percent. The co-president of this party is the controversial businessman Delyan Peevski, who has been sanctioned by the Magnitsky Act by the USA and the UK for corruption, bribery and embezzlement since 2021. Is it good for the coalition potential of the party? It depends on the results of the election and the distribution of mandates.

Incidentally, new elections were called due to the failure of the rotating government experiment. In order to find a way out of the stalemate after the elections in April 2023, it was agreed that the two largest lists GERB-SDS (GERB and the “Union of Democratic Forces”) headed by Boyko Borisov and PP-DB (coalition between “We Continue the Change” and “Democratic Bulgaria”) headed by Kiril Petkov rotate the prime ministers during the term of office. At first, the prime minister was PP-DB candidate Nikolai Denkov, so he resigned on March 5, 2024, so that the GERB-SDS candidate Marija Gabriel was elected in his place (until then, she was deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in the government, else from 2019 to 2023 she performed the function of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth and from 2017 to 2019 European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, before that period she was Member of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2017).

However, the personal solutions proposed by Gabriel (that is, essentially proposed by Borisov, who completely controls the party structure) were not liked by the PP-DB, and the negotiations failed, that is, she failed to secure a parliamentary majority. With that, the assembly was dissolved and new elections were called. What will happen after them? For further comments and predictions, one should first wait for the election results. Maybe some new trends will be noticed among the voters. Maybe there will be some surprises. But, regardless of the trends among the voters or possible surprises, while the political crisis lasts, Bulgaria remains faced with major and fundamental problems that no one is solving. The lag behind developed European countries is slowly becoming irreparable, progressive depopulation continues, and hopelessness is becoming more and more entrenched. Bulgaria is stagnating. Due to maintaining the Euro-Atlantic agenda and projecting the strategic priorities of the USA, Bulgaria’s present was sacrificed. If this continues, the future of the country will be sacrificed as well.

Professor, PhD

Dušan Proroković