Popular Bulgarian talk show host and pop-folk singer Stanislav Trifonov, known as “Slavic”, may complicate his plan to form a government after Prime Minister-designate Boyko Borisov in the April 4 parliamentary elections.
Support for Trifonov’s newly formed party is growing among frustrated voters. The party is distinguished by an anti-establishment platform, which, against the background of widespread corruption and poverty in the country, seems to be attracting the attention of citizens.
Trifonov founded his own party, Is There Such People, shortly before a corruption scandal erupted in 2020, followed by weeks of protests against Borisov’s government.
It is rumored that the party will run for third place in the election and will win about 13 percent of the vote. This will complicate Borisov’s ruling party “Gerb” to form a coalition government. According to preliminary data, this party will come in first place and it fits a little less than a quarter of the vote.
Analysts say this turns Trifonov, 55, from a novice politician into a key figure in the process of electing a leader, a role that has been played for decades by a predominantly ethnic Turkish party called the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) in Bulgaria.
Such an outcome would be a blow to Borisov, who has been a leading figure in Bulgarian political life for more than a decade but whose political support has weakened in recent years amid scandals and voter fatigue.
Trifonov also played a role in Borisov’s decline in popularity, criticizing and mocking the prime minister and his government for years in his high-profile television program.
Anti-establishment Orientation Party
Trifonov is likely to continue the international wave in which TV stars are using their popularity to gain political power amid declining confidence in democratic governance – like former US President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Analysts say Trifonov’s arrival in Bulgarian political life is a continuation of decades of efforts to create a viable anti-establishment party in Bulgaria, and is also a sign of growing populism.
Dimitar Ganev, a political analyst at the Sofia-based Trend Research Center, told RFE / RL that Trifonov’s party is a “typical new player” in Bulgaria seeking to shake the status quo.
“In every parliamentary election in Bulgaria, there is a party that comes out like this [ანტიისტებლიშმენტური] “Statements because there is a chronic distrust of the entire political elite in Bulgaria,” Ganev said.
This distrust is fueled by many factors.
Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, remains the bloc’s poorest country.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens of countries with a population of almost 7 million work in other EU member states, such as the United States and Turkey, because they do not have decent living conditions in their own country.
At the same time, Bulgaria has the worst rates in the EU in terms of corruption, as well as in terms of media freedom.
Comparison with Zelensky
Trifonov’s political rise is somewhat similar to Zelensky’s path – that of a comedian who served as a casual president in a popular Ukrainian TV series before actually winning the April 2019 presidential election.
Like Zelensky, Trifonov is a novice politician who used his TV show to ridicule dysfunctional governments.
And, as a Ukrainian candidate of his time, Trifonov also avoided taking clear positions on many important domestic or foreign policy issues – instead emphasizing his outsider status.
An important difference between these two figures, however, is that Zelensky’s bid for the presidency came as a surprise to the Ukrainian people because he was not distinguished by political statements.
Trifonov has been talking about political and social issues for years, focusing on the difficulties in the lives of ordinary citizens.
He has hinted at the possibility of going into politics several times and was also the organizer of the referendum on constitutional changes in 2016.
The road to popularity
Trifonov was born in 1966 in the northern Bulgarian city of Pleven, near the Romanian border. He was the youngest of four children in the family and attended a specialized music school.
In the mid-1980s, he moved to the capital, Sofia, to continue his studies at the Bulgarian State Conservatory. This was a period when revolutionary political change was approaching in Eastern Europe.
Trifonov began working in television in 1990 – shortly after the fall of communist rule. He took part in a satirical show called “Ku Ku”, which paved the way for Trifonov to become popular throughout the country.
While working on this show, Trifonov, along with other presenters, formed the band “Ku Ku Ku”. Over the years, the band has recorded dozens of albums and has become one of the most popular bands in Bulgaria. “Turtle Turtle” videos have millions of views on YouTube.
In 2000, Trifonov started a new program – “Slavic Show”.
The show under that name aired late last night across the country for almost two decades before it was shut down in 2019 by Trifonov himself.
It was probably the most popular show in Bulgaria, which made the name “Slavic” familiar and close to all families, and gave Trifonov a platform to spread both his music and his political views.
Trifonov has since launched a cable channel called 7/8, which broadcasts music and political analysis, as well as his updated talk show.
On his cable channel, Trifonov became even more vocal and vocal in his criticism of Bulgarian leaders.
In one of his most popular songs, the 2013 hit “There Is No Such Nation,” Trifonov described politicians as people who care about little but money and sex. The lyrics of the song include the question of why Bulgarians continue to choose such figures.
“Do not talk to me about the law and the constitution, in this country it is all prostitution,” he said in the song. “Are you asleep or waiting for another savior? How many times do you have to repeat a familiar story? We throw one, we wrap the other. “Does anyone know how to become a police millionaire?” Trifonov continues.
Over the years, Trifonov has worked in several genres or styles of music, but he has remained most closely associated with Balkan pop-folk, known as Chalga, which some listeners consider to be vulgar music as a manifestation of low taste.
Analysts say Trifonov’s loud and rude style appeals to most young voters. At the same time, Trifonov has a relatively stronger result in surveys conducted in small towns – places where young people are even more frustrated.
Parvan Simeonov, an analyst at Gallup International in Sofia, described Trifonov as “a very angry, middle-aged man who gathers politically frustrated people around him.”
However, Genoveva Petrova, director of another Sofia-based analytics agency, Alpha Research, also suggested that Trifonov may perform worse than he did in opinion polls, as young people tend to be less likely to vote.
The “there are such people” party does not have the party infrastructure that other political forces often use to mobilize supporters on election day, analysts say.
Instead, Trifonov scheduled a large-scale concert on April 2 to try to persuade supporters to go to the polls.
Simeonov said the outcome of the 2021 election may be significantly different from the polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Older citizens, many of whom support the opposition Socialist Party, may not go to the polls for health reasons. Bulgaria has no tradition of sending ballot papers by mail.
Platform for technical reforms
Trifonov’s political platform includes a call for electronic voting, which is part of a plan to make participation in elections mandatory. Bulgarians living abroad can only vote at embassies or consulates, which is impossible for many of them.
Trifonov also supports the transition to a proportional political system based on party lists, cutting state funding for parties, halving the number of parliamentarians to 120, and introducing direct voting for key positions – such as the attorney general.
Petrova believes that Trifonov’s concentration on such technical issues will not answer Bulgaria’s main problems.
Against this background, Trifonov’s positions on other domestic and foreign policy issues are still not very clear, which obscures the circumstances of what he will support during his time in parliament.
He did not give interviews to the media during the month-long election campaign, nor did he take part in debates with political rivals.
According to Simeonov, other members of Trifonov’s party list are almost unknown to Bulgarians.
Trifonov uses social media to connect directly with voters, which Petrova says limits his influence on a wider audience. However, this also protects him and his team from making significant mistakes that would make them lose their votes.
Simeonov describes Trifonov as a “typical man of the 1990s” who shares European values. Although Trifonov is a deep-seated patriot, he has not played with ethnic sentiments and therefore enjoys support in the Bulgarian Roma community, the analyst said.