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Boiko Borissov: A general history

Author: Clive Leviev-Sawyer Date: Fri, Jul 10 2009 4398 Views
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"Let me clarify one thing now, I have no wish to become a minister in the future. For me this professional post as chief secretary suits my possibilities and, given a little more power, I think that we all will be successful." So said Boiko Borissov in an interview with The Sofia in January 2003.

There is something of the Mark Antony in Borissov’s political career. In the years he was associated with the Simeon Saxe-Coburg administration, the government that made him chief of the Interior Ministry in 2001, he portrayed his popularity as having come to him unbidden and rejected the idea that he had political ambitions.

Even when he stood as a parliamentary candidate for Saxe-Coburg’s party in the 2005 parliamentary elections, Borissov let it be known he was doing so out of his personal loyalty to Saxe-Coburg. It was clear that Borissov was a vote-puller, and the country watched the extraordinary spectacle as he declined to take up his seat and remained at his post – until he left to fight for the first of his two terms as mayor of Sofia, along the way defeating the candidates nominated by Saxe-Coburg’s party.

In the same 2003 interview, Borissov – asked who in his career had been inspirations – replied: "Ideology aside, I can confess that there was a lot to learn from Todor Zhivkov (former party leader) about management. He was on very good terms with England, France, Russia and other countries. I was lucky to have worked with Prime Minister Simeon Saxe Coburg, who is the typical example for diplomacy and perception of the Western world. He constantly sends messages but unfortunately few people understand them".

We have the hindsight, as of election night on July 5 2009, that one of the side-effects of Borissov’s ascendancy has been Saxe-Coburg’s political eclipse, as the trouncing of the National Movement for Stability and Progress was followed in the ensuing 24 hours by the resignation of Saxe-Coburg as party leader. Saxe-Coburg did the honourable thing; it may have resonated with Borissov, who values honour.

With hindsight, too, it was apparent for a long time that Borissov was well-placed to choose his destiny, not needing the oratory of Antony. Already in 2002, Borissov’s popularity ratings were 20 per cent higher than those of his prime minister.

The same 2003 interview. Asked whether he was satisfied that there was sufficient political will in Bulgaria to get rid of crime, Borissov replied: "If I had the power tomorrow, I would summon Parliament for a bill to be approved immediately. Part of the bill would say that anyone caught with explosives should be imprisoned for 10 to 20 years… I believe that fighting crime needs concrete amendments to law".

Foreign media have had a wide range of ways to introduce Borissov to their readers. Karate expert, former firefighter, former bodyguard, former head of a private security company, former "top cop" even though the Interior Ministry chief secretary post was an administrative rather than power-of-arrest one, however arresting Borissov looked in his general’s uniform.

The story of his career is unquestionably arresting, but it was his time at the Interior Ministry that made it clear that he was no mere functionary, but someone with strong opinions.

Apart from regularly lashing out at the judiciary for failing to do its part against crime – his famous "we catch them and the courts let them out" line, Borissov also made known his views on the general state of Bulgaria, which he described in 2003 as "a car lacking a gearbox".

He went public with his view that the country should be transformed into a presidential republic.
"A presidential republic allows better co-ordination among institutions, because they are all accountable to the president, who bears all the responsibility."

Bearing responsibility is a key issue when it comes to Borissov.
After he became mayor of Sofia, the prolonged saga of the city’s waste disposal saw him lay the blame at the door of national government (he also threatened to lay heaps of refuse there, too).

His cabinet-ministers-to-be presumably also must have taken note that Borissov shares none of Saxe-Coburg’s reluctance to dismiss people or accept resignations. In the latter part of his career as Interior Ministry chief secretary, Borissov announced that he had asked to resign; after two weeks, Saxe-Coburg said that he was not accepting the resignation. It was never clear what the episode had been about, but when Borissov axed people in his capacity as mayor, it was always clear why – non-performance.

In turn, Borissov has been consistent in never accepting full accountability. After his first 100 days in office as mayor of Sofia, he listed his successes – but qualified his statements by saying that "the mayor has limited powers and cannot adequately deal with problems".

As with his reminiscences about communist dictator Zhivkov, Borissov has a pattern of being willing to put ideology aside. He had his public battles with Georgi Purvanov, current
President and former leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and with Sergei Stanishev, the BSP leader that voters have ousted as prime minister in favour of Borissov, but the shortest time would pass before the Sofia mayor would seem to be on the most cordial terms with them, working on issues such as the Sofia metro.

Before the political identity of Borissov’s party, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, became clear, Borissov was willing to talk to everyone from the BSP to Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka – the latter a fact that caused concern in some circles that Borissov would lead his party in a hard swing to the far-right, but the 2009 election campaigns saw Borissov and his lieutenant Tsvetan Tsvetanov affirm that coalition co-operation with Ataka was not on the agenda.

That was then, and this is now, but there are aspects of Borissov’s past that follow him, if only in certain circles such as the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the party that regularly invokes an image of its Turkish Bulgarian constituency as victims of communism.

Borissov was involved in the prosecution of the ethnic Turks in the 1980s. Back then, the then Bulgarian Communist Party initiated the process of changing the names of ethnic Turks, which resulted in many Turks leaving the country. Borissov has responded by saying that he was involved in the process as part of National Security Office, but he has not engaged in any violent acts.

"Our role was to protect the crops, guard the haylofts and make sure that the process is carried out peacefully," Borissov said. "I have nothing to be ashamed of."
Ahmed Dogan’s MRF may dredge this up against him, but it is also notable that, looking to the future, one of the very first points that Borissov made at his 2009 election night conference was to reach out to offer inclusivity to Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish population.

Because now it is about Borissov’s future, as leader of the country’s government, and the next chapter in his history.   

Borissov in brief

Borissov was born in the town of Bankya on June 13, 1959. After the Higher Special School of the Interior Ministry, from which he graduated in 1982 as an engineer majoring in Fire Equipment and Safety, with the rank of second lieutenant, Borissov started work at the Sofia Police Department, where he was appointed squad commander and, later, company commander.

Between 1985 and 1990, he lectured at the Police Academy (former Higher Special School). He completed a dissertation on Psychological and Physical Training of the Operational Staff. In 1990, he retired from the Ministry of the Interior as a major.

The next year Borissov established Ipon-1 Ltd., which became one of the largest security companies in Bulgaria. Ipon-1 is a member of the International Association of Personal Protection.

Borissov has been an active participant in karate tournaments since 1978 and holds a fifth Dan. He used to coach the national karate team and was referee at international tournaments.

Borissov first entered the public spotlight in 1996, during the first visit to the country since 1946 of the exiled former king Simeon II. At that time, Saxe-Coburg hired Ipon-1 to ensure his security. Borissov became his personal bodyguard.

Borissov has always expressed his utmost respect to his former employer.
"The king is an exceptional man," Borissov said in an interview with mass-circulation daily Trud in January 2003.
"I would have never taken risks if I was not sure that he was exceptional. Very wise, good, widely-tailored and really loving his country, extremely tolerant..."

Among the other high-profile clients who used Borissov’s guarding services were former communist leader of Bulgaria Todor Zhivkov and the president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch during his visit to Bulgaria.
"I have had two universities, one with Zhivkov and one with the king," Borissov said in a 2003 interview with Reuters.

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