By Georgi Gotev
Rumen Cholakov, the chairman of Millennium Club Bulgaria, announced on Wednesday (March 27th) that the non-governmental organisation he represents is making “a proposal that has never been done in Bulgarian politics.”
Under a name that will soon be announced, Bulgarian voters will have the opportunity to support a new political project in the European elections. In the list of 17 people, everyone will be under 35, and none has been involved in politics in Bulgaria. They all have successful careers and most live in London.
Cholakov is 28 years old. He has been in the UK for 12 years. He sustained himself at the beginning winning scholarships, then he took a state loan to finance his education at Cambridge, which he repays when he started working. He is now a lawyer, and says he earns more than an MEP does, suggesting that the salary is not his motivation. He created Millennium Club Bulgaria as a think tank of young Bulgarians born after 01.01.1981, studying or still studying abroad. Their goal is to be “patriots without borders”, and to be useful to the country.
Asked if the other young people in the list are self-made like him, he says that the very fact that they all are ready to fight for a project where success is not guaranteed is proof of this.
“This is something that has not been done so far in Bulgaria,” Cholakov says of the new political project. Unlike traditional Bulgarian politicians, his first words are about Europe, a subject that is so far largely absent from the election debate. He starts by saying that Europe is facing its biggest challenge so far. “There are forces of disintegration and nationalism unseen in recent decades,” he said, adding that Brexit galvanized the desire for civic participation for his generation. “When young people do not participate, other generations decide their future,” Cholakov says.
Asked whether his political project was not a repeat of Velikden, a project of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in the early 2000, when the former king won the general elections by a landslide, he replies that very often when something new emerges in Bulgaria, it is said – we have already seen it, but such attitude only serves the interest of only the status quo.
Indeed, the new political project will appear in the elections with the registration of Simeon’s NDSV party with the Central Electoral Commission. But Cholakov insists that there will be no Messiah in their list. “We do not put a politician in front, and young people for a nice visual,” he says. He recognizes that NDSV and Novoto Vreme, a political party related to NDSV, in terms of European values, are close to what they want to defend: pro-European, centrist views. Asked whether there they took commitment from NDSV, he explains that they have received assurances from the party of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: “We do not seek posts, we want to give you the opportunity to show what you can do.”
Cholakov gained notoriety when he was actively lobbying for the election of Irina Bokova as UN Secretary-General. Asked if this places him in the left spectrum, to which Bokova belongs, he was categorical that he and his fellow activists are centrist. “The world is pragmatic. We do not serve either left-wing or right-wing ideology because they are a thing of the twentieth century. It is more important for our generation what are the solutions to the problems that exist today, not whether it is about left or right.” The goal, in his words, is for people to live well, to be prosperous and happy. In Bulgaria, the ideological debate is marred with tagging, which for 30 years hasn’t led to anything positive, says Cholakov.
Asked about the apartment scandal, he described it as “natural,” the only surprising being that the public was able to learned about it, while much bigger crimes, such as public procurement corruption, remain undetected. In his words, corruption is something that has corroded all the parties Bulgarians have been accustomed to over the past 30 years.
“The only proposal that people will hear in the next election, by people who have never been involved in politics and are quite different as experience and visions, is our proposal, that’s us.”
“If we achieve such a success that we have a place in the European Parliament, it will bring about a huge change in the political status quo in Bulgaria,” said Cholakov, adding that in all cases case, he and his partner activists will continue to participate in the Bulgarian political life. “We have no intention of going out of political life before we have made a change.”
Asked whether other new political projects than his are needed in the Bulgarian political life, Cholakov replies: “Obviously, since every day people wonders when the government will fall, when will someone come to save us, when speculations are ripe with anyone who has high rating, when not only politicians, but also showmen, and everybody are considerd as potential savours “. According to him, Borissov has been on power for too long, and as is happening in many Western countries, people are getting tired of them.
“But to many, the opposition is not an alternative either, because of its past or because of its geopolitical orientation,” he says. According to him, BSP and GERB are more busy with internal conflicts than with the search for new people, solutions and ideas. “I have not heard what are the new things these parties will be proposing for Europe,” he said.
In June, Cholakov organized a debate on the future of Europe in Sofia, where Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev was represented by GERB and PES leader Sergey Stanishev from BSP. Neither GERB nor BSP has expressed interest in including youngsters from Millennium Club Bulgaria on their lists.
Cholakov hopes that in the course of the campaign he will find many people who not only vote for them but who are willing to participate in the project and together would run at a later election in a much stronger lineup, to get even better results. Asked if it is not a handicap that many of the initiators of his project are based abroad, Cholakov says people abroad are even more keen to change their homeland. “When you are abroad, you see very clearly how your country stands compared to everyone else. You have this external look, and it the impression is often very painful,” he says.
Asked whether he was feeling a hostility since recently in Bulgaria against the Bulgarians abroad, he answered affirmatively. “This is a purposeful and artificial provocation, which has become particularly strong lately because of the so-called patriotic formations,” he said, explaining that their goal is not to allow independent people in politics to disturb their status quo. According to Cholakov, Bulgarians abroad are misleadingly portrayed as having left for good to make their lives better. “This is a very wrong idea, Bulgarians abroad do come back, they have property or business in Bulgaria, they pay taxes, many are living part of the year abroad, and the other – in Bulgaria. This symbiosis will become bigger. “
“The Bulgarian is a Bulgarian anywhere in the world. And for a country like ours, with such a large percentage of our population that emigrated, it is important not to lose it. Everybody talks about the demographic crisis. Let’s find ways for Bulgarians who already exist to remain Bulgarians. “
Asked about the difficulties of Bulgarians abroad to vote in elections, Cholakov said he and his like-minded colleagues supported the electronic vote very strongly. “This system works in Estonia, and we have to find a way to apply it in Bulgaria, especially because there was a referendum with a positive result, there was a second referendum initiated with 700,000 signatures, again, so that the will of the people is clear”, he said.
The so-called Referendum on Remote Voting in Bulgaria was held in 2015 with the elections for local government. 69.5% of the participants, or 1.883.411 people, answered “yes” to the question “Do you also support the possibility of voting electronically in elections and referendums?”
In 2016, a second referendum, initiated by the show-maker Slavi Trifonov, was held, in which six questions were put forward, including “Do you support voting electronically in elections and referendums?” However, this issue is subsequently dropped. Questions remain about introducing a majority system, introducing mandatory voting, and reducing party state subsidies. All three questions get positive answers. Ultimately, they do not reach 12 000 votes (0.2%), so that the vote has a binding effect of at least 51%.
The political class in Bulgaria notoriously fears that with the vote of 2 million Bulgarians abroad, the results of any elections would be completely different.