Bulgaria’s Right Wins Election Amid Scandals, Unemployment

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov of Bulgaria arrives for a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, December 13, 2012
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov of Bulgaria arrives for a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, December 13, 2012 (The Council of the European Union)

Former Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov’s conservative party won Sunday’s election, partial results showed, but might not be able to form a majority government as the Socialists expanded their share of the vote from 18 to 26 percent.

Far right nationalists, who backed Borisov’s previous government, said on Monday that they would not join a right-wing coalition while the Socialists seek support from a liberal ethnic Turkish party to form a government instead.

In the meantime, greater economic and political uncertainty looms for the country which is the poorest in the European Union. More than 22 percent of Bulgarians lives under the official poverty line. Government statistics put the unemployment rate at 12 percent although independent analysts suspect it might be as high as 18 percent.

Contributing to the political crisis are corruption scandals. Just a day before the election, police stormed a printing house and seized hundreds of thousands of illegally printed ballots.

National radio station BNR reported that the owner of the printing house is a member of one of the large political parties but didn’t tell who might have ordered the printing of the ballots.

The elections were otherwise monitored by a record number of international observers while the opposition had hired an Austrian company to independently count votes.

Turnout, at 48 percent, was 12 percent lower than in the last election while protesters gathered in the capital Sofia after partial results were announced to express their dissatisfaction about the existing parliament being largely reelected.

Mass demonstrations also took place earlier this year, triggered by rising electricity bills, against corruption, poverty and unemployment. Several protesters were wounded at the time and one died.

Borisov’s party has seen its reputation further tarnished since prosecutors accused his former interior minister of eavesdropping on political opponents. The former premier resigned after February’s demonstrations but, even if his party lost some of its seats on Sunday, continues to enjoy considerable support from his base.

Prospects for Increased Balkan Security Cooperation Dim

American soldiers participate in a police training mission at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, April 6, 2011
American soldiers participate in a police training mission at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, April 6, 2011 (US Army/Evan V. Lane)

Southeastern European countries that were once joined in Yugoslavia battle similar economic and security challenges yet prospects for enhanced cooperation in both areas seem dim.

Many of the West Balkan republics are coping with economic stagnation and high organized crime rates, the roots of which can often be traced to the political top, frustrating efforts to curb them. Regional cooperation to strengthen economies ties as well as the fight against organized crime promises improvement but chances of a true security community emerging are slim.

In 1957, the Czechoslovak, later American, political scientist Karl W. Deutsch defined a security community as a region where war is most unlikely to occur and members share the expectation of finding peaceful solutions to disputes. He identified two types of security communities: pluralistic and amalgamated. In the latter, member states surrender some of their sovereignty to a supreme decisionmaking body. Given the former Yugoslavian states’ recent struggles for independence, that is unlikely to transpire in the short term.

For a pluralistic security community to emerge, Deutsch argued that countries should share values, a distinctive way of life and the expectation of economies gains. Those conditions are present in the Western Balkans.

An example of improving economic relations is the joining of formerly struggling national airlines into a transnational group. Deeper economic integration may be hampered, however, by the inclusion of some West Balkan states — Croatia and Slovenia — into the European Union which promises greater benefits than a regional trade bloc.

Security cooperation is still limited. The police forces of Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia have worked together in counternarcotics operations but there is no permanent framework for future such cooperation.

The region’s troubled history will likely frustrate the creation of an independent regional security community. Enhanced economic and security relations within the European Union — Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidates for membership — look more promising.

Montenegro Reelects Pro-European Incumbent President

President Filip Vujanović of Montenegro in Berlin, Germany, December 15, 2011
President Filip Vujanović of Montenegro in Berlin, Germany, December 15, 2011 (AFP/Getty Images/John MacDougall)

Montenegro reelected incumbent president Filip Vujanović last week by less than 8,000 votes, the Balkan nation’s electoral committee announced on Monday. Both the ruling socialist party’s candidate and his conservative challenger Miodrag Lekić had claimed victory.

Vujanović has held the presidency since Montenegro seceded from Serbia in 2006. The post is largely ceremonial. Real power is held by the prime minister, Milo Đukanović, also a Social Democrat.

Whereas Lekić campaigned against corruption and the political status quo, accusing the ruling party of monopolizing power and comparing his opponent’s premature victory claim to a “coup d’état,” the incumbent promised a “European” Montenegro by intensifying negotiations for accession to the European Union which began last year. Montenegro is considered next in line to join the bloc.

Of the former Yugoslavian states, only Slovenia is currently in the European Union. Croatia will join in July.

According to Vujanović, European Union membership is a preconditions for improved living conditions in Montenegro. The country’s industry has been in decline since the breakup of Yugoslavia and it is currently in transition to a services-based economy. Market reforms and privatizations enacted since the beginning of the century have improved Montenegrin competitiveness. Inflation has dropped from an historic high of 26.5 percent in 2001 to 3.3 percent at present. Unemployment has decreased from a high of 31 percent in 2002 to under 14 percent in January of this year. It has no currency of its own and unilaterally adopted the euro.

Allegations of leading politicians’ ties with organized crime persist, however. The prime minister was investigated by Italian police for his suspected involvement in the smuggling of cigarettes. Those charges were dropped in 2009.

Mounting Unrest Could Force Slovenia to Seek Aid

Former Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša during a press conference in Brussels, March 14, 2008
Former Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša during a press conference in Brussels, March 14, 2008 (The Council of the European Union)

After Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and most recently Cyprus, the latest victim in the European sovereign debt crisis could be Slovenia, embroiled in economic and social upheaval. The Central European country of barely two million has been going through a political crisis.

Independent since 1991, Slovenia boasts a healthy economy, excellent health care and a solid welfare system. But its politics leave much to be desired. Falling governments, premature elections, a collapse of the banking system, bankruptcies and corruption have taken a heavy toll. The incumbent administration is already the eleventh in the state’s 22 year independent history.

When the world financial crisis hit, Slovenia, like many other European countries, postponed fiscal adjustment and posted deficits equivalent to 6 percent of gross domestic product. Prime Minister Janez Janša’s right-wing government implemented spending reductions and reforms starting early last year to bring down the shortfall but met strong opposition from seniors, students and welfare recipients who were mainly affected by the cuts.

Public outrage was confounded by revelations of corruption by an investigative body that said Janša had failed to account for at least €200,000 in income while Zoran Janković, the left-wing opposition leader, had amassed some €2.4 million in funds that he could not legally account for. Both leaders were also implicated in a variety of graft scandals.

A new government took office in March. But Slovenians’ hopes for improvements were quickly dashed when the infrastructure minister resigned after being accused of owning an illegally built home on the coast.

Meanwhile, the country’s finances are in ever direr straits. Slovenia may not be able to make ends meet without international financial support which would make it the fifth European nation to require a bailout; the sixth when counting Spain’s bank bailout.