In the wake of the success of Greek extremists in last week’s parliamentary elections (including the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party with almost 7 percent of the vote), I received an email roundup of other right-wing extremist parties represented in European parliaments (care of our friends over at Romea.cz, who had, in turn, translated an article from the Czech news agency).
As I scanned the list, which included many of the usual suspects, I came across Ataka, a nationalist coalition in Bulgaria that burst on the scene back in 2005. Given the anxiety across Europe that the anti-Roma, anti-Turk party caused back then, I wondered whatever happened to them.
Back in July 2005, TOL, like other media, ran a rather alarmed feature describing the sudden success of Ataka. Though the coalition had formed only in May of that year, it had won more than 8 percent of the vote in the June parliamentary election. According to the author of the article – Yana Buhrer Tavanier, an editor at the weekly Kapital:
Such a party is a novelty for Bulgaria, where since the fall of communism, ethnic Bulgarians, Turks, and Roma have avoided the kind of ethnic tension that caused bloody wars in other Balkan countries. Almost everyone – political analysts, journalists, sociologists – declared Ataka the biggest surprise of these elections.
Led by journalist Volen Siderov, Ataka managed to attract both hard-core nationalists, as well as many left behind by the transformation: the beneficiary of a clear protest vote. More recently, Siderov came in second in the 2006 presidential elections at the end of 2006.
In 2009, Ataka won 9.4 percent in parliamentary elections and a whopping 12 percent of the vote in elections to the European Parliament.
Bulgarians have probably followed those results, but the rest of us could be forgiven for some curiosity over Ataka’s real influence and potential threat, especially taking into account how the economic crisis has radicalized the political scene next door in Greece.
Today, it turns out, the party is pretty much a joke. Ataka is in the midst of crumbling, in part because of sensational charges that Siderov had an affair with an Ataka parliamentary deputy, the former high school girlfriend of his son. In response to the scandal, the son and his mother have formed a splinter party, the National Democratic Party, and have tried to attract Ataka parliamentary members, with mixed results. The latest polls give Ataka a mere 2 percent or even less, far too little to enter into parliament in next year’s elections.
One of TOL’s correspondents in Bulgaria, Boryana Dzhambazova, had this to say:
To the disappointment of party supporters Ataka didn’t prove to be the real threat everybody feared it would be. Through the years Siderov seemed to be the barking dog that never bites. Despite his anti-Roma and anti-Turkish rhetoric his party never translated the words into some real actions.
Except the bloody clashes between Ataka supporters and Muslims during a Friday prayer last year, recently Ataka is under the media spotlight mostly because of the soap-opera-like family scandals between Siderov and his wife rather than some outrageous far-right political incentives.
Moreover, after the ruling centre-right GERB took over in 2009 Siderov became its most loyal ally in the Parliament and much of Siderov nationalistic talk slowly softened.
Boryana also got hold of Evgenii Dainov, a leading political analyst, to see what he had to say. In Dainov’s view Bulgarians got lucky that Volen Siderov turned out to be “harmless”.
“Ataka turned out to be a vaccine, not a disease for the political body in Bulgaria,” Dainov added. Like many others he predicted that Ataka was on its way out, and he expected that another far-right party would be able to accumulate the nationalistic vote – though it’s too early to determine which one.
Another long-time observer of the Bulgarian political scene that I spoke to saw things a bit differently (he didn’t want to be quoted because of past problems with Ataka). In the current climate, he felt that a single nationalistic party had no chance of doing well.
First of all, the vote is now fractured and there are four or five potential Ataka successor parties, with the most serious one clustered around a nationalist-bent regional TV station called TV Skat (which played a pivotal role in Ataka’s origin, as well, by hosting a Siderov talk show). Second, said the analyst, Ataka had disillusioned many that this type of party had real potential. “Bulgaria did not have a nationalistic party for a long time, then Ataka came and failed,” he said.
The analyst also cited the “traditional rationality and openmindness” of Bulgarians, perhaps a gracious explanation for the lack of similar parties in the recent past , perhaps not. Lastly, he pointed to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov as an attractive figure for nationalist voters: “No nationalistic leader looks more as a leader than he does. He embodies hard talk and leadership. So many nationalists simply vote for him.”
As for Ataka’s demise, the analyst had a straightforward explanation:
“The simple truth: Siderov got more money (staying close to GERB), less voters, and a new girlfriend. This killed the party. Now the voters are gone, the money as well, even the girlfriend.”
Sidorov photo courtesty of HomoByzantinus.