SOFIA, Sep 18 – They call him directly on his mobile, joke with him and even dare to tease him: Bulgaria’s new down-to-earth prime minister Boyko Borisov enjoys an unprecedented outpouring of media love and returns it.
A former firefighter, bodyguard, interior ministry chief and Sofia mayor, Borisov, 50, has always liked being in the limelight and attracted record public support when he was elected prime minister in July.
But Bulgarian media have rarely been so unanimously favourable of a politician.
"Good day! I deliberately say ‘day’ as you would have corrected me if I greeted you with ‘Good morning,’" a Nova television journalist welcomed Borisov, a notorious early riser, in a recent interview.
"It is day already, for those like me who rise at 6am," the easy-going Borisov responded with a smile.
The premier’s personal acquaintance with many journalists dates back from the time when, as interior ministry chief, he regularly appeared at crime scenes and even phoned them with news of major police actions.
"You still pick up your phone! I invited you personally on the phone, without even contacting your press office … You did not ask to have my questions in advance," the Nova television journalist exclaimed.
But then ventured to add: "Analysts say you lack political vision … After all, you are still a cop!"
"And proud of it!" Borisov hit back.
At ease in front of the cameras, the premier can turn even most serious talk into a friendly chat: "You will grow old and not get rid of this bad habit of yours," he told a popular bTV television presenter, who has long pestered him with the same question of whether after being Sofia mayor and prime minister he would next aim for the presidency.
Despite his bullish physique and stern look, Borisov can often be seen patting journalists on the shoulder, addressing them by first or nickname and even allowing them openly provocative remarks and unfavourable jokes they never enjoyed with any of his predecessors.
Borisov’s physique and background already gave rise to a series of wisecracks circulating media desks, like one telling how during his first official visit to Brussels, a European Commission official called back asking "The bodyguard is here but where is the prime minister?"
"Bulgarian crime is organised as no criminal dares to face Borisov alone," another popular joke goes.
"Boyko – the super trooper hero" was also praised in a song, while the mass-circulation 24 Hours daily newspaper did a full-page analysis of his striped-shirt no-tie style of dressing, entitled "The preppy style – Boyko’s first revolution."
Apart from the media, ordinary Bulgarians also follow every step of their new down-to-earth prime minister and are massively supportive of him, polls show.
Over 53 percent of the 1,003 people polled by the Mediana agency in end-August said they were encouraged by the first moves of the new leader.
Over 71 percent said they trusted Borisov’s no-nonsense approach to battle corruption and 73 percent added they believed he would curb crime.
"Public opinion is almost unanimous that there is nothing impossible for the new premier," Mediana analyst Kolyo Kolev summed up the results of the poll.
Borisov’s personal rating shot to record-high levels of between 57 and 75 percent support, according to three polls, surpassing even the elation accompanying the return to Bulgaria of the exiled king turned prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg, regarded by analysts as Borisov’s former mentor who trampolined him to political power.
"People just cannot fail to sympathise with people who call things with their real names," commented political analyst Evgeniy Daynov.
"Borisov will now have to prove with deeds his image of a person with rolled up sleeves… But people should not expect miracles," German political analyst Johanna Deimel told Dnevnik daily newspaper.