BALKAN BLOG: Gangster-style photos from Bulgarian PM’s bedroom ratchet up dirty war with anonymous enemy

BALKAN BLOG: Gangster-style photos from Bulgarian PM’s bedroom ratchet up dirty war with anonymous enemy
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 25, 2020

Boyko Borissov’s third term as Bulgaria’s prime minister has been shaken severely by constant scandals since the beginning, but none of them compare to the latest, a direct attack on the veteran politician in what appears to be a dirty war with an unknown enemy.

Earlier in June, local media received anonymous photographs of Borissov sleeping in his bedroom next to a Glock 9mm handgun and a drawer full of €500 bills and gold bars. The prime minister has confirmed their authenticity, saying they were taken in the residence he is using as premier.

The photos were revealed several days after local media received, again anonymously, a recording of a phone conversation between two people, one of whose voice and tone sound like Borissov’s. During the conversation, he tells his interlocutor, whose identity is unknown, how he pushed theoretically independent authorities to put pressure on businessmen or to stop deals. In the same conversation, the person calls Parliament Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva a vulgar epithet, claiming she is stupid. Several EU leaders were also mentioned in the recording, again accompanied by vulgar statements. There was no proof of the authenticity of this recording, which was revealed a day before Borissov’s birthday.

The photos provoked various reactions in the country – not least speculation as to who was behind their distribution to the media – although its citizens are getting fed up with scandals and are more apathetic than angry.

Falling colossus

Borissov has built an image of an almighty strongman who controls everyone in the country and can change everything whenever he likes. However, the photos have raised questions about his power, as they appear to show he has an enemy very close to him.

Analysts have commented that, no matter who ordered and executed them, they are a sign of a dirty war that might put an end to Borissov’s political career.

One suggestion is that the attack on Borissov might come from fugitive gambling mogul Vassil Bozhkov, dubbed Cherepa (The Skull). Previously Bozhkov, who is hiding in the UAE after being charged on 18 counts in Bulgaria, initiated an attack against Borissov, claiming he had blackmailed him along with Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov.

However, Bozhkov has not admitted any involvement in the recording or the photos.

Other analysts suggest that the ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) could have been involved in the attack, jointly with Bozhkov or not, as a way to weaken Borissov ahead of the general election next spring and force him to rule in official coalition with the DPS.

The DPS is officially in opposition, but many believe the party controls Borissov behind the scenes and is his unofficial coalition partner.

Bad neighbours

In a response to the photos, seen by many as an overreaction, Borissov accused his main political rival, President Rumen Radev, of spying on him with a drone. The two politicians live in villas near each other, provided to all prime ministers and presidents during their mandates.

Radev, a former commander of Bulgaria’s air forces who enjoys a high rating as President, admitted that he has a drone and knows how to use it, but denied spying on Borissov. 

Although nobody believes Radev has been spying on Borissov, the prime minister’s accusation gave rise to lots of jokes about bad neighbours. And another person, who was the prime minister’s closest ally for years, is seen as a more likely bad neighbour. 

Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Borissov’s former right-hand man, left the ruling Gerb Party earlier in June, saying the party has no vision or morals anymore. Moreover, he suggested he might set up his own political project. For the last few days local media have been reporting that Gerb members in various towns are leaving the party.

It is still unclear whether Tsvetanov will really set up his own political party, but if he does, it is very likely that he would bring in former Gerb members he recruited in the past.

Tsvetanov is not the only politician keen to oust Borissov. Several political projects have been established in the last few months, all of them claiming they want to remove Gerb from power and restore the rule of law and morality in politics. However, sceptics say the next government will once again be formed with the blessing of the DPS, which despite having only 25 MPs in the current parliament has been seen for years as the force in the shadows that is really ruling the country.