The Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria – A Historical Perspective

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov casts his ballot during the parliamentary election in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 4, 2021

On April 4, Bulgaria voted for its 45th consecutive Parliament, or as we call it – People’s Assembly. Many sociologists have dubbed this vote “historical” – a term, the meaning of which has shifted from “a thing with historical significance” to “something sensational” in recent years. A close look at the election results, however, shows that there is nothing sensational about the results. Historical patterns can be traced though.

The vote has yet again demonstrated that Bulgarian society is subject to Messianism – that is the notion that a Chosen one should appear like a deus ex machina to fix things for the suffering population. This trend has been persistent for over two decades, bringing forth a number of Prime Ministers, from economist and technocrat Ivan Kostov, through the former Bulgarian king Simeon II, leading up to the current Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. Borisov’s aura has dwindled over the past ten years. His showcase tours with an SUV have done little to relight the radiance of bravado, which brought him to power in 2009. Now, the Bulgarian electorate has turned to a new Messiah, though support for Slavi Trifonov’s There Is Such A Nation (ITN) pales in comparison to GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) stunning victory over the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in 2009. Messianism has dominated both Eastern and Western politics for centuries, but while in the West it has faded away slowly to only emerge in times of great crisis, in Bulgaria and in the east as a whole, it has remained the norm.

The results thus far, compared with exit polls in 2017, demonstrate that voters in Bulgaria cast their lot not so much with a certain party, but rather for a certain set of values. Since the notion of values in the society differs greatly from the values of the political parties, voters tend to choose the political entity that resembles their private ideas the most. Since party values in Bulgaria are fluid, voters also tend to sift their allegiances from one election to another. For instance, some 30% of BSP and GERB supporters have switched their votes yesterday. Parties that did not previously exist have gathered over 25% of the overall votes, and certain factions, which were pivotal in the past two Parliaments, have now stumbled down way beyond the 4% threshold. The above said trend has been persistent since 1990. Bulgarian voters have been quick to relinquish their support for political parties and that has a lot to do with the fact that these parties have repeatedly failed to build and maintain a tradition of values and principles.

Another thing obvious from the current situation is the adhocracy (to borrow from observers of Russian politics) is a dominant trend in Bulgarian political thought. It is closely related to the lack of continuity in party ideology, mentioned above. The development of long-term political doctrines has remained an elusive matter to Bulgarian politicians since the end of the Cold War. Thus, Bulgarian politics has failed to build a number of solid, unchangeable principles, which would be followed through by both left and right, liberals and conservatives. The lack of such principles has prevented any party to gather and consolidate its grip over a certain layer of society – say workers, entrepreneurs, or agricultural landowners. This lack of long-term perspective has also hampered the build up of a steady ideological and political base, upon which Bulgaria could erect its domestic and foreign policy.

A recurring trend, deepening with each decade, is the growing disproportion in political support between the capital and the rest of the country. The growth of wages and the concentration of educational institutions in Sofia, has produced a thicker layer of what should pass as a middle class with its economic and social interests. This social layer has remained considerably thinner in the rest of the country. Disparity in income has produced discrepancies in social and political priorities. While the median wage in Sofia circles round 750 euro per month, the rest of the country usually hopes for half of this amount. Thus, people tend to have quite varying needs, interests, and political perspectives. It would be wrongful to dub certain groups as “not smart enough”. It is rather a matter of day-to-day existence and necessities. A person who earns some 1,500 Euro monthly has quite different aspirations than a person with an income of some 500 or even less.

There has been over the years a trend to talk about the “outflow of brains” from Bulgaria. That is to say that educated and capable people have continuously immigrated from the country in search of better life and opportunities. Election results however demonstrate that its not so much about brains than values. People who leave Bulgaria, tend to demonstrate a different set of political and social principles than the ones, who still live here. This has been quite obvious in the voting process. The results, however, have never proven that Bulgarians outside Bulgaria are in any way smarter than the ones that are inside its border.

On the other hand, the outflow of brains is a thing. It is, however, evident not from the votes of citizens, but from the inability of political parties to level up their game. Election after election, established political entities have failed to produce a better, more plausible version of their initial “founding fathers”. The trouble here is that Bulgarian politicians have a tough choice to make – they either promote people with imagination and political prowess or they opt for loyal, yet yes imaginative disciples. In 99.9% party leaders pick the second option. Thus, a trend is established, leading to continuous “devolution” of thought, perspective, and ability. Loyalty has replaced skill and obedience has overtaken the struggle for development, albeit away from your political forefathers in some cases. This trend is the birth-child of Communist practices. During the Cold War era, it was essential to be loyal and less bright than your superiors. Too much thing, as Orwell puts it, was bad for your health. This practice has developed in the present political generation since almost all of them are direct descendants of the Communist-era elite. Bringing in fresh political candidates from non-parliamentary parties is a way of overcoming this trend, yet most of these tend to fall prey of the issues listed in the previous paragraphs.

The end result of the processes taking place is the blunder of Bulgarian politics, its constant running on one spot. The election results have demonstrated not the change of the system or a restart of the establishment, but rather the reconstruction of the same political edifice but with different color blocks.

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