Maxim Behar: Politicians’ misstep is using the same boring messages for years

PR experts Maxim Behar and Desislava Olovanova comment on the communication and approach of Bulgarian politicians towards the voters, on the show "Your Day" on "NOVA NEWS" television, hosted by Yordan Barzakov.

Host (Yordan Barzakov): Will there be any "black PR" used during the election campaign, and how does it influence voter turnout  -  these are the topics we will discuss in the studio with PR experts Desislava Olovanova and Maxim Behar. Hello!

Maxim Behar: Good morning!

Host: Mr. Behar, is it possible to see the so-called "black PR" being part of the political campaign, or rather, to put it in simpler terms - the spreading of scandalous stories? Does it change anything in the elections, or have people become accustomed to almost everything, and at this point, nothing can surprise or shock them? Before every election, we hear stories about billions of money being stolen from the Bulgarian state, and no one seems to care. I rather feel like we, the voters, have turned into fan clubs of individual political parties, the political participants, and we blindly follow the party ideas, regardless of the lineup.

Maxim: I've been traveling worldwide for years and have attended various international forums. I firmly disagree with the term "black PR" being something real because I am categorically against someone labeling my business in PR as "black." There is no such thing as "black PR," and it is not possible to be. Only two options exist: someone lies about something or tells the truth. When a political force publishes or gives voice to anything against an opponent, and it's credible, then that's not "black PR." Ultimately, it's the case of something hidden for one reason or another coming to light. However, when something is not true  -  a lie, fake news, or fabrication  -  it's a lie. And there are laws, if not legal, then moral or ethical laws, according to which it should be stated it's a lie. The Bulgarian President probably knows more about PR than I do; maybe I should have coffee with him one day. I think this is the sixth consecutive campaign, and if the elections are 2-in-1, then it's the sixth and seventh at the same time. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the entire campaign will be run mainly with the parties pointing out the shortcomings of other political forces rather than highlighting their own advantages, being the party seeking to attract voters.

Host: Mr. Behar, speaking from a communicative point of view, what needs to change in how politicians talk to increase the number of voters? I am preparing for a future show with the Prime Minister of Lithuania, and I looked into how pre-election campaigns are run there and in the Baltic states generally. Of course, the same scandals are present, and everyone tries to attract the people's support to themselves. That elementary, even crude way of speaking of Bulgarian politicians at times, which we even hear in the National Assembly, simply doesn't exist there. Even during their debates, there is a great deal of respect for one another, and they work together to increase the number of people voting.

Maxim: It's a mistake to compare Lithuania to Bulgaria. Lithuania is a country I know very well, and not just Lithuania -  Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary  -  Bulgaria is incomparable to them. Ultimately, we are more or less in our territory that we ourselves call the Balkan Peninsula, or the Balkans, which are quite offensive, and I never use them. I prefer Eastern Europe instead. But we are here, where the phrases and words are different from in the countries I stated before. In my opinion, politicians have been making the same mistake for twenty years. I follow them very carefully and talk to some of them, although we don't do political marketing in our company, and it is prohibited so that I can look at politics independently. All politicians try to use the same old political-social messages and cliches nobody cares about or listens to. At this point, nobody understands what left- or right-wing politics are and which party is liberal or conservative. The term socialist is a little more recognizable, and "patriot" too, but I put this term in big quotation marks, as we don't have real patriotic parties anymore. I know you host a wonderful business show on Nova TV, and I have to tell you that even now, in 2024, nobody mentions anything specific about finances, business, or how Bulgaria will develop economically. Because Bulgaria is in an economic crisis, there is no point in telling the viewers who go to stores and restaurants every day and see what is happening. There is a considerable amount of money among the population, which sharply increases inflation and raises prices everywhere. It makes the purchasing power relatively balanced but at the expense of the population's money. However, there is no charismatic politician, and I put charisma first because I no longer make a difference between our politicians, to put on the table a clear plan for what should happen in Bulgaria to exit the crisis. However, there are two things that the legislator, in my opinion, has not considered, and this is a big mistake. The first is that one candidate is allowed to enroll on electoral lists in multiple different places  -  they can lead the list in Burgas, be second in Smolyan, third in Vidin, and, on top of everything, apply for the European Parliament. How come one person is allowed to enroll in 5–6 lists and can be elected if it happens at all? This is a big insult to voters, and I think it should be changed as soon as possible  -  in the next elections, which will probably be a few weeks after the upcoming ones. And the second mistake is that during the pre-election campaign, we are not allowed to mention politicians and political parties on television. Why shouldn't we express our opinion? After all, there are people who discuss and have their own opinions. This is neither propaganda nor is harmful.

Host: Given that precisely during this month, we should be talking most actively about politics, achievements, failures, and so on.

Maxim: If only we fix these two mistakes I mentioned, and a smiling, young, intelligent person and a strong conservative in a business sense appears from somewhere to say we should tighten our belts a little and exit the crisis. And there are examples of this  -  from Balcerowicz in Poland in the 90s, from Klaus in the Czech Republic, and many others.

Host: A question to both of you  -  do Bulgarian politicians and leaders of political parties realize what people are really interested in before the elections? And what are people interested in at all? Earlier in the morning, we talked about what European citizens are interested in, regarding the European elections  -  emigration, political situation, cultural and social issues. What are the Bulgarian people's primary interests, and do politicians even care about them?

Maxim: Bulgarian people are interested in what every person on the planet is interested in  -  living better and having a higher salary. As a joke, I'll tell you my theory, which is that in Bulgaria people lack three things: another room in their apartment, an additional 1000 leva in their salary, and one more day to finish their work. The drama is that even if you know what people are interested in, what they want, or what they would like, there is no plan to show how these can be achieved. In other words, we don't have a system to control the elected politicians. Someone can make a promise, but when they come into power, they might not fulfill it. For example, they might promise to increase pensions by 30% in the next year when they come into power. If they don't increase these pensions or social benefits, defense budget, budget deficit, or whatever they promised  -  they should be taken down immediately, but there is no such control system. In business, if a CEO promises to achieve certain results and then the shareholders see these are not achieved, they are removed immediately and another one takes over. But this cannot happen in the state yet, which means that the political system is not working. Unfortunately, we have to live in this political system. And if we, the voters, maybe even the legislators, invent a firm control system, whoever promises something would put in maximum effort to fulfill it.

Host: How do we motivate voters to go to the ballot boxes, given the political material they have in front of them? What would you both say? Let's say we have an 18-year-old who has the right to vote for the first time, sees what's going on, grew up in continuous political disputes, and their motivation is zero. How would you motivate this person to vote, as a final question?

Maxim: Look, elections are the most important thing in a democracy, with a good or bad, functioning or non-functioning political system, with the people we have, we cannot import or create new politicians  -  these are the people available. The only way is to make our choice on July 9th, at the elections, at the ballot box, so that we can express our opinion. And I think it's impossible for a person to stay at home, saying that they don't care, and the next day complain that the street is dirty or their salary is low. We must go and vote, and whatever our opinion is, we must express it. You have a room with ten people, five of whom express their opinions while the other five remain silent and then complain afterward. And therefore, we must be pragmatic and consider the political reality in Bulgaria, that we live in. If we have better politicians  -  great, we'll vote for them. But for now, we need to work with what we have.

Desislava: Over the years, campaigns have been run, including some with rewards, which have somewhat made people vote more. Around the world, there's mandatory voting - people are obliged to vote just like they pay taxes. I think we are currently at a stage where we might need to consider whether to make voting mandatory.

Maxim: You should read the electoral law. Elections in Bulgaria are mandatory.

Desislava: But there are no sanctions.

Maxim: There are no sanctions, that's correct.

Host: Thank you very much to PR experts Desislava Olovanova and Maxim Behar who were our guests.


Watch the full interview here.

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