The week: GERB makes a comeback

The week: GERB makes a comeback

The return of Borissov, Saudis eye a telecom & TV channel and the Missing Cryptoqueen’s drug lord

© Dimitar Markov

So here we are, on the verge of new elections: the 8th in 3 years. At this point, some might say, it is becoming a national pastime, rather than an exercise in civic duty.

Even by the abysmal standards of recent years, it has been a dirty, sleazy and dull campaign. I won't go into the details (money claims, recordings, kompromats and a very strange dog) because it seems to me something more important is at stake.

This will be, in my opinion, a different election from the others, in one crucial respect. GERB and their icon - Boyko Borissov, will be back.

Yes, I know they won other elections in the meantime. But for a long time after the protests of 2020 they were ostracized and unable to form a government. No one wanted to touch GERB with a bargepole and Borissov knew if he was to ever get in power again, he needed to bargain from a weak position. That's exactly what happened the last time: GERB gave their support to the second party We Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria, even though they nominally had only one person in the cabinet.

Those 9 months effectively normalized GERB and allowed Borissov to do two things: become the dominant voice in the conversation once more and officialize his relationship with Delyan Peevski. The narrative moved from "they are the face of corruption, authoritarianism and nepotism" to "they are just another party to work with". This is helped by the fact that EU elections are also being held. Last Sunday, here in Plovdiv, Ursula von der Leyen arrived to hug Borissov and declare that "we want to write together the next chapter in our successful history".

That's a huge difference.

First, because it will make it easier for Borissov to form a cabinet. The latest polls show a handful of smaller parties could enter Parliament: There is such a People and the new Blue Bulgaria (fueled by the discontent of central Sofia's old conservative constituency) can bring the tally over the threshold.

But second, and more important: because it will show the survivability of the political model GERB built. Back in 2020, when people were demonstrating all over Bulgaria to demand a stop to corruption, it suddenly seemed like an era had ended. It was a breath of fresh air, a deep, primal desire to live free, not to be constrained by the whims of several power-brokers and pay ransom to a caste that had captured the country. Everyone knew the model was vicious, and regardless of what they thought should come next, they agreed something had to change.

Four years later, it seems like this inertia has reached its dying gasps. It was always going to be difficult to change a system, created in the space of a decade and populated by loyal soldiers of Borissov. Yet no one imagined it would be this messy and chaotic and of course, no one thought it would happen during a war in the region. And through it all, GERB survived and is back on top.

If Borissov wins again and is able to return to government, this model will be even stronger than before. I've already argued this in my column about Robert Fico - the Slovak prime minister. Fico and Borissov share a very similar fate: unlike say, Orban or Vucic, they were both brought down by unexpected events and managed to climb back to power. That's a harder feat to achieve than to just remain on top.

1. Politics this week:

Last pre-election polls: a final sprint for #2 place

The parties with strong core electorates are holding sway, because those who were going to vote for them anyway got little reason to consider changing their mind. GERB remains strong and gathers all it can at about 25% of the vote according to all surveys, while their partner - the Turkish MRF has around 15% mobilization, with BSP on 8%.

WCC-DB is second by a very thin margin ahead of the radical Vazhrazdane who are reaching their optimal performance at around 15% also. TISP are on the 4% barrier.

Smaller incumbents

Blue Bulgaria on the right and Solidary Bulgaria and The Left mark a significant rise in support, some even doubling it to 2.5-3.5%. While this might not be enough to get into parliament this time around, it shows that the space for alternatives in Bulgarian politics remains open.

One number to keep in mind: 10%

That's the official number of people who claim they will vote, yet say they haven't made up their mind whom to support. Depending on how this group moves, the whole post-electoral scene might shift.

EU elections anyone?

There has been practically zero interest in the EU vote by the general public, mainly because politicians barely spoke about it, apart from those who appealed to their parties' core electorates because they really, really want to move from the noisy quarrels of the Sofia parliament to the peace and comfort of a Brussels job.

Is Bulgaria sending troops to Ukraine?

In the past two weeks, the Ministry of Defense and President Rumen Radev have been quite active in exchanging fire over whether Bulgaria will involve itself further in the Ukraine war, and maybe even send troops to the front. According to Radev, this is a clear possibility.

The president's speculation about the potential dispatch of European troops to the frontline were happily picked up by all Russophile "pro-peace" parties in the otherwise dull election campaign. This made the Defense Ministry come out with a special campaign to debunk these rumors, saying that a decision to deploy Bulgarian troops abroad can only come after a decision of Parliament and that there has never been even a hint of such debate between the MPs to date.

2. Economy:

Finance ministry reports a positive budget balance for the first five months of 2023

As of May, the state finances are almost balanced according to preliminary data from the Ministry of Finance. The budget has a surplus of 100 million levs. By comparison, in the same period last year there was a deficit of almost 1.2 billion levs. There is, however, one peculiarity - at the end of last year, the same amount was allocated in a special account of the Ministry of Regional Development to be used this year to finance the programme of municipal projects. As this money was "written off" last year, it is being accounted for as a cash deficit in 2023.


140 Million levs

The sum that the operator of the Sofia metro, Metropoliten, has allocated for the acquisition of 8 new motor trains for the expanding underground network of the city, whose usage has been increasing by around a quarter in the past two years alone.


Of all the crimes in Bulgaria are transport-related, says a new report. This includes everything that has to do with drunk or drug driving, speeding, disobeying road regulations and etc.

3. Business:

Fly the Earth

The manufacturer of air sports products founded by paraglider Veselin Ovcharov, has attracted funding of 400,000 euros from the Capital Investment Fund of the Bulgarian Development Bank - the second financial injection it got after receiving 50,000 euros from the fund manager of state-owned Vitosha Venture Partners last year.



The Estonian platform for shared urban e-mobility is entering the Bulgarian market with the launch of an 800-strong scooter fleet in the capital, which will also be the cheapest option compared to the other two scooter brands operating in the city at the start. The company is also eyeing expansion in other cities, including Plovdiv and Burgas.

4. Energy:

Russian gas is back!

Russian natural gas flows that passed through Bulgaria via the Turkish Stream gas pipeline reached the highest level on a two-week basis in the second half of May. The volumes have averaged 50 million cubic meters per day, which is almost the maximum capacity of the pipe which has been functioning since 2021 and has never seen such quotas. With such a daily intensity, Bulgarian consumption can be covered for a week.

The reason for the record transit is the natural gas price surge in Europe and high LNG prices which are making traders exploit Russian gas contracts with Gazprom.

5. Brussels:

#Technologies: As part of its industrial and critical raw materials strategy preparations, the European Commission has adopted an amendment to the Guidelines on Regional State aid ('RAG') to allow Member States to grant higher amounts of regional aid for investment projects covered by the Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform ('STEP'). The STEP aims to support the development and manufacturing of critical technologies relevant to the EU green and digital transitions, as well as the EU's strategic sovereignty.

#Hydrogen: The Commission has launched this week a pilot mechanism to collect, process and give access to information on demand and supply for renewable, low-carbon hydrogen and derivatives, allowing European off-takers to match with both European and foreign suppliers. It will collect and process market data on the development of hydrogen flows and prices. A procurement process has started to find a service provider to develop an IT platform to operate the pilot mechanism. The Commission plans to sign a contract by the end of this year, so that it can start its operations by mid-2025. The project will be part of the future EU hydrogen bank.

6. Watch out for:

People: Hristoforos Amanatidis - Taki

The most successful drug trafficker in the region, as claimed by the US, has attracted new attention after a podcast by BBC, claiming that Ruja Ignatova - the famous OneCoin founder - used his protection. This is, however, nothing new: our own Nickolay Stoyanov discovered that while writing his book on Ruja some time ago. Here is the excerpt about it, with the links between Ruja and Taki, who's living in Dubai.

Vassil Terziev

The new mayor of Sofia has made a bold claim to stop 21 procurement procedures from 2022 and 2023, amounting to more than 200 million levs (100 million euro). Terziev alleges unlawful practices in them and some will be tendered again.

Rossen Bossev

Our ex-colleague and judicial reporter has finally had some justice served. Years after a high-level GERB functionaire - Stoyan Mavrodiev, filed a slander claim against Bossev and won, the European Court of Human Rights decided Bulgaria had not served proper justice to the journalist. This is because the judge overseeing the case - Petya Krancheva, has been a target for many investigative stories by Bossev and has decided to stay on the court case nonetheless. ECHR derides the fact that the Bulgarian judicial system has not allowed a review of the Krancheva decision.

This is quite a notable ruling, as it is the first time the ECHR is highlighting the ways the Bulgarian authorities use all forms of tools - including the judiciary - to SLAPP members of the press. You can find the whole ruling here and read more about the case against Rossen here.


Saudi Arabia

Where the new owner of Vivacom and Nova TV might come from. STC Group, the Saudi telecom is considering a bid for United Group, Reuters reported, citing three different sources. According to them, the group's majority owner, London-based fund BC Partners, is working with advisers on a possible deal, and negotiations could begin in the coming weeks, although the sale is not yet certain. The deal is worth around 8 billion euros, and Vivacom is one of the best assets in the region.


May 2028

This is now the final date for the completion of the long-awaited National Children's Hospital, according to the timetable of activities on the construction approved by the caretaker government on Wednesday.
Фотограф: Interior Ministry of Bulgaria

Word of the week

Баварец - Bavarian (for BMW)

There are two things most Bulgarian drivers truly love - debating the strengths and weaknesses of their favorite German cars, and vilifying the Bulgarian traffic police. So you can imagine that the news that the Police has bought 463 new cars, some of which - almost 400hp BMWs (affectionately dubbed "Bavarets", which translates as Bavarian) turned into a heated discussion on social media. Some joked that there will be no more police patrols in winter - referring to the alleged problems of the brand in the cold months. Others were worried that the police - which is perceived to be not so different from its intended targets - might cause even more spectacular incidents with the powerful vehicles. But almost all came to agree in asking why the hell does the police, which currently operates 20-30 year old Opel Astras - invest in a few expensive, speedy vehicles instead of upgrading the average patrol car used by most officers. Go figure!

So here we are, on the verge of new elections: the 8th in 3 years. At this point, some might say, it is becoming a national pastime, rather than an exercise in civic duty.

Even by the abysmal standards of recent years, it has been a dirty, sleazy and dull campaign. I won't go into the details (money claims, recordings, kompromats and a very strange dog) because it seems to me something more important is at stake.

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