Patriotic games, Bulgaria-style

From left to right; Siderov Simeonov and Karakachanov. [Dnevnik]

One of the leading questions hanging in the balance of the European elections in Bulgaria, aside from the future of the current government, is how the nationalist and far-right parties will settle their differences. The coalition of the United Patriots is GERB’s junior partner in the ruling coalition. The United Patriots are made up of three parties, which differ greatly from one another, and their leaders’ ambitions don’t make their coexistence any easier. Krassen Nikolov has the story.

The National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) and its leader Valeri Simeonov established itself as the party defending domestic businesses and has expressed clear anti-Russian positions. VMRO-BND has interests in the military sphere because its leader Krassimir Karakachanov is the Minister of Defense; the party also took over the issue of the Bulgarians abroad and advocates tough line vis-à-vis Macedonia. Volen Siderov’s Ataka is the closest to what can be described as far-right, and advocates strong pro-Russian positions.

The feud between Simeonov and Siderov goes way back, but the two agreed to put aside their differences three years ago, which helped them achieve a good result in the parliamentary elections. The United Patriots came out third in the last parliamentary vote. So Karakachanov assumed the role of mediator between his two colleagues. On one occasion, he famously posed with a blue helmet, to illustrate the role he was playing vis-à-vis his partners.

In the fall of last year, Siderov spoke about a new ‘conservative’ nationalistic project. His ‘patriotic’ partners saw this as a form of blackmail. It became clear that Siderov ambitions to lead the United Patriots’ list for the European elections, something his other two partners do not want. Logically the three parties should stick together for the elections, but the risk for them breaking up along the way remains high.

The wish of pro-Russia’s Siderov to head the list for the European elections faces disproval because his partners have someone else in mind. At the moment only VMRO-BND has its own MEP, who is very well-known in Bulgaria – Angel Dzhambazki is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) in the European Parliament.

Dzhambazki was elected to the European Parliament as candidate of a coalition headed by Nikolay Barekov, who is also an MEP. Now the two are political rivals. The nationalistic games in Bulgaria are becoming more and more interesting because at the end of 2018 Siderov began negotiations with Barekov for forming a ‘conservative’ coalition together.

Tensions between the partners in the United Patriots reached a peak in December 2018. VMRO-BND’s leader Karakachanov declared that the coalition is not in a good state.

“Whoever wants to work in the coalition, let them work. I will not play the peacemaker any longer. I’m fed up, this is a waste of my time, it’s nerve-racking and pointless”, Karakachanov said. He made the comment while Siderov was touring the media talking about his future plans for a coalition with Barekov.

“I won’t be a nanny anymore. If there is common sense, we will run in the elections together. We are good willed. We believe the coalition must be preserved”, said Karakachanov about his partners’ relationship.

The scandals among the nationalists affected not only on their coalition but also triggered a lot of problems for GERB. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stood up to ATAKA leader Siderov, who constantly insisted Simeonov should resign as Vice PM. Eventually, Simeonov resigned, but for having made making cynical remarks about the mothers of children with disabilities and their protest.

The former Minister of Heath Petar Moskov also entered into the nationalistic game. His career began in the liberal right but he made a brisk turn toward the nationalists in the past year. Moskov declared he was ready to run in the European elections together with the Patriots but only under the condition that they got rid of Siderov. This, of course, infuriated the Ataka leader, for whom the United Patriots still remain his best chance of succeeding in the elections.

“I think seeing Petar Moskov in the morning talk shows [a popular format] create digestive complications for the viewers”, Siderov said about one of Moskov’s appearances on TV when he announced his readiness to become a ‘patriot’.

The newest larger political player with a profile close to the Bulgarian nationalists is the leader of Volya party, Vesselin Mareshki. He is the owner of a large pharmacy chain and a smaller chain of filling stations, a defendant in a case for racketeering his competitors, and an unofficial backer of GERB in Parliament at the moment. According to polls, Mareshki doesn’t stand a chance in the European elections, although he concluded a strategic partnership with the Marine Le Pen’s French far-right National Rally political party in November 2018. Le Pen and Mareshki also share a pro-Russian outlook.

Marehski will most likely also be looking for a coalition partner for the European elections, although he is not negotiating publicly with anyone for the time being. He has said, however, that their shared love for Russia makes him look at Siderov for a possible partnership. This is indeed a possibility, especially if Siderov fails to reach a deal with Barekov.

The Bulgarian nationalist knot will not untangle in the coming weeks. The picture will likely gain more clarity in late February or early March, while scandals involving one or more nationalist leaders can erupt any time.

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