The first Englishman ever to stand in Bulgarian polls
An unlikely trendsetter, Clive Wilkinson is an unassuming, bespectacled businessman with the self-deprecating manner and appearance of Harry Palmer from the 1960s spy movies. Yet beneath the modest veneer lies a firm conviction that individuals can reform the system.
His decision to run as a municipal councillor in Gabrovo on the ticket of GERB, or Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, the party led by burly action man and incumbent Mayor of Sofia Boyko Borisov - marks him as the first foreigner to stand in local elections.
Back in Britain he was a small-business man manufacturing furniture components. He was approached by a Bulgarian, also living in the UK, who became a friend and business partner. They decided to set up a joint venture in Bulgaria, prompting Clive to move his factory to Gabrovo.
The disillusionment of many Bulgarians with politicians prompted his candidature. “I hope to change their perception that ‘all government is corrupt and untrustworthy'. I'd like everyone to believe that the system is made by the people for the people and it can be improved by working together.”
Perhaps his apolitical background and lack of first hand familiarity with Communism is advantageous. “Too many people, especially in Bulgaria, are obsessed with the past and who was to blame for the country's ills. We need to be concentrating on the future,” he believes.
He loathes the criminal fraternity who've managed to eke out a life of “leisure” from the system. “The people involved know who they are. I feel strongly that with the help of Europe their days are numbered. Soon they'll have to work for a living like the rest of us!”
Bulgarian reaction to his candidature in Gabrovo has been positive. “I'm aware that some people are uneasy but they're far outweighed by locals who know me. Without their backing, and the hard work and support of my beautiful wife, I would not have agreed to the position.” As for British friends, he reveals only that some have been “surprised” by his decision.
Clive Wilkinson needed some persuasion to stand. “I prefer to work behind the scenes and this was my reaction when I was first asked to run.” Neither was he particularly political in the UK. “I used to complain like most British people but having lived as a Bulgarian for some time, and having now integrated into a Bulgarian family, I think most British people don't realise their good fortune. If you live in Bulgaria like a tourist, then life here has plenty to recommend itself. However, if you have to make your living as an ordinary working man or pensioner then the story is very different.”
Clive believes that Bulgaria's cumbersome bureaucracy is “bringing the country to its knees”. It's a complaint that will resonate with many people, particularly other small-business people. So does he feel his candidacy will encourage other expatriates to run? “If they feel passionate enough about society and think that they could make a difference, then yes.”
He's happy to be judged at the ballot box: “That's the beauty of democracy! If the people don't want me there they just need to vote for someone else,” he says philosophically.
On 28 October they have the opportunity to do just that.