by Little L
Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 12:21:34 PM EST
This diary gives a short insight on three populist figures, which have strongly influenced the Bulgarian political system in the last five years and seeks an explanation of why populism remains the predominant trend, which determines the Bulgarian electorate's choices, and what the typical characteristics of our national populism are.
Populism in Bulgaria did not worry us five years ago as much as it does right now. In 2001, most of the people were happy that the bipolar model of the political system, which involved the prodigy of the former Communist party- The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on the left and the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) on the right, in the country was destroyed. Its destruction opened the space for a political center, which itself created a vacuum which sucks out both rightist and leftist formations, not just individual political figures, as it was before 2001. As a result, we now view populism as a potential ideology, and now everybody in Bulgaria is worried and skeptic about its place in the political life of the country.
1."When the Time Comes"
The first figure, around which populism started its upward movement, was Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, the last Bulgarian tsar and the first monarch to become also the Prime Minister of the country in 2001. He established the National Movement Simeon II and entered the Parliament with a mandate from the Party of Bulgarian Women. His promise to fix the economic situation in Bulgaria for 800 days proved to be a farce, but people believed him, especially those who were conquered by memories of the old days of the Bulgarian monarchy. Simeon easily won the parliamentary elections in 2001, leaving the UDF far behind. He headed a government, composed mainly of technocrats, who had gained education and work experience in the Western societies. He neither had a political platform, nor needed one. Simeon always avoided political confrontations, never gave clear messages to the people and to the media and became famous with the phrase: "I will tell you when the time comes." Apparently, the time never came for him to tell us anything.
2. "I Shall Fix Everything"
Those are the words that would best describe the political figure with the highest ratings in the last four years- Gen. Boyko Borissov, the current mayor of the capital Sofia and the former secretary general of the Ministry of the Interior. And if you still have any doubts that he can do it, take a look at this quote. Borissov is a typical example of a person, who never came out with a clear political message. During his election campaign in 2005, he did not even have a political platform. But he has charisma, and people love him. This is the tough guy with the threatening look in his eyes, who is always there in the center of all events, and the media are on his side, which is a great advantage for every politician. But while just two months ago he refused to be affiliated to any political party, he publicly announced that he is ready to create a party of his own. Strangely enough, or maybe reasonably enough- the presidential elections in Bulgaria are coming in the fall of this year.
3. "The Time is Ours Now"
This is the slogan of the newbie on the Bulgarian political stage- the right-wing extremist nationalist party "Attack", which surprisingly for the sociologists, but not for its leader Volen Siderov, entered the National Assembly in June 2005 as the fourth largest parliamentary group. A former editor-in-chief of the official newspaper of the UDF and the anchor of the TV program "Attack", Siderov is famous for his xenophobic behavior, his hatred for the Roma and Turkish minorities in Bulgaria, his three books, in which he denies the Holocaust and creates a new theory of global conspiracy, with which he explains everything- low pensions, high prices, and anything else happening within and out of the borders of the country. Siderov's last major activity included organizing a rally in the streets of Sofia on March 3, Bulgaria's national holiday, which he used as a tribune to remind the crowd that Turks and Gypsies are not welcome in the National Parliament, and better not exist at all.
I am sure that those three persons are not something extraordinary by themselves. They are, in my opinion, rather mediocre populist figures. However, their existence raises another question: how is populism in Bulgaria different from populism elsewhere?
Kalin Yanakiev, a professor in the Sofia University, wrote the following in an analysis in the newspaper "Sega" (translation mine and therefore all errors should be attributed to me):
Here is a theory that somehow sounds calming- populism in Bulgaira does not have leaders. A leader is not a person, who has an intense and strong media presence, but one who has some (populist) philosophical fundament. The great populist leaders in the history of Europe from the 20th century have such a fundament regardless of its quality. Moreover, populist leaders have a sharp sense for the mythological and for the religious. None of the so-called leaders of populism in Bulgaria have such a sense, because they do not even have messages
Thus, their effect of populism on the society can be defined with the old Bulgarian saying "Every miracle is a miracle for three days only."
Second, Bulgarian populism is an ideology of the people, who are seeking justice and manipulating people with it- and "justice" is a very sensitive term in the mindset of our society. In the course of seeking justice, populism opposes the political reality, and renounces it.
And last, populism is a result of the problems of Bulgarian political presentation. Citizen's disappointment with the government leads to a lower voter's turnout, because the electorate is offered choices, which do not reflect its priorities and does not match its expectations. The political system has failed to generate trust in the people a long time ago, and people are somehow clueless what choice to make. The result? In the words of the Bulgarian political analyst Ognyan Minchev, Bulgarians punish politicians with populism. The question is, whether they also punish themselves this way.
I would be also very interested if you could share experiences from your own countries. I know that populism is a very strong trait of the political culture of Latin America too, and I would be glad if someone more knowledgeable than I am could contribute by sharing thoughts about it. And how about other European countries? Is the antidote to populism a more conservative and educated political strata?