Who are the Bulgarian "harvardists" who want to end it?

Who are the Bulgarian “harvardists” who want to end it?

In Sofia, power has been taken over by a reformist prime minister, Kiril Petkov, who has decided to put an end to all the massive corruption that plagues the small Balkan state. He is accompanied by a “harvadist” like him, the new finance minister, Asen Vasilev, but also a whole generation of financiers trained in the same “harvardist” spirit.

In 2021, Bulgaria’s neighbors went to the polls four times – three rounds of general elections and one presidential election. All this electoral wave managed to end the 12 years in which the political scene at the top was dominated by the former bodyguard Boiko Borisov, during whose mandate the incomes increased, the population decreased, but the corruption proliferated. Only at the end of the year did a new ruling coalition succeed in taking power. Remarkably, however, there are several graduates of Harvard Business School, led by the new Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov (photo) (41 years old). The second is Asen Vasilev (44), the new finance minister and former member of the interim government led by Stefan Ianev. They both became successful entrepreneurs before returning home to Bulgaria.

These are not the only reasons why they were nicknamed “Harvardists” – in 2008 they opened a business school in Sofia affiliated with the famous American university. Many of the graduates today are either parliamentarians or will be part of the new administration, notes The Economist and Euractiv.

New voice

In September, the two laid the foundations for a new party – We Continue Change, an echo of the changes they also initiated in the interim government. In the November 14 election, the new political force managed to attract 26% of the vote, becoming the main political party. The “Harvardist” tandem needed a month to coagulate a ruling coalition.

Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU, but the Petkov-Vasilev pair claims that this should not be the case. “Bulgaria is not a poor country. It was just brutally looted, “said Minister Vasilev. Prime Minister Petkov confesses his frustration – according to the economic models he teaches, all the advantages of Bulgaria (location, EU membership and decent education system) qualify it as “a remarkable success story”. Instead, it stagnated due to corruption and mismanagement. Petkov has always hoped that a new type of leader will emerge at some point, and that he and Vasilev will be his advisers. As it did not happen, they decided to be the change.


When Kiril Petkov was 13, his parents emigrated to Canada. After graduating from economics, he got a job at the food giant McCain. But he had bigger plans. In 2005 he submitted his file to Harvard, and told those there that he wanted to become Bulgaria’s finance minister. After graduating, he invested in several businesses – a retail park outside Sofia and a probiotics business.

The two “Harvardists” were not well known in Bulgaria until recently, but that does not mean they are new to politics. Vasilev was also Minister of Economy in 2013, and Petkov is a well-known activist – in 2018 he went to Nepal on a rescue mission for a Bulgarian climber.

Ognian Georgiev, editor of the online business publication Kapital Insights, says the Bulgarian tandem reminds him of the British partnership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the 1990s. If Petkov is full of energy, expansive, optimistic, extremely charismatic, always wants to stand out, Vasilev is the reserved and cerebral half of the tandem.

Vesela Cerneva, of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, points out that the two must act quickly and have results, especially in terms of anti-corruption – which is easy to say, but very difficult to do with a prosecutor general. the former regime – because the popularity brought by the novelty factor can evaporate.

Many institutions in Bulgaria and most of the media are run by people loyal to Borisov and his allies. Borisov’s team is no longer in power de jure, but de facto is still at the helm.

In the meantime, EU Member States would like Bulgaria to drop the veto on the initiative to open negotiations on the accession of Northern Macedonia to the EU. Petkov says he has a plan in place, but it takes time. His first concern is with corruption in Bulgaria, and here he needs the support of the European Union, given that Bulgaria has never been as problematic a member as Hungary, for example.

Past and future

The two leaders of the new party We Continue the Change claim that they will make left-wing policies with right-wing tools.

ELECTIONS. On November 14, for the third time in 2021, the Bulgarians went to the polls after the first two parliaments convened after the April 4 and July 11 elections, respectively, failed to coagulate a stable majority. ANTI-CORRUPTION. When they were ministers in the Yanev government, Petkov and Vasilev unveiled hundreds of millions of euros in corruption schemes in the banking and road infrastructure sectors. Over the past four months, the caretaker government has provided additional budget revenues of more than € 1 billion through anti-corruption measures. DECLARED GOALS. Petkov and Vasilev have denied rumors that their party is presidential. With the new party, on the right, the two declare that they seek to raise the welfare of the disadvantaged, to accelerate reforms in justice, education and health. INHERITANCE. The GERB era (Borisov’s party) has left a heavy legacy – Bulgaria remains one of the most corrupt countries in the European Union, with a corruption rate of 44, ranking 69th in the world (and last in the world). EU).

This article appeared in issue 131 of . magazine

PHOTO: Getty