Bulgaria's President Has Chance to Put 'Living in Fear' Mode on Hold

Opinions | January 29, 2017, Sunday // 10:37|  views

Living in fear, year after year - this song line could apply literally to that part of the Bulgarian electorate which is strongly influenced by messages of politicians over the last few years.

And by no means does "fear" apply only to the migrant crisis - whether in government or in opposition, politicians have sought to cement their support through hinting at dangers coming from home or abroad. The topic of Russia is just the most common example. 

Last week, Russia's RIA Novosti agency carried an article by a renowned analyst who, citing Bulgarian media outlets, reported a huge "Maidan-style" demonstration was being prepared and scheduled for Saturday, just before the inauguration of Rumen Radev as the country's President. The protests would be aimed at discrediting both Radev and Russia to the benefit of certain lobbies and NGO, the article alleged.

There were, in fact, only a few dozen people who attended the protest, most being Ukrainian nationals who had taken to the streets to reject the annexation of Crimea for yet another time.

What was troubling, however, was the Bulgarian Socialist Party's decision to pick up the narrative in the days prior to the so-called "Maidan". At Radev's swearing-in ceremony last Thursday, the BSP spokesman Zhelyo Boychev reiterated the suggestion of a huge protest against the new head of state plotted by certain groups in Bulgaria - roughly at the same time RIA Novosti was publishing the text.

The media vied to interpret the act of hybrid warfare, with several outlets backing Western values reporting it and those tied to BSP and DPS circles lambasting them for being "Sororoids" - it was hinted that America for Bulgaria Foundation might have been behind the "Maidan in the making."

Moreover, after a scandal involving the BSP leader Korneliya Ninova, the head of state and a Russian think-tank, the scanal left a slightly negative mark on the first days of Radev.

Had it all ended with that hybrid incident it wouldn't have been worth mentioning - this is why Novinite chose not to cover last Sunday's demonstration.

But when it comes to polarizing the Bulgarian electorate, politicians are cannot be divided into groups of "good" and "bad" ones.

Days before leaving office, President (2002-2012) Rosen Plevneliev warned Bulgaria might end up being stripped of the rotating EU Presidency due early next year.

He suggested the development may occur if Bulgaria seeks to divide the EU through its actions, in an apparent reference to his successor Radev's more friendly attitude toward Russia and his support for lifting the EU sanctions on Moscow.

Officials subsequently lined up to refute his claim, saying there was no mechanism whatsoever that could deprive the country of the presidency. Plevneliev himself failed to elaborate in a later interview.

Even when Russia is not involved as a subject, there are enough fear factors. In the warmer months of the year, nationalist (but also mainstream) parties normally use the migrant crisis to spread fear of a possible invasion and justify policy proposals or (as was the case with the Patriotic Front) explain their support for the cabinet.

Ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, on the other hand, cited as the key reason to stay in office, despite the tough time he was having in a multi-faceted coalition, the need to preserve political stability which, he argued, under a socialist government would crumble and hit on Bulgaria's image abroad and business climate.

For a few days now, Bulgaria has neither a "ruling party" nor an opposition - nor a Parliament, for that matter.

A predominantly technical government was set up, using old cadres of various parties, but also respected exprerts that will prepare the forthcoming early election this spring.

Observers in Bulgaria have voiced cautious optimism about the cabinet lineup, taking into account its limitations - no decisions can be taken if hese require approval from Parliament as the legislature will not be formed until the spring.

The combination of party affiliates and experts suggests a balanced approach which will serve a goal pointed by caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov on Friday - the need for "reconciliation."

"It is not easy to govern a state where hatred and opposition are in power," he told the BNT's Panorama.

President Rumen Radev himself is also shying away - for now - from divisive statements throwing any blame on predecessors or alleging they would bring harm on Bulgaria.

For at least a month - as the election campaign will not officially kick off before the end of February - the country will have the unique chance of enjoying a certain degree of tranquility, with politicians focusing on governance and not on attacks from opponents which, over the last few years, had turned into an end in itself.

The fact there is no Parliament will mean parties will have no rostrum to hurl allegations; when they do so out of the plenary hall, through their press offices, the impact is much more negligible. In a motley government where at least a handful of (mainstream) parties are somehow represented, it will not be that easy for politicians out of the government to point fingers at ministers inside, at least not at the entire cabinet.  

President Radev, whose political messages have been targeted both the left-leaning and the right-leaning electorate, will also get the chance to mend some fences in society, an opportunity which President Plevneliev's support for certain political positions (and his misfortune of serving in tense and polarizing times) never allowed him to achieve.

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Tags: Rumen Radev, Rosen Plevneliev, interim government, Russia, migrant crisis


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