Europäisches Institut für Menschenrechte - Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -
       Europäisches Institut für Menschenrechte- Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -

Leadership Dynamics in Parliamentary Republics: The Case of Bulgaria

Leadership Dynamics in Parliamentary Republics: The Case of Bulgaria

Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu


This article focuses on recent political and social developments in Bulgaria. Particularly, it delves into conflicts within the parliamentary system, differences among political leaders, and constitutional amendments. The article examines the leadership of Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and the country's efforts to move away from the Western-Atlantic trajectory. Additionally, it touches on the status of the Turkish minority and the impact of the declaration of independence by the Western Azerbaijan Goiche-Zangezur Turkish Republic on the Turkish minority in Bulgaria. This article aims to analyze the domestic political dynamics of Bulgaria and its regional and international implications.




In parliamentary republics, there is often a potential for conflicts between the country's president and prime minister. During such periods, political struggles can intensify, and if the political culture isn't sufficiently mature, opposing groups to those in power may seek to manipulate laws in their favor. Presently, Bulgaria serves as an illustrative example of this situation.


Rumen Radev, a former air force commander, currently holds the presidency in Bulgaria. Despite being referred to as a former NATO general, Radev significantly diverges from NATO's policies, particularly concerning the approach to ending armed conflicts, such as the one in Ukraine. As a result, Radev emphasizes the necessity of initiating a swift peace process between parties rather than increasing arms supplies to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. In a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in July, Radev underscored the priority of peace over "victory" rhetoric, stating that the word "peace" should take precedence for any nation experiencing armed conflicts.


While governments in Bulgaria are formed by the parliament, the influence of pro-Western European-Atlantic forces, especially on matters like the Ukraine crisis, has grown in recent years. Leading figures in the pro-Western political spectrum include former prime ministers like Boyko Borisov and leaders of the "Continuation of Change" party like Kirill Petkov. Notably, Kirill Petkov emphasized the supply of arms to Kyiv in March as a display of Europe's power, asserting that it demonstrated the country's refusal to endorse aggression.


In parliamentary republics, the president often assumes a symbolic and representative role, with actual political power lying in the hands of the prime minister chosen by the parliament. However, according to Bulgaria's constitution, when the coalition government in the National Assembly dissolves and a new government can't be formed, the president holds the authority to appoint a temporary government and dissolve the parliament.


Since 2015, Bulgaria has experienced five parliamentary elections. However, due to the inability to form a stable government coalition, a significant portion of the country is governed by temporary governments appointed by President Rumen Radev.


Recently, Radev has aimed to reshape the country's foreign policy by moving away from the influence of Western-Atlantic powers. Negotiations have taken place, particularly concerning gas supply from Gazprom, which contradicts the European Union's policy of distancing itself from Russian energy sources. Similarly, declarations of halting arms supply to Ukraine have been made multiple times.


In early June 2023, a coalition of the "Continuation of Change" and "Democratic Bulgaria" parties with the GERB party signaled a return to the former European-Atlantic trajectory. On July 6th, Zelensky and Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov signed a declaration regarding Ukraine's integration into NATO. The document expressed Sofia's readiness to provide both political and financial support.


According to surveys, a significant majority of the Bulgarian population does not support the government's foreign policy. A survey conducted by Median agency in late July revealed that 65% of Bulgarians oppose arms supply to Kyiv. President Rumen Radev maintains credibility with a broad support of 53%. However, only 20% of the respondents believe that Denkov's pro-Western government is "promising".


In light of this negative sentiment, the pro-European-Atlantic forces controlling the parliament are working on further limiting Radev's authority through constitutional amendments. If the proposed constitutional changes are adopted, the President will no longer be able to appoint temporary governments and intervene in foreign policy matters.


Additionally, the Bulgarian parliament plans to strip the Chief Prosecutor of the authority to oversee the legality and methodological guidance of all prosecutors. This decision is based on the claim that Radev attempted to influence public representatives through the Chief Prosecutor. Likewise, reference to corruption investigations against pro-Western leaders has led to calls for the removal of parliamentary immunity.


The constitutional changes proposed by anti-Russian forces also impact the issue of historical memory. For instance, the suggestion of designating May 24th, celebrated as Slavic Literature and Culture Day, as an official state holiday is on the table. This could potentially replace Liberation Day, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and Turkey on March 3, 1878, marking Bulgaria's liberation from Ottoman rule.


Reducing the constitutional significance of Bulgaria's liberation is considered an affront to Russia's Victory Day. If not for Russia's rescue of Bulgarians from Ottoman rule on March 3, 1878, Bulgarians would not be able to celebrate national holidays like Slavic Literature and Culture Day. In this context, the conscious adoption of a Bulgarian-hostile stance by European-Atlantic powers seems to be aligning with the official opposition of the Rights and Freedoms Movement party, representing Turkish minority interests, to a pro-European position. Thus, the condition of the South Slavic population today might have been as challenging as that of the Kurds in the Middle East if the Russians hadn't saved the Bulgarians. The Kurds in the Middle East are an ethnic group residing in countries like Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Throughout history, the Kurds have sought to establish their independent state, but their efforts have largely been rejected due to pressure from surrounding countries. Although different political dynamics and factors are at play in each country, Kurds have generally faced difficulties in language, cultural rights, and limited political representation. While they have achieved greater autonomy in some regions, they continue to struggle for their rights and identity.


Recently, President Radev has highlighted a "threat to freedom and democracy" in the country, criticizing the reforms proposed by pro-Western powers. According to Radev, Bulgarian society should closely monitor these developments and respond promptly.


The question of whether Bulgaria will resist or acquiesce to constitutional changes that contradict democratic values and historical truths is a significant issue that will shape its future. The reduction of the constitutional significance of Bulgaria's Liberation Day could impact collective memory and relationships with Russia.


The future political and social developments in Bulgaria have the potential to affect both its domestic stability and its external relationships. The independence aspirations of the Turkish minority might impact regional balance, while the influence of pro-European-Atlantic forces could shape Bulgaria's political preferences. The path Bulgaria chooses to follow in the near future is a subject that requires careful observation both regionally and internationally.


August 8, 2023, Luxembourg

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