No longer just a political joke as he used to be, Volen Siderov is riding the popularity wave with his right-wing rhetoric of hatred, intolerance and aggression during this hard time in Europe.
In politics, those who don’t have anything sensible to say usually speak with the loudest voice. A perfect example of this is Bulgaria’s most entertaining (and slightly scary) right-wing political leader, Volen Siderov.
His favourite hangout spot: the Bulgarian parliament, accusing the Prime Minister and fellow parliamentarians of being “gay”.Siderov’s favorite pastimes: sowing racial hatred in the electorate.
His European floppiness factor grows when times are hard; like today.
Once upon a time
Once upon a time, back in the Communist (anti)utopia of Bulgaria, Volen Siderov was a peaceful photographer, employed by the National Literature Museum. After democracy blessed the people, he decided that politics was more to his taste. As a good, democratically minded individual, Mr. Siderov joined several of Bulgaria’s emerging centre-right newspapers as a journalist and editor, where he had a productive (if not remarkable) career for the next decade, despite being consecutively fired from several of them. The winds of change started blowing, however, when he started his own TV talk show on a private cable-network station.
And then things started to go wrong
The talk show had such an innocuous name – “Attack”. And attacking is what Mr. Siderov did. He raved against the destruction of the Bulgarian identity by Bulgarian Turks; he warned that the Roma will soon surpass the ethnic Bulgarian population in numbers; and he also didn’t forget to denounce the communists, which included anyone with a vaguely socialist agenda.
In 2002, Volen Siderov went on a trip to Moscow, where he met a small gathering of like-minded individuals such as David Duke, Ahmed Rami, and Jürgen Graf, all of whom are notorious Holocaust deniers. They must have felt right at home, for the gathering Mr. Siderov attended was entitled “The Global Problems of World History”, although one might argue that such meetings tend to create problems, rather than solve them.
But anecdotes about Siderov are not limited to his political life. In 2006, while he was on his way to Sofia, his vehicle was slightly hit by another car on the highway. The “perpetrator” was a 22-year-old student, who was driving his 70-year-old grandfather to the capital. However, Mr. Siderov considered the incident a threat to his life, so he ordered his driver to cut the tyres of the car and rough up the other driver. Later, after being convicted of lying in court, Siderov had his parliamentary immunity suspended for a time.
The only reasonable comment was that Siderov has to be tested for abnormally high blood alcohol content everytime he appears in public.
Despite his actions and the media attention, Volen Siderov seemed like the usual run-of-the-mill extreme right politician, who shouts himself hoarse from a soapbox on the street corner without being heard by anybody. Unfortunately, in 2006 people started listening. 2006 was a turning point for Bulgaria. The country had tried to complete the reforms in order to join the EU, which involved making several sacrifices, such as closing a large part of the country’s nuclear power plant. It was a move that was extremely unpopular with the electorate. Bulgarians were not sure whether the new membership would really benefit their lives or the country as a whole. Siderov was quick to seize on the crisis mentality of the people; since there was no strong opponent to the incumbent socialist president Georgi Parvanov, Volen Siderov ended up coming second in the first round and went on to the second round of elections, in which he faced Parvanov alone. In the end, common sense prevailed and Parvanov was reelected with 75% of the vote. But the result was still pretty scary. Volen Siderov, backed by his “Attack” party, managed to win 25% of the vote on a platform based on hatred, bigotry, and lies.
Siderov took the defeat in his stride and went on to cause more trouble, which has recently become even more embarrassing and dangerous for Bulgaria and the EU. In February 2010, he boarded a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, on which he reportedly threw food at the plane personnel, calling them “Nazis” and disrupting the safety of the flight. When the Frankfurt police showed up on the tarmac with a pair of handcuffs and an alcohol metre, Siderov presented his diplomatic passport and insisted on his diplomatic immunity. The only reasonable comment that came out of the whole episode was that of a parliamentarian, who believed that Siderov ought to be tested for abnormally high blood alcohol content anytime he appeared in public.
This might actually have been a sound policy, since it could have prevented his scariest and act to date. On 20th May, 2011, Siderov and about a hundred members of his political movement, mostly wearing black army boots and army trousers, converged upon the biggest mosque in Sofia and staged a protest against the excess volume of the prayer calls from the minaret speakers. After a few verbal exchanges, a fight broke out between “Attack” members and the Muslim mosque-goers, who had gathered for their Friday prayers. Luckily, the police were quick to break up the fight and arrested several of the more unruly “Attack” members.
A flop who rides the popular wave during hard times
So Volen Siderov is definitely a flop. But what makes him a European flop?
Despite his – how shall we put it mildly? – eccentricity, Mr. Siderov is a master at tapping into the protest vote at any election, which has given his autocratically-controlled “National Union Attack” party at least two seats in the European Parliament in every election. The Attack MEPs then proceed to cause further diplomatic embarrassment to the EU’s newest member country. For instance, in the case of Dimitar Stoyanov, who sent a mass-email to his colleagues with humiliating comments targeting Hungarian Roma MEP Lívia Járóka. Oh, and he consistently votes against Roma-integration programs, along with other ultra-nationalist Eastern European MEPs. The whole incident must have been a coincidence.
After joining the European Parliament, the Attack party was happy to take part in the foundation of the Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty political group, the farthest-right group in the European Parliament. It collapsed some time after its founding, due to intra-group disagreements between the members, but even the foundation of such a far-right group in the European Parliament was made possible only after the Bulgarian and Romanian far-right MEPs gave it the required number of participants and its death blow was dealt when the Romanian far-right MEPs left it. While Bulgaria has a relatively small number of seats in the parliament, a strong election for the Attack party could provide just enough MEPs to reinitiate a far-right political group in the European Parliament.
Volen Siderov and his Attack party are always a sign of trouble. Like any self-respecting populist, he is at the height of his power when economic or political conditions are declining. And with the Greek crisis still shaking the whole Eurozone and the usual political wrangling in the European leadership, trouble’s-a-plenty.
So without further ado, we would like to award the title of Flop European title to Mr. Volen Siderov, for exceptional racial hatred, lack of political tact and some altogether worrying acts of insanity.
Cover illustration: Plamen Stoimenov (EU2018BG) Licence: CC by 2.0