Bulgarian Party Leader Botched Assassination Attempt is Just a PR Stunt


World news agencies are awash with the attempted attack in Bulgaria on Ahmed Dogan, the party leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, at a convention in which he was supposed to announce his ceding of the leadership after almost 25 years at the helm. A video of the event is also available. While the media decries the attack as everything between anti-democratic and a sign of political crisis, it was in reality one of the better drama performances in Bulgarian politics in recent years: for that, we have to look at who Ahmed Dogan is, as well as his history over the last 35-40 years.  

The assassination attempt does not stand up to scrutiny as such, and it was just a public relations gimmick to consolidate voter support for the coming July general elections.  

For the record, the attacker is 25-year-old Oktay Enimehmedov, from the seaside city of Burgas. He has a history of drug possession, violence and hooliganism, beginning in 2000, according to police records.

The gun itself is a gas pistol, whose model cannot have been fatal if used, which further adds doubts to the theory that it was a genuine assassination attempt. From the video, Enimehmedov threatened Dogan, hesitated and withdrew – had murder been the objective, at least the gun should have been capable of it.

From here, we should turn to the history of Ahmed Dogan and his party, in order to rationalize the attack and the context in which it happened, so as to explain why it happened at all.

First, Dogan's dossier was released to the public several years ago, and it shows that he was a collaborator of Durzhavna Sigurnost, or the State Security agency, voluntarily committing himself to the job in 1974. That commitment involved a hand-written declaration of loyalty to the communist regime and its ideological principles and the assignment of the new agent to a superior commanding officer. Being an agent, he went under the aliases "Angelov," "Sergei" and "Sava" and the work involved intelligence gathering, spying and reporting duties for his superiors.

In the mid-1980s, the government undertook a massive campaign to rename Bulgarian Turks with Slavic names, so as to repress Turkish identity and expression. The program involved a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian Turk citizens into Turkey at the end of it. However, the regime change prompted an immediate reversal of the policy in the early 1990s and some came back, while others remained in Turkey. It has been recognized as one of the greatest failings of the communist regime.

Ahmed Dogan's role in the Revival Process, as it became known, was that he became the ideologue of an illegal terrorist organization – the Turkish National Liberation Front – seeking to wage both civil and armed resistance against the state authorities. The most notable example of the militant attacks came in March 9, 1985, when a bomb planted in a train car full of women and children, exploded at the Bunovo train station along the Sofia-Burgas route and resulted in 7 killed and 29 injured, including 2 children.

In this time, he did not stop being an agent of State Security, but this involvement nonetheless lent him a treason charge and 10 years in prison in 1986. However, a political amnesty at the fall of the regime in 1989 saw him released, and at this point he founded the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and became its leader; much of the senior staff, including regional directors, consisted of the same people who directed the TNLF. Moreover, the party represents ethnic Turks, and this makes it illegal under the 1991 constitution, which bans ethnic parties.

In the murky political waters of the 1990s, the MRF nonetheless established itself as a coalition partner that tipped the balance between the main political parties in election time; it was a lucrative role to play with bigger interests than the legality of the party being involved. The allegations against Dogan suggest he profited immensely from shady deals in this role as a power broker.

Bigger problems began in the 2009 elections, however, when the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the successful runaway political project of current prime minister Boyko Borisov, won half the seats of the National Assembly and received the nearly unequivocal support of smaller right-wing parties, to form a de-facto majority government. For the first time, the MRF was not a partner in power and its relevance began to wane. The issues were compounded when it split in 2012 – one of Dogan's one-time partners in crime, Kasim Dal, formed his own party to compete with the MRF.

In its heyday, the MRF was a monolithic movement, authoritatively commandeering regions with a predominantly Muslim population, or those with a mixed population. Its declining relevance and the internal splits mean that the voters are, for the first time, able to vote for other parties – and that is the main issue.

To drive the point full circle: the botched assassination attempt was a badly executed drama production with the intent of coalescing the voter base before the general elections this coming July. Looking at Dogan's historical ability to adjust to changing situations and the factual inconsistencies, like a gun not capable of killing, only suggests that all the drama was all just a PR stunt for the voters, with the added benefit of making a crooked leader look like a victim and a false saint.

The history of political murders in Bulgaria in the last two decades peaked with the high-profile shooting of former prime minister, Andrei Lukanov, outside of his home in 1996. Alongside, there are still many outstanding unsolved murders of other high-profile functionaries of the transition, including businessmen and crime bosses. Point being, had Dogan been marked for murder, it would have been done professionally and happened already.