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New Pro-Russian Extremist Party In Bulgaria Has Links To Ponzi Scheme And Theme Park

Ivelin Mihailov and Nikolay Markov lead the far-right Greatness party, which gained some 5 percent of the vote in Bulgaria's June 9 parliamentary elections.
Ivelin Mihailov and Nikolay Markov lead the far-right Greatness party, which gained some 5 percent of the vote in Bulgaria's June 9 parliamentary elections.

SOFIA -- He was accused of running a Ponzi scheme in Bulgaria, allegedly using the ill-gotten gains to build a historical theme park that authorities suspect was also being used by an armed far-right militia.

Despite his controversial past and shady business practices in Bulgaria, albeit no stranger to corruption, Ivelin Mihailov is now about to enter the political arena with his pro-Russian, far-right party.

The Greatness party gained some 5 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, in Bulgaria's June 9 parliamentary elections.

"This is the surprise of the elections," political analyst Ognyan Minchev told Bulgarian National TV after pre-election polls had not given the party much of a chance.

It was Bulgaria's sixth snap parliamentary poll in three years amid ongoing political instability. The June 9 poll was triggered by the collapse in March of a coalition between the center-right GERB party and the pro-Western We Continue The Change (PP) party.

Results from the elections showed GERB winning the national poll with nearly 25 percent. A total of six other parties were set to at least clear the four-percent hurdle needed to win seats in parliament, including the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), which mainly represents Bulgaria's large Turkish minority; PP; and Revival, like Greatness, a far-right, pro-Kremlin party.

The elections to the National Assembly, Bulgaria's unicameral, 240-seat parliament, were held parallel to elections to the European Parliament. In those elections, GERB also came out on top, amid far-right gains across Europe.

The Rise Of Greatness

The party was founded on March 25, 2023, according to the Bulgarian investigative news site Kapital. Mihailov, a Bulgarian businessman with a shady past, is one of its founders.

Mihailov was one of the key investors in Historical Park, which, according to its website, "offers an adventure up to 10,000 years back in time for the whole family."

An investigation by Kapital in 2019 found that Historical Park, located around 30 kilometers from the Black Sea resort city of Varna, was financed with funds from a pyramid scheme, ostensibly to buy up properties in the area. Suspicions of the project led to investigations by the Interior Ministry but no formal charges. Those involved in the scheme deny any wrongdoing.

The theme park's activities have also attracted the attention of lawmakers. Kalin Stoyanov, Bulgaria's interior minister, said in May that the ministry had received reports that there were weapons, military trucks, and communications equipment at the site. A far-right group called Bulgarian Hero, which Stoyanov described as a paramilitary organization, had apparently conducted military training there. The ministry said it was investigating.

Besides the murky Mihailov, the other founder of Greatness is Nikolay Markov, a former lieutenant colonel in Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security between 1993 and 2007. Markov often appears in the Bulgarian media as a national-security expert.

What Does Greatness Stand For?

The party can generally be described as populist, Euroskeptic, and pro-Russian. On its website, the party explains it was formed to protect what it said Bulgarians had built together.

In 2022, Mihailov dipped his toes into political waters, heading a campaign to halt the construction of wind turbines, spreading false claims that they were harmful to health.

His campaign hid wider motives, critics claimed. "The battle over the wind turbines in Vetrino [in northeast Bulgaria] is gradually growing into a battle with green energy in general, to preserve coal plants and [is also] against military aid to Ukraine," according to

After the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, content from websites linked to Mikhailov began to appear on websites close to the Kremlin on topics such as "Nazism in Ukraine" and calls for Bulgaria's neutrality, RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service reports.

Both Mihailov and Markov are extremely active in social networks. The Free and Peaceful Bulgaria group founded by Mikhailov has 30,000 members on Facebook and organizes protests against the military aid that Bulgaria provides to Ukraine.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service
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    RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service relaunched in 2019 after a 15-year absence, providing independent news and original analysis to help strengthen a media landscape weakened by the monopolization of ownership and corruption.

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