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Dark days for Bulgarian socialist leader Stanishev

Dark days for Bulgarian socialist leader Stanishev
 

By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Sergei Stanishev is finding himself facing reverses on a number of fronts, but the extent to which any of the damage is long-term remains to be seen.

In the past week, Stanishev's rival Georgi Purvanov has mounted an open challenge with a plan for a rival list of socialist candidates in the European Parliament elections, and now has defied an ultimatum to back down. One of Stanishev's MPs, Strahil Angelov, has embarrassed Stanishev as BSP and Party of European Socialists leader by defying Stanishev's order not to undertake a trip to Syria as a guest of the Assad regime. And on January 22, the European Commission was due to release a report filled with scathing criticisms of Bulgaria's performance in meeting EU justice and home affairs standards that the current BSP government would struggle to deflect – even though it telegraphed that it would try to spread the blame elsewhere.

On the Purvanov front, the BSP executive bureau issued a threat that unless Purvanov and those supporting him in the plan for an ABC movement European Parliament election list headed by former foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin backed down within a week, they would face expulsion (a threat redundant in the case of Kalfin, who is not a BSP member).

Not only did Purvanov swiftly reject the ultimatum, but also he pointed out that one of those issuing the ultimatum, socialist member of Parliament Maya Manolova, had attended the founding event of Purvanov's ABC movement three years ago.

Purvanov's movement said that it would continue to develop its project and Purvanov would accept ultimatums only from someone who had done more than him for the BSP. Purvanov was BSP leader until the end of 2001, being succeeded by Stanishev after Purvanov was elected head of state. After two terms as Bulgaria's president, Purvanov mounted a failed bid to get the party leadership back from Stanishev.

Meanwhile, the leader of centre-right opposition party GERB, former prime minister Boiko Borissov, was making the most of the events of the past week.

He sent an open letter to Stanishev hitting out at the BSP leader for allegations that Borissov was involved in scheming to split the left vote by covertly backing the Purvanov ABC project.

This scenario has been a favoured conspiracy theory pushed by the Stanishev camp.

It was added to when Hristina Patrashkova, head of anti-GERB publication Galeria, alleged a week ago that there was a recording of an eavesdropped conversation among Borissov, Purvanov and Purvanov ally Roumen Petkov at Borissov's home discussing Borissov's support for the ABC movement.

After Borissov lodged a formal complaint, the matter was taken by by prosecutors, who on January 21 issued a media statement saying that Patrashkova was unable to produce any such recording. Already, Borissov, Purvanov and Petkov had insisted repeatedly for days that no such meeting or conversation had taken place. Among other statements, Petkov – a former interior minister in the previous socialist government - said that if it was proved that such recordings existed, he would retire "to tend chickens in a village".

From the prosecutors' January 21 statement, it was clear that Patrashkova was unable to produce either recordings or transcripts of recordings.

In parallel with these bizarre goings-on, senior BSP figures have admitted that the visit to Syria by MP Angelov has been an embarrasment, including at European level, hinting that the BSP has faced questions from its European socialist allies about what a socialist MP was doing visiting Syria and allegedly voicing public support for the Assad regime – against party, EU and Bulgarian policy.

Angelov, who returned to Bulgaria on January 21, is to face disciplinary action from the BSP, but while denying that he voiced support for the Assad regime, has made it clear that he made the trip against the wishes of Stanishev, with whom he discussed the issue beforehand.

Unconfirmed reports in the Bulgarian media said that the Strahil Angelov scandal could be used in a bid to bring down Stanishev as leader of the Party of European Socialists.

In reality, the idea that either the ABC project or the Angelov scandal would bring down Stanishev, who have proved a tough and ruthless operator in holding on to the BSP leadership for more than a decade, is an improbable one.

But the developments of the past days are damaging for a Stanishev who needs to be seen as in control of his party if he wants to fulfil his European-level political ambitions.

Also, "spontaneous" photo opportunities do not seem to be working out as well as they might for the BSP leader. A placard-holding demonstration outside BSP headquarters in Sofia on January 21, in solidarity with the BSP leadership and against Purvanov's ABC, attracted – going by television pictures – all of eight people.

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