Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov admitted on February 13 that the three members of the hard right nationalist United Patriots - the junior partner of Bulgaria's Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (Gerb) - are having disagreements and their coalition is unstable.
The United Patriots came to power for the first time in 2017, in coalition with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s Gerb, prompting fears of a shift to the far right by Bulgaria’s populist prime minister. If the patriots collapse, this would put pressure on the government, but the chances of a change of government are not that high as Borissov has another potential ally in the parliament, the Volya party. The ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) also is backing the government unofficially.
Simeonov is the leader of the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), which makes up the United Patriots along with the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) and Ataka. In an interview with public broadcaster BNT, he admitted that the coalition is “creaking” and said that he is attempting to stabilise it.
“There are several month-old tensions within the parliamentary group, and there is no will for them to be resolved, especially by the colleague [VMRO leader Krasimir] Karakachanov,” Simeonov said.
Stabilisation of relations between the three parties in the coalition depends on Karakachanov, he added.
Recently, the parties clashed over the adoption of the Istanbul Convention, which is directed against domestic violence but which is opposed by conservative, nationalist and far-right forces which claim it calls for the recognition of a “third gender”.
While both Simeonov and Karakachanov said that the United Patriots will not support the convention’s ratification, the NFSB leader opposed his colleague’s proposal for a referendum on its adoption. Meanwhile, there are rumours in the media that Simeonov is secretly backing the ruling Gerb in its efforts to have the convention adopted.
Aside from the clash over the Istanbul convention, the three parties do not have significant differences in their policies, and the instability seems to have arisen from the desire of both Simeonov and Karakachanov to lead the coalition.
Of the two, Karakachanov has so far been the quieter leader with less scandalous statements or actions.
Simeonov, on the other hand, has already been sentenced for hate speech against Bulgaria’s Roma minority and provoked outrage when he threatened a TV host while participating in a life show.
Most recently, the deputy prime minister triggered a scandal when his NFSB published a statement on February 9 demanding that Ska Keller, a German MEP and the president of the Greens group in the European Parliament, be deported to Turkey after she took part in environmental protests in Bulgaria.
The government distanced itself from Simeonov’s highly offensive statement, saying in a separate statement that his comment is not the official position of the Bulgarian state.
The third party leader in the United Patriots – Volen Siderov of Ataka – also used to provoke scandals with his actions and statements, but has calmed down after the prosecution charged him in several cases.
Local analysts believe that, despite all scandals, the ruling coalition will survive at least until the end of Bulgaria’s EU presidency, which began in January.