The Party of European Socialists (PES) stands ready to take all necessary measures against its local member in Bulgaria, which announced its intention to form a broad coalition with pro-Russian, nationalist parties, PES Secretary General Giacomo Filibeck told Euractiv.
Meanwhile, in Sofia, experts estimate Bulgarian President Rumen Radev is behind the nationalist push and that the EU should brace for an Orbán-style government ready to take advantage of the growing Ukraine “fatigue”.
Euractiv reported on Thursday that the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), an official member of PES, is planning to create a new left-nationalist bloc that includes 16 parties.
Among them are the radical anti-European pro-Russian and pro-Putin party Ataka headed by Volen Siderov, as well as the Russophile formation of Nikolay Malinov, currently facing a Bulgarian court on charges of espionage for the benefit of Russian oligarchs.
“If the leadership of the Bulgarian party goes around the way described in the media report on Wednesday, then for sure the European Socialist party will take consequential measures as it happened in other cases such as in Slovakia”, Filibeck told Euractiv on the sidelines of an event organised in Brussels on Thursday.
In early October, PES suspended the membership of both pro-Russian Robert Fico’s Smer party and Peter Pellegrini’s Hlas, who have formed a coalition government after their “right-wing” turn.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova recently said she opposed PES’s push to implement the Istanbul Convention to recognise a third gender that has no relation to biological sex.
“We do not approve of PES declaring sanctions against Russia for providing weapons to Ukraine,” Ninova added, while she has also expressed her admiration for Fico and his patriotic turn.
Pro-Russian Radev behind the move?
Meanwhile, in Sofia, experts told Euractiv that President Rumen Radev is behind the Bulgarian left’s nationalist turn and that EU institutions should brace themselves for an Orbán-style government.
Parvan Simeonov from Gallup International Balkan told Euractiv.bg that taking centre-stage on the left side of the political aisle is instead something for Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, “not Ninova”.
President Radev is a staunch opponent of sending military aid to Ukraine, willing to compromise with the Kremlin and seen by many as emulating the political style of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“Radev is the main link in the network between all these disjointed factors in the left and patriotic space,” the expert said.
The left, building on nostalgia for the communist past and on the feeling of gratitude of many Bulgarians for the Russian empire having liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule at the end of the 19th century, has become the vehicle for nationalist and pro-Kremlin rhetoric.
“Ninova feels that this patriotic space is beginning to fragment and wants to be the centre of gravity. However, that person will be Rumen Radev, not her,” the expert said.
Radev, for his part, was elected president in 2017 with the support of the pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), but quickly showed his political style and potential to win over left-wing conservative and Eurosceptic voters. He is now in his second five-year term.
The expert added that Radev has already built a solid informal network of influential mayors who will become the backbone of his future party.
“After two to three years, Radev will have built his political infrastructure to enter into a party-political game. He doesn’t look like (Robert) Fico. It’s more like Orban, but with a left bias,” Simeonov added.
The Ukraine developments’ effect
Looking at the bigger picture, the Gallup political scientist also said BSP’s move to create a pro-Russian nationalist coalition is a symptom of what is happening in Europe.
“This shows the rising self-confidence of Eastern-oriented, Western-critical mainstream politicians in Europe. Ninova is too small an example. The biggest example in Bulgaria is Vazrazhdane and Rumen Radev,” he added.
Simeonov estimates that all these eastern-oriented politicians feel that the wind is starting to blow in their direction again.
“Ukraine’s counter-offensive has so far been unsuccessful. In the West, there is talk of negotiations with Russia, and Bulgaria is a country that historically has pro-Russian sentiments. And all the people who feel unrepresented now will look to this pro-Russian political space,” he added, warning of the fatigue when it comes to wars across the European continent.
“This government is standing around doing the hard work and losing support. The rulers consume the negatives while Radev stands and waits,” Simeonov added.
Schulz and Scholz not role model for Ninova
For analyst Dimitar Ganev from the Trend, the BSP has been pulling away from EU socialists’ values for years, and its leader, Kornelia Ninova, wants to look “much more like Orbán than (Martin) Schulz and (Olaf) Scholz”.
Ganev insisted that the man who could become “Bulgaria’s Orban” was Radev, who now had very limited presidential powers.
“Radev coming to power is a genuine possibility. He still has three years left in his term as president. If there are no parliamentary elections during this period, things are going great for him. His presidential term should end in January 2027, and the parliamentary elections will be five months later,” Ganev said.
The political scientist is certain that Radev will participate in party politics after the end of his presidential term.
“Radev has already built a serious personnel network through the caretaker governments he appointed. This network constantly pressures Radev to gain access to power through him,” Ganev added.
It is thus expected that Radev will take a prominent role on the left in Bulgaria, which, compared to left-wing parties in Europe, is conservative, patriotic, and more nuanced than the strict Euro-Atlanticism of the current rulers.
“Bulgarians are not extreme people. They do not want extreme options,” said Ganev, adding that this means Radev will likely go along with the political consensus regarding EU and NATO membership but will not maintain such a firm pro-NATO position.
“Something like Orbán, but in the left sector,” he added.
Indeed, if Radev enters party politics and is elected, this will seriously shake the nationalist parties such as the pro-Russian radical Vazrazhdane and also the BSP, he added.
(Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg, Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com)
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