Interview with Bulgaria's Boyko Borisov 'We Are Inundated with Scandals'

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Boyko Borisov, the conservative front-runner in national elections in Bulgaria and mayor of Sofia, discusses his efforts to crackdown on endemic corruption, the status of the country's large Turkish minority and the legacy of communism in his country.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Borisov, you have been the mayor of Sofia since the end of 2005, and you stand a good chance of becoming the next Bulgarian prime minister after the elections  on July 5. Your party, Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), is in the lead, according to opinion polls.

Borisov: I don't allow myself to be seduced by power, even though I've been voted politician of the year three times. At any rate, we will not enter into immoral coalitions. If there is no European People's Party available as a coalition partner for us, we will remain in the opposition. The next administration won't have any money for reforms, anyway, given the massive budget deficit.

SPIEGEL: The gloves came off during the campaign. The current prime minister, Sergei Stanishev, accused you of protecting drug bosses. You, in turn, threatened to have him arrested. Were you serious?

Borisov: The communists in the country are troubled by my success, which is why they are spreading outrageous lies about me. I have received letters of gratitude and accolades from around the world -- from the CIA, the FBI and dozens of heads of state -- for my energetic fight against crime, the drug trade and human trafficking. It was thanks to my help that the world's biggest drug operation, which involved five tons of heroin, was uncovered. To discredit me, ridiculous fairy tales are being spread through the media. According to one of these stories, a mobster, who is already dead, claimed that a certain "Boyko" had received money for his cooperation with the underworld. Now who could that "Boyko" be? What nonsense.

SPIEGEL: You always mention communists. Are you referring to the ruling Socialists?

Borisov: I don't see any difference between the two. The Socialists are the children of members of the former politburo.

SPIEGEL: ... armed with the ideology of the era of dictator Todor Zhivkov?

Borisov: What would Germany think if the children of Hitler, Göring and Göbbels were in power today? That they were suddenly born as democrats?

SPIEGEL: Many Bulgarians are convinced that the country is in fact run by the former intelligence service, which continued to pull all the strings after the overthrow of the communist regime on Nov. 10, 1989.

Borisov: Naturally. Our former intelligence service, working hand-in-hand with Serbian intelligence, forms a perfect conglomerate. It is supported by the media.

SPIEGEL: You are quoted as saying: Anyone who is a Turk should go to Turkey. Do you intend to "Bulgarize" the roughly 800,000 Turks in Bulgaria, the way Todor Zivkov once did? In the early 1980s, the former Bulgarian dictator forced Turks in the country to assume Bulgarian names, triggering a major crisis.

Borisov: I have excellent relations with Bulgarian Muslims. But those who live in Bulgaria are Bulgarian citizens. Anyone with a Bulgarian passport is Bulgarian. This means that Turks are Bulgarian Muslims who live on Bulgarian territory.

SPIEGEL: The country is now being discredited in the European Union, because of the large number of corruption scandals and the misuse of EU aid money. Did the government hope that Brussels would balance Bulgaria's budget without criticism, as the Soviet Union once did?

Borisov: That expectation certainly existed, and the ruling coalition was very unpleasantly surprised by the EU's reaction. But the EU is behaving correctly. We are inundated with new scandals here on a daily basis. Just imagine, in the agriculture ministry alone, several billion euros were embezzled in connection with shady barter transactions involving forests.

SPIEGEL: How high would you estimate the percentage of corrupt politicians to be?

Borisov: It doesn't have to be a large group. But unfortunately these people have a lot of influence.

SPIEGEL: Can such extensive misuse of public funds, as well as the entanglement of crime and politics -- including kidnapping cases, which have become rampant recently -- even be corrected in the foreseeable future?

Borisov: It works more quickly than you think. If the boss isn't stealing, the employees won't be stealing either. Criminals who were involved in kidnappings have to be put behind bars for life. I am in close contact with the Bavaria's (conservative) Christian Social Union party, with (former Bavarian governors) Günther Beckstein and Edmund Stoiber. We are developing reform plans together. This also includes our future energy independence  within the framework of the EU.

Interview conducted by Renate Flottau.
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