The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. IFIMES has analyzed the developments in Bulgaria in the eve of regular parliamentary elections, due to take place on 4 April 2021. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled “2021 Elections in Bulgaria:Bulgarian 'assault' on North Macedonia.”
In Bulgaria regular parliamentary elections are due to take place on 4 April 2021. At the elections 240 representatives/deputies in the Bulgarian National Assembly will be elected according to the proportional system with closed lists. In each of a total of 31 election units, between four and 16 representatives/ deputies depending on the size of the election unit will be elected. The election threshold is 4%. Previous elections in Bulgaria saw numerous cases of tampering with electoral rolls, election fraud, massive purchase of votes, unregistered voter ballots, extortion of votes from employees in (public) companies and public administration, modifications of voting protocols, declaring the ballots invalid, etc. However, the most renowned form of election fraud “patented” in Bulgaria is the so-called “Bulgarian train.”
The political scene is marked by a constant conflict between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and the confrontation of the two leading political parties. Specifically, the ruling conservative GERB party (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) and the opposition BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) party, which had supported President Radev at the presidential elections. Bulgaria is still not a Schengen or Euro zone member.
Bulgaria was not ready to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. This only further exposed the character of the regime, which is not ready and has no solution for response to sophisticated threats and risks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to the traditional rivals of the GERB and the BSP, as well as the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), new actors have also emerged on the political scene.
One of the new actors is the Democratic Bulgaria (DB) headed by Hristo Ivanov, who conducted the spectacular operation on the Black Sea coastline when together with two of his colleagues he reached in a motor boat the luxurious residence of Ahmed Dogan (DPS), one of the most influential persons in Bulgaria. The aim of his operation was to draw attention to the illegally fenced public property and the security guards from the civil service, who had been illegally engaged at the residence. This operation triggered massive protests in Bulgaria against corruption, oligarchs and the government.
A popular musician Slavi Trifonov is running at the elections for the first time with his party “There is such a people” (ITN). Then, there is also Maya Manolova and her political movement Stand Up.BG (ISMV). The upcoming elections will also be the first elections for the “Republicans for Bulgaria” party (RzB) headed by Tsvetan Tsvetanov, former minister of internal affairs and close associate of Boyko Borissov.
Analysts believe that the GERB is striving to preserve the existing coalition of the GERB and VMRO with the support of the DPS, which mainly includes ethnic Turks. That is why the GERB is supporting the nationalist rhetoric of the VMRO and its controversial leader Krasimir Karakachanov, who is struggling to ensure that the party meets the 4% election threshold. It is evident that Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva (GERB) is actively and in an orchestrated manner assisting Karakachanov in the outpour of nationalism towards the neighboring North Macedonia. The Bulgarian “assault” on North Macedonia has partly brought Borisov and Karakachanov back into the game, after they had been almost politically “written off.”
The race between the GERB and BSP is tight. An important element of establishment of the new government will be the DPS’s coalition capacity. The DPS is connected with mafia structures and is closer to the GERB, which also cultivates close relations with such structures and functions as a cartel, not as a political party. In fact, in Bulgaria the DPS has a similar role in the political life as the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) has in North Macedonia.
The GERB has limited coalition capacities because the Democratic Bulgaria (DB) party is against any coalition with political parties participating in the current convocation of the Bulgarian National Assembly. Specifically, GERB, BSP, DPS, Volya and VMRO. The GERB started the election campaign together with the SDS (Union of Democratic Forces), a left-center party. The ITN has already announced that it shall not enter into a coalition with the GERB, DPS and BSP.
Boyko Borissov publicly stated that his party had been established with the financial and advisory support of the German right-wing foundations close to the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU). Although he is not unequivocally accepted in the EU, Borisov still enjoys the support of important factors in the European People's Party (EPP) and, although tacitly, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), as well. After a multi-decade Soviet dictatorship, the imposed atheism and the communist propaganda, there are not many true conservatives left in Sofia, Budapest, Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest and other capitals and countries in East and Central Europe. Nevertheless, such people had to be found in the current political “offer.” The European People's Party (EPP) made an effort to find in the current political “offer” new conservatives in order to attain a larger number of representatives in the European Parliament, while ignoring the fact that the EU is built on values, not figures.
In Hungary they found Viktor Orbán, who switched from being a typical liberal and associate of George Soros, to becoming a conservative democratic Christian. A former member of the Bulgarian Communist Party, graduate student of the Police Academy and body guard, Boyko Borissov became a conservative democratic- Christian in a similar way. While one cannot exclude the possibility that in the meantime they have truly become devout Christians and conservatives, their roots in European democratic-Christian conservatism are very shallow. Just like Fidesz left the EPP, an analysis of the stances of the GERB would lead to a conclusion that values-wise it does not belong to the EPP.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev stated that the “mafia” controls Borissov's government and the politicized judiciary in the country. The states that are under the control of the mafia are easy prey for Russian interests. Bulgaria has a horizontal mafia structure and such a structure impedes and complicates the fight against the mafia.
Analysts believe that one of the problems of the EU is that through the GERB and similar parties the mafia has institutionally penetrated the EU, which is a point of concern. This opens the question about the protective role of the CDU towards the GERB and particularly towards crime and corruption, as well as is such patronage a consequence of involvement of some CDU members in crime and corruption? Is the CDU the “patron” of Boyko Borissov's crimes, bearing in mind that through numerous scandals and affairs it was faced with crime and corruption in its own ranks. The NATO alliance is even more concerned over this, because it is common knowledge that Russian services are deeply infiltrated in the security-intelligence and defense system of Bulgaria. As a result, NATO will be forced to reexamine the issued security certificates in Bulgaria, because a large number of personnel in the listed sectors maintains unauthorized contacts with members of Russian security services, which gives rise to suspicions about possible abuses of information of relevance to NATO and generally endangers the security of NATO member countries. A part of the CDU/CSU secretly cultivates and sympathizes with the defeated ideology of World War II and is strongly connected with the political-criminal structures in the Balkans. They have come to realize that they can easily corrupt and control the ruling prone-to-crime structures in the Balkans. A recent research has shown that a CDU representative in the German Bundestag who has an annual salary of 110,000 Euros, had also earned an additional 123,000 Euros in the private sector, which implies a risk of corruption.
The independent Bulgaria was established on the basis of the agreement between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, that is the Treaty of San-Stefano from 1878. The then territory of Bulgaria was predominantly inhabited by Bogomil, Macedonian and Turkish population, which later under strong pressure of the newly established state was forcibly “bulgarized.” The “Great Bulgaria” project dates from that period and is being revived in the current election campaign. Namely, it is reflected through the aspirations towards the entire territory of the Republic of North Macedonia, a part of North Albania, Kosovo and a part of Serbia. In Kosovo, Bulgaria is awarding Bulgarian citizenship and passports predominantly to Goranis. Thanks to its geographic position, specifically the fact that it is closer to Istanbul and Russia, Bulgaria has become a key player of Russian diplomacy in the Balkans.
The fact that Russia established Bulgaria created an unbreakable bond with Moscow- as a counterbalance to the dukedom and subsequently the Kingdom of Serbia, which had close relations with the Austria-Hungarian monarchy.
Analysts believe that it is inconceivable that Bulgaria has support of a part of the EU, as well as Germany, for its (organized) crime and corruption, which is provided through EU funds. Namely, Bulgaria withdraws from the EU far more funds than what it pays to the EU budget, which implies that it lives on the account of tax payers of developed EU members. Never the less, the Bulgarians still have stronger emotional connections towards Russia than the EU, including Germany.
Bulgaria and Bulgarians cannot be proud of their history in the period of World War II, when they were allies of the then Nazi Germany. Bulgaria was never sanctioned for its “historic sin” committed during World War II, which had generated deep frustrations in the Bulgarian society.
Macedonians in Bulgaria constitute at least 10% of the population but are a “restrained” people in the middle of the EU. Assessments indicate that more ethnic Macedonians live on the territory of today's Bulgaria than in North Macedonia itself. Despite numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, Bulgarian authorities refuse to register OMO “Ilinden” Pirin, a political party representing the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria which was banned in 2000 by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court. This ban is still in force, despite the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights from 2005, which established that the ban was illegal. In the period from 2001 to 2008, the Bulgarian courts refused four attempts of official registration of the OMO “Ilinden” Pirin, and the political party is still banned. Bulgarian courts have also rejected separate applications for registration of a number of cultural associations that promote Macedonian culture, Macedonian Language, etc. In fact, the Bulgarian courts asserted that they negate the existence of the Macedonian ethnic community in Bulgaria despite the fact that results of the Bulgarian census of population are a testimony of the existence of people with Macedonian ethnic identity. In fact, Bulgaria had deliberately excluded the Macedonian minority from the scope of application of the Framework Convention for the Protection of Ethnic Minorities.
Bulgaria is a net user of EU funds, which means that it withdraws more from the EU budget than it pays to the EU budget and that it lives on the account of other developed EU member countries. In example, in 2018 Bulgaria received 2.169 billion Euros from the EU budget, and paid only 0.487 billion Euros to the budget. Major projects including capital investment of more than 50 million Euros are supported by EU funds earmarked for support to cohesion policy. The projects are aimed to directly benefit member states and their population through creation of better infrastructure, healthier environment, new jobs and new business opportunities. In the period from 2014 to 2020 Bulgaria received 1,862,730,663.96 Euros of cohesion policy funds. Through various projects Bulgaria receives annually an additional billion Euros from the European Commission. An indicator of the level of links between Bulgaria and Russia is the fact that the import from Russia amounts to 10% of the overall import, while import from Germany is at a level of 12%. Hence, Bulgaria receives more than 3 billion Euros from the EU each year, which is approximately equal to the budget of the Republic of North Macedonia. Another point of concern is the fact that Bulgaria funds its destructive policy in the region with the money of EU tax payers.
While with the arrival of GERB to power citizens hoped to get bigger equality and more prosperity, they actually got more inequality with respect to social status and income, as well as constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as free education, health care and pension insurance. The illusions and hopes that kept the nation together and in anticipation were shattered.
In such circumstances the current Bulgarian authorities have decided to export their numerous internal political problems to the neighboring North Macedonia. The offered justifications included historical reasons and identity issues.
Analysts believe that through the proposal of the EP resolution on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria no. (2020/2793(RSP)), the EP highlighted the issue of effective protection of minority rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association through, inter alia, enforcement of relevant judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. A number of incidents involving language of hatred against minorities, some of which even involved ministers in the government, were recorded. Furthermore, the parliamentary immunity has been systematically (ab)used to protect members of the Bulgarian National Assembly from being held accountable for use of language of hatred. The EU, which cultivates diversity, considers ethnic minorities an asset, unlike the Bulgarian authorities who negate existence of ethnic Macedonians. That is why it is necessary to work on affirmation and political representation of ethnic Macedonians living in Bulgaria, because the wealth of diversity would open new European perspectives to Bulgarians and Macedonians, as well as other ethnic communities living in the two countries.
Extreme reactions by renown senior Bulgarian government politicians and officials represent the policy from the XIX century, which has nothing in common with the present times or orientation towards the future. Due to strong emotional aspects of these issues, a very populist and quasi policy is acceptable to a part of the Bulgarian public. This is best confirmed by the reactions of a major part of the Macedonian political spectrum. Those who supports such stances are not aware of the modern trends and are not able to joint modern European trends and developments - or probably do not want to do that because of their parochial interests and the privileges they enjoyed.
It is unbelievable that such political forces also exist in the Macedonian opposition ranks, some of which are very close to the Bulgarian protagonists, who bring under a major question mark the EU enlargement process by insisting on the blockade. In fact, whenever there was a major crisis in the EU, the enlargement process was brought into question. This is a historical mistake and deception that leads only in one direction. History always follows its path and ultimately always discards such deviations. Such forces cannot oppose historic developments and integration, because the Macedonian state will ultimately become a full-fledged member of the EU- a family of modern, democratic, free and prosperous peoples.
According to analysts, the EU, and particularly Germany, must stop the Bulgarian “assault” against the Republic of North Macedonia. Bulgaria is acting destructively towards its neighbors. A perception is already being created that Germany, the CDU and Chancellor Merkel are “patrons” of crimes of Boyko Borissov and his cronies, and that specific CDU members are involved in crimes of the GERB. These are sister-parties and therefore “sister-crimes” as well. The European Union, that is the German policy (CDU/CSU), is slowly losing its credibility not just because it has allowed Bulgaria to “take it out on” North Macedonian and because it had not fulfilled its 15-years old promise to initiate the talks between North Macedonia and the EU once an agreement is brokered with Greece regarding the name of the country, but also because it had demonstrated destructive conduct in Kosovo, and increasingly more in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the rushed nomination of its candidate for the position of the High Representative of the international community in BiH (OHR) Christian Schmidt (CDU) on the day of inauguration of the new US President Joseph Biden. Bulgaria is preparing a similar “blockade scenario” for Serbia and its path to the EU. The rivalry between Bulgaria and Serbia is evident and the successes achieved by Serbia under the leadership of President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) are not received favorably in Sofia, particularly as by the end of the year Serbia will have the same average salary as Bulgaria- and Serbia is not an EU and NATO member. The new US administration must bear in mind that Boyko Borissov (GERB) and Edi Rama (PS) are a distracting factor, together with the Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović (DPS) and they comprise the nucleus of political-criminal structures in the Balkans.
Analysts believe that Boyko Borissov has tried to postpone the resolution of the Bulgarian internal political crisis until the US presidential elections, because he had hoped that Donald Trump would win another mandate and that in such a way geopolitical developments will turn in his favor. Now, we have disrupted relations between Bulgaria and the US, and a new US administration headed by President Biden, who has a different perspective and policy with respect to countries of the so-called Visegrad Group - of which Bulgaria is an “associate” member.
Analysts also believe that the Bulgarian blockade of North Macedonia is a reason for the EU to reconsider the concept by which it would collectively coopt all six Western Balkans countries into EU membership. No excuses can be made in this respect, bearing in mind that 10 countries had collectively become full-fledged members of the EU in 2004. The population of all six Western Balkans countries together is 18 million, which is less than half of the population of Poland.
Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Sofia, 24 March 2021
 IFIMES - The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia,has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.
 Source: Major projects https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/major#1