Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Boyko Borisov: portrait of a winner

On May 20, Bulgarians voted for the first time to send representatives to the European Parliament. You can see the results at Most of the votes have gone to GERB (the party of the Sofia mayor Boyko Borisov), to the Socialist party and to DPS (the Movement for Rights and Freedoms). These three parties have obtained almost equal number of votes and will have 5 seats each. Two other parties will also send representatives to the European Parliament: Ataka (2 seats) and NDSV (Simeon II National Movement, 1 seat).
To be honest, I considered not voting at these elections because I don't believe the European Parliament is a useful institution. However, finally I made up my mind to vote (for one of the rightist parties that remained below the bar). So now I may, like every thinking Bulgarian, pull off my hair as I'm looking at the election results, but at least I don't feel guilty.
Why do I regard the results as a disaster? Let's mention the winning parties one by one. I've blogged about NDSV's leader Simeon II Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at and about Ataka at (D. Stoyanov will go to the European Parliament again as the first of the two Ataka representatives). I've also blogged about the Turkish party DPS at In these elections, its good result was due not only to almost 100% mobilization of ethnic Turkish and Bulgarian Muslim voters (projected on the low activity of Bulgarian voters) but also on bribing many Gypsies and reportedly on intimidating some Bulgarians to vote for DPS. The Socialist Party is the renamed Communist Party from the Iron Curtain era; it still talks and promises social nonsense to its voters despite making virtually every member of its leadership a rich capitalist - need I say anything more? So now I have to describe only the big winner - GERB or, to be precise, its leader Boyko Borisov, because no one ordinary Bulgarian, including those who have voted for GERB, knows anything about its program or can name a distinguished member of the party other than Borisov.
My work is facilitated by Wikipedia, where Borisov is featured both in English and in Bulgarian. Born in 1959, he graduated the police college as a firefighter lieutenant in 1982 and began work in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the police). He made a PhD thesis titled Psychological and physical training of (police and firefighter) personnel. (I had to work on my PhD thesis for 11 years and to publish its results in peer reviewed journals with impact factor, so excuse me if I view Borisov's "PhD" as a personal insult.) Borisov was a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party - this was mandatory for every police officer during the Communist rule. After this rule ended in 1989, police were de-politicized and their officers had the choice to leave the Party or resign. Borisov preferred the Party and left the police in 1990. However, I wouldn't rush to call him a diehard communist - I think this was for him not a political matter but a convinient way to obtain a honourable discharge in order to start a business.
In 1991, Borisov founded the private security company IPON-1 that guarded personalities like the former dictator Todor Zhivkov and the above mentioned Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. I copied this from Wikipedia. What you won't find in Wikipedia is that IPON-1 was one of the numerous "security companies" abundant in the early 1990s and active in intimidation of the nascent private sector. Every businessman had to pay one or another of these companies for security, or trouble followed. The "security personnel" became known as mutras. Before 1990, "mutra" was an informal word for "face", usually an ugly man's face. Later, it became a term for the whole personality of the mutra-possessing racketeer thug. A person I know worked at that time for a company guarded by IPON-1. When Borisov's star rose on the political sky, that person said to me, "How can people like Borisov? Don't they see that he is a mutra?" The same source told me that "he isn't a dull mutra, he knows his business and never puts his signature under a document that may later be used against him". I'm citing this person because I fully trust him. At, you'll find (in Bulgarian) much more outrageous information about Borisov, but I prefer not to cite it, because I cannot guarantee the source is trustworthy. The author has preferred to remain anonimous, which I find more disturbing than anything he reports: apparently, when it comes to Boyko Borisov (similarly to Islam in other countries), free speech exists no more.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha presumably appreciated the security provided by IPON-1, because when he became Prime Minister in 2001, Boyko Borisov returned to the police on a white horse. He became Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and colonel. Next year Borisov was promoted again, to general. As some commented ironically, such a fast climbing up the ranks is usually observed only for active combatants during a war.
In Bulgaria, the Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is the highest-ranking professional in the Ministry responsible for implementing the policy of the Minister (a political and usually non-professional figure) into practical actions. However, the Secretary also has the function to address the public in cases of important events concerning the police. So, if a charismatic and ambitious person occupies this post, there is a danger that, instead of serving the law and order, he will use his position to make himself popular as a stepstone for a future political career. This has happened before with Bogomil Bonev, Secretary in the early 1990s and not too far from winning the 2001 presidential elections (he remained third). Boyko Borisov's performance fitted the same pattern, in an enhanced and much more dangerous variant. In the early 2000s, I watched more TV and had more social contacts than now, so I could see Borisov's tactic and its reflection on ordinary Bulgarians.
Look at Borisov's photo above (copied from; the same photo was used in the recent election campaign for the European Parliament). Though a single static image, it tells much about Borisov and the roots of his popularity. First, this heavily built man with large mandible is very masculine. He is a macho archetype, or as I called him once, a Neanderthalian sex symbol ( Being a heterosexual woman, I can easily detect his powerful primitive sexuality; however, I can even more easily reject its appeal, thanks to the thick layers of culture covering the female animal in my core. But many Bulgarian women yielded to Borisov's charm.
Of course this wouldn't be enough to bring success, because only half of the voters are female. One could expect Borisov's Paleolithic masculinity, while attracting women, to turn jealous men away. Perhaps it would, if they were truly men. But in our not so distant communist past, the omnipresent and intrusive government restrained and protected us in the same time, predictably making us infantile. To give an example, the majority of healthy adult Bulgarians don't regard themselves truly capable to stand on their own feet and provide for themselves, therefore they don't vote right. A party that doesn't promise tons of "social politics" has no chance to win elections in Bulgaria. Deep inside, our adults feel like children left on their own in a complex and cruel world; and Borisov appeared in front of them as a strong and caring Big Brother.
A psychologist said that the appearance and posture of Borisov (e.g. the leaned head) radiates aggression but this only brings him popularity because he is perceived as the good guy who will protect us from the bad guys and beat them up. Indeed, he deliberately makes himself looking aggressive by his three-day beard, short haircut and black leather jacket - the last two characteristics shared by regular participants in street fights. I don't see well how he is dressed in the above photo, but he usually wears the black leather jacket even on occasions when the protocol requires a suit. During his term as a police Secretary, whenever a grave crime occurred, he was quick to arrive at the scene in his jacket (like Batman, as Starshel paper ironized him). Presumably stepping on and damaging pieces of forensic evidence, he was explaining to journalists that the perpetrators would soon be found. The public liked these promises and didn't at all insist that they be kept.
By 2005, he was so popular that Saxe-Coburg-Gotha used him as a bait for voters in the parliamentary elections. Borisov was nominated and elected in two regions but didn't take his position in Parliament and openly admitted that he had taken part in the elections only "for the King's (i.e. Simeon's) sake". I think that in any normal democratic country such a behaviour would put an end to the person's popularity and political career. In Bulgaria, it didn't. Later in the same year, he was elected Mayor of the capital Sofia - the third most important position in the country after the Prime Minister and the President.
A year and a half later, the approval rating of Boyko Borisov remains high in Sofia, though it will be difficult for his supporters to say what actually he has done for the city. I can point at only one major achievement: unraveling of massive theft at the Sofia's heating utility, leading to the indictment of its former head Valentin Dimitrov (nicknamed Valyo the Warmth by journalists after the scandal bursted out). At, you can read (in English) a short report about Dimitrov covering just a small episode of his saga; many millions of Euros with unexplainable origin were found in Dimitrov's accounts in Bulgarian and foreign banks. In Bulgaria, a major cause for the widespread chronic poverty are the "natural" monopolies - the heating, electricity, water and telephone companies that enjoy priviledged law status and rob the population with impunity, charging the hapless client as much as they want. In big cities, poor insulation of most homes and of heating pipes, combined with lack of control over the heating company, leads to average heating bills approaching average salaries. Moreover, once you have heating pipes in your home, you are forced to pay the heating company even if you decide not to use its services and remove all radiators. So it is small wonder that, despite the nearly subtropical climate of Bulgaria, we expect the winter with horror in our hearts - another feature (besides liking people like Borisov) which unites us with the Neanderthals. It is also logical that ordinary people cheered Borisov for exposing Valyo the Warmth. Unfortunately, they forgot to ask why, after the big thief was caught, the heating bills during the following winter were as high as before and even higher. To me, the only explanation is that somebody is stealing again, this time with the blessing of Mayor Borisov.
How will Borisov's career develop now after his May 20 election victory? Nobody knows exactly, but it is surely ascending and I don't like this at all. As my friend said years ago during Bogomil Bonev's campaign, in no real democracy could a person coming from the police be a serious candidate for any important elected position; this is possible only in a police state, or in a nascent democracy wished by too many of its citizens to become a police state. But besides his police background, there are many other reasons not to elect Borisov, as I pointed above. Radio Free Europe rightly called him (during the 2005 municipal election campaign) "a dangerous populist". (BTW, looking for my old post where I had mentioned Borisov in order to cite it, I tried a Google search for Boyko Neanderthal. The search results included a participant in the Sofia News Agency forum saying, "I'm terrified that anyone considers the neanderthal King Mutra Uncle Boyko could hold any post in public life". So the cyberspace contains at least one other person sharing my opinion.)
Somebody could ask, "But comparing Borisov to the other figures in the Bulgarian political panopticum, do you really find him much worse than the others? What actual harm do you expect from his potential rule, keeping in mind that now much of Bulgaria's politics will be determined by the European Union?" The answer: I don't expect Borisov to do much harm to the factual reality in Bulgaria, in the way Prime Minister Zhan Videnov did in 1996-97 (when Bulgaria was deprived of bread and monthly incomes dropped to the equivalent of $ 3-5). But I expect Borisov to harm the miniscule seeds of civil society in Bulgaria, because he wins support by directly engaging the subcortical brain regions and so cultivates stupidity. So his rule will postpone the emergence of true democracy in Bulgaria.
What actually is "true democracy"? It isn't just free and fair elections. It also requires political vote. That is, thinking citizens choosing between alternative programs of political parties. When people's vote is based on the candidate's tribal affiliation or personal charisma, this is not true democracy, even if the elections are free and fair. I won't say that democracy is not good for Bulgarians (or any other nation) because "they are not yet ready for it". This argument belongs to the arsenal of racist bigots and other enemies of civilization. I side with those who say that nations need time and practice to learn democratic rule after obtaining democracy, as individuals need time and practice to learn swimming after they enter the pool. But as years pass, now almost 2 decades since we were thrown into the water of democracy, I sometimes think in despair that we'll never learn to swim properly. At least we don't drown each other during our swimming lessons, as Iraqis do. But this is a pretty low standard to set.


Anonymous said...

Pedantic point perhaps, but "miniscule" should be "minuscule". You come across as a pretty fascistic person, but I do find some of your thoughts stimulating and most of them interesting. If I lived in your household I would probably go through spells of not speaking to you, as well! Keep it up.

Maya M said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

well i think I am living abroad long enough to consider myself capacity on English language, politics and everything you may think. I've been workink as a ground worker for 2 years, and just a little bit as a toilet cleaner. but in USA that's more than anything you do in BUlgaria. am i stupid enough?

Maya M said...

Anonymous, I don't understand the connection, if any, between your comment and my post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Maya! You should disseminate largely your analysis.
And to Anonymous: you are really stuped! And workinG - not K. Having into account that English is not Maya's mother tongue, she is just brilliant. And you better check your spelling. Zara

Paul Dobson said...

Clearly you don't like Borisov. But who do you like? It is not wrong for people to support someone they can identify with and clearly Bulgarians do want a strong man to protect them from the bad men. Former Communists seem to have more integrity these days, than the rampant Capitalists who have given us the gift of this long recession.

Maya M said...

I like an alliance of rightist parties called The Blue Coalition. However, in the present situation, I wouldn't blame too much those Bulgarians who will vote for Borisov in order to remove former Communists from power. I don't share your anti-Capitalist feelings, and I don't understand what you mean by former Communists having "more integrity", but the fact is that we have been ruled by this party for 4 years and are now suffering Third World-like poverty plus infringement of our human and civil rights. This has happened every single time when former Communists have been in power, so I think even Borisov would be the lesser evil.

Bupster said...

Maya, I thought your analysis was really interesting. Is there any evidence linking Borisov with dodgy practices, or is it just one of those things that 'everyone' knows? And what do you think now of the general election results - especially as you were a fan of the Blue Coalition?

Maya M said...

Having a high position at a Bulgarian security company in the 1990s is, by itself, highly indicative of illicit activities and connections with the underground world. My friend who told me about his "business" relationships with Borisov's company is a person whom I trust fully. There are many other allegations about Borisov rolled around in public space - that before 1989 he pursued a career in the communist Secret Services but was turned away, that he was close to the underground boss Madjo etc. I haven't mentioned this things, because I am not aware of solid evidence backing any of them.
About the elections - I am very happy that the coalition ruling Bulgaria from 2005 to 2009 will step down from power. However, I do not harbour very high expectations for a government headed by Borisov. I only hope that at least he will be more careful in the future about what he says in public and will not amuse Europe too often.

Janis said...

Thanks for your article, quite useful piece of writing.