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The Curious Tale of Bulgaria's Extremist Flip-Flopping Party

03/06/2014 17:50 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

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Volen Siderov, leader of Bulgaria's Ataka. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Ivan. Some rights reserved

'No to EU homosexuality, it is Mother Russia that liberated us'. This statement comes not from some pro-Russian separatist fighting the power in Ukraine, but from Volen Siderov, the charismatic and divisive leader of Bulgaria's ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic party Ataka. But what is truly baffling about the fate of this party is the way it has managed to forge alliances on the far-left from its political position on the far-right and, furthermore, become one of Europe's most vocal supporters of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage's ascensions to power after the European Parliament election have been the talk of the town in Europe this past week. But their electoral success is not nearly as dramatic as Ataka's position in Bulgaria. Indeed, after winning 7% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections, Ataka has become the kingmaker in the labyrinthine world of Bulgarian politics. In 2013, the government resigned as a result of well-organized, violent protests. The EU member state went to early elections, setting the stage for Ataka's rise. The extremist party is not formally part of the government, but Socialist Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski now depends on Ataka's support to maintain a parliamentary majority and governing stability.

Ataka is probably Europe's most colourful parliamentary party, to put it lightly, collecting virtually all the 'anti-labels' one could think of. It stands against immigration, against Jews, Turks and the Roma minority, against the European Union and NATO, against globalization and free trade, mixing left wing elements with right wing rhetoric to form a discourse that makes Nigel Farage sound down-right lofty. Even Marine Le Pen ruled out any joining of forces with the Bulgarian far right.

Ataka went to great lengths to show its support for Russia, even kicking off its European election campaign in Moscow, after Siderov received the Fatherland Star Medal from the Russian Duma 'for his contribution for the development of relations between Bulgaria and Russia'. Of course, this support had a hefty price tag. A cable made public by Wikileaks showed that Ataka enjoys close links to the Russian embassy, which has been steadily funding the party's activities.

Thanks to this imbroglio, Ataka joined the ranks of other extremist parties across Europe that act as mouthpieces for the Kremlin and have manifested their unwavering support for Russia's foreign policy objectives in Europe.

Unlike Farage's UKIP, Ataka holds real sway over political developments in Bulgaria. When the government hinted that it might join other EU nations in their condemnation of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Siderov threatened to storm the Parliament's building and pull the plug on Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski's coalition government.

Thanks to this unholy alliance, Bulgaria is now teetering on the edge of Europe, torn between embracing Brussels and supporting Russia's newfound imperialism. One of the most telling signs of this wavering tendency is the government's favourable stance towards Crimea's annexation. Just a few weeks ago, the foreign affairs committee of the National Assembly passed a motion condemning further economic sanctions against Russia, backed by the socialists and the ultra-nationalists of Ataka. One of its MPs even declared with bewilderment "We don't understand why this Russophobia has turned into an official policy in Brussels."

Such aggressive rhetoric made ordinary Bulgarians flinch, as they proceeded to vote Ataka out of the European Parliament, one of the rare cases in Europe where extremist parties lost ground. The party went from having 2 seats to nil, as its support dropped to a low of less than 3%, a drop of 9 points since the 2009 elections. In anger, the party's leadership called for the nullification of the election, alleging large-scale vote rigging. One of its deputies even quipped that 'until the truth comes out, please do not say that in Bulgaria there is a democracy'.

The kaleidoscopic pool of extremist parties in Europe has vastly diversified since 2009, becoming a Continental trend that, by all accounts is here to stay. One can only hope that such parties make further inroads in their respective national constituencies, so voters will be able to finally see, like in Bulgaria, that populism offers simple and misguided solutions to intractable problems.