By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
What the French prime minister reportedly described as the “political earthquake” of the rise of far-right parties in European Parliament elections in his country and elsewhere in the EU hardly registered on political seismographs in Bulgaria.
In contrast to other countries, the two best-known far-right, ultra-nationalist and euroskeptic parties, Volen Siderov’s Ataka and Valeri Simeonov’s National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, both got too few votes to win MEP seats.
Not only that, but going by results from the Central Election Commission with almost all votes counted, Simeonov’s NFSB outdid the more established Ataka.
The explanation, however, may not be that simple and does not necessarily mean that far-right politics in Bulgaria is dead.
First, a key problem for the far-right is precisely that of a split: NFSB is a rival to Ataka, founded after the estrangement of Siderov and Simeonov. The latter is the owner of cable television Skat, where Siderov first gained public attention with his diatribes on a programme called Ataka, from which his party was spawned.
That party first gained seats in Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly, in 2005, returned in 2009 and again in 2013, on the last occasion in a position that made the ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms dependent on it, first for a vote to form a cabinet, and later for quorums for the legislature to hold proceedings.
In 2006, Siderov ran second in presidential elections, losing only when centre-right voters united against him in a second-round vote to support socialist Georgi Purvanov as the lesser evil.
Further, apart from the split between Siderov and Simeonov, the Ataka leader has been embroiled in a number of public scandals, one of which – an incident involving altercations on a flight from Sofia to Varna in January 2014 – has led to his prosecution for hooliganism and assault.
While Siderov has protested that these scandals are all the result of a conspiracy to set him up to be discredited, it has been widely commented that his party helping to hold in place a cabinet in which the MRF – a party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent – has a key role, has damaged his supposedly uncompromising ultra-nationalist credentials.
But perhaps most damaging of all has been the emergence on the Bulgarian political scene in the past few months of Nikolai Barekov’s Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC) party.
This party, formed around former television talk show host Barekov, not only is financially well-resourced, but also has benefitted from extensive media coverage, and on top of that, criss-crossed Bulgaria with populist messages and promises.
It is, to a large extent, the BWC phenomenon that has flushed Siderov out of his place as the voice of the frustrated and disempowered in Bulgaria. BWC may be difficult to place in the political spectrum, in large part because of the wide range of populist promises, but it is not actually euroskeptic or far-right.
As election night results rolled in, political commentators noted that Siderov’s constituency largely had defected to Barekov.
This, in turn, would have at least one immediate political effect- reinforcing, whatever rhetoric he may emit, the inadvisability of Siderov doing anything that may result in the current National Assembly being dissolved. Not only might he and his Ataka party not return, it is for now not inconceivable that their place might be taken by a small group of their NFSB rivals.