RussiaApril 3 2023, 6:55 am

Revival Party, Pro-Russian Far-Right Group, Gains Support in Bulgarian Elections

Bul­gar­ia, a small Balkan nation of about sev­en mil­lion peo­ple, has strug­gled to form a sta­ble gov­ern­ment for the past two years. After five incon­clu­sive par­lia­men­tary elec­tions since 2021, the coun­try remains in a polit­i­cal dead­lock, with no clear major­i­ty or coali­tion in sight. The main rea­son for this impasse is the per­son­al ani­mos­i­ty between the two largest blocs: the cen­ter-right GERB par­ty of for­mer prime min­is­ter Boyko Borissov and the pro-West­ern reformist bloc led by We Con­tin­ue the Change (PP) and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Bul­gar­ia (DB).

But there is anoth­er polit­i­cal force that has been gain­ing ground in this tur­bu­lent con­text: the Revival par­ty (Vazrazh­dane), a far-right and ultra­na­tion­al­ist group that advo­cates for clos­er ties with Rus­sia and oppos­es Bul­gar­i­a’s mem­ber­ship in the Euro­pean Union and NATO. The par­ty, found­ed in 2014 by Kostadin Kostadi­nov, a for­mer mem­ber of anoth­er nation­al­ist par­ty, IMRO-BNM, has attract­ed vot­ers by rehash­ing Krem­lin pro­pa­gan­da and urg­ing delay to the intro­duc­tion of the euro in the run-up to the elec­tion. The par­ty has also pro­mot­ed con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries regard­ing COVID-19 and had strong reser­va­tions regard­ing COVID-19 vaccines.

In the lat­est snap elec­tion held on April 2, 2023, Revival came third with 14.4% of the votes, up from 4.86% in Novem­ber 2021. The par­ty now holds 27 seats in the 240-mem­ber Par­lia­ment, mak­ing it a poten­tial king­mak­er in coali­tion talks. How­ev­er, both GERB and PP/DB have ruled out any coop­er­a­tion with Revival, cit­ing its anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic and pro-Russ­ian positions.

What does Revival stand for, and why does it appeal to some Bul­gar­i­an vot­ers? Accord­ing to its web­site, Revival is the coun­try’s only patri­ot­ic par­ty, and its main goals are to restore Bul­gar­i­a’s sov­er­eign­ty, dig­ni­ty, and pros­per­i­ty. The par­ty claims that Bul­gar­ia has been exploit­ed and humil­i­at­ed by the EU and NATO, which have imposed harm­ful poli­cies and sanc­tions on the coun­try, and it has called for votes on Bul­gar­i­an’s mem­ber­ship in both insti­tu­tions. The par­ty also accus­es the West of sup­port­ing Ukraine’s “fas­cist” regime and pro­vok­ing a war with Rus­sia, which it con­sid­ers a “broth­er­ly” nation and a strate­gic part­ner. Although many experts dis­miss this rhetoric as cam­paign pos­tur­ing, they warn that the par­ty may be act­ing in the inter­ests of the Kremlin.

“In my opin­ion, hid­den behind these posi­tions of Revival is an agen­da to set as large a part of Bul­gar­i­an soci­ety as pos­si­ble against the EU, to sep­a­rate Bul­gar­ia from a unit­ed Europe and the free world, to turn us into a periph­er­al author­i­tar­i­an state of the repres­sive Russ­ian regime,” Hris­to Hris­tev, a pro­fes­sor of EU law at Sofia University.

Revival’s pro-Russ­ian stance is not sur­pris­ing, giv­en Bul­gar­i­a’s his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al ties with Rus­sia. Bul­gar­ia was lib­er­at­ed from Ottoman rule by Rus­sia in 1878 and remained under Sovi­et influ­ence until 1989. Many Bul­gar­i­ans still feel grat­i­tude and affin­i­ty towards Rus­sia, espe­cial­ly among old­er gen­er­a­tions. More­over, Bul­gar­ia depends on Rus­sia for most of its ener­gy sup­plies and has sig­nif­i­cant trade and tourism links with its north­ern neighbor.

A May 2022 Bul­gar­i­an media report titled “Is Bul­gar­ia the weak link in Europe’s fight against Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion” said pro-Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da has been “flood­ing the coun­try for years:.”

The Cen­ter for the Study of Democ­ra­cy in Sofia has found that Rus­si­a’s use of social media has helped to ampli­fy its views and influ­ence in Bul­gar­ia fol­low­ing the inva­sion. Accord­ing to Goran Georgiev, the Cen­ter’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Rus­si­a’s social media pres­ence in Bul­gar­ia is par­tic­u­lar­ly strong, with more inter­ac­tions than all of its rivals com­bined. The social media pres­ence of Rus­si­a’s embassy in Sofia alone reached almost 2 mil­lion inter­ac­tions on Face­book in 2022. How­ev­er, Georgiev also not­ed that only 30 per­cent of Bul­gar­i­ans think of Rus­sia as a threat, a sig­nif­i­cant increase from the 5 per­cent before the war.

How­ev­er, not all Bul­gar­i­ans share Revival’s admi­ra­tion for Putin and his poli­cies. Accord­ing to polling, many younger and more edu­cat­ed Bul­gar­i­ans see Rus­sia as a threat to their coun­try’s secu­ri­ty and democ­ra­cy and sup­port Bul­gar­i­a’s inte­gra­tion into the EU and NATO. They also resent Revival’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist rhetoric, which often tar­gets eth­nic minori­ties such as Turks and Roma, as well as sex­u­al minori­ties and fem­i­nists. Mean­while, peo­ple over 60 remain the nucle­us of the sup­port for Russ­ian policy.

The Novem­ber 2022 deci­sion by the Bul­gar­i­an Par­lia­ment to approve send­ing mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine points to the divi­sions between the Bul­gar­ia par­lia­ment on the issue and the role of the pro-Russ­ian parties.

The rise of Revival reflects the deep divi­sions and frus­tra­tions that plague Bul­gar­i­an soci­ety. On the one hand, there is a desire for change and reform, as evi­denced by the anti-cor­rup­tion protests that erupt­ed in 2020 and 2021 against Borissov’s gov­ern­ment. On the oth­er hand, there is a nos­tal­gia for sta­bil­i­ty and order, as well as a dis­trust of West­ern insti­tu­tions and val­ues. Revival taps into both sen­ti­ments, offer­ing a pop­ulist and nation­al­ist alter­na­tive to the main­stream parties.

Whether Revival will be able to trans­late its elec­toral suc­cess into polit­i­cal influ­ence remains to be seen. The par­ty faces strong oppo­si­tion from both sides of the polit­i­cal spec­trum, as well as from civ­il soci­ety groups and media out­lets that denounce its extrem­ist views. More­over, the par­ty may face inter­nal chal­lenges, as some of its mem­bers have been accused of cor­rup­tion or links with orga­nized crime.



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