Leafing through my l870s edition of Fables de La Fontaine, a favorite of mine, I couldn't help but notice a subtle parallel between Les Grenouilles qui Demandent un Roi (The Frogs who Demanded a King) and the mentality that led to the outcome of the 17 June parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. As in La Fontaine, the moral of the story is what matters and not so much the specific characters.
Frogs, kings and Bulgarians
I was sitting and thinking about the reasons why many people, all of a sudden, decided to act like the above mentioned frogs who lived a peaceful life until one day they decided they needed a constitution and a monarchy, something to bring excitement in their not-so-exciting lives. In all fairness to La Fontaine, however, I should mention that his frogs, descendants of Aesop's frogs, were quite unsatisfied with the first king that was sent to them. He was so calm they could climb on his head. So, they demanded one that was going to be a real king who would make every frog obey and tremble. Then the second king was sent and things went from bad to worse. But enough about frogs and kings—as Bulgaria proved, they always exist.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves what they ask for. Every nation deserves its rulers. But is every ruler good for its nation?
Businessman or political leader?
With 43.05 percent of the electoral vote in last weeks elections, the coalition of the ex-king of Bulgaria, Simeon II, is one vote short of an absolute majority in the 240-seat Parliament. Formed about two months ago, the National Movement of Simeon II (NMSII), aimed at, and collected, by any means, the ballots of the impoverished voter. The ex-king even visited the Faculty, the Roma section of Sofia, and gave out perfume bottles and the "usual" promises to its inhabitants. And it worked.
Bulgaria has always been a country of tales of the unexpected. Scholars scratch their heads in amazement looking at the surreal landscape. Not-so-peaceful frogs staring in the empty promises of their monarch bow with adoration. Unsure of what the future will bring. No doubt, they will find out once the dust has settled. And it will be a dusty road. It will take 800 days, as Simeon II promised, to raise the Bulgarian living standards, double salaries, pensions...well, it sounds really good, doesn't it?
Experienced economists wonder if they had missed a class in school when looking at the economic platform of the NMSII written by young Bulgarians living in London. It promises that taxes will be cut. Cutting taxes sure buys votes, but does not really build the badly-needed infrastructure—bridges, highways, playgrounds...
Simeon II has definitely proved he is a smart businessman. He chose a great time to start his political career, created the formula for an effective short campaign, and, the "correct" degree of vagueness in his interviews. For someone looking from the sidelines, things look pretty logical. Honesty, however, is a different story.
Words not actions
Bulgarians proved they like things that sound good. Tired of suffering the impact of the heavy reforms that the previous government instigated—a government that brought the country out of a major economic crisis and declared its readiness to be part of Europe—Bulgaria voted for the most populist promises it had ever been given.
I am not saying Kostov's government did not have its hard times. He allowed corruption in his government and that is always a faux pas. He should have been open about all the problems in the government and let the people know what was happening. There are many examples that can be given involving members of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski included, but this is not the subject of this article.
Commenting on the election results and his future government, Simeon II said that a coalition government with like-minded organizations, implying not the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), is possible. President Petâr Stoyanov also said this is not a bad idea. Or is it?
The NMSII should be left to rule the country on its own. If the UDF wants to preserve the respect of its voters (19 percent), it should enter into opposition and not join a coalition government. A coalition would mean the total dilution and destruction of the UDF. Let the empty promises materialize.
In 800 days, both frogs and kings will have forgotten the beginning of the story. They, I hope will rejoice under the great skies of Europe, rich and prosperous, in their little marsh. Let's pray, though, that as in the end of the story goes, the frogs don't end up in the beak of the stork...
Nadia Rozeva Green, 25 June 2001
- Archived articles about Bulgaria in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page