Editorials

Looking for support at home, Bulgaria’s far right openly reaches out to Russia

A woman walks past an election poster for Revival party leader Kostadin Kostadinov in Sofia, Bulgaria, 28 September 2022
© EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV   |   A woman walks past an election poster for Revival party leader Kostadin Kostadinov in Sofia, Bulgaria, 28 September 2022

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Bulgaria’s pro-Russian far-right has been increasingly vocal and provocative, as it tries to take advantage of tensions within the pro-European, pro-Ukraine ruling coalition.

Revival’s defying February: courting Moldova’s pro-Russians, a visit to Moscow, and mocking Navalny’s commemoration

On Monday, Bulgaria’s most prominent pro-Kremlin and Eurosceptic party ‘Revival’ travelled to Chisinau to meet with the Bessarabian Bulgarian community and sign a partnership agreement with the party bearing the same name and ideological affiliation in Moldova. Moldovan ‘Revival’ was established by former members of the pro-Russian Party of Communists, and at some point was led by former Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, who is of Bulgarian origin. Moldova’s ‘Revival’ party has been connected to the “Șor” Party, which was banned by the Moldovan Constitutional Court for the actions it undertook against the country’s sovereignty; Șor people were connected to an alleged Russian plan, revealed one year ago, to organise a coup d’etat in Moldova

“After we found out we have common enemies and common problems, we decided that we also have to coordinate our actions”, party leader Kostadin Kostadinov wrote on Tuesday, also noting that Moldova’s Revival has a presence in the parliament and “protects the independent development of its Motherland and is against any foreign influences in the country’s interior politics.”

The newfound trust between the two Revival parties occurred as some in Moldova worry that a military scenario resulting in breakaway region Transnistria’s annexation might be triggered. Also, as Chișinău is about to start its EU accession negotiations, there’s an increased pro-Russian, separatist buzz in Moldova’s Gagauz Autonomos Region; the Gagauz are known to have a close relationship to the Bulgarian minority in Moldova. 

It is worth noting that the Kremlin has long been interested in fostering tensions between Ukraine and Moldova and their respective Bulgarian minorities and to keep the latter close to Russian narratives. As journalist Dimitar Kenarov explained in a 2022 Veridica investigation: “Locals in Bessarabia still view Russia as the Soviet Union, a multinational entity that has some protective power rather than what Russia currently is.”

Bulgarian Revival’s presence in Moldova was not their only recent international spell.

On February 19, representatives of the party travelled to Moscow to meet with Putin’s ‘United Russia’ party. Upon their return in Sofia, the delegation members explained that they’ve been part of a “forum against neo-colonialism” and possibilities for “Bulgarian diplomats to be educated for free” in Russia.

There were some provocations in Bulgaria as well. On February 21, Kostadinov published a photo of him in Bulgaria’s parliament reading the Rosisskaya Gazeta newspaper, which was featuring the headline “Avdiika is ours”, referring to the withdrawal of Ukraine troops from the small town, now turned symbolic of the battles between the two armies. In the same photo, ‘We Continue the Change’ leader Kiril Petkov, who during his short stint as a PM in 2021 - 2022 challenged Russian espionage by mass expulsion of diplomats designated as agents, is reading a tribute to the memory of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, whose death had touched many in Bulgaria and was followed by a vigil and a protest near the Russian embassy in Sofia.

Revival is trying to exploit newfound tensions in the ruling coalition

The political leanings of Revival are nothing new. Russian flags often have presence on the party’s protest events, and the Russian ambassador once described the party as the only one who cares about Bulgaria, all while Kostadinov has tried to copy & paste some of the Russia practices, like proposing a law to designate critical journalists as foreign agents. The party has also been critical to amendments dealing with improving human rights.

Much like in the case of other pro-Russia entities - such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the now-faded Bulgarian Rise - the Kremlin influences can be traced through the attitude and the actions of the party, the promise of neutrality and instilling fear of identity erasure, rather than clear and outspoken support for Putin’s regime.

For years after its founding in 2014, Revival (in Bulgarian - Възраждане, sometimes also translated as Upheaval, a reference to Bulgaria’s awakening as a nation while under Ottoman rule in XVIII and XIX century) was a marginal presence in the local politics, with leader Kostadinov regarded as a drifter between the country’s  nationalist parties. Amid the 2021-2022 election cycle, the beginning of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine and the unrest around the COVID-19 related health measures, Revival found a fertile soil and entered the parliament in November 2021, gaining better results in each of the next election rounds. During the last elections, the party managed to come in third, with 14.6% of the popular vote. However, despite occasional closeness to the Socialist Party and soft on Moscow President Rumen Radev, Revival is rather isolated in the parliament.

The bolder attitude comes against the background of Defence Minister Todor Tagarev adamant pro-Ukraine position and efforts to speed up the long-delayed delivery of military aid, and Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov’s visit to Kyiv and meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (who has himself visited Sofia in 2022). In his latest statements, Denkov has said that a new bilateral agreement between Bulgaria and Ukraine would be signed soon.

Also, Revival is likely trying to exploit the newfound tensions in the ruling coalition, which is going through a planned rotation. These tensions are unlikely to boil into a breaking of the coalition and a return of the snap elections cycle, but nonetheless, Revival and other Bulgarian parties are already in campaigning mode and searching for ways to motivate their electorate, hungry for quick promises.

This is a hefty reminder that in moments when the stability of the country is at risk, as fragile as that stability is, anti-West sentiments increase as a reaction and might find the perfect storm to blossom.

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Svetoslav Todorov

Svetoslav Todorov




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