Calendar of the most important dates for democracy building and the rule of law crisis in Bulgaria

10th November 1989: Post-communist transition in Bulgaria starts with a ‘palace coup’ – the Secretary General of Bulgarian Communist Party and leader of the country Todor Zhivkov is removed from office by his comrades at the November Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The event took place after the fledgling dissident movement (gathered around the ‘Ekoglasnost’ organisation) in Bulgaria managed to organise its first rallies in late October and early November.

3rd January – 14th May 1990: Roundtable talks between representatives of the ruling Communist party and the newly established Union of Democractic Forces (comprised of successors of pre-WWII parties, alongside anti-communist dissidents) to negotiate the peacful transition to democracy took place, where there holding of the first free elections and a New Constitutions were also agreed.

12th July 1991: The new Constitution of Republic of Bulgaria is adopted by the Grand National Assembly, giving strong guarantees for separation of powers and judicial independence (including both prosecutors and investigators)

Summer 1991: The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Bulgaria established. The fist case it was called to decide (case 1/91) concerned the constitutionality of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (ДПС in Bulgarian, henceforth DPS) – the party representing Ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. As art.11 (4) of the Constitution explicitly forbids creating ethnic political parties in Bulgaria, MPs from the Bulgarian socialist party (ex-communist) challenged the registration of DPS and the election of MPs from this party. In an internationally acclaimed decision from April 1992 (decision 4/1994) the Court ruled that DPS was constitutional.

November 8th 1991 – December 30th 1992: the first anti-communist government after 1989, led by Philip Dimitrov (UDF) was formed, aimed at ‘changing the system through radical reforms’ (privatisation, restitution of proeprty to its former owners, decommusation, etc.) It was a minority government (the winner in the Oct. 1991 parliamentary elections UDF had 110 MPs) and was elected with support from DPS (third party in Parliament). The government resigned at the end of 1992 after DPS withdrew its support.

May 1997 – July 2001: The pro-reform government of Ivan Kostov. The financial (hyperinflation) and economic collapse of the country in late 1996 was brought by the policies of Zhan Videnov’s BSP majority government (Jan 1995 – Feb 1997) and provoked mass protests. In the subsequent early elections of 1997 UDF won an absolute majority with a mandate for radical reforms. Kostov’s cabinet introduced pro-market reforms (including thorough privatisation), modernisation of the state (social sector, healthcare sector, etc.) and started EU accession talks. It was the first government in Bulgaria after 1989 to serve its full term and accummulated a lot of resentment due to the radical reforms it implemented.

17th June 2001: The movement led by ex-king Simeon II, NDSV (‘National Movement Simeon the Second’), won the parliamentary elections, gaining 120 of 240 seats, shortly after Simeon’s return to Bulgaria. The ex-king could have had absolute majority had two other parties not have used his name in their registration to confuse voters. Exploiting the reform fatigue and resentment toward the previous pro-reform government, the ex-king ran on an anti-corruption ticket of ‘restoring morality in politics’. He made a series of populist promises to solve all remaining problems of the country “within 800 days”: raise living standards, double the average monthly salary, and fight corruption in government. The NDSV formed a coalition government with DPS.

2001 – 2009: NDSV and DPS rule together, and after 2005 their coalition is joined by BSP. The years around Bulgaria’s EU accession in 2007 are a period of rapid economic growth and development. It is also a period during which the influence in Bulgaria of oligarchic circles – forming around the ‘bank of power” Corporate Commersial Bank – grew and became difficult to control.
The 21 year old Delyan Peevski, son of the President of the Bulgarian National Sports Lottery Mrs. Irena Krasteva – a well-connected politically business woman – becomes a member of NDSV. He is immediately appointed as Chair of the Board of the biggest harbour in Bulgaria – Varna harbour – without having the requisite education or experience. During Stanishev’s government – the triple coalition between NDSV, DPS and BSP – Peevski becomes vice-Minister responsible for the National Reserve. During the period 2001 – 2009 Peevski rapidly becomes a leading politician, businessman and media mogul, buying media outlets and other businesses, using both his political connections and his close association with Tzvetan Vassilev, the owner of the ‘bank of power”, Corporate Commersial Bank. In 2009 Peevski becomes member of DPS and is elected as an MP. In 2021 he is sanctioned by the US Treasury department on the Global Magnitsky law – for high profile corruption and trading in influence.

January 1st 2007: Bulgaria joins the EU without having fulfilled all EU membership requirements – most conspicuously with regard to fight against corruption and judicial reform. Amendments to the Constitution were introduced in 2006 in order to strengthen judicial independence and increase the accountability of magistrates, by creating an Inspectorate attached to the Supreme Judicial Council.
The European commission starts post-accession monitoring of the country under the Cooperation and verification mechanism, which has not been formerly lifted to this day. The EC produces annual reports which have increasingly achieved fewer and fewer results.

2009 – 2021: GERB – the party of the charismatic mayor of Sofia Boyko Borissov, who rose to prominence as Internal Ministry Secretary under NDSV – wins all parliamentary elections and forms three governments. Only in 2013 does it fail to form a cabinet after winning elections – which allows DPS and BSP to form their own, minority cabinet.

2013: A year of anti-corruption protests, which saw two waves of protest shake the country. The first, in February, were anti-monopoly protests against the First Borrisov cabinet, whilst there were
also year-long protests against Oresharski’s government, triggered by the appointment of Delyan Peevski as Chair of State Agency for National Security – the main anti-corruption body of the country.

July 2014: After a run on the ‘bank of power”, Corporate Commersial Bank – provoked by rumors of a break-up in the politico-business tandem of Tzvetan Vassilev/Delyan Peevski and a raid on the bank’s offices by the Prosecutor’s Office – the bank collapses. The bank had been providing loans without the necessary guarantees to business and political friends (Peevski’s business empire was financed by CCB, but his was not the only one) who had been buying cheap assets in the wake of the financial crisis. After its collapse some 4 billion leva of uncollectable loans were lost.

November 2014 – February 2017: The second cabinet of Borissov was formed after early elections. It was a coalition cabinet between the election winners GERB and the Reform bloc – a groups of parties that were involved in the 2013 anti-Oresharski government protests. The bloc ran on a ticket of radical judicial reform and stepping up the fight against corruption and entered the coalition on the condition that changes were introduced in the Constitution with regard to the structure and the appointment of the Supreme Judicial Council – the body managing the judicial system. After it became clear that the changes to the Constitution that were actually to be adopted, the Minister of Justice from RB, Hristo Ivanov, resigned.

Fall of 2019: Protests are held against the appointment of Ivan Geshev as the new Prosecutor General, provoked by his alleged links to behind-the-scenes power figures (notably Delyan Peevski) and oligarchic circles. Media outlets owned by or gravitating around Peevski began a campain promoting Geshev’s candidacy and discrediting his critics.

9th July 2020: Months-long anti-corruption protests demanding the resignation of both PM Borissov and the Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev start after the Prosecutor’s Office’s raids on the offices of the President of the Republic and after a protest organised by the Democratic Bulgaria coalition against the illegal seizure of a beach at the Black sea coast by DPS’s informal leader Ahmed Dogan. The protests led to the dismissal of five cabinet ministers, including the Minister of Justice, some of whom were dismissed for ‘alleged links to Delyan Peevski”. PM Borissov did not resign, and completed his first full term in office. His GERB party won the regular parliamentary election on April 4th, but could not form government as it was, by then politically isolated.

July 2021: Early parliamentary elections, called once the Parliament had failed to elect a government after April’s regular elections, were won by a new party – ‘There is such a people’ (ITN) led by the TV personality and showman Slavi Trifonov. ITN tried to form a minority government without agreeing the terms of support with the other ‘parties of protest’ running on the ticket of ‘change to the mode of Borrisov government’. ITN also refused to support these parties’ attempts to form a government for change.

The political crisis in the country, which started with the summer of 2020 anti-government protests, has a chance to end after last elections in November 2021.Borrisov’s party lost the elections, but combating corruption and oligarhization depends on whether the government coalition will cooperate on this issue.