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3 септември 2014 / Petar Bankov

Mapping the Bulgarian left

Last year the Bulgarian sociologist Antoniy Todorov presented an interesting attempt to briefly categorize the Bulgarian left-wing political spectrum. The significance of his paper lies in the fact that he had broadened the scope beyond political parties, in order to embrace „the gigantic variety of organizations, projects, initiatives, citizens“. Such approach seems accurate, since all of those organizations are politically active. However its vast outreach attempts to put apples and oranges in one basket. Specifically, this is the case with the structures that he presents as incentives for the merging „new left“, as some of those organizations do not have political aspirations beyond policy making or discussion forums, which seems hardly an impetus for new political party. Additionally, his categorization of the Bulgarian left parties needs refinement, which Todorov himself acknowledges. Similarly, due to the small space, he does not go into detail about the specific characteristics of the different categories.

He identifies three main categories of Bulgarian left political parties. Firstly, the communist left consists largely of nostalgic parties, which, however, support different ideological traits, mainly related with different stages of the development of Soviet and Bulgarian communism. Considering the long history of Bulgarian communism Todorov points out that all of those parties claim to be direct successor of the old Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP), yet the difference lies in to which period those parties refer to. As Todorov notes, their large nostalgic identity is not a basis for the emergence of new left. What I could add is that it is interesting that there is no Eurocommunist party in this typology. Perhaps such profile questions the largely nostalgic identity of those parties, as they try to mirror the old BKP. In this respect the official part line of fierce criticism against Eurocommunsim from the 1970s and 1980s reveals the lack of incentives for such development. Out of the parties that he categorizes in this group, I would point out only the electorally active ones, considering the recent elections for Bulgarian and European parliament between 2009 and 2014. The Communist Party of Bulgaria (KPB) is part of the BSP-led Coalition for Bulgaria and therefore has the only communist parliamentary representation nowadays. However, its electoral strength remains unclear. In this respect, the most recently successful communist coalition, the Bulgarian Communist Party, achieved 0.41% on the EP elections this May. It consisted of the most active communist organization after of fall of the regime, the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP), led by the late Vladimir Spasov and nowadays by his wife Zoyka Spasova, and the Party of Bulgarian Communists (PBK), led by the grandson of Vasil Kolarov. PBK participated also in 2009 within the Bulgarian Left Coalition with the left nationalist Fatherland Party and the radical left Bulgarian Left. This coalition got 0.21% and almost the same amount of votes as BKP got in 2014 (8762 against 9318). The most active communist organization currently is the Union of Communists in Bulgaria (SKB), that participated both on the Bulgarian parliamentary elections in 2013 (getting 6168 votes; 0,18%) and on the European elections in 2014 (3217; 014%).

The second category, the socialist left, contains significant misunderstanding of the parties’ positions. Perhaps Todorov’s understanding for socialist party is rather wide one, as he identifies the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) as main representative of the „right-leaning“ European social democracy. This profile is enriched with the radical left Bulgarian Left (BL). However, joining those two parties in one category seems rather misleading. For example, those parties are members of two competing European families. While BSP is member of the Party of European Socialists, BL is the Bulgarian representative in the Party of the European Left. Therefore, exactly this group needs the most clear distinguishing as it contains the electorally most successful representatives of the Bulgarian left-wing spectrum. My suggestion is to separate into two smaller groups. The first one is the social democratic left, containing BSP and other small social democratic parties, which Todorov omits from mapping. This is relevant since BSP mainly has such parties as coalition partners. Main representatives of those coalition partners are the Bulgarian Social democrats, led by Georgi Anastasov, which are the direct descendants of the big Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, which marked the transition period. Similarly, the BSP-led Coalition for Bulgaria includes the Political Movement Social Democracy, led by Nikolay Kamov, as well the Movement for Social Humanism, which evolved from BSP-internal ideological stream into independent party. Independent participation on recent elections do the party organizations, led by Aleksandar Tomov. However, his party Bulgarian Social democracy has achieved only 0,12% on the elections last year. The last participant, Social Democratic Party, emerged at last year’s elections, achieving 0,04%.

The second category is the radical left, which contains BL, as well other non-Stalinist parties, left to the social democracy. Here lies an difficulty. Currently there is no other radical left party, which could expand this category. In this respect BL always searches for political cooperation, which the party finds in rather neo-Stalinist circles. The party established connections with BCP, signed joint declarations with the communist left, but, as Todorov rightly points out, as well entered into coalition also with left nationalist parties, such as New Dawn, in 2009 in the already mentioned Bulgarian Left Coalition. However, the party attempts to break away from this cycle, as this year it signed coalition agreement with the Green Party, thus reaching out towards rather alternative movements.

The last two categorizations omit the newly-emerged significant actor Alternative for Bulgarian Regeneration (ABV), led by the former Bulgarian president Gerogi Parvanov. While the party declares itself as the „next left„, its positions are right-of-BSP socially democratic and much more nationalist than BSP. Its further political participation and behavior could shed light into its political profile. Currently, ABV rather has mild left nationalist image.

The last categorization, given by Todorov, is the rebelling left, which includes again ideologically incompatible participants, such as the communist movement „Che Guevara“, which is an extension of SKB, and the Federation of Anarchists in Bulgaria. Perhaps the reason hides in the lack of clear definition of „rebelling“.Furthermore, this group could be enhanced with other similar organizations, such as the BSP-affiliated Socialist Youth Union (SMS) and the anarchist 23 September.

The presentation of the new left also points out the rich diversity of ideological circles and organizational forms. None of the members of this group has, however, political aspiration beyond direct action i.e. none of them has the intention of creating a party. Todorov lists the progressive-oriented former BSP members, the theoretical circles of New Left Perspectives and the pragmatical Solidarity Bulgaria. Despite their different interpretations of the left ideology, all of those group present an modern approach, aiming to revive the left beyond the nostalgia of the communist left or the clientelism of the social democratic one, as well beyond the conventional organizational forms of the rebelling or radical left. However, their fragmentation still poses a problem.

At the end of the article Todorov presents the characteristics of the emerging new left: socially sensitive, culturally liberal, anti-nationalist, secular, solidarity, anti-corporatist, civic and anti-racist. However, those organizations do not contain all of those elements, which fosters new difficulties for the future. However, the left in Bulgaria remains alive and starts to regenerate itself. It is worth to deep more into it.

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