Bulgaria: Hardline Ataka party now fourth largest

Posters for Ataka in downtown Sofia. Picture: AFP/ Getty
Posters for Ataka in downtown Sofia. Picture: AFP/ Getty
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AN ULTRA-nationalist party that calls foreign firms robbers and wants Bulgaria out of Nato has emerged as a ­possible kingmaker after an inconclusive ­general election result.

Ataka (Attack) is now the fourth largest party in the Bulgarian parliament and is being courted by the two main parties as they bid to form a coalition.

Both the centre-right Gerb, which held power before ­triggering elections with its resignation in February, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party failed to gain an outright majority in Sunday’s election, requiring them to agree a pact with other parties to form a government.

Turnout in the election was the lowest in Bulgaria’s post-Communist history at 51 per cent, reflecting widespread ­discontent with a political class many voters view as corrupt and self-interested, and a lack of ­viable alternatives.

With unemployment at an eight-year high and an average monthly wage of €400 (£340), many Bulgarians are deeply ­unhappy. Seven people have set themselves on fire during ­protests this year against low living standards and corruption. More unrest is feared in the months ahead.

Espousing a mix of populist and fiery nationalistic policies, Ataka has branded foreign companies operating in Bulgaria “robbers”, called for the re-nationalisation of some sectors of the economy and has vilified Bulgaria’s sizeable Romany community. Its words have fallen on soil made fertile by a growing despondency with mainstream politics, and an insipid economy struggling to provide jobs and a decent standard of living.

Describing itself as “neither Left nor Right, just Bulgarian,” Ataka was polling just 1 per cent in opinion polls at the start of the year, but it rallied to enter parliament for the third time with 7.39 per cent, and now stands in a powerful position.The Socialists have already made overtures to Ataka in the hope of creating a “joint governing programme” that would scupper Gerb’s efforts to form a government.

The left-wing party has the formidable goal of trying to persuade Ataka to scrap some of the more contentious components of the 16-point plan that forms the basis of its beliefs. Named after Volen Siderov, Ataka’s 57-year-old ­leader, the programme calls on Bulgaria to “free itself from colonial slavery”.

To achieve this it demands the “return of natural resources and profit-yielding economic sectors to the Bulgarian government”, leaving the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and “putting a stop to Bulgaria becoming an Islamic country”.

To halt the alleged spread of Islam, Ataka has called for a ban on the construction of mosques, a controversial demand given Bulgaria’s substantial Turkish minority (around 590,000).

“I want to underline the negative role of the West, which through all these years of colonising was actually pushing things in that direction – low incomes, cheap labour ­because foreigners benefit from it,” said Mr Siderov.

Along with the Socialists, Gerb could also come knocking on Ataka’s door. Although never formal allies, the two co-operated in the past until a falling out in 2009 soured their relationship. Mr Siderov said on the eve of the election that he opposed a coalition with Gerb as he had “no confidence in them”.

But while the Ataka leader has stressed anybody who wants him in a coalition has to sign up to his programme, there is a possibility that a bit of power and getting some of the Siderov plan turned into legislation might lure Ataka into a deal.

Bulgaria struggles to supply running water and electricity to some of its some 7.3 million citizens; two million people have left since the 1989 fall of Communism. Its population of Romany people is estimated between 400,000 and 700,000.

Many villages are already dying, full of collapsing buildings and populated only by the elderly.