Krasimir Karakachanov, a United Voice of Nationalism as Migration Concerns Rise
When Krasimir Karakachanov ran for president in 2011, as head of nationalist VMRO-BND party, he garnered a meagre 0.99 percent of the vote.
Five years on, benefiting from the migrant crisis and from support of un unlikely alliance, his result may turn out much different.
Karakachanov, a veteran politician and lawmaker who first made it into the National Assembly in 1997 (and earned a set in two subsequent legislations), was endorsed all three main nationalist parties of Bulgaria in the summer - a rare show of unity just months before the presidential elections of November 06.
His VMRO-BND party is one of the two main partners in the Patriotic Front (PF) coalition, which doesn't have ministers in the cabinet but backs it, taking turns to either defend its policies or set conditions and threaten to leave the minority government in tatters by withdrawing its support. The other PF party, the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) is presided by Valeri Simeonov, who was once a Burgas-based entrepreneur and whose cable TV station, SKAT, once helped notorious nationalist Volen Siderov rise to fame and paved his way into politics - and whose alliance with Siderov turned into bitter enmity as Simeonov set up his own party.
It is the "nationalist" and the "migrant" cards and tactical concerns
that help Karakachanov and Simeonov, who joined forces to make it into Parliament in 2014, stick together. In reality, they differ ideologically as the former leans to the left, while the latter is more right-of-center, nowadays sticking to Bulgaria's affiliation to NATO and the EU and heavily advocating private initiative as a backbone of the economy.
Seeing parliamentary support for his Ataka party plummet (Ataka barely made it to Parliament in 2014), Siderov also endorsed Karakachanov, offering 59-year-old MP and lawmaker Yavor Notev, who has had a seat in all three Parliaments since 2009 and was a Deputy Mayor candidate last year, as a running mate.
The presidential pair insists that what distinguishes them from other candidates is their love for Bulgaria, whose interests they put first before everything else and will "defend categorically."
"Bulgaria faces yet another illegal wave of migrants, a Neo-Ottoman Turkey [and] a number of domestic problems... [But] we want to show there are politicians who, despite harsh words, can do it in the name of preventing all disgrace that can fall on Bulgaria's shoulders," Karakachanov told private bTV station on October 10, just two days into the election campaign.
"Our goal is to meet a maximum number of people [during the campaign] and talk them into a new, Patriotic Bulgaria, and not Bulgaria of divisions: left-right, Russophiles-Russophobes, monarchists-republicans."
"This division turned Bulgaria into the poorest and most miserable state in Europe... It is only unity that can produce the force to lead Bulgaria out of this crisis. I am therefore convinced that we will go to a runoff," he added, sitting next to one-time rival Siderov. While most candidates vehemently declare a moderate-to-high degree of certainty they will make it to a second round, Karakachanov stands more chance than others as Market Links, the polling agency which published the first survey on presidential candidates' projected share of votes, put support for Karakachanov at 7.9% - the third-best result after the nominees of GERB (19.8%) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (14.9%).
With some of the bigger political parties working to actively spearhead a debate on the "right" response to an increased inflow of migrants (and the rush of panic and hysteria it has triggered among many segments of Bulgarian society),
Karakachanov may see rising support throughout the campaign,
as the PF is commonly associated with controversial decisions such a the so-called "burqa ban" and measures to step up border security in the face of possible "migrant" threats. Ataka, for its part, had endorsed the cause of "migrant hunters" who perform "citizen's arrests of migrants". This may appeal to a part of the electorate which, for different reasons, perceives the crisis as a threat to national security and identity and a potential source of higher crime rates.
Karakachanov, 51, graduated from the Faculty of History at the Sofia University. His grandfather took part in the so-called "People's Tribunal", an institution set up in December 1944 to crack down on opponents and lead to a peak of violence in the country, with people known as dissenters being being handed fast-track death sentences or sent behind bars.
The nationalist presidential candidate was recruited as an agent working for the State Security, the omnipresent Soviet-era institution in Bulgaria that was the equivalent to Stasi in Germany, even though this happened in 1989, the last year of communist rule. The department he worked for was dedicated to the so-called "Macedonian issue". Eight years later, he headed the VMRO-SMD organization (later, becoming a party, renamed to VMRO-BND) which was the heir to the controversial, two-headed illegal organization called VMRO that, back in the Third Bulgarian Kingdom and until 1944, fought for the freedom of Macedonia from Yugoslav rule but in the meantime wrote some of the violent chapters of the kingdom's history.
Karakachanov was first a lawmaker in 1997, running on the ticket of the United Democratic Forces (UDF) led by Ivan Kostov. Eight years later - and after a four-year hiatus - VMRO won several seats again as part of a coalition, with Karakachanov again finding his way into the legislature.
In 2011, when he ran for President, he made an emphasis on demographic policies, improving education, nationalization of companies overtaken my monopolies, a bigger army, a stronger presidential mandate (including the right to call a referendum and to assume the National Ombudsman's duties), gender equality, and an adherence of Bulgaria's foreign policy to "Bulgarian national interest", "without any concerns stemming from our membership in NATO and the EU".