2024: The year of the "Great Reset"?

Bulgaria’s Political Scene Rocked By a Tik-Toking Bomb

The leader of GERB party Boyko Borissov speaks during the first news conference after winning elections, in Sofia, Bulgaria, 13 June 2024.
© EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV   |   The leader of GERB party Boiko Borissov speaks during the first news conference after winning elections, in Sofia, Bulgaria, 13 June 2024.

Holzstock Festival

Against the backdrop of voter fatigue, Bulgaria’s latest elections saw the rise of a new nationalist party, “Greatness”, while Boiko Borissov’s GERB maintained its ascending trend.

Only about a third of Bulgaria’s voters showed up to cast their ballots – 33.4% for the country’s Parliament, elected for the 6th time in three years, and 33.8% for the European Parliament. Both elections were won by GERB, which has survived a phase of turbulence and is now on a comeback trail.

The next parliament will see three parties which have dabbled with pro-Kremlin propaganda: far-right nationalists ‘Revival’, left-wing leaders Bulgarian Socialist Party and debutants ‘Greatness’ who threw the biggest surprise on the election night: after not being indicated on any opinion poll and with an almost non-existing campaign in public or in the media, the party, rather unknown to the general public, took 4.07 % (81,000 votes), with visible support from diaspora voters abroad.

Low profile grass-root level campaigning gets murky nationalist new-comers to Parliament

‘Velichie’ (the name can be translated as ‘Greatness’ or ‘Splendour’) is a party initiated in 2023 from the circle of shareholders and supporters of the controversial touristic site ‘Historical Park’ in the village of Neofit Rilski, near Varna, which opened in 2019. The two main public figures behind the movement are co-founder Ivelin Mihaylov (along with his wife and other associates) and former National Security expert Nickolay Markov. Now the two are acting as party co-leaders.

Since 2020, the Historical Park project has been described as a Ponzi scheme in a series of articles by the local Capital weekly newspaper and journalist Yoan Zapryanov, as well as Dnevnik.bg and journalist Spas Spassov. The articles have also focused on the entrepreneurs buying property en masse in the village, sometimes through threats (an independent source confirmed to Veridica that people close to Historical Park and the party have repeatedly approached locals about buying out their houses).

Latest investigations have connected the site to initiating paramilitary training and given the ideological affiliations of the party, it has raised national security concerns. On May 27, the Ministry of Interior and the State Security probed ‘Historical Park’ for potential financial wrongdoings and unregulated acquiring of weapons. On June 11, Bulgaria’s National Revenue Agency also started a probe on Mihaylov for potential tax evasion (Mihaylov is connected to over 40 firms according to the national trade registry).

The party, with no clear positioning on the right/left spectrum but leaning towards nationalist, pro-Russia, EU-sceptic and conspirative agenda, was not mentioned in any of the opinion polls and had a campaign largely relying on YouTube, Tik-Tok and Telegram content.

And ‘Greatness’ is actually great at it: at the time of writing, the party has over 8,000 followers on Tik-Tok, with nearly one thousand new ones over the last few days. In comparison, GERB has little over 3,000.

In comparison to most parties and traditional media, the party has also a sizable following on Telegram - over 3,000, a few hundred more since the elections. The team has also developed an ecosystem of different channels referring to each other: the profiles of Historical Park, the Greatness party, associated newspaper Krasivo Vetrino (Beautiful Vetrino, referring to the local municipality town Vetrino, with over 3,300 readers on Telegram and free distribution on paper) and the Together foundation, focused on self-improvement workshops, often featuring talks by Mihaylov who is also remarkably active on his personal socials and on YouTube.

Those who have covered their activities note that the party is trying to highlight something different in comparison to other nationalist parties: framing the Bulgarian identity as a superior, holding an almost exceptional and spiritual quality. As an example, in one of their recent Instagram posts, the party posted a painting of Khan Kubrat and his sons (one of them was Khan Asparuh, founder of the First Bulgarian Empire), along with the words: “Once upon a time, during the time of our great rulers, there were no reds, greys, leftists, rightists or anyone obeying to foreign powers. We were only Bulgarian. We were strong, bending empires! It’s time to become a nation again, to become brothers and sisters, so Bulgaria can prevail”.

Party’s slogan is “from dust to the Sun”, again signifying the dire state of the country and the possible channelling to something grander.

All of this unleashed a wave of reactions in local media and the ‘Greatness’ leaders gave their first major interviews in the days after June 9. They criticised the media and the analysts for continuously underestimating them, insinuating that their numbers are actually higher.

Although some see ‘Greatness’ as a copycat of main pro-Russia far-righters – ‘Revival’ (much like Revival, the founders of ‘Greatness’ found popularity through anti-vax statements in 2020-2021), the two parties so far have shown only hostility towards each other. ‘Revival’ even stated that ‘Greatness’ is an “American project” aimed at ruining their following.

In his first post-election comments, Mihaylov clarified that “the biggest difference between us and Revival is that they want Bulgaria to be on Russia’s side, while we’re promoting neutrality.” He also denied reports that his touristic site develops paramilitary training or that his business is a financial pyramid; previously, through the party’s socials and newspapers, critics of Historical Park were often mocked or verbally attacked.

The leaders did not appear on any traditional advertisements and kept close to their own. A Veridica source said that they’ve never read about ‘Greatness’ in the media but found out about their activity through a recommendation, days before June 9: “Two weeks ago a colleague at work said that there are promising new people running. So I got invited on a Viber channel but suddenly there was this nationalist stuff, something about Russia…I logged off.” On Viber, ‘Greatness’ has over 26 thousand subscribers.

Bulgaria’s absentee majority: just apathetic, or waiting for a political Messiah?

Tense weeks lie ahead for Bulgaria’s political parties. Coalition talks are expected to start on Monday but so far there are little signs on how GERB will capitalise on its victory. As Veridica explained in April, GERB are in a position for a full bloodied comeback as partners Movement for Rights and Freedoms, another force with a pro-EU centre-right profile but longtime tied in corruption allegations, came in second.

One more party hungry for power is left to fill the puzzle and eyes are on There’s Such a People, which started in opposition but in the last two years have gradually moved closer into Borissov’s orbit (mainly by being instrumental in bringing down the reformist coalition they were part of in 2022). Movement for Rights and Freedoms and There’s Such a People are also the only parties who have been experiencing an increase of voter turnout in comparison to the April 2023 elections.

At the same time, the affiliations of the nearly 70% of Bulgarians not voting remain a mystery: are they entirely apathetic to the process or it’s a mass that would support a more viable candidate if they feel someone is finally addressing them in the right way?

The only factor that has the potential to give a boost is likely a new major player: speculations that the soft-on-Kremlin President Rumen Radev might at some point start his own political project have been gaining foothold despite no official word from him on the matter. If such an ambition becomes a fact, his party would likely be in line with “Greatness” and “Revival”, given Radev’s more pronouncedly nationalist statement in recent times, especially after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine.

EBOOK> Razboi si propaganda: O cronologie a conflictului ruso-ucrainean

EBOOK>Razboiul lui Putin cu lumea libera: Propaganda, dezinformare, fake news

Svetoslav Todorov

Svetoslav Todorov




Follow us on Google News

5 minutes read
The far-right drinks to its victory in the EU, but the EU has other problems to attend to
The far-right drinks to its victory in the EU, but the EU has other problems to attend to

The rise of the far-right in certain EU Member States will be of little consequence in the coming years, as the European Parliament and the European Commission remain under the influence of center factions. New movements are likely to emerge in the long-term that might change the configuration of the EU.

Iulian Comănescu
Iulian Comănescu
10 Jun 2024
The apparent serenity of the European elections and the storm after
The apparent serenity of the European elections and the storm after

The European Commission will probably be formed according to the consensus reached by the center of European politics – People’s Party, the Socialists and ALDE/Renew - but it will confirm Europe's turn to the right.

Iulian Comănescu
Iulian Comănescu
06 Jun 2024
Three Takeaways from Bulgaria’s Upcoming Double Trouble Election
Three Takeaways from Bulgaria’s Upcoming Double Trouble Election

Former prime-minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party is tipped to win Bulgaria’s split election. But amid an expected low voter turnout, pro-Russian parties are seeking a moment.

Svetoslav Todorov
Svetoslav Todorov
31 May 2024
The Romanian lists for the European Parliament elections, a rather depressing picture
The Romanian lists for the European Parliament elections, a rather depressing picture

The lists, dominated by MEPs standing out for absenteeism and "awarded" for anti-performance and newcomers who rely on scandals and TV notoriety.

Iulian Comănescu
Iulian Comănescu
07 May 2024