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Party fights, denigration and profanity invariably accompany the ‎Bulgarian local elections

Photo: bulgarianhistory.org

Bulgaria is on the threshold of yet another round of elections for mayors and ‎municipal councilors, who form the local government in the various regions of ‎the country. As the main political institution of citizens in a democratic society, ‎local government was introduced to give people a chance to feel like a ‎community. It is common goals and interests that give grounds for a given ‎group of people to choose their representatives in power to work for their ‎achievement.‎

First steps towards local self-government in Bulgaria

Already in November 1876, the Office for Civil Administration of the liberated ‎lands beyond the Danube which were to be separated from the Ottoman ‎Empire was established in Russia. The goal was to create a military-civilian ‎government there with the participation of the Bulgarians who must gain ‎managerial experience in order to further take destiny into their own hands. ‎Thus, the organization of Bulgarian local government was started by the ‎Russian military authorities in 1877-78, during the Russo-Turkish war of ‎liberation for Bulgaria. The occupying authorities quickly realized that ‎Bulgarians already have traditions in self-government in the face of the so-‎called local church and people’s municipalities. In these municipalities, even ‎before the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the Bulgarians taxed themselves ‎with "local" taxes. They supported their schools, community centres and ‎churches. They appointed teachers and decided what and how their children ‎should study. These municipalities represented the Bulgarians before the ‎Ottoman authorities and the other ethnic communities in the empire. So, the ‎Russian occupying power appointed as its local officials namely Bulgarians ‎known to the population, selected from the local self-governing municipalities ‎until then. ‎

How was Bulgarian municipal self-government organized after the Liberation?‎

Svetoslav Zhivkov
‎"It was difficult to build, it was difficult and gradual like everything in a new ‎country, such as Bulgaria was then, with a lack of civil traditions and a stable ‎civil culture among the Bulgarian population”, commented the historian and ‎professor at the Sofia University "Saint Kliment Ohridski” Svetoslav Zhivkov. ‎‎“The Russian occupation government invests a certain amount of resources in ‎the organization of the respective municipalities. It is said that they laid the ‎foundations of self-government, but we must bear in mind that, at least until ‎‎1901-1903, the municipalities were too strongly dependent on the state power. ‎Therefore, it is difficult to talk about real self-government in the modern sense ‎of the word. As we know, today each mayor and Municipal Council have their ‎mandate and there is a division between urban and rural municipalities. This ‎mandate was, however, to a large extent fictitious, because the Minister of the ‎Interior had the right at any time to "dissolve" a rural or urban municipality. He ‎abused this role too often until the moment when the law was changed, which ‎ensured that the minister would no longer have the right to close ‎municipalities."‎

Nevertheless, the period from the Liberation to 1944 is interesting from the ‎point of view of the changes that took place in Bulgarian towns as well as ‎because of the frequent changes of the mayors, who were sometimes elected by ‎the people, sometimes appointed in the period 1934-1944.‎

An analysis of local government election campaigns up to 1944 shows that ‎they are not very different from contemporary ones:‎

Prof. Milena Stefanova
‎"Party fights, partisanship, denigration and profanity against the competing ‎candidate have accompanied all of our campaigns”, associate professor Milena ‎Stefanova, a researcher of public interest in local self-government, says firmly. “Even before the Liberation, during the Renaissance, when the ‎Bulgarian chorbadzhii as local rulers could be perceived as prototypes of the ‎mayors, they formed chorbadzhii parties. After that, they fought with all means ‎and did not shy away from even killing people or destroying existing schools. ‎The reason, for example, was that the competing parties argued in which ‎neighborhood the school should be. There have always been this type of ‎dishonest practices. Today, instead, we are witnessing the buying of votes and ‎the unsuccessful attempts to deal with this vicious practice."‎

Polling station from the 1920s
Some of these plots have reached our days, described by writers such as Ivan Vazov and Aleko Konstantinov, and, perhaps, in order to stop sounding so shockingly modern, it is time to think about and change those features of the Bulgarian national character described in them, holding us captive to the gray and black pages of Bulgarian history. This will probably allow us to look with different eyes at the candidates for the mayors and on October 29 to choose those who best combine the leadership qualities, competence and administrative skills necessary for this position.

Photos: BTA, BGNES, bulgarianhistory.org, archive

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Translated and published by Rositsa Petkova
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