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Bulgaria’s belated struggle for democracy

Our protests cannot match theirs in scale. But we demand our share, however small it might be. It is ideas and determination that unite all these events.

Borislav Gizdavkov
9 July 2013
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The 20th day of protests against Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, which started after Oresharski appointed a controversial businessman as head of a security agency. Demotix/Johann Brandstätter. All rights reserved.

 

I feel really exhilarated, yet sad to watch Bulgaria’s ongoing protests from a distance. It is amazing to see thousands of middle class compatriots take to the streets and demand the resignation of the socialist-led government after a controversial media mogul and Member of Parliament, Delyan Peevski, was appointed head of the National Security Agency on June 14.

The popular slogan that unites young and old, employed and jobless, students and businessmen is #ДАНСwithme. It is a pun that beautifully incorporates the initial catalyst for the protests - the dumbfounding appointment in ДАНС, the Bulgarian acronym for the state’s Security Agency that is pronounced like “dance”.

It is noteworthy that Bulgarians, along with protesters in Brazil, Turkey, and Egypt found an unwitting partner in social media. Facebook and Twitter allowed every Bulgarian to contribute to the protests, regardless of location, and produce a virtual protest alongside the massive street rallies.  This allowed public opinion to gain momentum and unite around the grievances of ordinary Bulgarians.

The appointment of a corrupt official as head of а government agency is not something new in Bulgaria – we have experienced this embarrassment on a number of occasions. What is different this time is the determination to cease this vicious practice. That is why today Bulgarians call for democracy and the immediate stepping down of the government. The newly-elected MPs are an embodiment of what went wrong with Bulgaria after the fall of communism. And now it seems that the time when ordinary Bulgarians are ready to deal with the unfinished business of establishing real democracy has finally come. All we need is support.  

Joined by an active diaspora in London, New York, Geneva, Paris and a number of other places around the world, protesters on the streets of Sofia, Plovdiv, and other cities are not alone. Yet, the unfolding events in Bulgaria do not get extensive media treatment in foreign media. The demands of Brazilians, Turkish, and Egyptians resonate on every TV channel in Britain, while Bulgaria is sidelined. Okay, I concede that by any measure, we cannot compete with those states and their deserved global status. Our protests cannot match theirs in scale, either. But we demand our share, however small it might be. It is ideas and determination that unite all these events. People in Sofia call for democracy and governmental accountability, and so do the crowds in Istanbul and Sao Paulo.

We merit attention. For the first time in more than a century, Bulgarians feel united. Ever since the liberation of the country in 1878, we have been looking out for ourselves. However, history intended to take us the long way on our journey of nation building. Embracing Europe and its culture after centuries under Ottoman rule proved a tough business. Incessant wars throughout the first half of the twentieth century left Bulgaria in the iron grip of the Soviets and our quest for freedom and identity was stifled for 45 years.

Unfortunately, even the history-defining events of 1989 did not totally transform the Bulgarian state. The expectations of prosperity after the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc froze during the cold political winter of 1990. Widespread corruption reigned within the country and perpetuated the people’s anxiety throughout the last decade of the twentieth century. The post-communist “façade democracy” effectively concealed the rotten body of residual communist power that governed the country well into the 2000s.

Bulgaria could not return to Europe, because it has never actually been there, most of all politically. On the corner of Europe, touching Asia, and always a thorn in the eyes of westerners, Bulgaria remained a pariah state within Europe. Today we are fighting to change that.  

And now, 24 years after the fall of totalitarianism, the Bulgarian nation has said enough is enough. Democracy, transparency, and fairness should stop being mere slogans for impudent politicians who have ravaged the country with impunity. We now have a cause, we are all one nation again, having ditched the envy and opened our minds towards the good of all Bulgarians. This happens very, very rarely in our history, but when it does take place, we know that Bulgaria is yet again at a crossroad. And we need your support to finally reach our destination of creating a new Bulgaria with a clear sense of self.  

The Bulgarian protests are now a vanguard, but not in the well-known Marxist way. Together with Brazilians, Turkish, and Egyptians we fight for the most ancient cause of them all. That is the cause that for millennia has determined the very existence of politics - the cause of freedom versus abusive state power. And yet, this is not a manifesto, nor a moral exegesis. It is a call to all of you who look at Bulgaria through the lenses of history to open all channels of support and make a common cause with us.

Bulgaria’s situation today is not that remote in essence from 1989, and then the whole world was with us morally. We are fed up of being at the rear. Now we lead through action, and all we ask for is support. For if we miss this opportunity, next time it might be much too late to become what you always criticised us for not being. The dance for democracy is indeed hard, but it remains our only hope to stop the strong doing what they want at the expense of the many who suffer.  

 

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