Open warfare within Bulgaria’s ruling coalition

Open warfare within Bulgaria’s ruling coalition
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia October 18, 2018

Internal conflicts have erupted within the far-right United Patriots – the junior coalition of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s Gerb – as one of its leaders demanded the resignation of another following a number of personal attacks between them.

The United Patriots is a coalition between three far-right parties, the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) and Ataka. The union has been shaky for months due to conflicts between NFSB leader Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov and Ataka’s Volen Siderov. 

The latest conflict is seen as yet another round in their shaky relations and few believe it can actually break the coalition, as the small far-right parties enjoy their first time in government. Even if Siderov’s party leaves the United Patriots, it will most likely continue to back Borissov’s government. 

In the latest conflict between the two controversial politicians, Simeonov’s party has decided to withdraw its confidence in Siderov, who is the leader of the United Patriots’ parliamentary group.

The two were already at odds because Siderov is consistently pro-Russian while Simeonov is sceptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin's politics.

Tensions increased significantly after Siderov said he wants to head the United Patriots' candidate list in the May 2019 European Parliament elections. Meanwhile, Siderov has received support from former talk-show host Nikolay Barekov who set up his own party and was elected MEP in 2015. According to local media, Barekov said that Siderov is the best recognised right-wing conservative politician in Bulgaria and that he should lead the list of MEP candidates.

As the rift deepened, Siderov’s cable TV channel Alfa personally attacked Simeonov. Alfa stopped its regular broadcasts on October 15, blaming the government, though it was not clear why. A day later, Alfa replaced its broadcasts with black slides with messages against Simeonov.

Broadcasting the words on a black screen, Siderov accused Simeonov of being “Soros’ man”, a reference to Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist George Soros who is a hate figure among many far-right groups in Eastern Europe. He also accused Simeonov of attacking the orthodox church and of trying to introduce “genderism” in Bulgaria, referring to the conflicts that erupted earlier this year when the government tried to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention). Bulgaria is one of few EU members that has not ratified the convention.

Initially Simeonov’s party indicated that it would back the ratification, while Siderov fiercely opposed it, and eventually the ruling Gerb party gave up the document in order to preserve the coalition.

Debates on the convention escalated into mass denial as politicians saw the use of the word “gender” in the context of “social roles, behaviours, activities and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men” as indicating the recognition of a "third sex”.

According to Simeonov, the NFSB will now demand Siderov’s resignation as chairman of the parliamentary group.