Political scientist Slavi Vassilev in an interview for the morning block “Good morning, Bulgaria” on Radio “Focus”
Mr. Vasilev, the next election is coming up in a very short period of time. Why are there so many pretenders to be the owners of Bulgaria, but the real rulers seem to be missing? Or not, what is your opinion?
Well, look, in this multi-party system in which we live, it is quite normal that there are contenders for ruling in Bulgaria, and these are not exactly contenders to rule, these are contenders to be part of the National Assembly. And it, in turn, will issue a majority, which will issue an executive power that will govern Bulgaria. Our political system is a bit complicated. By the way, this opens up a debate, which I absolutely love.
So there are many contenders, the question is how people will sift through and make their choice against the background of, it seems to me, the repeated political processes in Bulgaria, which again, I say again, in my opinion did not lead to the so-called a change that was necessary after the resignation of Boyko Borisov, things in Bulgaria are unlikely to change, because we will be governed by new, educated, young people who have lived abroad. This did not happen and of course, now it will be very difficult for the voter to find a new image to mark this change that I think we all want to achieve and live in a Bulgaria that is just, civilized, in which the rule of law and the rule of law are indisputable, etc.
As already mentioned, you are one of the people who are in favor of the change in the state system. Why and what exactly do you propose it be? First – why?
I believe that the events of the last two years have shown why it is necessary to change the political system in Bulgaria. Long before the lack of sustainability in the political process in Bulgaria clearly surfaced in front of the screens and in front of the eyes of the Bulgarian people, I thought that the Bulgarian political system should change, for the simple reason that the corruption in Bulgaria and the lack of quality governance is due not so much to the persons who govern us, but to those mechanisms which give too much power to a group of people, without that power being able to be controlled in any way. And the power of the Bulgarian Prime Minister in our parliamentary republic is uncontrolled. It is uncontrolled because, although the Council of Ministers presents itself as a collective body, it is actually an organ of the Prime Minister’s will, which is quite normal, by the way, but the Prime Minister’s will extends beyond the limits of the executive power. He also commands the agenda in the National Assembly. I will remind you that Boyko Borisov very often ordered his deputies. He even did it in public with no qualms – at least the guy was sincere about it. During the time of Kiril Petkov, Nikola Minchev, the Speaker of the National Assembly, called Lena Borislavova to ask her what to do when she got into trouble at the Speaker’s Council. And a number of other examples in all previous governments that show that the prime minister has no limit to his power – first. Second – the National Assembly is not becoming a body of collective responsibility, as it is intended by the Constitution, but it is becoming a body of collective irresponsibility, because these 240 people’s representatives, they do not represent themselves, they represent the will of the party or the majority , which supports the Prime Minister. I.e. here is a model that was invented by the Seventh Grand National Assembly, which may have good ideas, but the actual practice in Bulgarian political life shows that it does not work.
Prime Minister Galab Donev categorically stated yesterday that the caretaker government will not participate in the elections and that the parties should look for opponents elsewhere. How do you read his words and what do you think provoked his statement? And are you of the same opinion that the caretaker government does not participate in the elections? Because your colleague – Kaloyan Metodiev, was our guest before you, he is of the opinion that the caretaker government participates in the elections from day 1 of its inauguration.
Look, Kaloyan Metodiev has clearly positioned himself where he is and I won’t even comment on him. But look, the fact that the legacy of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov obliges the official cabinet to take some decisions that are vital for the economic and not only the economic life of the country, and it is not enough to look further than the sphere of energy, and naturally, these decisions affect the political process in Bulgaria. Will the official cabinet resume, in what way will it resume negotiations with “Gazprom”, what will be the effects and result of this circumstance given the fact that Kiril Petkov’s government did everything possible to break with “Gazprom”, and not only to break with “Gazprom”, and let’s break with Russia as a whole – I will remind you that we expelled almost the entire staff of the Russian Embassy in Bulgaria. And these actions of Kiril Petkov are the reason why the official cabinet entered political events so abruptly, and it is quite normal that the political class to pay attention to what the ex-officio cabinet is doing because after all the ex-officio government is an executive branch that is charged with the same powers and the same duties as a regular government here. It is very often mentioned that the ex-officio government has to organize the elections, and the Constitution does not say so. The Constitution does not distinguish between an official and a regular government in terms of powers but of his authority. It’s simple, the caretaker government does not have a National Assembly and does not have its own majority to push its own bills. Thats the difference.
Rumen Radev’s appointments to the Cabinet seem to have created concern that a reversal of policy towards Russia is possible. Yesterday, in your Facebook post, on the social network, you stated that the lack of hot water will be the least we will feel. Why are you scaring us like that, Mr. Vassilev, what do you mean?
Because the devastation in energy from the legacy of Kiril Petkov is everywhere. And if the official cabinet, i.e. President Radev do not show courage if President Radev does not sacrifice part of his political capital, because at the moment the sentiments towards Russia in the Bulgarian society are quite negative, the war in Ukraine does not help and this puts the president in an extremely delicate situation, i.e. and the caretaker government, namely – or to realize that the country’s energy system is in an absolute inability to guarantee the import of natural gas beyond the month of October, if we do not immediately sit down to negotiations with “Gazprom”. This, of course, will reflect on the rating to the government and the president, because this is an artificially inflated topic, artificial tension – you raised the issue yourself, in society. I really cannot explain why people are so fixated on the subject of Gazprom. It’s a commercial deal and the fact that it’s a Russian company shouldn’t affect people’s attitude to this issue so much. So yesterday when I wrote – let’s go back to the post that the lack of hot water is the least they will feel, I think that was an extended context that the war in Ukraine and the consequences of the war in Ukraine are so large , serious and will shift so many layers in Europe that the problem will not be only this winter. The problem is Europe as a whole – Bulgaria is part of the European Union, thank God, but unfortunately, we are once again a country that has the potential to lose the battle, because the Kremlin’s policy towards Europe and the European Union is to weaken Europe and The European Union and the reason the Kremlin wants to weaken Europe and the European Union is because without Europe the US cannot do anything in Ukraine. The US needs the European Union and Europe on its side to be able to influence the processes in Ukraine. And the way the Russian state will try to influence Europe is economic. The way Russia will affect Europe economically is by stopping hydrocarbons. And this will essentially suffocate the European economy in the short term, because both Bulgaria and many other countries in the European Union, they cannot immediately replace Russian gas for the simple reason that there is no infrastructure. And that is why I wrote yesterday that the problem is much larger, much more serious. And I think that Bulgaria should have had a different attitude towards Gazprom, at the very least, because we are not in a position, we don’t have the infrastructure to import liquefied gas. This is a myth. Here, for our listeners, I just want to say that the two tankers, that Kiril Petkov imported, they were sold by “Bulgargaz” to “Botash” – this is the Turkish gas operator, which returned the same amount of gas to us through “Turkish Stream”, Russian gas, however, with inflated prices. I.e. diversification without the presence of infrastructure is impossible, and at the moment we do not have infrastructure. We have to use the only terminal for regasification of liquefied gas with which the Bulgarian gas transmission network has a connection – “Revitusa” in Athens. It is one terminal, it is absolutely unable to compensate for the missing 2 billion cubic meters of gas, which must come from somewhere . And this whole geopolitical construction made me write this post yesterday, which erupted that Bulgaria should have had a different attitude to the events in Ukraine. We are on the side of the European Union. This has absolutely no deviation from our geostrategic positioning, that we are part of the West, we must remain part of the West, but we must protect our interests. Both are completely compatible.
Yet is any mobilization possible at this stage? Do you think that in this one month ahead, we will see something different, new solutions, new ideas? Do you believe this is possible?
There can be no new solutions, new ideas. I hope that the interim government will succeed not only in resuming the negotiations with Gazprom, because they have been resumed, but in reaching effective solutions. There, the maximum program is the untaken 2 billion cubic meters of gas under the contract, which Kiril Petkov unilaterally violated – I mean again for our listeners, the Bulgarian government, against the speculation in the public that “Gazprom” has stopped the gas to Bulgaria, this is not true. “Gazprom” proposed new conditions to all its counterparties in the European Union, which would allow the continuation of the execution of the contracts, given the new sanctions that came in, and “Gazprom” proposed to “Bulgargaz” that we pay not into the “Citibank” account – New York in US dollars, which was blocked, and in a new account of “Gazprombank” in Switzerland. And we had to pay in US dollars, “Gazprombank” converted them into rubles for its own account, and we get our gas. Kiril Petkov’s government refused to do this, as a result of which we stopped receiving the natural gas that was claimed under the contract – this is 3 billion cubic meters, and the untaken quantities are the subject of a dispute between Bulgargaz and Gazprom Export. because these untaken quantities are governed by the Take or pay clause, which means that we must pay for them, whether we take them or not. The task of the caretaker government is to negotiate with Gazprom the fate of these 2 billion cubic meters of gas, i.e. we will take them, not just pay for them. And here it is very important to mark that if we do not agree with “Gazprom” now, these 2 billion cubic meters of gas will be the subject of a case and the outcome of this arbitration case – I don’t know if you remember what happened with “Belene”, no matter how much they explained to us that we will be in the position of certainty and position of a gainer – seem more than vague to me.
And since we have advanced a lot in time, I just want you to tell me in a few words what you expect the next government to be?
I think that the probability is very small, if the position of forces does not change radically or if the Bulgarian political elite in the first parties do not embrace each other in some magical way. This means that Boyko Borisov will rule with Kiril Petkov. I don’t know how they’re going to sell that to voters, maybe they can, but it seems unlikely to me.