Routinized Charisma: Weak Institutions, Corruption and Organized Crime In Simeon's Bulgaria
March 24, 2004
Staff-prepared summary of the EES noon discussion with Venelin Ganev, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Miami University

In June 2001, the former King of Bulgaria, Simeon II, led his new National Movement to a sweeping victory in the national Parliamentary elections capturing nearly half of the seats. Since that time, Simeon and his Movement have been unable to capitalize on the mass support they received in 2001 and his government has been marked by unfulfilled expectations, weak institutions and a dangerous rise in corruption and organized crime. According to Professor Venelin Ganev, the main cause of these disappointing recent political and economic developments has been "the routinization of charisma." This phenomenon was first characterized by the noted political philosopher, Max Weber, as what happens when power shifts from a charismatic leader to his cohorts in power, thereby permitting the elites around a leader to rule with impunity and as a result, to become more corrupt. The process of the routinization of charisma in Simeon's Bulgaria from 2001 to 2004 has marginalized important government institutions leading directly to the growth of organized crime and corruption.

For the past three years, Simeon's appeal as a leader has been the main political capital and political advantage that his National Movement possessed compared to the other two dominant political parties in Bulgaria: the former Communists/Socialists and the right of center Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). The National Movement has never had adequate organization at the local levels and no real political platform or profile, other than the former King himself, and thus the party remains amorphous and administratively ineffective. In addition, during the 2001 election Simeon made three unrealistic promises, including a dramatic increase in pensions, the extension of interest free loans and a guarantee that there would be significant economic improvement within the first 800 days of his rule. This deadline has come and gone and none of the promises of have been met.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Simeon made two strategic decisions that have had a major influence on the government. First, he did not restore the pre-World War II monarchy; rather he upheld the postcommunist Republican Constitution, which emphasizes free elections. Second, he neglected to transform the National Movement into a strong and organized national party. He did this largely on the advice of his many "courtiers," who were determined to maintain their own power and influence, which would have been undermined if the Movement had been transformed into a real party. As a result, the National Movement has been unable to solidify power at the local levels because Simeon's advisors have used their positions to extend their power and influence through personal networks and acts of nepotism.

This decentralization and de-personalization of power has defined the forces of corruption that have risen during Simeon's rule. In essence, corruption in Bulgaria under Simeon has shifted from the more open centralized and routinized forms of corruption found in most post-Communist states to the more closed and de-centralized forms of corruption characterized by the de-institutionalization of federal anti-corruption enforcement mechanisms and the subversion of national economic policy through bribes. This in turn has led to a large decline in both foreign and domestic investment and a major economic downturn.

Under Simeon, the activity of organized crime and gangs has proliferated. In recent years, there have been more than forty gang assassinations, all of which remain unsolved due to the diminished capacity of the already weak legal system. Further, there has been a marked increase in physical attacks against state officials, particularly those officials investigating organized crime and corruption, such as judges and tax auditors. As Ganev noted "a state that cannot ensure the safety of its own officials is a weak state." Simeon's rule has also seen the reinstatement of former high-ranking Communist-era intelligence and military officials to important positions within the Bulgarian intelligence and military forces. Bulgaria is scheduled to become a NATO member next month, but the process of re-legitimizing Soviet-era functionaries could undermine military and security links to the West at a crucial moment.

Ganev concluded on a positive note, however, stating that some parts of the Bulgarian bureaucracy continue to function well, particularly the sector responsible for implementing the stabilization and association agreement guiding Bulgaria's eventual entry into the European Union.