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After Bulgaria’s 5th election in 2 years, Nikolai Denkov, the new Prime Minister is committed toward fighting Russian misinformation which is believed to be partially causing Bulgaria’s political crisis. Prime Minister Denkov is determined to lead Bulgaria in a pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine direction regardless of the strong grip Russia maintains on Bulgaria. Denkov is a member of the Продължаваме промяната party, which translates to We Continue the Change in English. The party received the 2nd most votes in the April 2nd election yet received the mandate to create a government after discussions between ГЕРБ-СДС (GERB-SDS, two party coalition) and We Continue the Change fell apart.
Pro-Russian Revival Party
Възраждане, a Bulgarian political party whose name translates to Revival has been causing Bulgaria problems because of its pro-Russian stances. Its support amongst Bulgarian voters has been rapidly growing. In the first election in the past two years on April 4th, 2021, the party only had 2 percent of public support, yet this grew to 14 percent in the latest election on April 2nd. This support in polls has also translated to support at the ballot boxes as Revival received 13.58 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary election on April 2nd, 2023. The political party promises to withdraw Bulgaria from the European Union if the member state is unable to renegotiate terms of its membership. As it is impossible for member states to renegotiate their membership to the EU, this is likely being used as an excuse by Revival that they must leave the bloc then. Revival also promises to leave NATO because it has allegedly weakened Bulgaria. There are concerns that if Revival were to gain enough influence, the political party would attempt to turn Bulgaria into an authoritarian regime under that associates itself with Russia instead of the rest of Europe.
The party in May attacked the European Union offices in Sofia with red paint. Not only were party supporters themselves involved but also members of the national parliament. The red paint is meant to be a symbolic representation of blood due to military support the European Union has given to Ukraine. Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament condemned the group for the damage to the EU offices and made it clear that the EU will continue to support Ukraine. Kostadin Kostadinov, the leader of Revival is unlikely to change his pro-Russia views and even stated that “Russophobic garbage” to be “exterminated like pests.”.
Bulgaria’s Support of Ukraine and Zelenskyy’s visit
The Bulgarian government has been supportive of Ukraine yet, is secretly in order to prevent public outrage. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy landed in Bulgaria this week for his first visit to Bulgaria. He announced that The Bulgarian government supports Ukraine joining NATO. President Zelenskyy is hopeful that Ukraine will receive an invitation to join NATO formally at the next NATO summit which will take place in Vilnius July 11-12. Currently 22 NATO countries support Ukraine’s bid to join NATO. There is some controversy surrounding President Zelenskyy’s visit due to the information being leaked to Bulgarian media by diplomatic sources. Todor Tagarev, the Bulgarian Defense Minister apologized for details about President Zelenskyy’s visit being leaked before his arrival.
While Prime Minister Denkov supports Ukraine, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev is considered to be pro-Russian. He is also accused of stalling the formation of the current government in an attempt to retain power which he enjoyed the previous two years through interim cabinets. This caused pro-EU protests to demand he not block the formation of the new government. Radev also faced protests when he attempted to reverse a decision to stop buying Russian gas which was made by the former pro-EU Prime Minister by restarting to buy gas from the Russian company Gazprom. It is also important to remember that Gazprom halted deliveries of natural gas to Bulgaria along with Poland, making it obvious that Bulgaria, Poland, and other EU nations should not depend on Russia for energy. A company that manipulates the flow of energy for political reasons rather than due to an issue with equipment. Purposefully stopping the exportation of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria was a breach of the contracts that both nations had with Gazprom. This is further evidence that Gazprom is not trustworthy.
Eurozone and Schengen Area Aspirations
Besides fighting Russian influence in Bulgaria, a stable Bulgarian government is also crucial in order to achieve the nations goals of joining the Eurozone and Schengen Area. Bulgaria was hoping to adopt the euro in January 2024, but the adoption of the currency will be delayed until at least January 2025. Bulgaria hopes that adopting the euro will be advantageous in order to attract investors. As Bulgaria has the lowest GDP per capita of all current EU member states, it is crucial for the Bulgarian government to continue to work to stimulate economic development. Bulgaria has been suffering from emigration for years due to also having the lowest wages in the European Union. Economic convergence with other member states can help stop and potentially even reverse this trend.
Bulgaria has not yet become a member of the Schengen Area due to some concerns from Austria that it is not yet prepared. Evelyn Regner, the President of the European Parliament has stated however that Bulgaria has fulfilled all criteria to join the Schengen Area. The interesting aspect of this is that Evelyn Regner is actually from Austria and feels embarrassed that her nation continues to block Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen Area. The EU commission has also stated that Bulgaria and Romania are both prepared to join the Schengen Area. The Netherlands also has some concerns regarding Bulgaria joining the Schengen Area. Both Austria and the Netherlands fear that Bulgaria is not yet capable of stopping migrants from entering its nation. This would impact Austria and the Netherlands as there are no ID checks at national borders within the Schengen Area, allowing people who illegally enter Bulgaria to freely move around to other nations in the Schengen Area.
It is too early to tell whether the latest government will successfully remain in power if Bulgaria is doomed to head to the polls for yet another parliamentary election. If not and Prime Minister Denkov successfully stays in power, this can be an important turning point in Bulgarian politics and the nation will shift closer to NATO and the EU and away from Russia. A stable government would be beneficial for the Bulgarian economy which may potentially resolve some of the issues Bulgarian citizens face such as low wages and high prices for pharmaceuticals. As the European Union continues to work to dampen the Russian economy due to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Bulgaria is unlikely going to see sustainable economic development by turning to Russia.
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