The embedded nature of undemocratic powers in Bulgaria sets it apart from the Central European countries

Examples of constitutional restrictions on political freedom in democracies include countries such as Germany and Poland, where with regards to Nazism and communism as well as the accompanying racial and ethnic hatred, the use of power to gain power or the creation of secret structures are forbidden. Such types of restrictions include most democratic constitutions including Bulgaria’s, which is highlighted in Art. 11.t.4 of the constitution.

Spreading his judgments on the basis of his observations in Hungary and Poland, Miles Maftean launched the hypothesis that today the instrument of militant democracies is in the hands of illiberal political elites who use the same militant logic towards their political opponents.

The situation in Sofia

Boyko Borisov, Bulgarian PM

Repressive laws on media, civil society activists and educational institutions all aim at dismantling the rule of law through the authorities’ destruction of mutual control, equality and the protection of civil rights.

In search of ways to counteract this illiberal trend, Maftean offers a comparative perspective that recognises the most immediate dangers for democratic institutions in Central and Eastern Europe.

The broad geographic framework allows us to bring a number of examples from all countries in the corridor between Germany and Russia, including Bulgaria.

Regrettably, however much I try to find parallels between the political processes in Hungary and Poland and the political situation in Bulgaria, it seems to me that the political experience is at a completely different level.

While the West is worried about the consolidation of illiberal democracy in Central Europe, it has long been rooted in the south east of the union.

The Bulgarian case has no parallels but offers a view of the future of illiberal democracy; the road that Hungary and Poland have taken leads to the place where Bulgaria has long been.

In order not to be hollow, let’s look at the examples with which Maftean illustrates in his vision: crushing anti-government protests, taking control of institutions that are controlled by the opposition, restricting media freedom, and so on.

In Bulgaria, no one crushes anti-government protests with force because they are insignificant. The last major protests against the immeasurability of the political elite were related to the election of Delyan Peevski as the head of SANS (State Agency for National Security). They went on for more than a year to lead the Oresharski government to fall, but not to weaken Peevsky’s position, which still derives dividends from his role as alpha and omega in Bulgarian political reality.

There is opposition in Bulgaria, but its position is quite different from that of the opposition in Hungary and Poland.

Delyan Peevski, photo credit Terminal3

Yes, like them, the Bulgarian opposition is struggling for power, but it is neither isolated nor suppressed. Orbán and Kaczyński conquer the state through legislative acts and shorten the mandates in a number of positions consciously created with different durations to guarantee the presence of certain political subjects in power.

Their goal is to capture the political system in its entirety.

In Bulgaria the fact that the president is from the so-called opposition should show that this is not the case. However, a much better explanation is provided by the case of the ombudsman Maya Manolova, who, before being elected to her post and during the Borisov government and the GERB votes, was the fiercest critic of power.

This, in itself, shows that the political alternative – the fundamental essence of liberal democracy – in Bulgaria is a complete fiction. The reality is behind-the-scene bargaining and the allocating of functions according to the needs and desires of those in power. The role of opposition political parties does not differ much from that of Adam’s fig leaf in paradise.

Comparative analysis

In Hungary and Poland, society is interested and worried when the media is changing ownership. In order to secure funds for their media domination, Orbán and Kaczyński took over all possible state-owned industries to accumulate the means by which to realise their political visions.

Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczyński

In Bulgaria, even when most of the main media became the property of the same Delyan Peevsky, no one thought that the Bulgarian democracy has come to an end. Everyone knows who is behind each media outlet and makes a choice based on that knowledge.  The wars between media are completely indifferent to the apathetic majority.

The collapse of the CCB, also known as the “bank of power”, also did not cause mass protests because the whole society knew that most of those who had savings there were in one way or another connected with the authorities.

Moreover, in a highly polarised society between the poor and rich, it is difficult to incite universal indignation against the loss of property by the wealthy.

Hence, when sufficient political potential for the creation of an alternative political formation is accumulated, as was the case with the United Reformers, most of the respondents consider it a springboard for personal gain. The moment they touch power, however, they throw away any ideals because they know that this is the moment for personal benefit, and another may not appear.

Strayed paths

Indeed, Bulgaria has gone on the road to political pluralism and the free economy together with Poland and Hungary, but unlike them, it evolved in a completely different direction.

The reasons for this curvature can be sought in the way power is transmitted, the quality of the opposition, the role of the ex-communists or even organised crime, but this is not so important.

The Bulgarian reality is far ahead of the processes of democratic backsliding in Central Europe because it has failed to consolidate democracy as such. That is why the Bulgarian political class does not need the illiberal militancy. The illiberal regime has long been consolidated.


This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight. It was originally published in Bulgarian on Terminal3 and can be found here.

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

Scenarios for cohesive growth

As of 2019 the negotiations about the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will enter a critical moment. In the face of an imminent Brexit and the fallout from global turmoil, the EU has to reflect on its guiding principles and take decisions to fulfil the promise of a united Europe.

Download the report in PDF

The Visegrad/Insight is the main platform of debate and analysis on Central Europe. This report has been developed in cooperation with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Launched on 1 October 2019 at the European #Futures Forum in Brussels.