Wednesday, January 28, 2015


A part of the Soviet Union until 1989, it resumed independent life under the leadership of the Bulgarian Socialist party, a change which should not have fooled anyone, though it was simply a renaming of the former Communist party. The Bulgarians themselves were not so easily fooled, and within a year mass demonstrations and a general strike had brought down both the President and the government, paving the way for a new constitution and the beginnings of democracy, at first under the UDF (Union of Democratic Forces), then under a non-party coalition, and latterly with multiple parties competing for power, including one led by the former King, who took a turn as Prime Minister at the turn of the century.

In the meanwhile Bulgaria moved further away from the Kremlin, joining NATO and the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) in 2004, and becoming a member of the European Union in 2007, despite its failure to tackle the key issues of political corruption and out-of-control crime which were set as the two principal conditions of entry. The decision to let Bulgaria in seemed absurd at the time, and was rendered even more so when, just a year later, half of the aid given to it by the EU, amounting to hundreds of millions of Euros, was suspended, precisely for failing to meet the conditions of its acceptance. This plunged the economy into instant recession, which led to more street protests, which brought down the government. In the meanwhile the Russians had created a second crisis, by cutting gas supplies to Bulgaria, which was probably not the most pragmatic of moves at a time of electoral unrest. Surprisingly, given the EU's withdrawal of finances, the new government came from the GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), further endorsing Bulgarias' wish to distance itself from socialism. After the decades of stagnation caused by Five Year Plans and the other stupidities of Soviet economics, it is now moving slowly and cautiously towards becoming a market economy, though “moving towards” is one of those phrases that generous schoolteachers use on reports for nine-year-olds who still haven’t learned to read or write properly.

President Rosen Plevneliev, who came into office in January 2012, theoretically has no powers; the mess that is Bulgarian politics means that he has in effect quite considerable power, since it is he who keeps on and on having to find somebody to lead a government. He was elected on the same ticket as GERB Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, but Borisov resigned in 2013 after the police were a touch over-exuberant in patrolling street protests against austerity measures, leaving fourteen people dead; the elections put Borisov back in power, but with a minority of seats, and so the President invited, guess who, the Socialists to come into coalition, which they only agreed to do if Borisov stepped down, which he did, and what is technically called a "technocratic government" was installed in its place - Greece and Italy have also employed this strategy, which amounts to an admission that no one trusts any politician from any party, and so the Civil Service takes over: one step better than the military doing the same, but still the equivalent of putting a bankrupt company into administration, and a euphemism for a failed state. Plamen Oresharski, who led that "technocratic government", lasted barely a year, during which time street-protests over the appointment of a media mogul to run the national security agency, a banking crisis, more street-protests over corruption, a blockade of Parliament, yet another election which virtually no one turned out to vote in, and where eight different parties were vying for power, all proved that democracy is now alive and well in Bulgaria, but that democracy in full operation is not actually the best way to manage an effective society. Boyko Borisov is once again Prime Minister, in coalition this time; but don't expect it to last. Presidential elections are due in 2016. The Socialists will undoubtedly be putting up a candidate.

Much fuss is made over nuclear reactors in Iran and North Korea, because they are our enemies; none at all over the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, because they are now our friends. Four of its six reactors were shut down as part of the deal for Bulgaria to join the EU, but the plant still provides a third of the country's electricity, and plans are on hold for the development of a second nuclear plant.

Xenophobes in the UK and elsewhere regard the EU membership of Bulgaria as a threat to the job markets and benefit hand-outs of the richer nations, because tens of thousands are expected to take advantage of the EU’s open passport policy and abandon the grinding poverty of Sofia for the grinding unaffordability of London or Paris; in reality the threat lies in the stupidity of the Bulgarian government itself, which is currently developing two gas pipelines, one in partnership with the Russians, the other with the EU. Think Ukraine 2014. The consequences are simply predictable.

Bulgarian national costume. Given the ugliness and boringness of jeans and a T-shirt or the dull, grey suit, why does no one dress like this any more?

Marks For: 2

Marks Against:6

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