Mainstream Parties Squeeze Far-Right in the BalkansViews on BG | April 29, 2011, Friday // 12:32| views
Volen Siderov, leader of Ataka. Photo by BGNES
by Daniel McLaughlin
Denouncing Turkey's bid to join the European Union, demanding first World War reparations from Ankara and ranting about the Roma – the far-right Ataka party is the most strident voice in Bulgarian politics.
Although it was officially founded only a few months before the 2005 general election, Ataka claimed more than 8 per cent of votes in the ballot and secured 21 seats in parliament, a position it consolidated in 2009 polls.
Ataka is the creation of Volen Siderov, who first attracted a public following with a television programme of the same name, in which he blamed many of Bulgaria's ills on its ethnic-Turkish minority, its large Roma community and the corruption and venality of mainstream politicians.
Rights groups have accused him of virulent anti-Semitism, but Siderov describes Ataka's outlook as "defensive nationalism . . . an immune system saving the nation from extinction".
The approach has not only given Ataka a significant presence in the Bulgarian assembly but won it two seats in the European Parliament, where one of its representatives raised hackles with an allegedly racist and sexist e-mail about a Roma MEP in 2006.
That was the year Siderov came to greater international attention, when he made it into a presidential election run-off with ultimate winner Georgi Parvanov, an event many people likened to Jean Marie Le Pen's 2002 challenge to Jacques Chirac in France. There are suggestions that Ataka's star may now be on the wane, however.
Much of its anti-corruption thunder has been stolen by Gerb, the new ruling party run by tough-talking former bodyguard Boiko Borisov, who now enjoys the broad support of Ataka's MPs. Some analysts wonder whether Siderov is trying to win Borisov's backing for another crack at the presidency in this autumn's election but, in the meantime, polls show support for Ataka has tumbled to just 3 per cent.
In neighbouring Romania, the Siderov/Le Pen-style challenge to the political elite was posed way back in 2000 by ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the Greater Romania Party.
A former "court poet" of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Tudor became a prominent political figure in the 1990s. His appeals to national pride and patriotism and denunciation of Romania's large Roma and ethnic-Hungarian minorities struck a chord in a country that struggled with poverty, instability and deep social divisions after its 1989 revolution.
The Greater Romania Party was ousted from the national assembly in 2008 elections but, a year later, Tudor did win a seat in the European Parliament alongside uneasy ally Gigi Becali, a scandal-plagued businessman infamous for insulting Jews, Gypsies and Hungarians among many others. They appeal to some voters as mavericks but do not form a unified political force.
Some experts say the weakness of radical parties in Romania is due partly to the fact mainstream parties accommodate views that would be considered extreme elsewhere, such as a strong moral conservatism, deep reverence for the Orthodox Church and antipathy towards minority groups like Roma, gays and lesbians. "Nationalism is not as strong as it was in the 1990s . . . and populism is so mainstream that the nationalists are being squeezed out" said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, president of the Romanian Academic Society.