The World Today for April 20, 2023

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BULGARIA

Bulgarians have voted in five general elections in the last two years.

Voters, meanwhile, are tired.

“We’ll probably have to vote again in the fall,” a local election worker told local television. “This has to end at some point …We’ve been waiting for two years.”

The problem is that leaders can’t assemble stable coalition governments because the second-largest party, We Continue the Change, refuses to work with the largest party, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB).

Led by technocrat Kiril Petkov, who was prime minister from late 2021 to August 2022, We Continue the Change maintains that the problems with the GERB are less political and more based on principle. Petkov casts the GERB as the “personification of state capture and corruption bedeviling the European Union member country,” wrote Dimitar Bechev, a lecturer at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, in Politico.

Bulgaria is the second-most corrupt country in the EU, noted watchdog Transparency International, having only recently been surpassed by Hungary. Part of the reason is the power struggles between former communists, crime bosses and their cronies, pro-democracy politicians, and pro-capitalist politicians have dominated Bulgaria’s politics for years, added Bechev.

Borissov, one of those politicians, is the former bodyguard of the late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and Simeon Saxe-Coburg, the country’s former king for three years before the onset of communism, and who also served as prime minister from 2001 to 2005.

The third largest party, the pro-Russian, nationalist Revival Party, has refused to join coalition talks. The Financial Times described the party’s leader as a “puppet for Russian interests” while noting that Bulgarians are culturally close to Russia due to the historic links between their Orthodox Christian faiths and Russia’s role in liberating Bulgaria from the yoke of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bulgaria is also a NATO member, however, meaning that it is an example of a country formerly in the Soviet orbit that has joined sides with the West. The country, argued Deutsche Welle, is torn between East and West. As a result, Russian observers have also been monitoring the political winds in Bulgaria closely, added Newsweek.

This internal tension is important. The lack of progress in coalition talks, for example, has meant that President Rumen Radev, a pro-Russian opponent of sending Western military aid to Ukraine, has appointed caretaker governments to run public services for the last two years, reported Euractiv. Radev, whose office has executive as well as ceremonial functions, has gained political power in the meantime, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network found.

The leaders of the GERB and We Continue the Change, in contrast, support sending weapons to Ukraine. Bulgarian officials, for instance, are exploring how they might give Ukraine Soviet-era jet fighters to beat back the Russian advance, reported the New Voice of Ukraine.

But recent caretaker governments have also failed to undertake anti-corruption reforms – many undoubtedly involving Russian influence – that EU officials have demanded they make if they want to receive more than $5 billion in new EU funding, according to Euronews.

The clash between pro-Western versus pro-Russian political forces and anti-corruption crusaders versus organized crime is making it impossible for Bulgaria to get it together.

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