Punches from opposition MPs fail to block Bulgaria’s new pro-Western government

Punches from opposition MPs fail to block Bulgaria’s new pro-Western government
Far-right Vazrazhdane MP Tsoncho Ganev spat at a fellow MP in a heated row in the Bulgarian parliament.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 1, 2023

The two largest formations in Bulgaria’s parliament, Gerb-SDS and Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB), reached an agreement on a joint government on June 1, in the face of fierce opposition from rival parties. 

While the two parties’ leaders thrashed out the details of their agreement, a brawl erupted in the parliament when members of the far-right pro-Russian Vazrazhdane clashed physically with Western-oriented MPs during a plenary session on June 1.

Earlier in May, the two pro-Western formations agreed to support a government with a rotating prime minister. The candidates are Nikolai Denkov, picked by CC-DB, and Gerb’s candidate Mariya Gabriel. 

The talks were put on hold by Gerb after a recording of CC’s internal meeting was leaked, but were resumed on May 31 and continued on June 1, with both sides giving signals the negotiations were progressing.

In the evening, Dnevnik news outlet reported, quoting internal unnamed sources, that the composition of the government was agreed.

According to the June 1 deal, Denkov will hold the position of prime minister first and will resign after nine months to be replaced by Gabriel.

Despite strong opposition at the beginning, Gerb has accepted the nomination of CC’s co-leader, Assen Vassilev, for finance minister. Having held the position before, the party claims he is the best prepared expert to prepare two budgets – for 2023 and for 2024 — in a short period of time. 

Some other nominations were changed upon Gerb’s request but none of the candidates is a member of the party.

Violent opposition from all sides

While the two formations were holding tough talks, their opponents inside and outside the parliament have been fighting against the formation of a regular government. 

In parliament, MPs from Bulgaria’s far-right pro-Russian Vazrazhdane party tried to beat up a pro-Western colleague during the parliamentary session on June 1. 

The incident was triggered when CC’s Yavor Bozhankov replied to accusations by Vazrazhdane that CC are national traitors.

Bozhankov responded by accusing Vazrazhdane of hypocrisy. He pointed to protests against the COVID-19 vaccines by vaccinated Vazrazhdane MPs and calls not to adopt the euro from MPs with savings in the European currency.

Bozhankov threw in a provocative statement concerning the sexual orientation of Vazrazhdane’s leader Kostadin Kostadinov and the party’s MP Tsoncho Ganev.

"They were talking about soft wrists. The two of them: Tsoncho and Mr. Kostadinov give us the most doubt in this regard,” Bozhankov said.

In Bulgarian, the expression “soft wrists” refers to homosexuals, and Vazrazhdane is openly homophobic.

After Bozhankov’s comment, MPs from Vazrazhdane stood up and went to the podium where he was speaking. They started pushing him and other CC-DB MPs joined in to defend their colleague. Ganev spat on one of them. One MP’s glasses fell on the ground, and another emerged from the melee with a bruise on his cheek.

Parliament speaker Rossen Zhelyazkov called a break due to the fight, but MPs from the two parties continued attacking each other verbally outside the plenary hall.

President keeps attacking

Also on June 1, President Rumen Radev, who gave the second mandate to form a government to CC-DB reluctantly and called on them to give it up, said that nothing good could come up from the alliance between Gerb and CC-DB.

“I do not expect the kiss between Borissov and Petkov would give birth to anything except disgust and that does not lead to trust and sustainable solutions,” Radev told reporters ahead of the summit of the European Political Community (EPC) in Moldova.

Petkov refused to respond to Radev’s accusations and said that there are many people in Bulgaria who do not want the country to be democratic.

Radev also accused CC-DB of having a “sweet Euro-Atlantic façade” but in reality having the “grinning face of a creeping dictatorship and fanaticism”.