AIM: start

SUN, 13 JAN 2002 01:54:02 GMT

2001 - A Year of Surprises for the Bulgarians

AIM Sofia, December 22, 2001

At its close, the year of 2001 was a year of surprises for the Bulgarians. And not only for them. The country is entering the second year of the new century with a rather exotic political and institutional scenery - the Right Government, with Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at its head, and the Left President - former leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party Georgi Prvanov.

And if no one dared forecast such political configuration at the beginning of the year, some other events have been expected and, in that respect, were not much of a surprise. Such were, for example, the news from the EU Summit in Lachen, two weeks before the end of the year.

All past 12 months the authoritative European representatives repeatedly underlined Bulgaria's progress in negotiations on its accession to the EU. However, the declaration adopted on December 15, during the Summit of EU member countries in the Belgian castle Lachen, came as a cold shower. In it, the EU leaders clearly stated that only 10 out of 12 countries that were currently conducting such negotiations, would be ready for membership in 2004. Bulgaria and Rumania were not included among the mentioned 10 states. Irrespective of the fact that the authorities have presented this decision as a veritable tragedy, it did not come as a surprise, the more so as the basic criteria for the EU membership were economic indicators of each candidate state. It is sufficient to look at the rank-list of the "Wall Street Journal" made according to the "economic freedom" criteria to realise what were Sofia's chances. This year, Bulgaria ranked 108 among 156 countries. This automatically placed it in the group of "rather unliberated economies".

What economic achievements could Bulgaria boast of if the share of grey economy is 40 percent of its gross national product? That means that USD 17-18 billion worth goods and services have been produced, rather than USD 12 billion, as the national statistical data show. Per capita income is poor compared to that of Central European states, so that the EU membership is a very distant prospect.

As far as accession to NATO is concerned, it seems that Bulgaria stands a better chance. Especially, as in December the Parliament adopted a decision on the destruction of CC-23 rockets, on which Brussels generals very much insisted. Bulgaria is the last country in Europe that still has this type of rockets. After October 2002, when the deadline for their destruction expires, Sofia would be able to wait calmly to be mentioned at the Prague Summit next November as a member of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Unless, some other surprises occur there too.

It was, therefore, not strange that, on December 22, upon his return from the World Economic Forum "Crans Montana" , the still current President Petre Stojanov dampened the enthusiasm of Bulgarians stating that they would not be able to meet the NATO criteria by 2002. However, Bulgarians did not react so dramatically to the possible omission of Bulgaria in Prague, because the anti-NATO sentiments in the country have not yet completely subsided, although a full political consensus has been reached regarding its membership in the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This was only natural after the drill every Bulgarian went through in the last 12 months the past year had so many surprises that people are now ready for anything.

Incidentally, surprises in politics were mostly connected with the past elections. Both elections - those parliamentary in June and the presidential ones in November - brought surprises to both the voters, as well as politicians and sociologists. Irrespective of the fact that all sociological research conducted before parliamentary elections of June 17, forecast the superiority of the newly-formed National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), the results came as a shock, because according to sociologists the new political force should have won 40 percent of votes, at the most. However, the so-called Imperial Movement inflicted a disastrous defeat to the Alliance of Democratic Forces (SDS) and succeeded in securing one half of seats (120) in the new Parliament. And whereas the SDS's defeat in June did not surprise anyone, everyone was amazed by the high percentage of votes won by the NDSV.

However, the greatest surprise came in November at the presidential elections. All sociological surveys pointed to a solid advantage of the current President Petre Stojanov. He ran for President as an independent candidate and got the support of various political forces, including the NDSV. After his first successful presidential mandate and stable support he enjoyed, his victory seemed certain, but in the end the BSP leader, Georgi Prvanov secured electoral victory. He decided to run for office after it became known that the NDSV was going to support Stojanov's nomination and not put up its own candidate. Just before the first round on November 11, sociologists had some doubts that Prvanov might make it to the second round a week later. However, not only did he make it to the second round on November 18, but he also secured the leading position with a convincing advantage of 10 percent over his rival.

These elections were the greatest surprise and, at the same time, the gravest defeat of the Bulgarian sociology since the beginning of democratic changes in Bulgaria in 1998. The politicians of the Right were also surprised, because for almost 10 years journalists, political scientists and sociologists suggested that it was not prestigious to vote for the Left, i.e. for former communists. And since the Bulgarians were flattered to think that they lived in modern times, they voted for the Right. However, 12 years after the beginning of transition for many people the democracy started to resemble a new, special kind of poverty. And the message of both June and November elections is clear: the Bulgarians want to live better. If not, new, even bigger surprises should not be ruled out.

Plamen Kulinski