The transition and the integration of Eastern Europe was so problematic that at some point it became inevitable for the West to decide to make a deal with „the real” politicians there – in other words with the communist elites. Let’s not forget that Europe’s engine – Germany – was out of this game, overwhelmed with its own reunification. The US was represented through the international financial institutions which chose to focus on the fiscal and debt issues and not so much on long-term strategy. Their preoccupation was the debt payment moratorium.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 itself, although a logical and planned process, was not preceded by too many years of building a stable alternative in Bulgaria – an opposition capable of creating and defending its authentic alternativeness; of proving its capacity to win elections and govern the country.
The conditions for fair and democratic elections were simply non-existent. Not saying that there hasn’t been any opposition, but rather that there was a deficiency of a critical mass for a home-grown alternative, which could’ve shaped the transition model around.
The few proven democrats and anticommunists were either marginalized by media silence or associated by the classics for controlling minorities – the carrot and the stick methods. Few of them were awarded relatively high political posts but with no real power.
The prevailing part of the Western political elite wasn’t looking for confrontation with Russia, it wasn’t eager to “defeat” neither Elzin nor Gorbachev. For the Western leaders they were mere partners. The people in power during the transition in Bulgaria were either appointed or approved by Moscow.
This is how a geopolitical screen was set for the nomenclature, allowing it to create its own version of the transition.
The Loukanov-Lilov offer was accepted and ever since then, the transition in Bulgaria has been developing in accordance to the concepts created in the early 90s.
As history never fits perfectly into the preconceived plan, certain events happened outside the matrix, but they rather concern the periphery and not the core issues.
In the end the status quo always won.
Today the compatibility of this model with the actual development needs has reached its limits. The “scriptwriters” are looking to strike another deal with the West. The only new thing is after all these years of transition is that the successors of the clans of Loukanov-Lilov and Zhivkov reached a modus vivendi with the sole purpose of retaining their power and positions. The nomenclature, although significantly refreshed, partly democratized and with new faces is still experiencing the same existential challenges, as in the late 80s, how to adapt to the new realities and time demands.
Corruption and oligarchy are just two ugly parts which stand out of the superstructure of this model. There are many layers beyond what is visible – from the criminal underworld to the “white collars” elite within which the fate of the nation is decided.
We have reached a point in our historical development, where the Loukanov transition model is no longer capable of securing adequate social and economic balance. There is a need to renegotiate with the West an upgrade reflecting the current parameters of the advanced integration within the EU and NATO.
Nobody could have predicted that Russia and the West would become opponents again.
In this divisive time, the Bulgarian ruling elite is struggling to find the middle ground.
That explains why Russia and its proxies in Bulgaria are closely watching every crisis in the EU, including Brexit with such fervor. The prospect for limiting supranational powers in Brussels is most exciting to them. The “scriptwriters” are trying to limit the interference of EU and NATO into Bulgaria’s “internal affairs”, notably when such an intrusion is threatening their ties with Moscow. This is a copycat reaction of almost all nationalists in Europe sympathizing with Kremlin drive to halt or reverse the transfer of national to pan-European governance, thereby restoring the supremacy of bilateral agreements. Northern Stream – 2 is a precise example of this.
The motivation of these people is very trivial – power and distribution of resources is their concern. For them the use of the EU membership is going to run out when the euro funds stop in 2020 and that’s why they’re trying to negotiate back their autonomy.
Another visibly strategic part of new governing model is the attempt to divide “global” Bulgarians from “territorial Bulgarians. The initial version of the Loukanov-Lilov model was working quite well namely because of the emigration outflows and the disengagement of almost 3 million people from the political process.
To gain political control in Bulgaria, one must today receive less than 20% of all potential votes!
Through The Movement for Rights and Freedoms the model exerted a control mechanism over key ethnical minorities. Today this system is challenged by the rise of DRFT (DOST), which has triggered a sudden need to control and mobilize other political minorities – the radical and nationalists from PF and Ataka.
Today the Scriptwriters are waiting again for the West to retreat from the non-interference zones – like the judicial reform, the anti-corruption drive, the control over the media and most certainly– the electoral code.
As it got harder to ignore the votes of almost 2 million Bulgarians who supported the inclusion of emigrants in the electoral and political process with the electronic or Internet voting, the guardians had to try and overtake the process and resort to referendums as a identifiable democratic instrument. In the meantime, they succeeded to “kill with silence” easier and accessible voting methods, like the voting by post, which has turned around elections in many countries with significant emigrant community.
The problem the scriptwriters and the directors of the transition process need to solve today is how to renegotiate with the West the original deal in a new “Yalta” type mode and reclaim lost grounds and control perimeter of independence from the EU and NATO monitoring systems. This new deal is not very different from the old one from the 90s.
It’s all about reallocation of spheres of influence between the nomenclature and West in three zones:
a/ zone of exclusive control of the local establishment, where the West may not interfere
b/ zone of shared control and
c/ zone under the direct or predominant control of the EU and the West as a whole.
The first zone includes the right of local politicians and oligarchs to conduct their business as usual, allowing them to operate the way they find appropriate. This includes corruption schemes with public finances, “strategic deals” with third party partners (mainly Russia) and certain domestic projects where EU rules for EU funding are not dominant. The media and the judiciary (which guarantee impunity), the energy sector (allowing for a certain level of shared control, the fuels’ segment is entirely out of external control) – all examples of areas where the nomenclature can expect very little or no interference from the West in Bulgaria “internal affairs”.
The zone of shared control is the financial and economic sector – we have both Bulgarian and foreign banks, but there is no real competition in the financial and capital market. Proofs of this “shared” interest and benefits are interest rate differentials for credits between Bulgarian and European banks.
The local scriptwriters are desperately fighting for control over the savings and cash flow of companies and private persons, and resources in general generated in the public sector. The control over the financial and banking sector is continuing to elude the local nomenclature, especially after the “nuclear” self-inflicted blow with in the CCB case. Mostly due to growing debt levels and dependence on external financial and capital markets, which is inevitable.
In some economic sectors the two-switch system performs rather well, but usually the local political and business elite manage to set such standards and procedures that practically enables them to control the value chain and the process on a “who needs to know” and “who needs to profit” basis. The fact that a hundred odd companies control 80% of the assets in the economy and a similar percentage of the euro funds, is clearly illustrating the level of concentration of power in Bulgaria.
Such a model unavoidably leads to social divisions setting the stage for a social turmoil. The only reason this hasn’t happened yet is the escape valve of migration and the cross border options that allow individuals and companies to migrate virtually.
The third zone is under the dominant control of the West – EU and NATO. Such are the integrated spheres of politics and finance, the dynamics of which are highly dependent on global and EU/NATO level processes. We already mentioned the link to capital and financial markets beyond the control of the local scriptwriters. The defense and security sectors (at least in the military sphere) are also slipping out of domestic control. That explains the anti-globalization and anti-NATO/EU drive, disguised as protests against the modernization and increased budget spending for the army. Meanwhile the internal security domain is also gradually shifting away from one of a shared control to a zone of prevalent external input as security becomes EU and globally indivisible and interdependent.
This is what explains the fierce resistance against reform in the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Judicial council and the security sector in general. Till now the security and intelligence apparatus used to serve political expediency within strictly defined perimeter of influence reserved for the scriptwriters. The epic battle against the opening up of the secret files of the former State Security didn’t bring any significant “clearance” as it was perceived as endangering the control of the directors of the transition, who managed to create duplicate networks that replaced the totalitarian ones and remained undetectable for the public radar when searched with the key word “State Security” affiliation.
The special security services are in a constantly changing state of mobility between the zones of internal, external and shared control, but most of the time they remain unevenly and disharmoniously integrated both at local and on transnational institutional level.
Till now the ‘directors’ were successful using their local “key” to the lock of control. In the first instance via cadre appointment, then using external control levers – prosecution, finances, banks, media, control over areas of power and resource deficits and last but not least via the carrot and stick mechanism.
I often use the classic example of the casual relationship between the privatization of the public services and the blockage in the public sector essential systems. In order to secure workplaces and wages for private sector security employed, it was of crucial importance to “turn off” the public system for law enforcement. Stressed and security deficient people were left with no option but to protect their property and rights engaging existing in parallel private sector services.
To guarantee the ‘success’ of the private bus travel business the Transition Directors had to “cripple” the public alternative – the railways.
And where the public transport has no alternative – for example the subway – you only need to control the budget and the financial flows by keeping them off the eye of public scrutiny. Higher transport tickers prices, under the circumstance, came as a natural follow up.
This is how it works – you want to control the taxis, then you need to chase and ban Uber. If one wants to build a hospital – you need to clear the project with the people who hold the assets in healthcare. One can’t even build a private cemetery within a competitive and publicly accessible regime.
If one looks at how many spheres that are supposed to be competitive and market driven are actually on manual control, with the state in captivity and customers without free choice, one well most certainly ask – what kind of regime are we really living in?.
It’s not surprising that radical nationalism emerged and has ever since floated on the surface like a life vest for the status quo holders. No surprise narrow minded economic nationalism has stalled the liberalization of the energy market as well as the diversification of the energy imports.
The transition model scriptwriters skillfully use the external threats at present – refugees, terrorism, hybrid war, cyber crime and organized crime. The intelligence report alleging that foreign services have tried to buy Bulgarian energy companies and media is yet another proof. If you think perpetrators have really failed – you are dead wrong. One would hardly find in the report find anything on the ‘successful’ hits – the Bulgarian Telecom and the Corporate Commercial Bank.
This is the background against which the scriptwriters try to sell to West their new, updated version of the Loukanov-Lilov model, bundled with the mantra that they are the only ones that can handle the Russian threat. They further preach that the Russian intrusion and hybrid warfare must be neutralized by local nationalism.
If the West agrees and accepts to legitimize the new version of the old model, the local politicians will acquire total control over the development of the country for a couple of generations ahead. The idea that the West has to compromise with the need of a grand coalition or participation of nationalists in the government (a Bulgarian Orban!?) might sound tempting, but could be very manipulative.
The updated version’s emissaries are touring and discussing this template with their hosts in Brussels, Washington and Berlin. The message goes: “If you want Bulgaria to be stable and to remain in EU and NATO, you would have to agree to autonomous zones for Bulgarian politicians”.
The truth is that the Bulgarian nationalism is generic to the Russian one, which is incompatible with EU and NATO membership. For the West to agree to the script offering separate track to Russia for the political and especially to the business oligarchic level will effectively block the ability of Bulgaria to meet its obligations towards the common security policy of the EU and NATO and to create a stable and positive scenario for social development.
The majority of the Bulgarian political elite hopes that the West will close its eyes for the true „features” of the transition model. Its newest version would be just as comfortable for the Kremlin inhabitants as it’s going to preserve the Russia’s grip at a time of growing political and financial deficiencies at home and to open space for the local pro-Russian politicians to bring back to surface joint projects and label them as Bulgarian – the South Stream topping the list.
The new Bulgarian mini-“Yalta” will undoubtedly doom us to autarchy and authoritarianism.
Not sure whether the transition managers will not succeed again.
Do you see a visible alternative or a genuine and substantial public debate?
Imagine you are in the shoes of the leaders in the EU and NATO, considering their policy options towards Bulgaria. You are facing regional instability as the EU is being hit by constant quakes – economy, finances, migration, Brexit etc. All these draining your resources as your time runs out in search of internally and internationally balanced solutions. As principled as you are, at some point you will face a tipping point thinking in a completely pragmatic fashion: “These people aren’t perfect, but they are the best option we have”. Very much in line with what happened in the early 90s.
This is the short cut leading the Bulgarians back to the routine state of pessimism and fatality.
The only difference is that in those day Bulgaria was not part of the West. In those days the EU and the US could simply chose to stay away and remotely direct the processes with no need to engage closely.
In 2016 however remote control is impossible.
The stakes and the risks for the European and the transatlantic security are so evident, inseparable and direct that remote monitoring and benign neglect are just not going to work.