Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bulgarian Vote Barometer On 'Reforms'

Little doubt the coven of Informant readers will ho-hum about the topic I'm about to raise: a runoff for the mostly ceremonial post of president in the faroff East European land of Bulgaria. So why raise it? Because I have nothing else to write about. Just kidding.... kinda. Seriously, the vote may seem insignificant at first, and second, and third glance (alright time to get serious), but there is something deeper brewing here that I mention in my catchy headline. Georgi Parvanov, is a 49-year-old historian, who holds a pretty much ceremonial post of president in Bulgaria. Bulgarians admittedly admire the guy for raising the country's image on its path to joining NATO in 2004 and its invitation to join the EU on January 1, 2006. Parvanov also will go down in history as heading the reform of the Socialist Party following Bulgaria's 1996 economic meltdown from a hard-lined communist to a more European model. But all is not well in Bulgaria, the birthplace of yogurt. Voters are frustrated. Their purchasing power is less today than it was before the 1989 fall of communism. Half of its 7.8 million people live on less than $2.5 a day! Its economic output is about a third of the EU average. Enter, Volen Siderov, a former hack and the leader of the Attack party. His second-place showing in the first round of voting was totally unforeseen. But his anti-everything from the IMF, the EU, NATO and the U.S., resonated with enough of those Bulgarians fed up with Western-styled economic "reforms." The story of the 'losers" of reforms is one largely not told in the Western press, which focuses mainly on progress, and there is much, largely concentrated in cities and enjoyed by the young, and well-educated. Those struggling in the countryside are largely ignored. Siderov has been dismissed by diplomats and mainstream parties and commentators, as a xenophobe and ultranationalist. He has himself to blame in part for statements he's made against Bulgaria's large minority communities of ethnic Roma and Turks. Siderov may be no hero, and his chances are nil of winning on Sunday, but his candidacy is just the latest reminder that sweeping reforms in Eastern Europe may have dismantled the old Communist system, but have failed to meet the needs of many.


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