Maxim Behar for Bloomberg TV Bulgaria: How to Increase Voter Turnout in Bulgaria
Maxim Behar is a guest on the show Investor Club on Bloomberg TV Bulgaria with anchor Ivaylo Lakov. Behar commented on the voter activity of the upcoming Bulgarian parliamentary and presidential elections, the election campaigns, the competition in politics and what are the right methods of communication between the candidates and the society.
Host: Maxim Behar is with me in the studio. Hello Maxim, welcome, thank you for being here!
Maxim Behar: Good evening!
Host: What impresses you the most when watching the election campaign - let's start here.
Maxim Behar: It is already very sluggish, we all know that, both politicians and voters, the whole society is tired. Third elections for this year - it has never happened in Bulgaria before. Very sluggish, very uninteresting and I bet there are no clear concepts, no ideas, nothing to make us think, beyond the difference in people - because new candidates have appeared, we all know them, and they are young, more intelligent, more assertive, but even from them we do not hear anything interesting. I think that on November 14, people will vote again, I hope outside Bulgaria too, but they will vote a little rashly.
Host: Mentioning young, assertive, intelligent people - this week's decision by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court to invalidate the President's decree appointing the first caretaker government, in the part concerning the caretaker Minister of Economy Kiril Petkov (candidate for Prime Minister) and his dual citizenship. What role do you think this will play for his political party campaign: positive or negative?
Maxim Behar: Of course, I am not a lawyer, nor you can comment on the legal part of this case, but I think that those voters who stand firmly behind the political party “We Continue the Change”, with Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev as leaders, will consolidate even more. Again, I do not comment on the legal part, I think that this act will definitely consolidate these voters even more, if they have hesitated between the ideas of Kiril Petkov or the ideas of the political party “Yes, Bulgaria” or the ideas of other formations as they may overlap or liken them as related or close. Now I think that they will be now more firmly behind the party of Kiril Petkov and Asen Vassilev, in which we can see many reasonable messages, as in many other political campaigns as well. But we can't expect anything... there are a lot of people who are tired of power, messages and voting. A long time ago, right after the first elections actually, I offered a round table between the political parties and then many people called me and told me that I want to bring Bulgaria back to the 90s and so on. This is a completely different round table that I suggest - the political parties should sit down and not bargain for positions and benefits. They have to talk about the needs of Bulgaria. We see what's going on, and since you also mentioned the window ... Well, you can't see very good things through the window.
Host: For me, the biggest problem is that none of the parties gives a horizon to Bulgaria. What is this thing that gives people perspective?
Maxim Behar: We had the prospect in the late 1990s, when we knew the sacred date January 1, 2007, when Bulgaria enters EU. Of course, before that, it was the year of 2004 for NATO, but it somehow went by the wayside, because NATO does not fill a house, does not fill the refrigerator, does not feed and so on. But the date January 1, 2007 was expected by all of us, especially by business, but also by those people, retirees who do not work, have no business, employees, with the great hope that the standard of living will rise sharply.
Host: It really increased. If we go back to 2007 and compare it, the difference is huge, people will be surprised.
Maxim Behar: Yes, the standard really increased, that's right, it's a fact. There is no dispute about it. Many things happened in Bulgaria since 2007, many investments came, many people developed their businesses here so that they gave jobs to many other people. We live better definitely, but you know that you always have expectations and when you live in expectations, they are always bigger, higher or just go beyond the reality. And now that 2007 has passed, and suddenly the expectations seem to have faded.
Host: But we have not completed this task, without the euro area we are not integrated into the core of the European Union.
Maxim Behar: That's true. However, on the one hand, European funds have helped us a lot, on the other hand, the European experience has helped us a lot, because these are countries with developed economies for years, for centuries. Very often someone comes home from Vienna and calls me and says: Max, if you knew how clean their streets are, if you knew what castles we saw... Wait a minute, where was Austria a century ago? It was high here, and Bulgaria was here low (significantly below). Now the difference is that Bulgaria is here (advanced from its initial level, but again below the level of Austria). Yes, Bulgaria has not yet reached Austria and probably will not do so in the next century, but now it is much closer.
Host: Yes, I would even say that five centuries will not be enough for us, but that is another matter.
Maxim Behar: No, in Bulgaria we had such a good connotation for these five centuries. It is very important if this can happen after all this great fatigue; Suddenly, the politicians should say, “wait a minute, let's get along with the others, and let's think about Bulgaria, let's make a well-functioning market economy, because this is the basis for everything.” There can be no charity if there are no profits in a company. There can be no investment if there are no profits, and the profits come from good competition, from a good product.
Host: What does this depend on? Some people say the judiciary system needs to be changed?
Maxim Behar: Again, I am not an expert in this field, but I think that everything should be changed. Probably the judiciary system even more so - because we work for a lot of foreign companies, we constantly discuss with them, we talk and they are worried about the very rapid change of laws and they are worried that things are not so transparent in terms of business. Who does what and how he does it.
Host: The business environment makes them feel uncomfortable.
Maxim Behar: I think that the lack of great transparency can make an investor feel uncomfortable. I have been repeating for years that everything that is transparent is ethical. If there is transparency about how a prosecutor do his job, how a judge do it, why they made this decision, how they made it, with what arguments. If there is transparency in doing business and in payments… see what came out with these offshore companies, for example. All this means total opacity and a desire for many people to hide income. This thing is destroying the economy, it cannot be an incentive, it cannot be a motivation for some people to do business by seeing that other people are doing things differently and they are tolerated.
Host: Isn't this a double-edged sword problem, because the world can solve the offshore problem very quickly, but it doesn't do it.
Maxim Behar: Of course, it can be solved super quickly.
Host: Because this is business.
Maxim Behar: The should not be such business, but this is my personal opinion. There should be no areas where money is hidden, no one knows who runs the company, there should be no countries where other people's money is invested, because maybe a lot of that money is fair won and probably so. But the very fact that they are in offshore zones, I think that somewhere in the subtext of this whole action, is actually to hide some money or save some taxes. That should not be the case.
Host: Well, what do you think could be the horizon of Bulgaria? The economy?
Maxim: Very good market.
Host: How can the parties make sure that the campaign is not sluggish, that it becomes interesting to the people, because at the moment it is so sluggish that you have the feeling that no one wants to rule, no one wants to form a government.
Maxim Behar: The parties cannot do that. We have said, including in this studio, I repeat it in all my books for the last 2-3 years, that the system, which for some reason we still call democracy, does not work. This system does not work. We cannot expect a man who has been involved in politics for 20 years and has gone to television studios and tried to refute opponents with some party-political arguments to expect him to put a clear and precise economic program on the table. And we need that.
Host: But you bother me a little by saying that democracy doesn't work. What is the alternative?
Maxim Behar: It seems to me, and this will happen in 5 to 10 years, we will not wait 5 centuries, it will happen very soon - the countries must begin to be governed, more or less as corporations or companies are managed. To have a board of directors – Council of Ministers, which to be responsible for everything and when something fails like in big companies, we all know it, the person responsible for all this - the Prime Minister, or the President, depends on the structure of the country, resigns and says 'I'm sorry' and the next one comes in power. Every single company does this thing.
Host: Yes, but that means a dictatorship of the minority over the majority. And in a democracy, the majority chooses.
Maxim Behar: It's not like that. It is not a dictatorship of the minority, because the Council of Ministers, in fact this board of directors, is also elected by shareholders, by the shareholders of a company. And the shareholders in this company are the majority. I am not saying that this is the absolute model, but I am saying that there must be responsibility in politicians and to know that if they do something wrong, they must leave immediately. Because we've all seen politicians say, 'Wait, there's an election in four years, we'll see how people vote then, whether I am right or wrong?' How can we wait for 4 years for the elections? When at the moment social media can control not only every politician, but also every citizen. Whoever made a damage, for example, in front of the building entrance, broke two saplings, then the whole Facebook group will jump against him and supervise him. And he will go and plant the trees, apologize or whatever. There must be great flexibility in politics so that politicians are responsible now, today. And when they make their decisions, they know that they may no longer be in politics tomorrow. That is, they can be in prison if they make a mistake in some way. That's where I see this change in the system and it will probably come.
Host: As for social media, it is no coincidence that you mentioned it, they govern our lives to a very large extent. I was investigating a conspiracy theory imposed by some Trump supporters in America, which states that pedophile satanists rule the world and have very deep roots and support from the Democratic Party in America. Apparently, the conspiracy theory, however, is very widespread on Facebook and they are forced at some point to delete everything related to these hashtags and get rid of everything on their platform. And now various documents are being published about Facebook, how Facebook manages people's politics and lives globally, and Trump is creating his own social network called Truth Social.
Maxim Behar: There is no other way, Facebook has around 3-4 billion users. There are many different cases, but I think that in the last 2 years they have changed a lot on their platform - they invest a lot of money, the censorship policies and people’s opinion regulations, and that was inevitable. It’s similar to driving a car - you have rules in order to drive this car. At a red light you stop, you have the direction of movement, you do not drive against the traffic and all these rules. And you will not have rules on the social network? There will be even more, because the media is a great force and here comes the big mistake - all these 3.5 billion Facebook users, everyone has media in their hands and everyone thinks he is the editor-in-chief, thinking he can do whatever he wants.
Host: But there are organized groups that can force society to go in one direction or another, to elect presidents, to elect governments, to overthrow governments.
Maxim Behar: Yes, as with the car, it can become a problem, you can burst a tire, God forbid you hit someone, the engine can break, you run out of gas. In the same way, all these risks are present on social media. They need to be regulated, in my opinion, and they need to be very intelligently and carefully regulated. There should not be at least the basic things that infuriate us, such as prostitution, hatred, racial discrimination, pedophilia and all these things actually fall into the penal code anyway. You do something - you go to court. We returned back to the topic of the judiciary system and judicial reform - there must be young, intelligent judges, prosecutors, their friends and advisers who also need understand modern life. And on the other side are the social media themselves, which must somehow impose restrictions on all these things that we are talking about, including when someone stumbles a lot on politics. When he starts using it very actively, in Bulgaria this is not observed, in Bulgaria politicians appear so sluggishly, with some boring, ridiculous even meetings with people and take pictures of them with a mobile phone. And here I am not referring to the Bulgarian former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov with his Sevda TV or whatever it was, but I am referring to all politicians.
Host: Slavi Trifonov, TV anchor and leader of one of the new political parties which joined the Parliamentary elections, communicates with people only through Facebook.
Maxim Behar: Yes, it's super counterproductive. And I'm surprised he doesn't understand it, because firstly he has a television, secondly, you can't communicate in one direction only. That's what Trump did, by the way, that's why he loved Twitter so much. Boyko Borisov does it too, Slavi Trifonov does it as well. Only through social media, one way communication. In order to avoid nasty question, such as 'What were you doing two years ago'.
Host: Either way, people destroy them in the comments below. I guess they read those comments.
Maxim Behar: Yes, and I think it is contraindicated for a politician, and for businessman as well, to communicate only through social media. One could take part in a discussion, could present their arguments, because the voters can see who is right, and who is wrong, when they see the arguments of the different sides.
Host: Do you think we will see any leadership debate on television?
Maxim Behar: I don't know if you remember November 1994, I led the first debates in the Bulgarian history on the only Bulgarian national television at the time, with 4 million viewers and it was super interesting. Many politicians were aired, such as Ivan Kostov, Ahmed Dogan, Jean Videnov, Rumen Gechev, who by the way, is still active in politics, and many other people. It was super interesting, because for the first time in Bulgaria, people saw their leaders in a debate, in a dispute, presenting arguments. I think that if there is no debate, especially for this year's presidential election, the turnout rate will drop drastically, because how do you decide who to vote for if you don't see how he behaves in a debate, not one-way, not such meetings with voters, with some flowers, with some bouquets, with some microphones, with some posters and slogans in the back. You have to see the person in action, this is the competition in politics. As I have competition in my business, as a waffle maker or furniture manufacturer or whatever, there is competition and one complies with it. So, we have to see the politicians directly in an open debate and then all the people in Bulgaria will be able to draw their own conclusions and decide who to vote for. This is key for the elections on November 14, 2021.
Host: Finally, I want to ask you to comment on another topic and that is Covid vaccines. Why did the vaccination campaign in Bulgaria collapse with such terrible force? I know, I realize very clearly that we in the media allowed the voices of people who were absolutely counterproductive. Experts or pseudo-experts, I do not know how to call them, on the one hand, on the other hand, Facebook played also a huge role. I read some research on Danish witches and a parallel to how people once believed in witches and now don't believe in vaccines or believe in conspiracy theories. What do you think about the topic?
Maxim Behar: This is not a problem. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter - every single social media is here to stay in the end. When you invite someone who has one opinion, invite another who has other opinion to create good conditions for a debate. The main thing is that the last few governments in Bulgaria did not understand what it was all about. And all this is a total failure, I cannot describe how many people call me all day long from around the world and they tell me - 'We look at the statistics on the percentage vaccinated and the other statistics on the number of the dead. Why Max, how is this possible in European Bulgaria’. Nobody did anything, the Ministry of Health made a lottery with 100 smart watches, and they were some $2-3 from AliExpress. And you will motivate people without any opinions, without any campaign, without any explanation. When we play the BBC, we see Paul McCartney or Elton John talking about vaccines, giving appeals and saying why it's important. There are many opinions. Yesterday I talked for a long time with a friend - Dr. Simidchiev, who is a good pulmonologist and a very good expert in this field and he believes that the train has not been missed yet. I have the feeling, for myself, that the train is missed and we can't get on it. But the truth is that this case was not viewed medically, not through the eyes of science, through the eyes of professional communication experts, but only through the eyes of politicians, thinking “Let us keep it this way, because that will cause us many enemies.” This is a disastrous politic, this is a disastrous strategy and, unfortunately, it has a very bad effect on the people in Bulgaria.
Host: And because of the election campaign and the elections, some decisions that should have been made a long time ago were delayed.
Maxim Behar: There was a whole year.
Host: No one dared to do anything because elections are coming. Let's not make people angry before the election. A full lockdown will now be needed during the elections.
Maxim Behar: Let's listen to the experts, let's listen to the people of science, let's listen to the doctors who are experts and specialists, let's listen to the foreign experts, because we see what's happening. I was in Germany last week and there you can't enter a restaurant without a green certificate at all, you can't enter a store, nowhere. You show your certificate and no one protests.
Host: This had to be done since the summer.
Maxim Behar: It had to be done with good preparation.
Host: See how the interest in vaccination has increased now that green certificates have been introduced.
Maxim Behar: This is the bad way of coercion, but it has to happen. No matter how people think it, no matter what they think. There is no pandemic in all of human history, worldwide, that has been solved without vaccines. There is no such pandemic. And there is no pandemic that has had vaccines ready, you see, we already have vaccines, and we are just waiting for a pandemic to come and when it does, we release the vaccine because we've been through all the tests and everything else. Throughout history, when something similar happened with a virus and even more so with this Spanish flu 1920, of course, again defeated by a vaccine. Now science is so far ahead, so far ahead, evolving at cosmic speed. We need to believe in science, be calm, and if we are worried about something just ask doctors, ask people who understand. Not to read on social media all sorts of conspiracy theories, some of which are absurd and make us laugh. But I continue to claim that the responsibility lies with the Bulgarian Government, whichever it may be. Because in every country the Government has to take its responsibility, I repeat, whichever it is. Since last March, we have changed three governments, now there will be a fourth. One regular and two caretaking ones and now a fourth will come.
Host: I hope they succeed.
Maxim Behar: I really want to address all your viewers, because I know that this is a very authoritative show with many viewers - listen to the people of science. Don't listen to conspiracy theories. Make your own decisions, but listen to people who understand the subject.
Host: This is a good place to finish the interview. Thank you very much, we can talk for hours, but the time is running out. Take care and be healthy.
Maxim Behar: Thanks, you too!
Watch the whole video here.