Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Aftermath of the 2007 local elections, part 2: The rightist crisis

This is a sort of a sequel to my Nov. 14 post.
As an anti-Communist and a person unwilling to rely on government for everything, I consider myself a rightist and vote right. Unfortunately, the right part of the political spectrum is in a deep crisis and has been so for years. This is one of the posts I am writing because I "must" write it, not because I enjoy writing it. I am doing it with a heavy heart because it calls grim thoughts about Bulgaria's past and future. To begin with, do you remember the finance minister Plamen Oresharski who during the teachers' strike deliberately protracted the negotiations and called them "village party"? He was at one time in 2003 nominated as a rightist candidate mayor of Sofia. Does this need a comment?
After the one-party Communist rule in Bulgaria ended in 1989, the main rightist political force in Bulgaria has been the Union of the Democratic Forces (Bulg. Sayuz na demokratichnite sili, abbreviated SDS). It did surprisingly good job, considering the fact that it was actually conceived by the Communist Party and the secret services. Most of the time of course SDS has been in opposition. At the parliamentary elections in 1991, it received a little more votes than the Bulgarian Socialist Party and formed a minority government supported by Ahmed Dogan's "Turkish Party" DPS. However, the next summer Pres. Zhelyu Zhelev, who was also from SDS, betrayed his people and called for a campaign to overthrow the government. This campaign was carried out viciously by the media, the trade unions (who organized an endless succession of strikes) and finally by Dogan, who withdrew his support from the government and gave it, as he said himself, "a DPS kick". Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov in late 1992 turned to the Natonal Assembly (the Bulgarian Parliament) for a confidence vote, didn't obtain it and resigned. The media presented it to the public as if Dimitrov had irresponsibly "surrendered the power" himself. Almost nobody broadcasted, heard or remembered Dimitrov's explanation that "you just cannot for more than two months rule a parliamentary republic against the will of the Parliament".
In early 1997, the unprecedented economic crisis created by the Videnov's Socialist government led to widespread riots and midterm elections. They brought to power the second (and so far, last) rightist government in recent Bulgarian history. It had an absolute majority of seats in Parliament to rely upon and did not depend on treacherous allies like Ahmed Dogan. This allowed it to have a full term. I remember it as a reasonably good government. However, it is important to remember that Bulgarians had elected it, as my brother said, "not because of having suddenly become intelligent or freedom-loving but merely because there had remained literally nothing to eat in the country". In other words, Bulgarians dislike good people and sound policies and will vote for them only in rare moments of national disaster. After being rescued from the world of hyperinflation, monthly salaries equivalent to $ 3-4 and bread disappearing from shops, they began to dislike the government. Not that it was perfect, but they disliked its good features and blamed it for them, or for imaginary sins.
The media demonized the government and particularly the Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, leader of SDS. It is strange how people tend to believe what they are told, rather than what they are actually experiencing. This well-known phenomenon underlies commercial advertising, placebo effect and, of course, political propaganda. Showered by every paper and TV channel with assertions how bad the government was, even intelligent people began to talk seriously about a "SDS failure" in governing, without of course explaining what this failure was. President Petar Stoyanov, who was from SDS, betrayed Prime Minister Kostov in a way similar to Pres. Zhelev' betrayal of PM Filip Dimitrov in 1992. When election time approached, voters began to look for some nasty person with quack promises in order to elect him. So in 2001 Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha came out of the blue and won a landslide victory.
Being in opposition isn't very healthy for a political party, at least in Bulgaria. There was a tradition for SDS leaders to resign after losing elections. So Ivan Kostov stepped down and the party leadership was given to Nadezhda Mihaylova, a person with mediocre abilities combined with giant craving for power. In one of my posts about the HIV trial in Libya, I wrote, "Foreign minister in Kostov's government was Nadezhda Mihailova, a lady who did much harm to the Bulgarian democracy (Bulgarian readers know that I don't mean the Libyan case alone). She not only didn't hold to any moral principles, but evidently had too little intellect for the positions she occupied and used this intellect exclusively to enrich her family. Historians will (hopefully) reveal what brought her to the top of Bulgarian politics and kept her there for so long."
As a SDS leader, Mihaylova made too many blunders to list, so I shall mention just the one I find most serious. After priest Stefan Kamberov, supporter of democracy, was beaten to death by two pro-Communist priests in 2002, she took the side of the murderers.
The 2003 local elections were a fiasco for SDS. The party failed to win even in its stronghold, the capital Sofia. According to the tradition, Mihaylova had to resign but she refused. Discontent grew among SDS members and supporters at grass-root level. Activists expelled from the party formed an "association of citizens" called Dialogue. Craftsmen signed an appeal for less government intervention in economy and lower taxes that was published in the Pro & Anti paper. All these people called to Ivan Kostov to leave SDS and to form a new party.
He had no choice but to do it. A new party, Democrats for strong Bulgaria (DSB), was founded. Unfortunately, things went wrong. Ivan Kostov was, and still is, a very strong personality. People like him tend to dominate and not to let other strong personalities around. If such a person is a party leader, he is likely to make the party a leader-type one. That is, even supporters of the party (like me in this case) have difficulties naming distinguished members of the party. Where are the Dialogue people, where are the craftsmen? They have been driven away.
What remained of SDS didn't develop better. Mihaylova clutched to the leader's chair for so long that a journalist and SDS member joked that apparently a NATO operation was needed to remove her. Finally, she resigned. Former President Petar Stoyanov (who had lost the 2001 presidential elections to Georgi Parvanov) took the leadership. And surprisingly, only several months before the local elections Stoyanov was "convinced" to resign and Plamen Yurukov was elected as SDS leader. I know nothing about Yurukov except what I read in The Guerilla's blog. I'll translate almost all of his July 30 post:
"Why SDS has no chance
'I don't remember. When you buy such a thing you immediately forget the price. Pleasure has no prime.' This was the answer of Plamen Yurukov, the new SDS leader, when Express (paper) asked him about the price of his new car Maserati Quattroporte.
In a normal country, such a purchase followed by such a statement means immediate political suicide. In Bulgaria, it means a slow political suicide. In other words, at the next elections SDS will have fewer votes than members."
A commenter wrote, "What's bad in this (answer)? The man has a successful business and has bought himself a nice car." The Guerrilla replied, "If "the man" had answered, 'I have a successful business which is... and the legal profits from it allowed me to buy this car which costs xxxxx leva, then he might have some future as a politician and SDS as a party, but he answered the way he prefered to answer..."
I have nothing to add.
And then, a month before the local elections, DSB and SDS in Sofia formed a coalition and nominated a common candidate mayor. This was good, with one "small" exception - the choice of the candidate.
In the pre-election Oct. 19 post on my Bulgarian blog, I wrote, "I don't truly like any of the candidates. In such a situation you vote for the one who seems the least evil. For Sofia, this is Martin Zaimov. Yes, I know the objections against him. I also don't like his tainted and troubled family history and (as a result) personal biography. I dislike his expensive campaign, his nervous communication style, his magician's posture ("I know everything, I can do everything, I have money for everything"), his desire to be liked by everybody and his refusal to answer unpleasant questions. But for whom (else) to vote?"
There is a rumour that Ivan Kostov was personally responsible for Zaimov's nomination. If this is true, I think Kostov must resign and leave the political landscape for good. I'll even add, as the politically incorrect Bulgarian saying goes, that he deserves a good beating for this.
Why? First, because of Martin Zaimov's origin. He is grandson of Vladimir Zaimov, a general sentenced to death and executed in 1942 for being a Soviet spy - the only Bulgarian general ever convicted of espionage. During the Communist era, Gen. Zaimov was of course regarded as a hero, had an important street and a park in Sofia and other objects named after him. His family members enjoyed privileges. Because in Bulgaria being rightist means first and foremost being anti-Communist, it was a folly to nominate Vladimir Zaimov's grandson as a rightist candidate, especially in Sofia which is an anti-Communist stronghold and where the Zaimovs have lived in front of people's eyes.
Well, you'll say, a person isn't responsible for what his grandfather did. This is a valid point and I tried to make it to my father. But his answer was also valid: "Although such an ancestor isn't your fault, he is a part of your social heritage, and a part that you cannot brush aside. If you are in this position, it is only decent to stay away from politics."
Events that followed proved my father right and me wrong. Martin Zaimov, when asked about his grandfather during the campaign, tried to convince people that the latter actually hadn't been a Soviet spy and his death sentence was a miscarriage of justice. Some "helpful" historians and rightist politicians tried to perpetuate this new version of history, which was perceived by the anti-Communist voters as an additional insult. (Gen. Zaimov's treachery is proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Immediately after his execution, a military ceremony was carried out in the Soviet Union as a tribute to him. The only detail still worth discussion is what was more important for his motivation - his leftist and pro-Russian views or the money he received.)
Martin Zaimov's opponents of course used his mistake well. They not only kept talking about his granddad but used their positions in the Sofia Municipality Council to restore the name of the Vladimir Zaimov park (which had been renamed to Oborishte after 1989). Martin Zaimov was against this change but he lacked solid arguments because he had whitewashed Vladimir Zaimov himself. After all, if the general hadn't really been a traitor, why not name a local landmark after him? Now, the park will carry the traitor's name long after the entire Martin Zaimov's campaign is forgotten!
The family problems don't end with the grandfather but continue into the next generation. Vladimir is the maternal grandfather of Martin. Martin is the son of Vladimir's daughter Klaudia. Then, why does Martin carry the Zaimov family? Maybe in some cultures it is normal to inherit the mother's family but in Bulgaria this indicates troubled family history. Klaudia Zaimova worked in Geneva and met there Martin's father, British journalist Michael Goldsmith. Little is known about this man, Martin and his campaign team avoid talking about him. Martin's Wikipedia page states that "the mother gave her son the well-known Zaimov family". Some inofficial sources, however, say that he used his father's family when this would be beneficial - in some Western and Jewish circles (Goldsmith was a Jew). This is just a rumour but I make a connection with Martin's strange reluctance to show his diplomas - it would be easy to explain if they carry the name of Martin Goldsmith.
Klaudia Zaimova was in Geneva to work for an UN institution. The family was always privileged during the Communist regime. Unfortunately, Martin Zaimov tried to deny this and in his blog said he was a nevazvrashtenets - so were called the people who had left Bulgaria for political reasons and were refusing (and not actually allowed) to return. Martin's British citizenship and family position allowed him to escape the military service mandatory for all non-disabled men of his generation.
I have noticed a long time ago that there are people who bury in secrecy the most basic facts of their life, such as their education and family status, and this is a sure sign that the person doesn't deserve to be trusted. This is quite true for Martin Zaimov, where the uncertainty begins with his name. It continues with his educational degree. He reportedly has studied technology in Sofia and economics in London but refuses to show his diplomas. After former PM Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and other politicians claimed to have degrees they actually hadn't, the Bulgarian voters are understandably reluctant to believe such claims unsupported by documents. I would also add that a person born in Geneva to a Bulgarian and a British parent has the right to enroll as a foreign student in any university in the world, so even if he has graduated, his diploma wouldn't weigh as much as that of the other graduates of the same university. Indeed, he did a good job as a head of the currency board introduced in 1997.
Possibly the most unclear aspect of Zaimov's life is his family status. You can search and compile different sources for a day and you'll still be unable to say how many children Zaimov has from how many women and whether he has ever been married to any of the mothers.
During the election campaign, Zaimov displayed nervousness and communication problems that seemed to be partly inherent to his personality and partly due to the situation - after being pampered and cushioned for all his life, now he was for the first time on his own. This was in stark contrast with the confident stance of his rival Boyko Borisov who has many sins but also the merit of a man building his success himself. Zaimov also made the mistake that Petar Stoyanov had made before him - an attempt to appeal to everybody. He even refused to state what his sexual orientation is, possibly fearing that homosexuals would dislike him if he stresses on his heterosexuality.
The results of Zaimov's nomination were inevitable and disastrous. The rightist Bulgarian voters don't like communist nomenklatura offspring, don't like privileged boys who escape the Army, don't like fathers refusing to marry their children's mothers and don't want to be ruled by people coming from abroad. I was an aide to a strongly anti-Communist disabled voter. He disliked Borisov but voted for him, saying that it was unthinkable for a person with his anti-Communist views and background to vote for Zaimov. This seems to have been the case with many. Borisov received 53% of votes, Zaimov only 18% and a friend of mine (who, like me, had voted for Zaimov) told me that she liked the result because she expected even a worse one! After losing the elections, Zaimov predictably failed to meet his defeat with dignity.
I am afraid that this post became unfair to Zaimov. Most likely he didn't push himself to be a candidate mayor but was convinced by rightist politicians such as Kostov. And if not anything else, we must acknowledge Zaimov's courage to enter and fight a lost battle. I wrote so extensively about (against) him in order to attack not him but the politicians who nominated him. A commenter wrote on my above cited post that "Martin is the greatest disgrace of the rightists". Sadly, this is true.
Indeed, the political stagnation in Bulgaria led to a severe shortage of people fit to be nominated. As Marfa wrote, "campaign teams began literally scraping the bottom of the marsh, hoping to retrieve some not quite unknown life form." And perhaps Martin Zaimov was chosen because of his expertise in finance. After all, some economic and governing expertise is necessary for the mayor of a capital city populated by 1.5 million. Unfortunately, 18 years after democracy was restored, in many fields we still lack experts with non-Communist background!
But more important than expertise is electability. Once elected, a mayor could hire some experts, while an expert disliked by the voters will never make it to the position and so will not have a chance to use his expertise. Perhaps the biggest problem of our rightist politicians is their disrespect to the voters. You cannot neglect and scorn the voters in a democracy without being severely punished by them.
How to save the vital right part of the political spectrum? I am not the only one who thinks that a new party must formed by the few decent current rightist politicians such as the SDS member of Parliament Martin Dimitrov. This party should be open to all citizens with rightist views who now stay aside, alienated and often expelled by the two current parties. Will it come to life? I am pessimistic. In Bulgarian politics, what should happen rarely happens in reality.


Marla said...

"It is strange how people tend to believe what they are told, rather than what they are actually experiencing." This is so true.

Maya M said...

Thank you!