Tihomir Kamenov speaking to the journalist Diana Yankulova on Sunday 150 – a weekly radio programme, on Bulgarian National Radio, 29 January 2017

An overview by Sunday 150: Mr. Tihomir Kamenov, chairman of the Supervisory Board of the corporate group Commercial League interviewed at the Bulgarian National Radio in a very interesting political conversation providing the entrepreneur’s objective and unbiased standpoint faraway from Bulgaria’s domestic trivialities. He has been the only Bulgarian participant at the most authoritative global political and economic forum – the Davos one:

Ms. Diana Yankulova: You have been the only Bulgarian participant at the forum in Davos. It is no exaggeration to say that this forum represents the world’s most authoritative political and financial élite. Why is our participation there so modest? – “I can hardly explain everything. Last time a Bulgarian Prime Minister showed up at the forum has been 15 years ago (and he stayed in his hotel room most of the time). There are about 40-60 heads of state or government coming every year in Davos eager to meet the main core of the global investment community. Highly paid jobs in the world are currently provided by highly educated entrepreneurs. It is also clear that self-esteem of each nation and its politicians are tightly interrelated, it has an immediate repercussion to its gross domestic product. At the end of 2016 the World Bank published the latest statistics and ranking per country by their GDP. At the end of 2015 Bulgaria was at the 80th place. I don’t know if this gives you a plausible explanation about some of the reasons why the Bulgarian politicians don’t show up. Are they not much sought-after, or they have nothing interesting to say in Davos? The truth is that in Bulgaria there is little talk on how to improve GDP and how to obtain higher self-esteem. It’s not just about GDP per capita. It’s about how high the GDP in absolute figures is. Bulgaria occupies the absurd last place in the European Union and the 80th one in the world behind so many countries (like Angola).”

Yankulova: These data get conveyed to the Bulgarian public by their ruling up to now politicians like this: We have economic growth higher than the EU average. This means that in economic terms our country stands very well. Our fiscal reserve is full and we are handing the state over rather tidy and all government policies are financially secured. At least this is how the now former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov summed up at the Cabinet’s last meeting. This is the flipside of your perspective from Davos.

– “Let me make a very clear distinction. As a matter of fact Bulgaria undoubtedly has this growth rate and assumedly we trust statistics, i.e. a low GDP in absolute figures, nevertheless Bulgaria stands firm! We used to have at least a piece of pride that we’ve recently lost. We boasted about being a nation with no debts. We possessed the astonishing 3rd place in whole Europe in terms of low debt ratio. Now, with the last increase in foreign debt, things changed dramatically. And even at a growth rate of 2% growth remains really very low in absolute figures. Just imagine our 50-billion GDP (in dollars). Let’s compare only with countries from former socialist European states, to mention only a few, the Czech Republic, whose territory and population is comparable to the Bulgarian ones, has 4 times higher GDP. Hungary, it is true that 20 years ago big investments were poured into it by Western corporations, has 2.5 times bigger GDP than Bulgaria. So we have to be growing at least according to Bulgaria’s potential, natural resources, territory, and nation’s intellectual potential, by no less than 7-8-10%, to feel calm we’re running at a good pace. 2%, given that our economy is stable but small, is a deeply low level. The objectives of the Bulgarian political parties and Bulgarian politicians should attain 8-10% growth of the country in the course of several upcoming years. I am talking about two parliamentary terms at a minimum in order to reach a decent European level. Such a growth of 2% (under the current 50-billion GDP conditions) for a nation of 7’200’000 inhabitants, of which perhaps 2.5 billion comes from the ousted Bulgarian children who work in London, the United States and all over Europe – this is extremely low.”

Yankulova: This conversation about Bulgaria is going to turn into sadness. It is too obvious how we look like against the background of the European and world’s statistics from the authoritative tribune of the Davos meeting. Let’s stop here because elections are at hand and no party has promised to govern in such a way that would lead to the specified by you economic development rates.

-“I am talking to you as a true patriot who loves Bulgaria immensely and most part of my business activities are in Bulgaria. But keep tirelessly explaining how good we are, averagely good in Europe … let me tell you something: during the 2008 financial crisis Bulgaria suffered relatively little because of its underdeveloped s Stone Age financial system. No derivatives, no stock exchange. We made it just because we couldn’t take part in something else at all. Even nowadays, China’s growth continues to be 5-6.5 % instead of 9.5- 10% previously”.

Yankulova: You have mentioned China. Now for the very first time the Chinese president Xi Jinping attended the forum in Davos and you took the liberty to ask him questions personally. What did you ask him, what did he answer and did he give you any answer at all?

– “This was the first time ever in the history of Davos World Economic Forum when an acting president of the second economy in the world came to participate. The truth is that he did not respond directly. He did not mention any names in his speech, and did not answer many other questions. However, he sent one of his assistants to find me and explain to me how exactly their control system of party functionaries’ enrichment works. The question I asked, you can find it on Twitter. My clear intention was to ascertain to what extent and how precisely the party functionaries’ enrichment process in the biggest capitalist non-governmental organization in the world gets controlled. All political parties in the world are deemed NGOs. The Chinese Communist Party is the richest non-governmental organization in the world regarding this criterion. With an economy of 11 trillion and the potential to influence all other top 10 economies in the world, it is hugely important to understand what are the moral complexion and the criteria for legal enrichment of its functionaries”.

Yankulova: – We are well aware of what happens to those who cross the threshold. People are sentenced to death over there.

– “I am a lawyer and I understand very well that it is not popular to talk about death penalty in the world. In China they work with certain criteria – every year, the members of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party can enrich themselves to a certain extent. They implement a declaratory mode that is similar to ours in Bulgaria and in the EU, as assets are declared before, during and after leaving the power. If you implement the same criteria towards Bulgarian politicians, you will reach some very interesting conclusions, that there are some politicians who stay in power for decades and maintain the same level of savings!

There is nothing wrong for everybody’s children to study abroad, it is even just great, but the point is that none of them wants to return, despite their parents, who are involved in Bulgarian politics, saying that children must return to Bulgaria and we need to keep them in. The mere fact that they don’t come back and don’t want to come back is a moral and political verdict for their parents’ hypocrisy”.

Yankulova: Speaking of wealth, there has been an interesting survey before the World Economic Forum in Davos, and it looks as though it gave a kind of answer to the question of where the root of evil is. One percent of the world’s population holds half the world’s wealth. On the opposite site is the remaining 99. This is a social divide, which makes the world different and can no longer be managed in the old way. This is the world of those 99% who are becoming increasingly angry and seek revenge. How was this topic interpreted at the Forum?

– “Congratulations for dealing with this topic in Bulgaria, and generally with the topic of economic development. Now the world is very different, and there is a huge crisis of the political élites everywhere and Bulgaria makes no exception. The main risk is the turbulent loss of jobs. Whether the concentration of capital will be within a very small percentage or not, is a matter of a much deeper conversation without well-known historical experiments.

By the way a book came out in 2014 that some opinions characterize as if it was written by the new Karl Marx – a French professor, Thomas Piketty. The book is called “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. Statistic data therein was very well grounded and dealt. There are many solutions to the issues, like taxes, subsidies… but none of them is fully comprehensive for reducing this divide, as you called it. The painful part of this statement is that the so-called middle class is also been divided. The typical old bourgeois middle class begins to split into ones with high-paying jobs, which are provided by highly educated entrepreneurs and a huge mass of decreasing vacancies for badly paid and unqualified workforce”.

Yankulova: Is this the reason for that rise of populism, which is observed in our country, and of course, in Europe and the world? Those politicians who promise people to quickly improve their lives, win more and more, and, of course, playing on people’s fears. Is the rise of populism what threatens us most directly?

– “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any populism definition of full value, especially its differentiation from the rest of the political spectrum. Therefore populism is a concept that is rather amorphous. Ultimately, those who win the popular vote are those who promise good things; the question is whether they are committed to make them happen and how likely is this to happen. After all, there is something really good in politicians striving to promise good things to people – to make it come true in the end. Just note, since last Friday the head of the Bulgarian Executive became a specialist in Commercial Law, and the head of the US Executive is a commercial specialist. These are two different expertises, yet interconnected. Each of them has its own special features and contributes to public life in a different way. I don’t think Donald Trump is a true populist. Even from the first week of his coming to power it is pretty noticeable, he will be a successful president and America will return to the position it had in the late 80s and 90s under Reagan and afterwards. We have to be careful with the concept of populism. There are many parties in Europe, including in Bulgaria, that have won elections with rather loud promises which are impossible to implement, at least in the way they understand them”.

Yankulova: Speaking of populism – nowadays it has been very powerfully fostered by the refugee wave that swept Europe. But aren’t you contradicting yourself by predicting a successful tenure of Donald Trump in the White House? Keeping in mind the biggest fears in Davos last year with the hope Trump not to take office as President of America?

– “There are different opinions in Davos. I belong to the group of optimists and this year things changed and they gradually will change even more. I predict a successful term of office for Donald Trump because he is an expert in commerce. People see him as someone who is accustomed to make deals. He has come to improve the economic situation in the United States and to protect jobs. Prof. Gerdjikov in Bulgaria has a different task – to conduct fair and transparent elections, which is a large deficit in our country. I think that Donald Trump is also in the right place. Some people don’t like the way he negotiates, but it doesn’t really matter. International treaties are kind of interstate deals.

In the first rapid clash with Mexican President Peña Nieto, Trump won. On Friday they agreed that everything will be settled and of course resolved, with the only stipulation not to talk in public about who will pay for the wall. And well, it’s Mexico that will pay it for again, so long as it isn’t mentioned in public.

So in this regard populism has, let’s take it this way, a very positive side. It thoroughly revises world’s élites. You understand that Europe is very anxious because of the upcoming elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands. And this is very good because truth has to be looked straight in the eye, not from the angle of “political correctness”. And the income “divide” will not be as painful as it results from quick job losses due to the introduction of technology, automation, robotics, and so on”.

Yankulova: And the prospect of this population percentage, on the other side of the barricade, to become poorer and poorer. Let’s finish with a quick forecast from you, Mr. Kamenov. We discussed briefly the political processes that lie ahead in Europe and that have happened in the world. We will be conducting elections in two months. Sociologists predict almost the same highly fragmented parliament and many difficulties before drawing the next regular government. From the perspective of the entrepreneur, what is your forecast for Bulgaria after the elections?

– “I’m not a sociologist. In Bulgaria a lot of time is spent on sociology, clairvoyance, forecasts related to the seat distribution in the parliament, for example. Until politicians in Bulgaria don’t start dealing with how to increase GDP by several times for one legislature term or several times for two terms (for 8-10 years), Bulgaria will remain where it is. And its children won’t wish to return to their land of birth. Bulgarian politicians have to strive for, regardless of which part of the spectrum they belong to, if there are any spectrums at all, because what really exists is something like one political class – that is old wine in new bottles…”

Yankulova: Yes, this is the question – will we change the political class with someone more motivated, someone who can accomplish more of the things you mentioned…

– “Take a look at what the Americans did. Simply contrary to all predictions, regardless of the election-winning machine of the Clintons, the people of America said – we don’t want to listen to these euphemisms any longer. We don’t like to listen to these meaningless, euphemistic, inappropriate, verbose, long-winded, endless sentences with no full stop. The only thing we want is results and jobs, possibly highly paid.

Bulgarian economy is open, we have formidable potential, our territory is a medium-sized on the European scale, and its people are outstandingly capable and intellectually inquisitive. But for God’s sake, to watch young people keen to become politicians simply because they believe that building a career in life is kind of hitting the jackpot, it’s hilarious! This must be cut off, it’s just unthinkable. Until the Bulgarian political class doesn’t start dealing with how to develop Bulgarian industry, whatever sector, until it doesn’t start dealing with goods exportation day and night – we have such capabilities, dealing with economy, its GDP and improving all the primary country’s indicators, Bulgaria will stay stuck at the poverty bottom in Europe.

See for instance – Bulgarian politicians never show their family. Nobody is a role model as regards what they have done in their lives. Here we have the paradox – the first job in life, so to say the very first labour contract for several Bulgarian prime ministers was the job of prime minister. That is just plain absurd.”

Yankukova: I wish you plenty of success and let’s talk again soon.

– “Thank you so much.”