Who's Calling the Shots in Bulgaria?

A file photo shows ethnic Turkish party informal leader Ahmed Dogan (front) together with controversial MP Delyan Peevski.
A file photo shows ethnic Turkish party informal leader Ahmed Dogan (front) together with controversial MP Delyan Peevski.

By Milena Hristova     April 21, 2014

 

They are called European elections, but in Bulgaria this is something of a misnomer.

 

When Bulgarians went to the polls on June 7, 2009, their task was to elect new members to the European Parliament, which they did. This was the first time all 27 member states of the European Union, including newcomers Bulgaria and Romania, held elections in what was described as the world's biggest multinational democratic vote.

 

But voters in Bulgaria acted like these were general elections and took the opportunity to cast a protest vote. Except for the supporters of the ethnic Turkish party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

 

These are the kind of voters, who never show cracks in their armour, led by a formally informal leader, who is a symbol of Bulgaria's oligarchy, blessed with the gift of a gab and an in-depth view a la Machiavelli. Ahmed Dogan knows how to hide behind the false image of a reflecting philosopher, while actually being Bulgaria's back seat ruler.

 

It is with this warning in mind that we should interpret the nomination of controversial businessman and MP Delyan Peevski for MEP on the ticket of the ethnic Turkish party.

 

Being the man, who pulls the strings of the puppets on Bulgaria's political scene and works busily behind the scenes, Ahmed Dogan does not make suggestions and nominations - he orchestrates the events ahead.

 

Peevski features second on the ethnic Turkish party list, which guarantees his election. The move has already created tensions both at home and in Brussels and this is no surprise.

 

The appointment of the scandalous media mogul as head of the country's most powerful national security agency last summer triggered unprecedented protests in Bulgaria. Ever since then Peevski has cemented his reputation as a symbol of shady economic interests, spreading across all sectors of the economy, nepotism, and corruption, which has turned Bulgaria into a poor and undignified nation.

 

In its latest report the European Commission wrote about “repeated controversies such as appointments having to be aborted due to integrity issues”, obviously referring to Delyan Peevski.

 

Such cases, the commission wrote, affect public confidence that is already eroded by “a succession of revelations about political influence on the judicial system” and its inability to deliver convictions in corruption or organised crime cases.

 

Jonathan Allen, the British Ambassador to Bulgaria, famously called the report “depressing reading,” on his Twitter account.

 

So it is no surprise that Peevski's nomination for MEP is now creating tensions in Brussels too.

 

The controversial MEP candidate has put the Bulgarian Movement of Rights and Freedoms party at odds within its own Liberal group, and has antagonized its potential allies, the Socialists, and the centre-right European People’s Party, EurActiv wrote this week.

 

Officially, the ALDE group says that each sister party is free to choose its candidates. But off the record, people close to the ALDE leadership expressed their grief over the way the DPS is acting, the report said.

 

This is why analysts and political foes say Peevski's nomination came nothing short of an impudent and provocative act, orchestrated by Ahmed Dogan. An act, with which he makes it painfully clear that in Bulgaria he is the one calling the shots, he is the back seat ruler and he can do whatever he wants.

 

Dogan does not even care about keeping his strategy secret.

 

"If you think that I have less opportunities than a banker, then you have no idea about what a politician can do. For the last fifteen years, half of all Bulgarian businessmen, who can boast higher than the average incomes, have had to woo me for my support or at least my smile," Dogan admitted two days before the parliamentary elections in 2005, notoriously adding that a ring of companies stand behind his party.

 

Six years later Bulgaria's top court acquitted Dogan in a high profile corruption trial, even though the situation was unique in many ways.

 

Why?

 

This was the first time that his smile was tagged with a real price, on a real bill on his name. This was the first time that there were concrete figures and facts that accused him of corruption and that showed his own personal ambitious entrepreneurial plans have never been grounded or put on the back burner while in power. This was the first time that the perfect model for winning power – creating jobs for votes - turned against its founder and ideologist. This was the first time that the society and the European Union ached to see the guilty brought to justice and were not willing to buy the worn-out ethnic peace arguments.

 

Alas, in Bulgaria that man proved untouchable.

 

Now, a month before the European Parliament elections on May 25, 2014 Ahmed Dogan showed he has not given up his role of the (parallel) authority and picked Delyan Peevski to represent his party in EP fully aware of the reactions that would trigger.

 

Interestingly, young people in Bulgaria, who were among those who took to the streets last year, say sending Peevski to Brussels is a good thing.

 

“Put him in the spotlight, so that everybody can see what he is worth.”