For years, a Bulgarian party whose former links to peaceful resolutions have allowed it run a region blighted by poverty and rife with corruption. Now, it's leaders don't even pretend to be interested in holding the positions they were elected to, but this might be a saving grace for the nation.

There is nothing new on the Bulgarian front. Another election has passed and as just as before, the results did not satisfy anyone.

The prime minister threatened to return order to the regional structures that did not provide him with the votes he had expected.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) once again ran into the wall of its own unpredictability, yet the so-called “patriots” managed to keep their presence in the EU Parliament.

Only the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), as was assumed, quietly and calmly received a mandate winning three seats in the EP for the recently rebranded Renew Europe (formerly ALDE) party.

Acting against inertia

Overall, Bulgaria’s results also confirm the European trend. The representatives of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Socialists and Democrats (BSP) took a hit, but they are still able to function, while the liberals from YES Bulgaria managed to win a seat and return from the parliamentary (albeit European) abyss.

In a comparative perspective, the EP elections in Bulgaria were boring. Famous commentators predicted the “Apartment-gate” scandal (an ongoing embarrassment which has engulfed many high-level officials in the government) would cause a quake on the political scene. Even the socialists believed that this time they would be in the fight for first place, but nothing like that happened.

After the election, Bulgaria reaffirmed the political status quo, which logically should be an indicator of stable, predictable and good political governance.

Boyko Borisov, Bulgarian PM

There has been no radical political change in Bulgaria, as in Romania. During the elections, there was no extraordinary political mobilisation that led to noticeably higher voter’s turnout, as in Poland. The prime minister does not have to pack up his cases, as his counterparts in Greece, Belgium and Austria. In the European sea of ​​political processes, Bulgaria looks like an island of tranquility.

Behind this idyllic picture lies the gray political reality. Against the ugly stories of Apartment-gate, Prime Minister Borisov confirmed his image as a general commanding with an iron fist.

The guilty were punished, but because they are loyal soldiers, these penalties were not too harsh. The election results show that in Bulgaria the connection between a political scandal and political accountability is not obvious. It seems to be enough to sacrifice a famous politician, instead of waiting patiently and urgently to expect the state institutions to fulfil their duties.

The swift political death of an individual satisfies the popular feeling of justice thus releasing the state apparatus from its constitutional tasks to prosecute such blatant examples as abuse of power.

Whether because of a lack of faith in the judicial process or because the apartment scandal itself is just a nuance of reality in the captured state, neither society nor state authorities think it makes sense to return to the issue.

A post-election comic tragedy

After the elections, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms came third with 323 510 votes, winning three seats in the EP.

The second name in their list was the oligarch, media tycoon and MP from MRF, Delyan Peevski, who once again (as in 2014) was elected to the European Parliament. His ability to accumulate votes gave him the nickname “election rocket”.

However, just like five years ago, he decided to renounce his freshly won seat and remain in Bulgaria. It seems that for Peevski, the Bulgarian reality must be so attractive that even Brussels cannot tempt him. Leaving sarcasm aside, let us reflect for a moment about the facts and consequences of his decision.

Delyan Peevski, photo credit Terminal3

For Peevski, fictitious applications in European elections has been a recurrence. Of course, self-participation in elections, followed by a policy denial, is not a crime. There are different reasons which can influence the personal decision to participate (or not) in politics and no one can be reproached for this. However, the Peevski case is different.

It may have been true five years ago, but Peevski is now running in elections without having any intention of engaging on a European level. Are voters entitled to feel cheated? Will his own party punish him for misleading its supporters twice? These are not just rhetorical questions because the answers are already known.

Corporate takeover

This recurring image makes us realise that something is wrong.

Either Peevski does not understand the role of politics and why people vote,  or perhaps the voters have simply no idea what electoral democracy is.

Judging by the general prosperity of the Bulgarian society, the intermittent successes and power structures, it seems that Peevski is much more aware of how politics can be abused than how it must be protected.

Of course, there is no need for a society to consist of political experts, but it would not be a bad thing to have at least the mechanisms in place that can correct political recidivists.

When such mechanisms function well, they do not need to be related only to the judiciary.

Often there are internal party ethics committees. Another option would be for party members to revolt against their political leaders who are unable to listen to the voices of their members (as against Teresa May) or their actions are harmful to the party. Of course, these naive reflections do not concern the MRF despite the fact that it is part of the Renew Europe political family in the European Parliament.

Ahmed Dogan and Delyan Peevski’s party is not a mechanism for political representation of voters with certain views, but a corporate mechanism for the protection of specific interests.

The biggest asset of this corporation is the stable ethnic vote that guarantees the endless presence in Bulgarian politics.

The party appeared in the midst of surging waves of liberal values ​​and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans in the early 1990s, thus ensuring a permanent presence on the political scene as a mythical guarantor of peace.

Regardless of the tensions in Bulgarian politics, the MRF is the most constant star in the political sky. Its political strength is based on the symbiosis between the richest and poorest parts of the Bulgarian society.

The mythical wealth of Ahmed Dogan and Delyan Peevski contrasts with their supporters’ poverty; these backers come from the poorest parts of the poorest country in the EU.

Behind the MRF’s lofty ideals of protection of human rights shines the ugly face of economic subservience. The essence of the mechanism is the control over public works which remain one of the few sources of income in these regions. These initiatives have been in the hands of the MRF for decades, and this mechanism secures votes and their continued political endurance.

The silent minority of voters who are scrambling to overcome poverty are ready to give the most valuable asset to these politicians – their collective voice of support, hoping for (promised) employment in the next programme offered by the authorities in the regions controlled by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

The nature of the elections for them is not important because their only prospect is to survive the next day.

Behind this screen, Ahmed Dogan created a strong mechanism that guarantees the presence of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms on the Bulgarian political scene, regardless of political trends. That’s why election analysts consciously do not even bother to comment on the results of the MRF – they are clear.

Mustafa Karadayi

The case of Peevski is no exception to this essence of Bulgarian politics. The first on the MRF election list, Mustafa Karadayi, also gave up his seat in the EP.

The critical questions of journalists regarding Peevski’s non-participation in the work of the National Assembly for the past two years were paralysed by a wave of primitive comments from their party circles.

Peevski’s arrogance has come to claim that he is more needed in Bulgaria, where he moves with a guard greater than that of the pope, though probably for a reason.

Already in 2014, when Peevski was elected to the European Parliament for the first time, allegedly he was forced to give up the seat by the ALDE leaders who were aware of the negative political image attached to the politician.

However, this year Peevski again rejected such claims arguing that, during the campaign, the ALDE President Hans Van Baalen visited Bulgaria and supported his party.

Regardless of the reasons for his decision, Bulgarians should thank Peevski. Taking the patriotic decision to stay in Bulgaria, he saved his compatriots from the perspective of sharing his shameful political experience of neglecting his MP obligations.

As journalists noticed, he has not been participating in the proceedings of the Bulgarian parliament since April 19, 2017 when the last Parliament was assembled for the first time until April 2019.

During this same period, Peevski often did not attend proceedings, and his absences had to be excused by the Leader of MRF in parliament and the Speaker. It is worth noting, the same accusations were raised against him also in 2014 when for the first 10 months of the parliamentary session, he was absent over 100 times.

It is a happy coincidence that Peevski’s decision to stay in Bulgaria releases European politicians like Guy Verhofstadt or Hans Van Baalen from the shameful obligation to explain why he does not go to work or justify his paid absences in the European Parliament.

MRF membership in Renew Europe is becoming a political burden since the way the party operates and its political culture is completely contradictory with the core values ​​around which European liberals want to build their stance.

For Renew Europe, for Bulgaria and for the EU, it would be best to distance themselves from the corporate mechanisms of contemporary enslavement performed by the likes the MRF.

Spasimir Domaradzki is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Lazarski University in Warsaw, Poland.

Central European Futures

Over the past several years, it has become ever more apparent that the post-Cold War era of democratic reform, socio-economic development and Western integration in Central Europe is coming to an end.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German-Marshall Fund of the U.S..

Download the #CentralEuropeanFutures report in PDF