Boyko Borissov, the populist leader of Bulgaria, is facing a popular revolt that will not go away. For more than two months now, thousands of Bulgarians have taken to the streets of Sofia to demand his resignation. They are decrying the government’s failure to address rampant corruption, the influence of organized crime and the absence of basic standards of democracy, former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, James Pardew writes for Politico.
Borissov and his acolytes have responded to the mass show of discontent by clinging more firmly to power. Faced with a lack of progress despite weeks of relentless pressure, it is high time that Europe makes it clear that it stands by the people of Bulgaria and their plea for real democracy, and takes concrete steps to help them achieve that goal. Bulgaria has a superficial image of a democratic nation, but in reality, its political and judicial structure is rotten at its core, writes Pardew in his analysis.
The former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria says that since the country adopted a parliamentary democracy in 1991, political parties, movements and governments have come and gone while ignoring public expectations on the basic elements of democracy. Under the Borissov government, the situation has gotten much worse.
Borissov created a system with many of the hallmarks of a one-party state. He has effectively destroyed the country’s political opposition through the widespread use of intimidation, local corruption and alleged vote-buying on a massive level in communities. The ruling party — the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) Party — have gradually consolidated power at the expense of democracy and development, he said, adding that although Borissov likes to present himself as a populist, his methods are authoritarian.
According to him the police and judicial system are largely controlled by Borissov and GERB.
This is a system made for corruption on a massive scale. As the demonstrators know, it is also a system that stifles individual initiative, muzzles the press and discourages foreign investment. It encourages young Bulgarians to leave their country to find their future in more open, democratic societies elsewhere, he writes in his analysis for Politico.
Moreover, he says that Europe, if it cares about the protection of democracy, now has to take a leading role in supporting their demands for change.
According to him, unfortunately, Washington will be of no help on improving democracy in Bulgaria as long as Donald Trump is in the White House. The U.S. president has shown no interest in promoting democracy during his administration and that is unlikely to change as the U.S. election approaches.
In the short run, European nations and the EU should recognize the legitimacy of the public demonstrations in Bulgaria and the weaknesses of democracy in the nation. As a second step, the EU should announce that it will conduct an intensive investigation of the use of EU funding in Bulgaria and that it will impose legal referrals and penalties. A third step should include election monitoring, a review of freedom of the press and proposals to implement judicial reform in Bulgaria, writes the former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria.