Pro-Russian Rhetoric and Anti-Euro Sentiments: A New Political Party Rises in Bulgaria

Opinions | June 12, 2024, Wednesday // 15:17|  views

"Greatness" (Velichie/Величие in Bulgarian) garnered 99,852 votes in the Bulgarian parliamentary elections on June 9, surprising many politicians, sociologists, and journalists. Known figures like "Colonel Markov" and Ivelin Mihailov played key roles. Despite being relatively unknown, they managed to secure nearly 100,000 votes, marking the emergence of a new political entity in the National Assembly. Additionally, they received 81,933 votes in the European elections.

Sociologists had not anticipated this outcome, with the party only appearing in the latest Gallup pre-election survey at 1.7%. However, "Greatness," registered less than a year ago, achieved significant electoral success, reminiscent of the rise of the "Ataka" party in 2009, which also took nearly 9 percent of the parliamentary vote, largely due to media influence and populist statements.

"Greatness" addresses its supporters as "Your Majesties" and "soldiers," positioning itself at the extreme end of anti-system formations. Political analysts describe it as a radical and nationalist party, although its precise alignment requires further analysis. Post-election appearances by its leaders have created confusion about whether it belongs to firmly pro-Russian forces, with competitors like "Revival" labeling it as an "American project" meant to curb their influence.

In the 50th National Assembly, it will be interesting to see which positions and votes align between "Greatness" and "Revival," as well as with "There is Such a People" and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), especially regarding Russia's war against Ukraine and arms exports.

After entering parliament, Nikolay Markov (“The Colonel”), who will serve as an MP, and Ivelin Mihailov, who explained that he would remain with “the people” while others go to parliament, toured television studios, highlighting their "multi-layered organization."

The party emerged from non-mainstream media sources like social media and YouTube channels, appealing to disillusioned Bulgarians. Ivelin Mihailov, from Gorna Oryahovitsa, is the party's ideologist. Known for his "Historical Park" project, Mihailov has faced allegations of running a pyramid scheme and privatizing the municipality of Vetrino. Despite these controversies, he entered the 50th National Assembly.

Recently, the National Revenue Agency's executive director, Rumen Spetsov, announced an investigation into companies linked to Mihailov due to reports of financial schemes and fraud.

Another key figure is "Colonel Markov," actually Lieutenant Colonel Nikolay Markov, a former National Security Service (NSS) officer who now actively shares his views on social media and YouTube, sometimes showing contradictory stances. Other notable members include singer Etien Levi, linked to the former communist regime's secret services (DS), and Viktoria Vasileva, a former MP from "There Is Such a People."

The “revolution of light”?

"People who have nothing to lose are the most dangerous and the most powerful people in the world. If we were rich, successful, immersed in luxury and comfort, we would have no chance to realize this goal of ours, because comfort kills enterprise and the change. It would trap us in some golden shackles that would prevent us from doing what is necessary to achieve our ideal. Only the hungry, wronged, and desirous of change possess the necessary strength and faith to fulfill this." This excerpt from an article on the ideal of "Greatness" outlines the target profile and positioning of the new parliamentary party.

"We want to shine a light on Bulgaria's internal politics and prevent those who, under the guise of foreign policy, commit abhorrent acts domestically," said Nikolay Markov on Nova TV.

Markov presents himself as a hardliner, promising a literal "revolution." In an election night interview with Eurocom, he stated, "We will propose that justice be restored without bloodshed. We will," and added, "we must be able to live with dignity, but we must also be able to die with dignity."

Pro-Russian?

When asked if "Greatness" is a pro-Russian party, Mihaylov responded on "Nova TV," saying, "No, we are strictly pro-Bulgarian and focus on the country's economy, which must start producing to ensure proper processes in the country." Despite this stance, Mihaylov has openly supported Russia in recent years and even led protests against Bulgaria providing military aid to Ukraine.

Following the elections, Mihaylov commented on the war in Ukraine, advocating for Bulgaria's neutrality, arguing that the country is not in a position to provide assistance due to its struggling economy. He compared Bulgaria's situation to a "four-year-old child donating his kidney."

Markov's Facebook posts and past media appearances also reveal support for Putin and ties to Moscow. On June 16, 2023, he mentioned sending information about Bulgaria’s arms exports to Ukraine directly to Moscow through secret channels. In a recent "Eurocom" interview, he praised Putin as a good statesman who cares for his people. A year ago, he claimed, "Russia is our hope for salvation," and mentioned a task from Moscow to overthrow Macron.

Darin Georgiev, the leader of the party line-up for the Plovdiv region, stated that the USA prepared the war in Ukraine. He predicted that after Russia captures Odesa, it will build a naval base there, prompting NATO to establish two large bases in Bulgaria, one in Dobrudja and another in Varna.

Euro or Lev?

When asked about Bulgaria joining the Eurozone, which political instability has delayed to 2025, "Greatness" stated: "We will try to preserve the lev by all means." They explained that this would enable Bulgaria to undertake strategic projects independently, without relying on the European Central Bank. However, when asked if this means not joining the Eurozone, Markov told bTV: "No, we say otherwise... keeping the lev instrument gives us greater economic and political opportunities."

In pre-election meetings, Ivelin Mihailov suggested fixing the lev's exchange rate to gold and silver. The "Bulgarian Lev" aligns with the party's idea of "liberating entrepreneurship," often criticizing the state's bankruptcy and the perceived genocide against small and medium-sized businesses.

Regarding their parliamentary goals, they give general answers about taking "real actions" based on their experience. They frequently mention their new "social model" in Vetrino, where the "Historical Park" is located. Mihailov claims to have a 100-year vision to make the Bulgarian people the governing force, prioritizing their interests. Markov says they aim to restore the parliamentary republic.

Mihailov told "Nova TV": "I want us to stop with new policies and new laws, and to monitor compliance with the old ones." He cited "perfect law and order legislation" as an example, stressing that the problem lies in enforcement, not the laws themselves.

NATO and the EU?

"The only thing NATO guarantees is that possible war is only world war," said Nikolay Markov in one of his many YouTube videos, dated March 4th this year. However, four months later, his stance had shifted:

"We have no doubt that Bulgaria should be in the European Union and NATO," he said to "Eurocom" on June 9, nominated as the leader of "Greatness."

This shift is not unique. On May 25, 2024, the party published an article titled "What is the national ideal of Bulgaria?" criticizing the goal of joining NATO and the EU as shameful and not a true national purpose. A subsequent article from June 2, titled "Are NATO and the EU Bulgaria's problem?" further criticized NATO as a mere military cooperation organization and misrepresented its founding Article 5 and Article 4, which actually provides for collective defense and consultation among members.

Despite these misrepresentations, "Greatness" suggests an eventual exit from NATO and the EU, acknowledging the current economic impracticality but proposing long-term measures to prepare for such a departure. Yet, a week after the June 2 article, Markov still affirmed Bulgaria's place in both organizations.

This inconsistency appears to be a strategy to avoid being labeled as a populist nationalist or a pro-Russian, anti-Western party. Notably, "Greatness" lacks a coherent political platform or economic and social program, with their only detailed publication being for a local election.

Where will they stand in parliament?

Regarding their future work in the National Assembly, where they are expected to have 13 deputies pending final confirmation by the Central Election Commission, Markov and Mihailov stated that as the smallest party, the formation of a government is not up to them. Mihailov mentioned on bTV that they have no common ground with GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), positioning their party as "100 percent opposition to the mafia way of governing the state."

Mihailov emphasized on bTV that they would support good solutions without demanding anything in return. They admit to not fully knowing the dynamics within parliament yet, likening their approach to "combat intelligence" as they navigate the political landscape.

Markov mentioned that they would attend discussions if invited, seeing it as part of political culture. Mihailov further clarified on Nova TV that they would not support any cabinet regardless of the party but would consider supporting specific laws.

Media presence?

"Greatness" rejects the labels "YouTube Party" or "TikTok Party," which emerged after the election due to their popular channels and support from vloggers. These comparisons arose because sociologists failed to predict their success until the day of the vote.

The party frequently criticizes traditional media and targets specific journalists and publications investigating the "Historical Park." In a show on their channel "Свободен глас," they even mentioned creating a "list to prove the impurity of such journalists."

"Greatness" often complains about "media speculation" and anticipates it will increase. In some TV appearances, they have directly attacked presenters for not inviting them earlier and for their relationships with them. Mihailov clarified that they call Markov "colonel" because it's his nickname, but they prefer "colonel Nikolay Markov" over "Nikolay Markov the colonel." Markov, a former National Security Service (NSS) officer, is actually a lieutenant colonel.

They also announced plans to have their own team of fact-checkers to verify information released about them.

On the Constitution?

Regarding their stance on changes to the Bulgarian Constitution voted on at the end of last year, "Greatness" clarified the following positions:

  • They support dual citizenship for MPs and ministers, emphasizing the need for Bulgarians living abroad to participate. They highlighted having pre-election meetings in countries like the UK, Germany, and Austria. They received 12,043 votes from abroad, surpassing GERB (10,468) and "There Is Such a People" (TISP) (8,766).

  • The party advocates for reinstating the previous rule where parliament dissolves between elections.

  • On deciding how regulators should be elected, "Greatness" prefers to review and analyze the relevant bylaws first. Nikolay Markov mentioned on bTV that since this issue has caused governmental disruptions, there is clearly a problem that needs addressing.

Constitutional changes will be a key issue for deputies, especially with an impending Constitutional Court decision that might declare some amendments unconstitutional. If that happens, new amendments will be necessary, potentially forming the basis for creating a parliamentary majority for a future government.

"Espionage in favor of Russia"?

On Wednesday (June 12th) the civil movement "BOEC" has reported to the State Agency "National Security" (SANS) about alleged espionage activities by Nikolay Georgiev Markov, a former National Security Service (NSS) employee and newly elected MP from the political party "Greatness."

BOEC highlighted a Facebook post dated June 16, 2023, on a public page named "Nikolay Markov," which features a photo of Markov and appears to be administered by him. The post reads: "According to them, I do nothing! And according to me, they do nothing. Every day I receive on intelligence channels dozens of clips about the export of all kinds of weapons to Ukraine. I do not put them on the network for many reasons. I send them through a secret channel directly to Moscow, for I'm doing my job as you can see. But I'm thinking otherwise! Why don't they see what's happening in their municipalities? Don't show these things from the parliamentary rostrum? Do you see any resistance?".

According to BOEC, this post suggests that Markov "collects and receives intelligence information about Bulgaria's military aid to Ukraine from unknown sources" and claims it is his job to send this information through a secret channel directly to Moscow, ostensibly to Russian intelligence services.

BOEC has requested that SANS conduct a thorough investigation into these claims of espionage in favor of Russia. They emphasize the urgency of this request, given that Markov, as an MP, will have access to classified information from Bulgarian intelligence services and the military once he takes office.

Additionally, BOEC has asked SANS to investigate whether "Greatness," with Markov as one of its leaders, is involved in any activities benefiting Russia or any economic, financial, or other general crimes.

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Tags: greatness, party, Bulgarian, elections

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