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The Post-Communist Rise of National Populism: Bulgarian Paradoxes


Paradoxically, Bulgarian national populism is a democratic phenomenon. During the first decade of the democratic transition, Bulgaria enjoyed a ‘shy’ nationalism; with the consolidation of democracy, radical national populism emerged. The latter is analysed in this chapter from several perspectives. The first part puts the spotlight on Ataka in a case study of this first and most emblematic national populist party in Bulgaria. It is ‘left wing, right wing, everything’ (Ghodsee). If Ataka occupies such an eclectic position along the classical socio-economic and political cleavages, it is because the party seeks to place itself along a new type of cleavage—it is transitioning from party politics to symbolic politics, from ideological to identity politics, from socio-economic and political to cultural cleavages. The second—party—perspective verifies in the case of Bulgaria the hypothesis of Eastern Europe as backsliding and the ‘usual suspect’ for every extremist nationalism. The genesis and rise of national populism is studied in regard to the diversification of its actors and their comparison in terms of agency, politics and power. The third perspective reconstructs the symbolic cartography and maps the three poles of identitarianism (politics of fear and overproduction of othering), post-secularism (religionisation of politics, exemplified in ‘Orthodox solidarity’, and statism (politics of sovereignty versus nationalism). Far-right populism is—and often wants to be—a paradoxical phenomenon. The conclusion summarises the democratic paradoxes of Bulgarian national populism.


  • Hate Speech
  • Syrian Refugee
  • Political Scene
  • Nationalist Party
  • National Front

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  1. 1.

    The Decade did not bring any tangible results, but in 2005 this was not known.

  2. 2.

    The others being Green parties.

  3. 3.

    These parties structure the political scene: BSP on the left, UDF on the right, NMSS and MRF in the centre.

  4. 4.

    Editor-in-chief of Demokratsia, the UDF newspaper; unsuccessful candidate for Sofia mayor; fan of Simeon II; assistant editor-in-chief of Monitor, another national newspaper.

  5. 5.

    Political nomadism—leaving one party to join a ruling one or create a new one—is a widespread phenomenon in Bulgarian parliamentary politics, but it is particularly illustrated by Ataka’s MPs. The party twice loses the right to have a parliamentary group (with a minimum of ten MPs) because of nomadism in favour of the governing party GERB.

  6. 6.

    Европрисъда заради „Атака’и боя пред джамията Баня Башъ (Eurosentence on Ataka for the clash at Bania Bashi Mosque) in 24.02.2015,

  7. 7.

    NDF and GORD are ‘copy and paste’ from Ataka; they express the leadership ambitions of their leaders and have not gained significant electoral support. NDF is no longer present on the political scene, GORD is part of the ‘Patriotic coalition’ in the current parliament.

  8. 8.

    Volen Siderov’s first priority after the split with TV Skat was to create TV Alfa.

  9. 9.

    Ataka’s manifesto bears the arrogant title ‘Siderov’s Plan against the Colonial Yoke’.

  10. 10.

    National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria was founded in 2012. It is supported and publicized by the Skat TV channel, which used to be Volen Siderov’s launch vehicle.

  11. 11.

    The NIE (National Ideal for Unity) was set up by Slavcho Atanasov, former mayor of Plovdiv, in 2010 after a split within IMRO.

  12. 12.

    The National Democratic Party was established on 2 June 2012 by Volen Siderov’s ex-wife Kapka Siderova and his adopted son Dimitar Stoyanov, former Ataka MEP; both of whom were Siderov’s closest associates;the split was for family rather than political reasons.

  13. 13.

    Not registered so far.

  14. 14.

    Later, Rasate left BNU because of a leadership conflict but remained active in extremist politics.

  15. 15.

  16. 16. If Boyko Borisov apologised for his statement, health minister Moskov emphasised he would not apologise to anybody (ibid.).

  17. 17.

    2013 parliamentary, 2014 European, 2014 parliamentary.

  18. 18.

    Ataka is the most Russophile party in Bulgaria, standing even closer to Russia and Putin than the BSP. These close relations are reinforced along the axes of Orthodox Christianity (Figure 7.5), pan-slavism, anti-Europeanism and anti-globalisation. There are two factors in the Russoplile orientation of Ataka: electoral and economic/geopolitical. There is an electoral niche for Russophile voters in Bulgaria and Ataka aspires to occupy most of it. The second reason combines energy policy, geopolitics and electoral strategy. Ataka is among the strongest defenders of Russsian energy interests in Bulgaria, but communicates them to the electorate not in geopolitical, but in social terms, translating them into slogans for affordable electricity bills for citizens.

  19. 19.

    ‘If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.’

  20. 20.

    According to the last census of 2011, the number of Roma is 325,348 (4.9 per cent of the population). This figure refers to those who identify as Roma. Roma identities are diversified: some identify as Bulgarian, others as Turks. Estimates put the number of Roma in Bulgaria at about 700,000–800,000.

  21. 21.

    An outline of the later manifesto ‘Twenty Principles of the Ataka party’.

  22. 22.

    This is a quote from an invitation by No to Neo-Nazi Marches, an informal citizen group.

  23. 23.

  24. 24. (Text 12).

  25. 25. (Text 2).

  26. 26.

    Original research taken from Krasteva, A. (2015). Religion, politics and nationalism in post-communist Bulgaria. Elastic (post)secularism. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 21 (4), 422–445.

  27. 27.

    Muslim girls are not allowed to wear headscarves in secular public schools, but the same schools are being encouraged to introduce Orthodox Christianity as a compulsory subject.

  28. 28.

    Roger Friedland defines religious nationalism through a set of characteristics: it provides a specific ontology of power that is demonstrated and sanctioned by its politicised practices and the central place its political aims and ambitions take; it localises social solidarity in the ‘organic’ space of the family and the community, rather than in the ‘negotiated’ space of abstract citizens; and it provides ‘an alternative welfare state to their members, its services are offered and consumed as a condition of and within a context of community, unlike the distant, bureaucratic, and often officious state’ (Friedland 2001: 142).

  29. 29.

    Interview with Vanya Ivanova.

  30. 30.

    Interview wirth Vanya Ivanova.

  31. 31.

    ‘If democracy means political legitimacy, premised on the popular vote, as well as constitutionalism (separation of powers), then populists accept the former and dismiss the latter (i.e. the idea that constitutional norms and representative democracy have a priority over values and the people’s ‘legitimate’ anxieties)’ (Rupnik 2007: 130).

  32. 32.

    On the contrary, Petar Moskov’s anti-Roma statements received support from the leaders of the Reformist Bloc (Radan Kanev) and many public figures.

  33. 33.

    Rosanvallon formulates a triple simplification: a political simplification by considering the people as an obvious subject; a procedural simplification by maintaining that the established elites are corrupt and that the only real appeal to democracy is the direct appeal of the people; and a structural simplification (Rosanvallon 2011: 6–7).

  34. 34.

    The Reformist Bloc, which rose to power after the wave of civil protests in 2013, offered some hope but quickly deteriorated into ‘politics as usual’.


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Krasteva, A. (2016). The Post-Communist Rise of National Populism: Bulgarian Paradoxes. In: Lazaridis, G., Campani, G., Benveniste, A. (eds) The Rise of the Far Right in Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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