interview and photography by Anthony Geogieff

Bulgaria has been ruled by a bunch of gangsters

evgeniy daynov.jpg

To everyone with an interest in Bulgarian politics and society for the past 30 years, Evgeniy Daynov has been a familiar name. Educated at the Corpus Christi College in Oxford and having taught political science at both the University of Sofia and the New Bulgarian University, Evgeniy Daynov has been at the forefront of a variety of pro-democracy movements and political parties, starting from the Ekoglasnost grassroots environmentalist movement in the late 1980s and going through the SDS, or Union of Democratic Forces, through the 1990s. Evgeniy Daynov is not your "typical" Oxon. academic, however. Dressed in military-style chinos and inevitably wearing incongruous T-Shirts, Daynov is an enthusiastic member of a rock band which occasionally plays the bars of Sofia. Mr Daynov spends most of his time in the village of Mindya, near Elena in the central parts of the Stara Planina. His latest book, dealing with the development and legacies of Boyko Borisov's GERB, is entitled The Barbarians.

Notwithstanding GERB's obvious deficiencies, however, to understand why Bulgaria is where it's at at the moment one needs to consider the larger picture of its evolution in the past two-three decades:

In the late 1980s a significant minority of Bulgarians decided to challenge Communism and turn Bulgaria into a Western-style democracy, what they referred to as a "normal" Western state. That endeavour suffered a series of setbacks followed by recoveries. Each of these, however, sucked the creative energy of the people who had to make it happen and live through it. In 1990 Bulgaria became the first country in Eastern Europe to reelect its erstwhile Communist leaders, and it did it again in 1994. Following the economic crisis in 1996, in 1997 the Bulgarian society once more decided to westernise itself. Its energy turned out to have been depleted. So, it called a break; a respite from the reforms and the pain associated with them. In 2001 the exiled king was elected prime minister. In 2005, the election got rid of the king, but did not produce a clear winner, signifying the Bulgarian society did not know what to do next.

In 2009, they elected Boyko Borisov, whom they mistook for a mythical figure of Krali Marko proportions, a Balkan titan and saviour of his people. Boyko Borisov was liked because he stressed all the time that he was uneducated, that he did not belong to any elite, that he was one of the people.

The result is that during the past four years the Bulgarians got a gangster-type society very much reminiscent of places like Russia.

In 2013 the Bulgarian society is back where it started: what the hell do we do next?

There are two things that are on the mind of the Bulgarian voters at the moment. One, that a new generation is emerging into active political life. We call them the "Children of the Transition" – people born in the 1980s. They demand, with sufficient zest, a change.

The Children of the Transition want to restart the transition because they see it as a failure: it produced little else than an oligarchic society.

Yet the majority of Bulgarians don't want to start all over again. So, they want to stick with Boyko Borisov, the saviour, the man of the people.

This is odd, because he is a blatantly uncouth gangster, he belongs to Latin America of the 1950s. He is not even real.

Then there is a massive withdrawal of trust in the political parties and the political system as such.

One of the interesting things at the 2013 election was that one quarter of the voters cast their ballots in favour of a dozen political parties that did not end up in parliament. People are looking for something new, for a new model of representation and power structure.

Of course Boyko Borisov and his GERB want to keep the Russian-style oligarchic model. So, in the next three to six years Bulgaria will be transiting not from Communism to democracy but from the current Russian-style oligarchic model to a new power structure. This will be accompanied by many setbacks and instability. Gradually, a new model of representation will emerge. But for this to happen, the Bulgarians, even the politically active but unenlightened people, will be under pressure to choose.

I call this a process of creative instability. The main challenge will be not to let it degenerate into anarchy and chaos.

Is it possible to describe the past four years under GERB with just a few main elements?

The educated minority of Bulgarians were led to believe that these were reformed gangsters, on the logic that it takes a thief to catch a thief. Unfortunately, they did not turn to be reformed gangsters, but active ones. What they did is centralise effective power in one hub. This is what people like in countries like Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan and so on – a centralisation of power in one place, overruling the independence of the various institutions, the civil service, the rule of law and all that.

GERB exercised that power the way it is usually exercised: on their whims and quirks. They did not obey any rules, nor did they declare any objectives or a set of principles. They just ruled on a whim: today we give this business to this or that friend of ours, tomorrow we take control over this or that sector of the economy which used to be run by a friend who is no longer a friend.

The economic effect of this policy was that Bulgaria ended up with an economy that is no longer market-based. If we were to apply for membership of the EU today we would certainly fail to pass the free market economy benchmark: everything in Bulgaria is run by monopolies, cartels and oligarchs. Obviously, they do not tolerate competition.

Therefore, it can be assumed that what makes the economic crisis in Bulgaria so peculiar is that the Bulgarian GERB replaced the market economy with a monopoly economy.

Another element is that GERB managed to institutionalise what in Bulgaria is known as the politics of chalga. I am not referring to the heated rhythmic music propagating sexy girls and young "businessmen" riding expensive cars. The chalga ideology tells you that people live alone, they do not form communities. People are predators, and the only way you can succeed is by predating on other people.

The Barbarians by Evgeniy Daynov

It was the GERB government's official policy to disregard education, qualification and effort as unnecessary to get by. If you were to find the right "protector," you would be successful in life because you would be able to take something from somebody else.

This has undermined the very basis of society, which is civility. Civilisation derives from civility.

It has also undermined development, because development is pegged on education, qualification and effort.

Bulgaria is in a mess, it lies in tatters, and it will take a long time to build it up from scratch.

During the past two years of its rule and especially during the election campaign, GERB quite successfully represented themselves as anti-Communist. They attracted the votes of people who consider themselves anti-Communist and who would never vote for the BSP, or Bulgarian Socialist Party. Is GERB really anti-Communist?

The GERB got slightly more votes than the BSP, and I think their lead is due to people of democratic inclinations who genuinely believed that a bunch of gangsters could be a political party. These people continue to live in the 1990s, which was a very happy time: everything was simple. Red meant Communist and Russians. Blue was democracy and Europe. A whole generation of democrats remain locked in this. They would go with anyone who declares he is an anti-Communist. This is of course self-deluding.

The 2013 election indicated that an entire mini-civilisation, which belonged to the fresh ideas of democracy in the 1990s, is already dead. None of the splinter groups of the original Union of Democratic Forces managed to enter parliament.

Interestingly, many democratic thinkers belonging to my generation played along with GERB.

How would you explain that?

Some of it is money. GERB are spreading money around like it's nobody's business. A lot of it is self-delusion. And a lot of it is psychology: would you not like to live in a permanent 1997 when everything was completely clear, we were the good guys and we were the winners. Some people think that by keeping on shouting anti-Communist slogans they will magically return to their younger days.

This is both good and bad. The bad thing is that a whole generation of supporters of democracy is going away. What's positive is that a new generation is emerging.

Why do you think did the smaller political parties – I refer to Meglena Kuneva, the SDS, the DSB and the like – fail to get into parliament?

The SDS and the DSB, which are splinter groups from the original Union of Democratic Forces, failed because they had been unable, in the course of a decade, to find their proper roles in the 21st Century. Their demise was foretold.

The party of Meglena Kuneva, which I believed would be a restart of the centre-right idea, was unfortunately stillborn. From its very onset it was reminiscent of the dithering old democratic parties. Consequently, the voters did not see it as a beam towards the future but as an echo of the past.

Of course, there were the completely new protest parties. There is the Greens, of whom I am one of the proud founders. There is the party of Svetlyo Vitkov, a pop singer. That is a very obvious protest party attracting young voters.

At the next election, which may be as early as the autumn or next year, I expect at least some of these smaller parties to be able to enter parliament, on condition that the people recognise them as popular representatives rather than as some kind of a new predatory elite.

Let's turn to GERB's legacy because it is something that Bulgarians and this country's Western partners will have to live with for a long time to come.

At the beginning GERB consisted of two components that quickly turned out to be completely antithetical to each other. Half of the visible GERB was comprised of minor Communist-era policemen plus a bunch of ex-Communists and obviously a bunch of gangsters. The other half, however, were people who had come from the West with the intention of behaving honourably in their respective areas. The majority of ministerial posts were filled with such people in the first few months of GERB's rule. That did not last long.

By the end of the first two years most of these people had gone. GERB remained only a predatory oligarchy. Right from the beginning, the ministries commanded by former policemen immediately turned into centres of criminal power. The Ministry of the Interior, by far the richest ministry in this country, was converted into a power centre of its own, fulfilling partly the functions of the Communist-era political police and partly of what the mafia hitmen usually do – putting pressure on businesses, extortion and so on.

Some of the Western-oriented ministers tried to implement some reforms, but for all kinds of reasons they failed.

After the first three years it became clear that GERB had been incapable or unwilling to go ahead with reforms, the reason being that any genuine reforms require accountability, transparency and greater efficiency. These cannot live side by side with extremely centralised power.

So, GERB started preparing for the 12 May election as Lukashenka and Putin would have done. The GERB top brass pulled the files on MPs, senior civil servants, the judiciary and and so on, and went ahead offering things.

There were also manipulated ballots.

Look at the map of Bulgaria. On the periphery, most regions voted GERB. In Central Bulgaria most regions didn't. One might suspect that the shipment of illegal ballots busted by the prosecution a day before the election was just the second instalment of a larger shipment which had been dispatched a day earlier. That reached the periphery of the country. There is no other way to imagine that Varna, for example, which had staged so many anti-GERB protests, would support it at the ballot boxes.

This is of course just a hypothesis, but one suspects that GERB had developed a multi-layered system to manipulate the election that included calling up people and offering them things or calling up people and telling them their wives would be told things that they wouldn't want their wives to know about.

This is Communism.

This is Putinism, a gangsterish version of Communism. At least under Communism there was collective leadership. Nominally, in the Communist Party you had an annual congress, you had a Central Committee which in actual fact did have some control over what was going on. It was the Central Committee that dethroned Todor Zhivkov in 1989.

Nothing like this in GERB. GERB is the only party in existence in this country that does not have a national congress as its ultimate ruling body.

Did GERB bring Bulgaria forward, or will the historians of the future consider GERB's rule a step back?

One of the tendencies that emerged in some of the countries of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s was the evident inability to reach up to Western standards of civilised behaviour. The result is this type of gangsterish Communism. Now it is entering the European Union. In several EU member states in southeastern Europe all the way up to Hungary, we see a decline of democratic values.

In Bulgaria, what GERB did was the culmination of centralisation. In pre-GERB Bulgaria there was a tendency to oligarchy, there was a tendency to disregard the separation of powers, there was a tendency for corruption. These were tendencies that were countered by other tendencies. What GERB did, to put it in very simple language, is they took all of these negative tendencies and institutionalised them in a single system.

Four or five years ago, to say that Bulgaria was a corrupt, non-democratic country was a metaphor. It is no longer a metaphor.

On the optimistic side, there is a way out. Some agencies of the state had managed to reform themselves before GERB and are now standing up to act.

One example is the prosecution service.

There are various hypotheses about the prosecution service. One is that the new Prosecutor General, Sotir Tsatsarov, does whatever he is doing because he feels this is the right thing to do. But some people say that he does it because the BSP, or GERB's political opponents, have got him by the balls. Do you think that what the prosecutor general is doing is for real?

It is too early to say. Fortunately, we live in an environment where nothing can stay hidden for very long. What we can see at the moment is that the prosecutor general does not seem to be afraid to challenge some of the strongest politicians in the country which happen also to be very rich gangsters.

How long will it take Bulgaria to recover?

The passage of time in itself means nothing. It is the events that fill that time that shape the outcome.

The pessimistic scenario is 10-20 years of stagnation, dawdling, loss of time, no prospects and no future.

The optimistic scenario is up to five years of creative instability, starting with a "programme" government along the lines of Mario Monti's government in Italy. If such a government survives the summer and fulfils seven of its 10 main tasks, the Bulgarians will have regained some of their lost faith in politics and the democratic process. Then an election will produce clearer results.

If a foreigner comes to Bulgaria now as an investor, what would you advise him to do?

Go to the seaside and spend the summer there. Come back with your portfolio in the autumn.

And what would you advise a Bulgarian to do?

Return to your peasant origins and stoke up for the coming winter. Just in case.


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