Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Meet the Greens :) Part I

Adelina Marini, June 17, 2009

Maybe you haven't heard yet but in the Bulgarian political space a new party appeared in the time before the European elections - the Bulgarian Greens. But do not mistake it with the Green party of the ex-mayor of Sofia Alexander Karakachanov. This is a party, created by a group of young enthusiasts, mainly environmentalists, biologists, ecologists, ornithologists who succeeded many times to save from outrage the Bulgarian mountains of Rila, Pirin, Strandzha and are still fighting for Irakli and in January they were of the most active in the protests in front of the National Parliament, insisting for a prohibition of the exchange of state forests. And they made it. And at the European elections with no money for active advertising, because they do not have any, they managed to win the votes of 0.72% of the voters.

The Greens managed in time with many difficulties and uncertainties to collect the necessary deposit for participation in the Parliamentary elections on the 5th of July, by donations of course. That is why I decided to find them. I was interested in knowing what can make a "green" to deal with politics. We arrange a meeting in the park in front of the National Palace of Culture on Monday afternoon. Before me the leader of the party Andrey Kovachev has another interview. They are late. I call but Andrey's phone is off. Then I call Ivaylo Stoimenov who is responsible for media relations in the Bulgarian Greens and he arranged the interview for me. He appeared to be 1 minute away from the place and we will try together to find out what is going on.

I'm surprised! Ivaylo comes on a bicycle! Yes, you'd say, he is green, right? Right, but I'm in a way not used to believe what I'm told, especially by political forces no matter how innocent they might look. This is a good start, I thought! 5 minutes later Andrey calls back, the previous interview is over. He comes to us with a rucksack on his back and a white T-shirt with a green number on it - 12 - this is the number of their voting paper. After I noticed I like the T-shirt, both men told me, laughing, that is I want one I have to pay 10 levs (around 5 euro). "This is the way to finance our party", quickly explained Andrey.

Ivaylo left us and we decided to sit on a bench in the park so as to discuss in piece and silence everything that I'm interested in. We start to talk and I, in spite of my long work as a journalist who closely follows the political life in the country, am infected by Andrey's enthusiasm, spread all around - we talk tirelessly for almost 40 minutes about everything that crossed my mind. I didn't ask a lot of things, but maybe I shouldn't have. I'm once again surprised because I did not expect him to be prepared on all issues which we discussed - politics, party construction, energy, tourism, economy, education, buying of votes, desperation. I started my interview with Andrey Kovachev with the question:

- What did the results from the European elections show? Where did you get most support?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: We gained support at the places where we worked. In other words where we had a campaign - Sofia and some other big cities like Varna and Plovdiv. Where people saw us and learned about us.

- And what is the reason for their support, did you manage to analyse this?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: Unfortunately we do not have opinion polls at this stage - everything is being paid (he's laughing). But either way the support came from people who do not vote. They do not vote for any party anymore because they are disappointed and, although they are politically active and would want to vote, they do not have a choice and now they see in the Greens people they can support because we have nothing in common with the oligarchy and the whole rotten system. There were even people that voted for the first time in their lives.

- But doesn't this substitute, to some extent, your idea - if someone votes for you only because he doesn't want to support anybody, instead of voting for your ideas?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: It doesn't substitute it because our ideas are for a change in the system and a change of what is going on in Bulgaria - this is part of our ideas. We intercede for radical change in legislation in a way that the authority should be taken away from politicians and returned to the citizens. The judicial system will be given the op[poturinity not to be elected by politicians but by a body, elected directly by citizens. We should also elect directly the ombudsman, we should have a public media council, that will not be appointed by politicians and which will deal with public media.

We should have the opportunity, after elections, to participate directly in the decision-making process and to control the decisions, proposed by the authorities, including through the mechanism of an obligatory referendum. Full transparency of all documents with institutions, with the relevant archives and clear methods for their announcement and etc. We have 1 system of proposals in our campaign "Let's return the state to the citizens" which, in fact, are proposals for radical change in the country.

- Given the fact that not too many people know about you and your ideas, if you get into Parliament you will not have enough support to pass your ideas. From this point of view, is there a party or a political force that has close to yours ideas?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: Ask them! We, our programme, because most parties do not have a separate programme for the Parliamentary elections - they had a common one for both elections, we published our programme on our web page. Those who agree with it we will work with them and if they work on our priorities. Those who do not want, for example, the local referendum, we will not work with. So, find out who the real democrats are and who are not. At the moment we are, most of all, a challenge to those who claim to be democratic because, against us, they might not look that democratic anymore.

This is the biggest challenge - we change the atmosphere in the country only with our appearance - with the fact that a new party appears which has nothing to do with this rotten model, which comes from below, from citizens, from the active civil groups, (a) and, (b), which offers things that the others have never proposed and have never talked about because they were scared. At the moment they are going out. Let everybody look at and print our programme and reckon that what we have written in it appears for the first time in the political space, at least a very large % of the content of the programme and let them see what it would be like in 5 or 10 years. Not only as programmes of the other parties but as already taken decisions in some mid-term future.

- In other words you would not seek, by all means, to form a coalition with someone just to achieve what you want and you would be happy if any party would have your ideas absorbed?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: We would be fully satisfied only when these ideas are being realised, are being voted for and we will form a coalition with people whose interests are in support of these ideas. What we will work for is as many people, no matter their political biases, to become biased with these ideas. We are looking for allies among people who can push on their political parties to accept these things because these ideas are related to the direct civil democracy.

- And how do you perceive the atmosphere of the current election campaign and the campaign for the European elections?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: I, personally, do not trust any of the current political forces and after seeing how they arrange their personnel, how they discuss things, how they negotiate and what their campaigns are like - I felt dirty because there's no light in the tunnel. I did not see any party to show the light in the tunnel. And I'm not happy because the responsibility falls on us and we are too weak to respond to this responsibility. This is what worries me. We are too weak to be able to take this responsibility to show the light in the tunnel and be the alternative.

- Well, let's talk a little more in detail then. These elections showed and, I guess that the Parliamentary would not make an exception, that more and more people do not want to vote, in spite of the explanations that non-voting is wrong. How do you think this could change?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: People do not want to vote because this doesn't change their lives, i.e. their choice is meaningless. They have the right to go in 1 day in every 4 years to the polls to vote for someone to rule on them for 4 years without any control. I'm talking about uncontrolled power. The system is made in such a way that whoever takes power of Parliament, becomes uncontrolled all-powerful master and that is a very good business for shopping elections. In such a situation there's no way that people would not be appalled by all this and they do not believe that there's a good reason for them to cast their vote when they do not have the way to choose their way of living and the decisions being taken.

The only way out of this political crisis, which in fact is, maybe not so acute, but is spread in whole Europe and the way out is the direct democracy. This is the opportunity citizens to take part directly in the decision-making process, to have control over the decisions and to initiate themselves solutions. And when this happens, when people are close to this process and are not being held light years away, as it is now, then they will be much more willing to take part. I guarantee in front of you, including with regard to the European institutions like the EP, that the lack of people's will to vote in Europe is due exactly to this distance between the people and the so called representative democracy - when you elect an institution to represent you for a period of time and you leave them to do whatever they want. There's no such a thing! The future of the 21st century is of the direct democracy. For good or bad we are honoured, the Greens, to be the first swallow of change.

- In this regard would you seek and do you think you have allies on European level?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: Yes, definitely! We work for years with the European Greens on various issues with certain MEPs. I can say that the best EP representatives in the previous Parliament were the MEPs of the Green group like David Hammerstein - one of the people that engaged directly with the civil petitions, filed to the EP.

- And how would you confront the raising popularity of the far right or far left parties, as a result to all what we just discussed?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: The extreme ideas come only when there is no light in the tunnel. When people lost their faith and wonder what can solve the problems. Only then people become extreme. And it cannot be any different when you've stopped believing and you think that only a gun can do things right. Of course the person that is extreme does not realise that the one he stands against might take out a bazooka and that, in fact, this is not the way. But the position that makes people extreme is when their problems are not being solved the normal way.

(end of Part I. Look forward to my further conversation with Andrey Kovachev about the ideas of the Bulgarian Greens about economy, employment, energy independence, education)