Sergei Stanishev, Georgi Purvanov (right foreground)
Photo: Nadezhda Chipeva
The image of Sergei Stanishev and Georgi Purvanov was one that captivated observers of the guerrilla warfare between the two for the leadership of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
Placed in front-row seats in a hall in Sofia’s Krasno Selo neighbourhood, it was both a reminder of how often they had been photographed in each other’s company for more than a decade, from the time when Stanishev was Purvanov’s protégé, through the years after Stanishev became party leader – and for four years, prime minister – while Purvanov occupied the supposedly apolitical office of head of state.
Since Purvanov came to the end of the final of his two terms as Bulgaria’s President, relations have become clearly estranged as Purvanov confirmed what had been clear for some time – that he wanted his old chair back as leader of the BSP.
Conducted largely through the media, with Purvanov making himself available for any number of post-presidential interviews and with the media office of georgiparvanov.bg emitting regular advisories about his appearances, the battle has been an odd one in some respects.
This is largely because in their policy positions, there has been little if nothing to distinguish between them.
The two major issues in the Stanishev – Purvanov bout have been the cancellation by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB government of the Belene nuclear power project, and the relationship between the BSP and GERB.
On Belene, both Stanishev and Purvanov have vowed that should their party return to power, Belene would be restarted. Both have sought to own the campaign to do so, and both have subtly derided each other’s efforts.
Stanishev attempted a motion of no confidence in Borissov’s Government on the Belene project cancellation. Initially, no party backed him except Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka, but then Ataka reversed itself and the motion collapsed without even being debated.
With his lance snapped even before reaching the windmill, Stanishev darkly hinted that Siderov and his cohorts had been bought off.
But Purvanov has ended up, so far, with little to boast of either. A petition signature-gathering event drew 200 signatures, about the same size of the crowd that turned out for it. In a country of 7.3 million where some polls claim that most Bulgarians strongly favour the continuation of Belene (other polls claim the diametric opposite), it was hardly the mass movement that the socialists like to hint that they can bring into the streets at any time.
This did not stop Purvanov deriding Stanishev’s own efforts at gathering support for a national referendum on Belene as rather flaccid.
The issue of a socialist government resuscitating Belene rides, of course, on them actually winning an election. Bulgarians are scheduled to go to the polls to elect a new National Assembly, the country’s unicameral Parliament, some time in 2013, likely somewhere between late summer and autumn.
On average, most polls show the ruling party as having maintained electoral support at about 30 per cent over the past year – a slight decline compared to the 2009 support that enabled GERB to form a minority government.
At the same time, the socialists, who spent long months in the political doldrums at about 13 per cent, have increased their support by about two per cent in the past 12 months, to just less than 18 per cent.
Hardly a shining achievement for Stanishev (and no cause for complacency, given the competition that could emerge from all parties depending on what emerges from the possibility of a political formation centered around former European commissioner Meglena Kouneva), but the slight gain makes it difficult for Purvanov to portray Stanishev as presiding solely over failure.
That latter charge, however, is not without substance. Since 2009, Stanishev’s party has lost all elections, whether parliamentary, presidential, municipal or European parliamentary.
The former prime minister has been left to carp ineffectually at Borissov. In Krasno Selo, he told his party colleagues that GERB’s legacy, especially if it was re-elected in 2013, would be an empty treasury and soaring social tensions.
Which brings us back to the BSP’s relations with the Borissov Government. Purvanov has hinted that the Stanishev-led party was insufficiently strident in its objections when Borissov threatened to have Purvanov impeached.
Picking up a theme that has been emanating from the Stanishev camp for some time, Roumen Ovcharov – a former cabinet minister in the Stanishev administration and one of the most influential figures in the party – said in early April that should Purvanov be elected party leader, the trend of the former president’s "political development" would inevitably lead to a socialist-GERB coalition.
The Stanishev camp also has revived bitter memories of the "civil association" that Purvanov founded while he was still President, ABV. At Krasno Selo, local leader Petar Apostolov – in a strongly-applauded speech – derided what he called the "quasi-political structure" as having been divisive.
Purvanov told the Krasno Selo event that the socialists should be aiming for nothing less than a landslide victory over GERB in 2013. Stanishev did not hear these words spoken because he absented himself to go to the memorial service for late actor Naum Shopov.
Purvanov had, however, heard what the current leader had to say about his vision for Bulgaria – one of re-industrialisation, modernised agriculture and the revival of a welfare state.
In line with his approach of studied contempt towards all his political rivals, Borissov said that the Stanishev – Purvanov tussle amused him (in 2011, after Siderov’s Ataka withdrew its support for the GERB Government, Borissov, with a carefully-composed air of leaden boredom, said that for some time he had not bothered to pay attention to what Siderov’s party was up to).
The 48th congress of the Bulgarian Socialist Party meets in the cavernous hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture, NDK, on May 19 and 20.
Before he stepped down as President, Purvanov said he looked forward to returning to a party meeting and "taking a seat in the corner". Who sits where, ultimately, will be decided before the end of May 20. All that is certain is that the old image of Stanishev and Purvanov side-by-side is becoming rarer, and headed for probable extinction.
Even the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s customary ally, Ahmed Dogan’s MRF, will not support the motion of no confidence in the Borissov Cabinet, leaving Ataka as the only other party that will back the motion.
In a series of interviews, Sergei Stanishev has been critical of the outgoing President and former BSP chief and has decried Purvanov’s hints that the party needs a new leader who is neither Stanishev nor himself.
My collision with Borissov is yet to come, the former Bulgarian Socialist Party leader says, but equivocates on the questions of whether he aims at becoming Prime Minister or resuming the leadership of the socialist party.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his spouse Margarita opened a new heating and insulation system at the Tsar Ferdinand Hospital for Pulmonary Diseases in Iskrets, a project implemented thanks to the Embassy of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Sofia and the Nando Peretti Foundation.
According to the law's provisions, the commission will have the power to investigate individuals without prior notification and would not require a criminal conviction in order to launch an investigation.
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