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Bulgaria: Split Grows In Socialist Party

Sofia, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The appointment of a new parliamentary group leader by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is seen in Sofia as a sign that allies of outgoing Prime Minister Zhan Videnov are losing control within the party.

Videnov resigned as party leader and Prime Minister last month. But many who fill the higher ranks of the BSP hierarchy are still considered to be Videnov loyalists -- including about 75 percent of the BSP's recently appointed Executive Council.

The BSP voted yesterday to expand the responsibilities of their new party leader, Georgi Parvanov, to include the parliamentary leadership post. He replaced one of Videnov's staunchest allies, Krassimir Premyanov.

Parliament Chairman Blagovest Sendov -- who was at one time considered as a potential presidential candidate of the BSP -- has also criticized Videnov. Sendov and former foreign minister Georgi Pirinski have been identifed by observers as leaders of the BSP's reformist faction, while Videnov is identified as among the hardliners.

Sofia University political scientist Ognian Minchev describes Parvanov as a political "conformist," who was elected as Party leader by playing the middle-ground between pro-Videnov and anti-Videnov factions. Videnov's resignation followed the publication of a letter from 19 leading Socialists who expressed a lack of confidence in his government. Four of those party members later broke away from the BSP.

Observers say Parvanov can be expected to compromise more than Videnov. But Minchev says he is a "weak appointment" who probably cannot mediate between the differing factions that threaten to split the party. He said Parvanov's best chance of strengthening his position is to weaken Videnov's allies. At the same time, Parvanov's basic aim must be the survival of the Socialist Party.

The news of Premyanov's ouster came as no surprise to Minchev. He says that the BSP now needs scapegoats, and that holding Videnov and Premyanov responsible for the country's economic crisis would be "a face-saving operation for the party as a whole."

Yesterday, Parvanov is reported to have told other party members that several people within the BSP were responsible for wrongdoings and would have to go. He did not mention any specific names, but Minchev said Parvanov may try to expell both Videnov and Premyanov from the BSP.

Premyanov is not a popular figure in Bulgaria today. He was named recently by the Reuters-owned weekly newspaper, "Capital," as a key figure in several economic scandals, including corruption within the state energy and banking sectors. He also is alleged to have close ties with Ukranian and Russian criminal groups.

But many of the thousands who have been demonstrating in Bulgaria's streets the past three weeks appear unlikely to accept Videnov and Premyanov as sacrificial lambs.

Violence that broke out at demonstrations earlier this month in Sofia targeted the parliament building -- not Videnov's cabinet offices. Slogans shouted by the protestors demonstrate they are angry at the Socialists as a whole -- not just a select few individuals in the party.

Students say they are angered by an entire network of former Communist cronyism. They blame the plundering of the national economy on Bulgaria's rich, new Socialist elite. They say the first step to rectify the situation is to hold new elections in order to put an end to the Socialist's parliamentary majority.