Hunger for a Leftist Alternative in Bulgaria

Analysis from a partner of transform! on the political landscape in Bulgaria ahead of the European Elections.

The political frame in which the European elections face Bulgaria is actually the struggle between the centre-right GERB, the party of the Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the social democrats of our traditional socialist party BSP on the other side with its leader Kornelia Ninova. Biggest challenge of the elections is if BSP could defeat GERB, the ruling party, so they can trigger early elections. The European elections in Bulgaria create an environment of rather domestic political struggle. In their preparation, the European discourse is still absent at the expense of national-populist political statements and promises of change and an invisible social element for the socialist party BSP. As to the ruling GERB, they look too exhausted and energyless, but desperately trying to be ahead of BSP and keep the power. Traditionally, European elections in Bulgaria have very low voter turnout, such is the forecast for the elections in May (even more – 24 May is official holiday in Bulgaria, so many people will be in Greece or relaxing somewhere, so they couldn’t vote), which will totally trigger the mobilization of Party structures and business with votes.  

After the European elections in May, regional elections are taking place and, in the meantime, there may be early elections by political convulsions. While the prime minister and leader of GERB Borissov himself admits that GERB has forgotten itself after 10 years of power and needs a change, BSP accepts the European elections as a real opportunity to return to power with a victory over GERB. The third party likely to have representatives in the EP is the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which traditionally mobilizes the Bulgarian Turks not only in Bulgaria, but also those in Turkey. The party is associated with big network of oligarchic businesses. In the same time the coalition partner of GERB in the government, the Patriotic Front – our nationalists (NFSB and IMRO) – is in disarray for general election appearances and some of its members are trying to gain public sympathy through anti-Roma racist rhetoric.

While the ruling GERB has firmly activated to impose stubbornly in the public space that Bulgaria is economically stable and no better where it is, people in small provinces are revolting against high electricity and water prices, anti-social policies against people, against people with special needs, pressure of the business on the workers, the pressure for maternity leave and the illegal construction in reserved areas along the Black Sea and Pirin mountain.

At first glance, the big clash in the European elections in our country seems to be between the left and the centre-right. GERB is already losing its positions because of its long governance, exposing of corruption schemes, disintegrating trust in the party and in the state institutions in the same time, increasing inequality and impoverishment of the population, as well as party exhaustion. However, as in the whole of Europe, the left in Bulgaria is losing its positions. Although in our political situation BSP came out as an alternative to the status quo and as a socialist party, the Social Democratic Party, in its Vision for Bulgaria’s management project, proceeds with a program of rather national-populist style and a slight social hue. For example: not a word about workers’ rights or the ruining state for 30 years of market capitalism at the expense of patriotic clichés and conservatism. There is a justified reason for BSP not to apply the critique of capitalism in its Vision program. This party is a solid part of the capitalism of the transition period of the 90s, which managed to drain the blood from the veins of our country.

One of the biggest shocks for our publicity of the past year was precisely the discussion of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, in which the BSP took the same conservative and nationalist stance as the ruling coalition partner Patriotic Front. This example is important because it clearly showed that the BSP does not look like a modern left party. The Istanbul Convention Against Violence against Women, which is a huge problem in Bulgaria, has unlocked a conversation beyond what it is. That is, the fear of a mysterious third sex that will make our children transvestite has come to light. Thus, thanks to both parties, the concept of gender ideology began to sound threatening and dangerous. So the BSP has taken a bend even closer to the nationalists and even criticized the Party of European Socialists for pushing gender conventions and endangering traditional “Christian values.” This was also the occasion for a clash with the PES chairman and former BSP leader Sergey Stanishev, who criticized the populist position of his party, a member of the family of European socialists. He called it unprogressive. Stanishev’s nomination again for a MEP is under question, as well as the extent to which our socialist party with such a long history in struggles for equality and anti-racism stands on the left side.

In the context of the European crisis of the Left, Bulgaria is no exception, although it is easy for anyone to be mistaken that the BSP is the possible left-wing alternative for the moment. What the BSP represents is more about the right discourse, and the party itself is a party of the oligarchs of the former nomenclature and its capitalist interests. It’s absolutely harmful and dangerous that still many people are identifying BSP as the only possible left in Bulgaria. That kills the possibility for new left perspectives out of the historical baggage of BSP, which they failed to use properly and threw it away.

It is the disappointment from the BSP and the need for a genuine modern left alternative that gives the party of the Bulgarian Left a chance – the only opportunity for progressive, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and feminist ideas, actions and messages. The party of the Bulgarian Left is a member of the European Left since 2010. The conservative picture, which hardens our political context more and more, outlines the need for a new political alternative – social, solidary, sharing hope to the disillusioned in the transition for more than 30 years. The Bulgarian Left party has the chance to be this new project. What we need, however, is to legitimize a united left front, collaborations, partnerships, actions and joint actions with organizations that have proven their work in fighting inequality and fighting for more justice. The Bulgarian Left sought unification for the European elections with non-party organizations such as Solidarna Bulgaria, Collective for Public Interventions, the analytical internet portal “Barricada”, etc. to work together to build a political space that would resist the lack of social projects in the Bulgarian politics and to return the left-wing electorate where it should be. Any such start is complicated and difficult, and it is likely that there will be no results yet, but it was important to realize that in order to achieve a common goal there should be no division of camps but a common front. It is time to resist the neoliberal attacks with the only thing that could save our country and all of Europe – a social project for all citizens.

Cover photo source: Reuters/Stoyan Nenov ©Reuters