After the elections the Bulgarian Socialists look more like a sister party of the French National Front than of other PES members.
As much as one might try to portray the election results as a success of the Socialists, reality checks and conclusions aren’t comforting. Most of the mistakes that explain their ultimate loss are not new, but the tenacity with which the new leadership perseveres is remarkable.
Most flops stem from the failure of the leftists during the transition period to upgrade their post-communist political party fundament within the EU and NATO political superstructure and practices that could help propel the socialists to power. In reality, the Bulgarian left stifled timid attempts by fractions within the BSP or smaller leftist parties members to introduce an EU compliant social democratic framework leading to meaningful integration into the European Socialists’ family. While the Bulgarian rightists slowly but systematically established full-fledged representation within the EU political elite, the BSP and other leftist off-shoots allowed themselves to be subdued by their sacrosanct pro-Kremlin faction.
A more pragmatic EU pivot with the Bulgarian Socialists could have naturally emerged with an influential and vocal pro-EU/NATO left wing. In time this silent departure from EU centered political gravity pushed the Socialists closer to the marginal nationalists and the populists than to the EU socialist political core.
The fact of the matter is that today no one expects the Bulgarian socialists to be capable of winning elections on their own or in a coalition.
Lacking a powerful EU anchor the Bulgarian Socialists have shifted to reflexive and deficient primitive pro-Kremlin populist platforms, failing to learn a basic lesson – the Kremlin agenda is by default inconsistent with the status of a ruling party in an EU member state. Not until Russia becomes EU and NATO compatible.
The arguments for a strong Moscow-prone rhetoric set forth during the recent election campaign depict a deeper systematic ideological mismatch with the EU socialist mainstream. The plethora of formal and informal internal and external advisors, used by the socialists during the elections, favoring excessive pro-Russian heel, seemed to reflect an overlay of imminent financial needs, an urge to pocket the exaggerated pro-Russian vote and last but not least personal or group business material interests of socialist party oligarchs.
The Socialists, in line with the instructions received from Russia’s secret services that the Wall Street Journal unveiled, made the use of rigged polls and blunt allegiance to the Kremlin a corner stone of their campaign. They pledged in no tacit terms that under a future Socialist government Bulgaria’s foreign policy will depart from the EU and NATO’s principal line.
Worth recalling is a quote by the ex-SVR spy, lieutenant-general Reshetnikov, on his exchange with the new BSP leader prior to the presidential elections about his suggestion that it is high time the socialists directly addressed the case for Bulgaria leaving NATO. The response he received: ‘not yet’.
The escalating euro-skepticism and anti-NATO talk flowing from the socialists have tested the range of what the socialists could afford as a Russian political proxy in the EU. Quite a few red lines were crossed in the process.
The GERB leaders seemed to totally outmaneuver the Socialists during the election campaign even on the latter’s favorite front, Russia. The surprise visit of the leader of the Bulgarian Russofiles to Borissov’s office, just a few days before the election date, pointed to a last-minute decision by the Kremlin to mend fences and side with the winners. The Russophile movement in Bulgaria is directly controlled by the Kremlin. Its leaders would have never dared to openly challenge the BSP as a prime Russian bet in the campaign, a few days before the election date, without an explicit order from Moscow. That late into the campaign the Kremlin watchdogs had most probably realized that the Socialist Party was heading for a loss and they reverted to the old Borissov adage.
The last message from Moscow was simple and straight forward – Russia is ready to work with anyone, especially those in power, that can facilitate its interests. The fine print further read – no one has a monopoly on relations with Russia.
Throughout the transition period different factions within the socialists have been battling for dominance. Different leaders to the left of the political spectrum in Bulgaria have gone down in history with one irreplaceable baseline – the critical place and role of the pro-Russian wings have never been contested. Not a single socialist leader, not even the current President of the Party of European Socialists Stanishev, nor Videnov, who fell prey to a Russian inspired complot, have ever challenged the Russia-first dictum with a EU-Social Democratic line.
The current socialist leaders have gone too far in directly assaulting European institutions – opposing CETA, which was approved by an overwhelming majority at the European Parliament. The Bulgarian Socialist leaders branded Bulgarian MEPs and PES politicians as ‘traitors’ for siding with the majority vote.
The same yardstick was used to criticize the PES-supported sanctions against Russia, leaving Bulgarian socialists at odds with even President Radev. They tried to outrun all other Bulgarian politicians on the pro-Russian race track with alarmist, authoritarian sounding, belated radicalism, unusual and impermissible for any mainstream party in the EU. The socialist election strategists probably calculated that their pro-Russia rhetoric would pass as the new normal during the election verbal overload. Yet, most of the parlance by the socialists shocked many in the countryside and abroad, triggering red alerts in many important offices in EU capitals. The GERB victory was therefore received with relief.
While it might still be open for questioning how many extra votes this anti-Western talk on the left contributed to the final tally, it is certain that the ultranationalist rhetoric put on guard and mobilized many more anti-BSP voters desperate to prevent a victory for an anti-EU, anti-NATO party.
On the counsel of their in-house pro-Russian pundits, the socialists played a nostalgic libretto, trying to convert the natural transition fatigue into an outright denial of democratic achievements. The backstage ties with Russian intelligence officers and politicians, without an adequate balancing act to highlight the primacy of their European identity, shifted the perception of the Bulgarian left from the EU political core to the periphery.
Such analysis could hardly be heard at leftist fora, yet a sobering read of the recent elections results could spare them the marginalization and isolation of Dogan’s MRF and the Ataka nationalists.
By challenging the country’s membership in NATO and the EU, at a time when both organizations are in a soul searching mode and in the midst of an open confrontation with Russia, the Bulgarian socialists have misread the priority values list of the majority Bulgarians. Pro-Russian sympathizers are rather irrational in their choices and marginals, as fewer and fewer contemporary Bulgarian citizens align their personal and family material interests with an anti-EU and anti-NATO future.
Bulgaria needs a truly European left that could build on the pre-Comintern Dimiter Blagoev and Georgui Krikov legacy. Siding with anti-European retrograde Putin’s Russia dooms it to ‘eternal’ opposition.
The Bulgarian left fed similar delusions during the Yugoslav crisis, when Prime Minister Primakov professed and the Socialist Party adopted and preached neutrality as an alternative for Bulgaria to NATO and EU membership.
Bulgaria is increasingly and irreversibly integrated into the EU and NATO. The socialists should put forth policies based on reality, not perceptions or illusions that there could be a middle ground between the EU and Russia. There is none.
Extreme Russophilia is hazardous for practicing politicians. Everyone who has toyed with the idea of being a Kremlin spokesperson has been proven wrong. Moscow seeks total and unconditional subservience, ignoring legitimate interests that might run counter to its own. Russia is after Bulgarian taxpayers and customers’ money – to keep up its market shares without the need to compete – very much in line with historic tradition starting from the 32,5 tons of gold paid for the liberation from the Turks via the Soviet times transfer of the gold reserves to Moscow to the present billions of dollar worth of payments for Russian state business in Bulgaria.
Over the years a number of Bulgarian politicians have been betting the Russian card. They made a trail of visits to Moscow looking for the Holy Grail of money and power, agreeing to grand slam projects costing the Bulgarian budget and taxpayers billions just to earn themselves the right of first call from the Kremlin.
All was considered done in the name of Bulgarian national interests, yet always ending in the trivium of personal monetary gains.
Bulgarian socialists within their current paradigm are certain to copy the fate of other radical populists in the EU – most are bright speakers, but devoid of real power, as every time they get closer to winning elections the scare of a Kremlin anti-EU party at the helm generates a massive counter-vote.
The Bulgarian Socialist leaders today look more like Marine Le Pen flirting with radicalism, than their sister parties in the PES.
Bulgaria and the Bulgarian democracy need a truly European Social Democratic Party to balance off political and public life, capable of offering EU competitive and compatible alternatives in our development.
The current leftist options are obsolete.