Maxim Behar: No pragmatic and logical plan for Bulgarian economy yet

Maxim Behar: No pragmatic and logical plan for Bulgarian economy yet

Host (Maria Konstantinova): We have only hours before the election campaign in Bulgaria, starting midnight today. Within the following month, political formations will compete for the votes of the Bulgarian nation.

Host (Victor Dremsizov): The upcoming elections are 2-in-1: we will vote for the national and European Parliament. Will we see a 2-in-1 campaign? PR experts Maxim Behar and Daniel Kiryakov are here to discuss this with us. Hello!

Maxim Behar: Good morning!

Host: Let's start with you, Mr. Behar - red attracts attention. How will politicians attract the people's attention to themselves during this month, according to you?

Maxim: They won't succeed as we know nobody will offer anything new. The election campaign actually started a month and a half ago, and with negative exposure - one opponent against another. I'm a bit cautious to use the word "compromises", but we all know is exactly that. Unfortunately, neither from the left, nor the right, nor the center, nor from the conservatives, nor the liberals do we see a decent, rational, and logical economic plan showing what will happen to Bulgaria over the next few years. We have two aspects to look at. The first is political - what will happen with politics, and I don't expect significant changes on that matter. And the other is what will happen with business, which is the most important. And by "business," I also mean how Bulgaria stands outside our borders in Western Europe. I recently read about a colleague telling a story about a French editor who went to his chief editor and told him that he wanted to write an extensive article about Bulgaria - how the chief secretary of our Ministry of Interior was fired for corruption, but then his minister was also accused of doing something illegal, about our former prime minister and so on. And the chief editor looked at him and dismissed him to take a break because he didn't look very well. And this bad image of Bulgaria is what we need to change, but a series of our former governments didn't do it.

Host: Will we see more action towards the candidates, as we will have preferential voting for both the national and European Parliament? We are talking about the people, and many candidates are fighting for a position in the national and European Parliament at the same time. Will anyone individually advertise themselves to gather preferences?

Maxim: I think this gigantic mistake in the Bulgarian electoral system needs to be corrected as soon as possible. You see, a single person, a single candidate, can enroll in an unlimited number of electoral lists - in the town of Plovdiv, in Shumen, in Smolyan, also for the European Parliament, and for the general parliamentary elections. And this is very offensive to all the people who vote, to all the voters, to the entire nation. You vote for this person, and he gets a position in the European or the Bulgarian Parliament, but suddenly, he says he doesn't need to be in the parliament and he will instead become a minister or will remain a party leader. This is extremely offensive and, indeed, should be corrected as soon as possible. We will hear a lot of promises in the next 30 days, and the big question is - how can we ensure the implementation of these promises? For years, I have been advocating for some kind of electronic control. Let's say you promise a 30% increase in wages, pensions, student scholarships, and child or maternity benefits. There is also the budget deficit we have in Bulgaria, by the way, which is very important, and there are also defense expenses that are mandatory. And if you don't fulfill this promise, a computer somewhere on "Dundukov" Street will report and prevent you from becoming a minister or a deputy anymore, putting an end to your mandate and political ambitions. This is clearly an imaginative idea of the future, but there must be a control system; otherwise, anyone can make promises and not keep them in the end. In fact, our pre-election campaigns are two-way. One is to say that the opponent is bad or corrupt, and so on. We've all read the story "Bay Ganyo Does Elections" by Aleko Konstantinov, and not much has changed since then, but one of the essential things that brought change is social media platforms. Because, at the moment, they are the only way for the people who vote to control the people they vote for. And it's extremely important for the voters to properly use social media because our politicians can't. I've been following politicians for several years, what's happening on their social media pages, and how they communicate. And their level is just below that of a 15-year-old girl from some high school whose Facebook profile looks much more professional than a politician's.

Host: Assoc. Natalia Kislova made a post on Facebook exactly about the words encoded in the names of the parties - blue, solidary, democratic, new, and always for, bigger, neutral, Revival, and There is Such a People. Are these things encoded in the political parties, in their names, are they being fulfilled, or are they just an attempt to sell the party to the voters, metaphorically speaking?

Maxim: This is luxurious packaging with no substance, in my opinion. That's the first problem - these phrases contained in the party names have no meaning. More importantly, however, is what can motivate or prompt more people to vote, as it's really important to vote more - that is the party leaders, but they lack charisma. From our television screens, even from the posters on the billboards, we only see frowning, sullen, and impersonal people. We hear how they speak, the arguments they use, and the language. In our profession, public relations, we look more in-depth - the gestures, body language, tone, and everything else. It seems to me that even the candidates don't believe that there can be elections during which they can influence through their messages. They believe a phone call to the right people will do the job.

Host: In that case, where are the PR experts, who should be beside these politicians and advise them?

Maxim: Political marketing in Bulgaria in recent years has been at a very low level. I don't do political marketing; hence my point of view is external, but I know it's not easy to convince a bad person to make them good. Or teach a person who can't speak, speak well, or smile, although this is more possible. But if a person or a politician has no message and doesn't know what they want to tell the voters, how do you make them say it? My good friend Neli Terzieva used to say - the camera exposes bad people even more, and when they get closer to the camera, they become even more obvious. It's not up to the PR experts and consultants, although there probably is some role there regarding the messages and what politicians say. But more importantly - there's no way to make a product you bought from AliExpress look like it's from a luxury store. It doesn't work as it shows immediately.

Host: And here comes the question, Mr. Behar, do the voters understand the point of politics? Because, as Mr. Kiryakov said, parties one day state they won't partner with some other political force, but after the elections, they say they have no choice but to compromise to avoid new elections. Then the Bulgarian people are confused because the party they voted for used to say no, then they say yes. Do they understand the meaning of politics?

Maxim: After so many years in business, over 30 years now, I also don't understand the meaning of politics. However, this is a normal process in the European political system to form coalitions after the elections - when it's clear who has what influence, what representation in parliament, what values, and if there is any common ground between parties. But in my opinion, things are much simpler. It's necessary to have a lot of debates on television and this should start from today or tomorrow.

Host: They don't want to compare or fight using their ideas, with their arguments about the policies they will implement from here on in Bulgaria.

Maxim: I don't know if I should call them ideas because anyone can have ideas. However, there must be specific measures and concrete visions, defined deadlines, and expected results. Since I am in business, I can't imagine telling a client of mine that everything will be much better in 2 years, and he should give me some money, trust me, sign a contract - they will call me crazy because they pay me to do the job I'm asked for. For years, I have been arguing that a country should be managed like a business corporation because then the responsibilities are very simple. If the business isn't going well, shareholders will dismiss the CEO. This can't happen in politics - we have to wait for 4 years, or the parliament or the government to collapse and then have new elections. In Bulgaria, we didn't need to wait for the whole 4-year period, for better or worse - likely for the latter. In 2024, the world is already like a village, and this village is becoming smaller and smaller - we communicate limitlessly, without any boundaries. Previously, this was applicable only to music - we would listen to any band, regardless of knowing English, and still understand. Today, the world is served on a silver platter in front of us, and our politicians come from time to time and make promises, then they hide and receive salaries to do nothing.

Host: In this context, we have a final question for both of you - are changes coming for Bulgaria after these 2-in-1 elections? And will European messages remain secondary?

Maxim: I don't expect any significant changes after the elections. I even hope there won't be any changes because there are values that must not be touched and these are Bulgaria's membership in NATO, the European Union, Bulgaria's position regarding Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, and the support for Israel in this highly complex fight against terrorism. Regarding foreign policy, in my opinion, Bulgaria's voice should be much stronger in the European Union and in all international institutions. I'm going back to 30 years ago, to the Leszek Balcerowicz era in Poland, which perhaps many viewers don't remember. I can't describe how beautiful it was, but I saw it with my own eyes- the moment when from this poor, worn-out, and torn country, an economist, suddenly appeared and put an end to the crisis, stating there had to be certain sacrifices to achieve successes, and order had to be introduced into the Polish economy. If this happens in Bulgaria - even if just one economist like Balcerowicz appears with a clear plan to bring order to Bulgaria - he should become the prime minister and remain for many years just so we can see order in our country.

Host: To my understanding, we are waiting for this good accountant to come. Thank you very much to both of you!

Maxim: Thank you!


Watch the full interview here.