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Rearranging the political puzzle is in the interest of the four parliamentary parties in Bulgaria

30 May 2013 / 20:05:44  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The new Bulgarian cabinet has already assumed office and the time as regards the effectiveness of its actions has already started counting down. The most impressive fact about it is certainly the support of the nationalist Attack party, which, before the elections, would not have expressed the readiness of becoming the mainstay of a cabinet involving the Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party.

Journalist Petar Volgin - author of several books, the latest of which is entitled "Radical Jewish Encyclopaedia" - is talking with GRReporter about the change in the political scene, the composition of the cabinet and the main issues that it is to decide.

Mr. Volgin, some time ago, it was unthinkable for a government involving the MRF and supported by the Attack party to exist but it is already a fact. How would you comment on that?

It is perfectly normal for this to happen because none of the political parties is interested in new elections at present. Each of them is interested in this parliament continuing to function and The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and MRF forming a government; the Attack party is also interested in the cabinet because it would like to have this tribune, which would allow its leader Volen Siderov to disseminate his messages and visions of society. This is much easier when you are in parliament than if you are not. Ultimately, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party is hardly interested in new elections since the forthcoming investigations of senior party officials would further worsen its image. So, it could hardly achieve better results after two or three months.

How do you see the future of GERB? After its failure, the National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP) disintegrated. Do you think that GERB will survive or is the party ill-fated too?

I think the comparison with the NMSP is only partially grounded, because the leaders of both parties - Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Boyko Borisov - are quite different. Indeed, both parties rested solely on their personal qualities, but let's not forget that these are two very different people. If Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is a person of a certain age who is not able to be active and even aggressive, Boyko Borisov is just the opposite. I think Boyko Borisov will attempt to return to power by all possible means. He has the malice, the ambition to take revenge for this humiliating position in which he is at present. Therefore, he will do everything possible to rehabilitate himself and this can only happen through the party. That is to say that his task would be to preserve the party, to protect it from the blows, in order for it to be able to return to power. Personally, I see an objective possibility of GERB’s persistence and even resurgence. It is as follows: due to the absence of other right-wing parties - it is another matter whether GERB is a right-wing party, but it is defined as such and is present in the European political space as such - the real chance of Boyko Borisov and GERB is to fill the right-wing space, not allowing the emergence of any other serious right-wing project. As we know, everything there is on a large scale at present. We have some pathetic remnants of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), the unsuccessful project of Meglena Kuneva and the like. So, GERB’s real chance is to be able to dig itself into this space deep enough. If it does this, the party will be able to survive further on.

Do you think that Bulgaria is entering a period of political stability? Will this cabinet survive long?

This depends primarily on the cabinet itself, because, in the end, it has to do only one thing - to change the philosophy with which Bulgaria was ruled over the past four years and the years before. It was absolutely strict financial stability, no, or very small, deficits, accurate implementation of everything that our European partners, and especially Germany, wanted from us. Of course, this required a lot of adversity from the population and this is the case in fact. Incomes and pensions were frozen, unemployment was growing. What in English is called “austerity” was introduced in Bulgaria, as in other European countries, and ultimately, it has only led to further impoverishment of the population.

If this cabinet continues the same policy, which penultimate Finance Minister Simeon Djankov was actively pursuing, this cabinet is doomed.

However, if this government decides to pursue a different policy that is consistent with the fact that it is the people who are the most important rather than some imaginary financial stability, the meaning of which  is actually unknown, then I think this cabinet will have a chance to win the confidence, if not of the whole society, then at least of a significant part of it and it will be able to survive longer.
The statements made so far make it clear that the first acts of the cabinet will be to increase child benefits and to repeal the ban on smoking in public places. How would you comment on this? Don’t these actions sound very populist?

Yes, but in the end, it is important to increase people's incomes. This seems imperative to me in comparison with their freezing in recent years. I am also of the opinion that any government in power would have to consider these measures, which are not enough, of course. I am absolutely convinced that the efforts should be focused on increasing people’s salaries and pensions as well as mother’s benefits. Everyone would say, "Where will the money come from? The state has no money." This is not true. The state may have enough money if it collects the receivables in a categorical manner; if it limits smuggling, if the state authorities responsible for the collection of revenue are really working instead of becoming dens of corruption and indulgence of the oligarchs and business interests. If this is done, I am absolutely sure that there will be money for mothers and pensioners, and for raising incomes as well.

As for smoking, in my personal opinion, although I am a non-smoker, this total ban, which has been introduced in establishments, is extremely stupid and inappropriate. I think it was a parrot-like repetition of something that someone had seen somewhere else - in the U.S. or in any other country - and had decided to introduce it on Bulgarian soil to say, "Look, we are Europeans and modern people." I think that we should not act like this and we have to think when applying one measure or another. I support the idea that there should be establishments where people can smoke, and others where they cannot smoke. It depends on their owners. Accordingly, smokers and non-smokers will go to the establishment preferred by them. In Bulgaria, there is a sufficient number of people who do not smoke and so, there will be enough income for the owners of non-smoking establishments.

What do you think are the measures that the government should take to improve the business climate in order to achieve an increase in the incomes of the people in Bulgaria?

First of all, people who do not have friendly, business or any other relations with power should be allowed to work and earn. In fact, the main problem of Bulgaria, not only during the term of the last government of GERB, is that nobody can do serious business if he or she is not closely linked with the ruling elites. So, we will never be able to have a normal business environment in Bulgaria for as long as this trend and this truly perverse relationship between the government and business continues. We will have only a very corrupt society in which businessmen and politicians will be in an extremely unnatural relationship and this will lead us neither to better conditions for doing business nor to more income for the people. We will just continue to be swamped in corruption.
What do you think is the right policy in the energy sector, which is one of the main topics discussed in the Bulgarian public space?

Energy is an area in which a lot of interests are concentrated. This is because there is plenty of money in it. It is no coincidence that the report of the World Bank and the European Commission emphasizes that it is time for the relationships between government officials of all levels and various businessmen to be thwarted and terminated. What I said before applies in full as well, namely the highly abnormal environment for doing business and, ultimately, for the governing of the country. This is because it turns out that the majority of people who run businesses related to energy, and even private companies in the same field, are not dealing with it to provide a better service to the public, but to exploit people as much as possible, in the sense that they want to make more money out of them. Here we can mention the energy distribution companies, renewable energy sources and everything that constitutes a truly total corruption mix of government officials, private companies, persons and companies close to the government, ministers. It must be broken up or otherwise, Bulgaria will not prosper.

The new cabinet involves many women. How would you comment on this fact?
Honestly, it is not important for me whether it involves women or men. What matters is whether they will work. In principle, I am opposed to anything that is called political correctness and states that you can promote people to positions just because of their colour, or just because they are women and gays, as has been the recent trend in the United States and European countries.

I think that the criterion of whether a person should be promoted or not should be his or her skills. The same applies as regards the distinction between young and old. I do not mind if the Council of Ministers is composed only of women as long as each one of them is an undisputed expert in her field. I think that it is a big mistake to promote a person just because she is a woman, has blue eyes, or just because he or she is a homosexual or Roma. People should be promoted only on the basis of their merits and without any prejudice against their gender, sexual preference or ethnicity.

Do you expect a change in the government policy on Macedonia? In your opinion, how will the relations between the two countries develop, especially after the refusal of the previous government to support Macedonia's efforts to join the European Union?

I believe that GERB’s policy to Macedonia was one of the few right things in the sphere of foreign policy that Bulgaria has done. We cannot be kindly disposed to someone, to treat him well, to want to help him and at the same time, to get in return constant criticism, accusations and theft of history, which is an objective fact. This is not normal. Since Skopje behaves to Bulgaria in this way and has a negative and provocative attitude, they cannot expect us to be infinitely benevolent and to support them in their European integration. If they want it to go well, let them be so kind as to recognize the things that are historical facts. I'm not like the extreme Bulgarian nationalists who do deny the right of Macedonians to be called Macedonians or to have their own country. Of course, they have the right to call themselves so and to speak their own language, which was invented several decades ago. This is the present and it is foolish to reject it. But at the same time, it is equally foolish to agree with their pretentions as regards the Bulgarian history of 100 and even 1000 years ago.  A good attitude to Macedonia and support for their integration only in return for good attitude on their part to Bulgaria.

How would you comment on the request of the MRF to increase the number of school classes in their mother tongue, especially considering the fact that they only advocate the Turkish language and there are other minorities in Bulgaria?

The MRF has the right to ask for that. Each party, in compliance with the interests of its electorate, can ask for everything. As you saw, Siderov asked for a minimum wage of 1000 leva. After some time, another party that will win enough votes to enter parliament may ask for some very foolish thing.

So, a request is a request. The question is whether it is satisfied. This is where the skill and responsibility of the governors should be demonstrated. The people who govern must consider what is best for Bulgaria and say whether such a request responds to the request of the majority of Bulgarian citizens and whether it would adversely affect the majority of citizens if it were satisfied. They are the people who must say whether a request is consistent with reality or not. I rely on the wisdom of the Bulgarian government.

Tags: PoliticsGovernmentParliamentAttackMRFPetar Volgin
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