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A Bulgarian Right-Wing Leader Trademarks His Own Derogatory Nickname

Bulgarian firebrand politician Kostadin Kostadinov who is also known by the disparaging nickname Kostya Kopeks.
Bulgarian firebrand politician Kostadin Kostadinov who is also known by the disparaging nickname Kostya Kopeks.

SOFIA -- Far-right Bulgarian politician Kostadin Kostadinov has had enough of everybody using his nickname.

Widely known as Kostya Kopeikin, which translates as Kostya Kopeks, the nickname is used to mock Kostadinov, implying that he is willing to serve Russian interests for a pittance.

But now Kostadinov, the head of the far-right Revival party, is hitting back, seemingly trying to stop people from using the epithet by registering it as a trademark -- and even by claiming that Kostya Kopeikin is a character from 19th century Russian author Nikolai Gogol's novel, Dead Souls.

In parliament and in the streets, people have been calling the right-wing firebrand Kostya Kopeikin for years. In favor of leaving the EU and NATO and strongly supportive of Russia, Bulgaria's Revival party is on the up, coming in fourth place in October 2 elections and entering parliament with 10.2 percent of the vote.

On October 8, a lawyer, Diana Popova-Ganeva from the Sofia Bar Association, wrote in a Facebook post that Revival party deputies had registered Kostya Kopeikin as a trademark, information that was subsequently confirmed by other Bulgarian publications.

The application was submitted to the Patent Office a few weeks after a combative scene in parliament on June 1, when a deputy from the pro-reform We Continue The Change party, Iskren Mitev, addressed Kostadinov as "Mr. Kopeikin." Kostadinov demanded an apology and slammed Mitev for using offensive terms and "spreading slander."

In her Facebook post, lawyer Popova-Ganeva said that Kostadinov probably thought that, by owning the trademark, he could prohibit people from using it and then sue them if they continued to do so. However, trademark registrations, according to the lawyer, do not actually confer such rights.

No Stranger To Controversy

The exact origins are unclear but the Kostya Kopeikin nickname goes back to Kostadinov's early political career in Varna, a Bulgarian resort city on the Black Sea coast, where he was member and later deputy chairman of the right-wing IMRO -- Bulgarian National Movement party.

The outspoken politician is no stranger to controversy. In November 2021, he promised labor camps and prison for everyone "who is not with us." He has said that "one day all the Russophobic scumbags" will answer in court for their crimes against Bulgaria and has accused many politicians of being in the pay of foreign powers.

He also doesn't seem to like journalists very much. Despite receiving the most air-time of all politicians in the recent elections, he is often scathing about members of the press and his party has announced an "annual prize for pimp journalism."

Three days after the most recent elections, the Revival leader tried to kick some reporters out of a press conference because he said they were making him feel uncomfortable.

While a relatively small party, Revival's views are a toxic mix of populism, Russophilia, and anti-Western conspiracies, which has proved to be an appealing combination after the coronavirus pandemic and now amid the war in Ukraine.

Revival has been gaining ground in recent years, buoyed by Kostadinov's boisterous media presence, and boosting its parliamentary presence in the recent elections.

After the news broke that the name Kostya Kopeikin had been registered as a trademark, representatives of the Revival party scrambled to gain control of the narrative.

Kostadinov accused the "illiterate psycho-right fringes" of having misinterpreted the decision to register the trademark. Party secretary Deyan Nikolov said that they were creating the Kostya Kopeikin Foundation. "Our focus will be on support for gifted children in the field of literature and the arts. The funding of the foundation will come both from donations," Nikolov told the BBC, and from monies won in defamation cases, the implication being that such cases are common and winnable.

Then Kostadinov expanded on an earlier claim that the nickname was based on a character from Gogol's incisive social satire, Dead Souls. In the novel's first part, the main narrative makes a detour into a seemingly unrelated story, with the near-novella length The Tale of Captain Kopeikin.

'Russian Robin Hood'

In the novel, Kopeikin was a captain in the imperial Russian Army. After suffering severe injuries during the war against Napoleon in 1812, he was left disabled and without a livelihood. After appealing to various Russian officials for assistance -- and getting roundly rejected and told to wait in the village for a final answer -- Kopeikin had enough. He upped and left and went to live in the forest. While he was there, he fell in with a band of robbers, a group that Gogol implied in the text he went on to lead.

There was no such ambiguity in Kostadinov's telling of the story. It was not, as it is often interpreted, a tragic tale of a disabled man futilely appealing to corrupt officialdom for mercy. Instead, in Kostadinov's version, Kopeikin was a Russian Robin Hood, a brave captain who rallied a gang to "rob money from the rich" in order to give to the poor.

To his critics, the Bulgarian politician said that he suspected they had not read the novel, nor even heard of Gogol's name. He said this section of society is "known for its severe and multilayered functional illiteracy."

There was also another problem with Kostadinov's literary comparison. There is actually no Kostya Kopeikin in Gogol's novel, as Kostadinov had claimed. There is only Captain Kopeikin, a character without a forename.

Gogol aside, others were baffled as to what Kostadinov might want to do with the trademarked name. "Registration of a trademark implies some form of commercial activity, most often related to the production or supply of certain types of goods or services," Georgi Kalinov, a lawyer and trademark representative working with Bulgaria's Patent Office, told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service.

According to the law, the Kostya Kopeikin trademark would allow its owners to produce and sell bathing suits, wigs, ostrich feathers, plastic wrap, and also circus performances.

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    Genka Shikerova

    Genka Shikerova has been an investigative correspondent in Sofia for RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service since 2020. She worked for many years at bTV and Nova TV.