East Europe elections

December 2, 2016

From the November-December 2016 issue of News & Letters

It was widely remarked that recent elections in Bulgaria and Moldova were victories for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The truth is more revealing and not quite so simple.

The defeat of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s hand-picked presidential candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva, by former Air Force Major General Rumen Radev with the support of the Socialist Party, was at least an event giving insight into Russian Putin’s world.


Borisov is former coach of the national karate team. With the end of Communist Party rule he founded a private security firm staffed by his suddenly unemployed fellow Olympic boxers, wrestlers, karatekas, and weightlifters. He used the political connections made to become Interior Minister, head of the security apparatus, and a relentless self-promoter as alleged fighter of corruption.

Borisov became popular enough to found his own party, inspired by Germany’s right-wing Bavarian Christian Social Union, called GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, the word gerb meaning “coat of arms”). As Mayor of Sofia, the capital city, and Prime Minister, he has been the central figure in Bulgarian politics.

He also used European Union membership as a self-promotional tool, but agriculture and industry have lagged, corruption and cronyism are rife at all levels of society, and despite Borisov’s law and order pose, no high-level figures have been jailed. It was time for his bubble to burst.

Radev has been rightfully criticized for racism toward immigrants (he has played on bigoted fears of Bulgaria becoming a “migrant ghetto”). This is unfortunately common in a country where a violent refugee hunter can become a reality show “hero.” He’s given no sign that he wants to leave the EU, however.


Party of Socialists head Igor Dodon’s election as president of Moldova was a clear victory for Putin. These “Socialists” reflect his anti-EU, anti-LGBTQ, bigoted politics. Dodon defeated Maia Sandu, whose personal party, Action and Solidarity, supports the “free market” as well as civil liberties. A referendum on homophobia in the guise of “economics,” this victory for Putin is a human disaster for Moldova and a measure of today’s ideological disorientation.

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