Comment 26 Oct 17

Reality Check for Bulgaria’s Balkan Leadership Ambitions

Bulgaria’s upcoming EU presidency gives Prime Minister Boyko Borissov the opportunity to portray the country as a leader in the Balkans - but regional problems mean he might not achieve the grand successes he craves.

Dimitar Bechev
Borissov with his Romanian, Serbian and Greek colleagues in Evksinograd. Photo: Bulgarian governmental press service

Boyko Borissov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, does have a soft spot for all things Balkan. Some time ago, in 2011, he offered a hearty welcome to Yugoslav diva Lepa Brena at his office in the austere building that houses the Council of Ministers in Sofia.  She thanked “the phenomenal leader” with a special rendition of ‘Jovano, Jovanke’, a popular Macedonian tune.

Known for his folksy ways, Borissov is similarly at ease with other Balkan types, whether it is Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic (whose singing skills are also notable) or a bunch of fuming Greek farmers who he talked into lifting a blockade of the Bulgarian border back in the winter of 2010.

Now the former firefighter and bodyguard has recast himself as a mover and shaker on a regional scale.

As early as May 2015 in Sofia, he hosted Zoran Zaev, then leader of the opposition in next-door Macedonia, whose revelations of government corruption and abuse of power had precipitated the mother of all political crises in Skopje.

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