French Journal For Media Research

Ivanka Mavrodieva

Manifestations of Populism in Post- communist Democracy in Bulgaria

Full text

1Abstract : Populism has had its specific manifestations over the past 30 years of Bulgarian society changes. The assumption is that these changes are the result of political, social, and media factors. On the one hand, the changes determine new manifestations of populism on personal, party, institutional, national, and supranational levels. On the other hand, Bulgarian political spokespersons present the desirable as real and make unrealistic promises from different ideological standpoints: left, right, liberal, nationalistic, etc. The aim is to identify the features of populism through the methods of discourse and rhetorical analyses.
Keywords: populism, political rhetoric, media, Bulgaria, post-communism


2Scientists from various scientific fields have demonstrated an interest in populism. The research of the issue has been around for decades but over the past years populism has become again a significant topic and analysts from different scientific fields have started investigating it using various methods of studying its manifestations in different countries and media.

Theoretical background

3Ghiță Ionescu and Ernest Gellner study populism and its national characteristics (Ionescu, Gellner 1969). The Populist Zeitgeist has been investigated as a specific manifestation by Cas Mudde (2004). Researchers have followed several directions on a theoretical level: clarifying the meaning, matter and scope of populism. The second group of studies involves analyses of populism in different countries: political parties’ discourse in Belgium (Jan Jagers and Stefaan Walgrave 2007); Venezuela and Chavism (Hawkins 2010). The third group focuses on the research of the populism during presidential election campaigns (Groshek, Koc-Michalska 2017: 1389-1407). The fourth group includes studies on the manifestations of populism on political system level, media and political communication and the articles are dedicated to how the media shape perceptions of right-wing populist leaders (Bos et. al. 2011: 182-206); (Vreese et. al. 2018: 423-438). The researchers present the relations between neo-populism and the media (Mazzoleni, Stewart, & Horsfield 2003), (Mazzoleni 2008); populism, mediatisation and political style (Moffitt, Tormey 2014: 381-397); communication strategies including Facebook (Mazzoleni, Bracciale 2018: 50). Populism has been investigated from another perspective in the article “Extreme Parties and Populism: An Analysis of Facebook and Twitter across Six Countries” (Ernst, Engesser, Büchel, Blassnig, Esser 2017: 1347-1364); the populist online communication has been analysed too (Engesser et. al. 2017: 1279-1292). Populism has been analysed on a supranational level: Wodak and Krzyzanowski (2017), Benjamin Moffitt (2016), Hawkins, Riding and Mudde (2012). In summary, populism stands out as a significant problem for analysis at personal, party, national, institutional and supranational levels; such as events in the media and social networks.

Bulgarian scientific standpoints on populism

4Before presenting the research design we conducted a brief review of populism studies by Bulgarian scientists who are interested in populism and who study it from different perspectives. Some of them prefer a theoretical standpoint: Ivan Krastev (2007), Georgi Karasimeonov (2008). The manifestations of populism in parties, the relations between populism and democracy have been investigated by Svetlozar Andreev (2007), the role and influence of populism in the civil society has been analysed by Danail Smilov (2007), Antoni Todorov (2008), Petya Kabakchieva (2008), Svetoslav Malinov (2008), Anna Krasteva (2016, 2019). Atanas Zhdreev (2016) systematizes the features of populism. We agree with this systematization and we shall focus on the following elements: anti-elitism, anti-partisanship, anti-constitutionality, lack of a core of values, collaboration of populism with left and right ideologies; a charismatic leader, opposition to ethnic minorities, immigrants, use of media democracy resources.

Research design and Results

5Critical Discourse Analysis has been presented in publications of Norman Fairclough (1995), Teun van Djik (1998), Ruth Wodak (2001) and it has been adapted to the aims of the current studies. The main focuses are on manifestations of populism in the rhetoric and the media. Fifty speeches and publications online have been selected and the criteria are significant events and processes in the political sphere; political populistic agents in Bulgaria; ideological messages and techniques to present populistic appeals by Bulgarian party leaders, ministers and the president. The period is since 2000, and the grounds are that a multi-party system is already in place. Other reasons are that the Presidential institution is established and Bulgaria is a member of the European Union.

6The assumptions are that populism has manifestations not only on the personal and party levels (left, right, liberal, nationalistic, patriotic parties) but also on the institutional and supranational levels. Populistic appeals are sent by representatives of state institutions.

7The Bulgarian president is the head of the state and he should follow a national position but sometimes he uses massages defending personal positions. The current Bulgarian President Rumen Radev is the former chief of the Bulgarian Air Force and he said in connection with the case of a danger of a “military coup”: “The army is not a threat to democracy, but politicians are a threat to democracy. The honor, dignity and constitutional order are inherent to the Bulgarian army, but, unfortunately, not to Bulgarian politics. The danger does not come from the Bulgarian army, but from those politicians and institutions that make morality and law more and more distant.” [1]

8Public speeches delivered by the prime-minister and ministers are used to broadcast main information as well as populistic messages. The current prime-minister Boyko Borissov hyperbolizes the contribution of Bulgaria on the Balkans and in particular in Macedonia (now North Macedonia) and to international policy. He said: „Now is the moment with a common effort to move forward the theme of the Western Balkans, that suits everyone.”, “The European Parliament, the European Commission worked for the treaty with Macedonia, but Bulgaria did it.” [2]

9Although some conventions may be referred to as left populism, or more precisely, manifestations of populism in public statements by left-wing party leaders. Kornelia Ninova, the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, prefers to exaggerate the role of the left party in the political system and civil society in Bulgaria. She said: “It is our job to help everyone, poor, weak, humiliated and unoriginal. We promise that we will increase the salaries. We are alternative of the current government and liberal ideology. We are the biggest left party in the political system in Bulgaria.” [3]

10The analyses of the speeches delivered by the right political leaders gave us the reasons to concludes that they use right populism. Ivan Kostov, former prime minister of Bulgaria (1997 to 2001) said: “The post-communist man has a problem with reforms, because they make him change his own life, change himself.” Kostov explained that Bulgaria's double bankruptcy (in 1990 and 1997) is the reason why Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the EU today.

11We have tried to investigate the connection between liberal ideology and populism and the results are that populistic appeals are delivered by liberal leaders. Simeon Sax-Coburg-Gotta promised in his statement on 6 April 2001: “I am ready to propose a scheme of economic measures and socio-economic partnership, through which not later than 800 days the famous Bulgarian industriousness and enterprise will change your life. [4]

12Populism has manifestations in the political speeches delivered by leaders of patriotic and nationalistic parties in Bulgaria. The leader of the nationalistic party Ataka Volen Siderov delivered the speech in 3 March 2019 – the National Holiday of Bulgaria and he made a comparison between different historical époques and suggests attitudes: “The West supported the Ottoman Empire in the way Turkey is supported by Merkel, Teresa May, Juncker, etc.”, “Western countries cut Bulgaria into pieces in the Congress of Berlin.” [5]

13The populism has manifestations on international level and in particular in connection with the European Union. The ministers and the members of the Bulgarian Parliament from the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, the ruling party (for example Boyko Borissov, Tzvenan Tzvetanov, Toma Bikov, Tomislav Donchev) present pro-European populism. They constantly explain to citizens that the center-right government of Bulgaria works in the name of Bulgarians’ interest and to their benefit. They present successful economic reforms and at the same time Bulgaria is in stagnation as a member of the European Union: low standards, low salaries, low pensions. [6]


14Summarizing we can say that populism has been manifested at different levels: personal, party, institutional, supranational. It combines with different ideologies: left, right, liberal, patriotic, nationalist. The media participations take place on different channels: television broadcasts and online media. Party leaders do not display effective behaviour and they present populistic messages on an elementary verbal level. Political orators repeat pre-prepared sentences and populism is presented by simple sentences and trivial communication tools. Hyperpolarization of personal, party or institutional success is the rhetorical approach used to establish the focus on the best results.


Andreev, S. (2007). Types of populist parties and the future of democracy in Bulgaria. Political Studies, 4, 3-30.

Bos, L., Brug, van der W. & Vreese, de, C. (2011). How the Media Shape Perceptions of Right-Wing Populist Leaders. Political Communication, 28 (2): 182-206.

Engesser, S. et. al. (2017). Populist Online Communication: Introduction to the Special Issue. Information, Communication & Society, 20 (9): 1279-1292.

Ernst, N. et. al. (2017). Extreme Parties and Populism: An Analysis of Facebook and Twitter across Six Countries. Information, Communication & Society, 20 (9): 1347-1364.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. London: Longman.

Groshek, J., Koc-Michalska, K. (2017). Helping Populism Win? Social Media Use, Filter Bubbles, and Support for Populist Presidential Candidates in the 2016 US Election Campaign. Information, Communication & Society, 20 (9): 1389-1407.

Hawkins, K. A. (2010). Venezuela’s Chavismo and Populism in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hawkins, K. A., Riding, S. & Mudde, C. (2012). Measuring Populist Attitudes. Political Concepts Committee on Concepts and Methods, (#55).

Ionescu, G. & Gellner, E. (1969). Populism: Its Meaning and National Characteristics. New York: Macmillan.

Jagers, J. & Walgrave, S. (2007). Populism as Political Communication Style: An Empirical Study of Political Parties’ Discourse in Belgium. European Journal of Political Research, 46 (3): 319-345.

Kabakchieva, P. (2008). Is there national soil in our country? Lens, 157, 3-4.

Karasimeonov, G. (2008). Is the notion ”populism’ has a scientific value? Political Studies, 1, 3-12.

Krastev, I. (2007). The populist moment. Criticism and Humanism, 23 (1): 107-114.

Krasteva, A. (2016). The Post-Communist Rise of National Populism: Bulgarian Paradoxes, (Eds. G. Lazaridis et. al.). The Rise of the Far Right in Europe Populist Shifts and 'Othering', (pp. 161-201). London: Macmillan Palgrave.

Krasteva, A. et al, eds (2019). Citizens’ Activism and Solidarity Movements. Contending with Populism. London: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Malinov, S. (2008). Reflect on Bulgarian populism. com,, Retrieved on 14.11.2019.

Mazzoleni, G. & Bracciale, R. (2018). Socially mediated populism: the communicative strategies of political leaders on Facebook. Palgrave Communications, 4, 50.

Mazzoleni, G. (2008). Populism and the Media. In Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, (Eds. Albertazzi, D. et. al.). (pp. 49–64). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mazzoleni, G., Stewart, J. & Horsfield, B. (2003). The Media and Neo-Populism: A Contemporary Comparative Analysis. Westport: Greenwood.

Moffitt, Benjamin, Tormey, Simon. (2014). Rethinking Populism: Politics, Mediatisation and Political Style. Political Studies, 62 (2): 381-397.


[1] Fakti, online media.

[2] Sega, Newspaper

[3] BTV,

[4] The Speech delivered by Simeon Sax-Coburg-Gotta, 06.04.2001,

[5], online media.

[6] Dnevnik, nespaper, site.

To quote this document

Ivanka Mavrodieva, «Manifestations of Populism in Post- communist Democracy in Bulgaria», French Journal For Media Research [online], Browse this journal/Dans cette revue, 14/2020 Populism and New/Old Media, last update the : 07/01/2020, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Ivanka Mavrodieva

Ivanka Mavrodieva,

Full Professor, Doc. Hab.,

 Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”,

Faculty of Philosophy,




Licence Creative Commons
Ce(tte) œuvre est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.