Can Europe Make It?

What does #occupySU mean in the context of contemporary Bulgaria?

What does it mean to become a democratic citizen? Two Bulgarian emigrees interview a student protester in Sofia.

Nikolay Nikolov Borislav Gizdavkov Raya Raeva
9 December 2013

What does it mean to become a democratic citizen? To one day survive as a docile individual within a repressive totalitarian regime, and the next be granted, by the same individuals who sustained that system, democratic freedoms and responsibilities? How does one trace or study this deep societal metamorphosis?

Bulgaria didn’t have the same revolution in 1989 as, for example, Poland. In Bulgaria, democracy is a façade through which your life continues to be controlled, albeit indirectly. Freedom is reduced to a kind of independence, personal rather than public. Not dissimilar to what we are witnessing in Kiev as hundreds of thousands are fighting their own version of this battle.

People are fighting because they have been made superfluous in the iron cages of their respective fictitious forms of democracy. The concept of future, much life freedom, does not belong to them, and is administered to them piecemeal to keep them docile. Their societies are not really their own, they are foreigners there.

But things are changing – we can clearly see it in both Kiev and in Sofia, as the protests are causing an unseen and hugely unexpected intervention into the urban fabric. Public spaces and institutions are occupied, while thousands of police officers attempt to hold the status quo in place by force.

In Sofia, what is most striking is the juxtaposition between the huge metal wall erected to barricade the National Assembly and the humble form of student occupation of the Sofia University – held by a few closed doors. #occupySU and the huge support that the student movement for enlightenment gathered from all Bulgarian citizens inaugurated new life and meaning in the protests. They made them into a civilizational mission, one aimed at the gradual reawakening of the atomized and isolated society and the forceful reintroduction of that scent of freedom, which was only promised twenty four years ago. It gave us hope.

This interview was conducted by us for our blog Banitza on the night of the occupation of the Sofia University and its message is as piercing and important to us all today as well.

“We care that you don’t care” – Interview with Raya Raeva

raya1.jpg

banitza.net/photograph used by permission of owner

Banitza: Hello and thank you very much for taking the time to sit with us. Tell us a few words about yourself – what’s your name, what are your views on #ДАНСwithme and Plamen Oresharski’s government?

Raya Raeva: Hi! My name is Raya Raeva and I am a Philosophy student at Sofia University (SU). I have supported #ДАНСwithme from its inception. I recognised many of my own ideas and values in it. I was on the city square almost every day this summer. I think that one of the main successes of the protests is that it disciplined us into having a much more attuned and nuanced civic and political consciousness. It sharpened our senses and made us more sensitive towards the political situation in Bulgaria, and that is what’s really important. The occupation of the auditorium #272 and the building of the Rectorate are a direct confirmation of that. The protest movement continues to be very successful in many of its aspects – it enlightened many people and opened up a space for dialogue.

BanitzaWhat led to the occupation of the Sofia University (SU)?

Raya Raeva: The initiative began with the occupation of the biggest auditorium in SU. This was not a spontaneous decision but a logical continuation of the protest movement of the enlightened students, who are protecting their rights and freedoms, since the summer. A week ago, the Early Birds Students, the organisation who initiated the movement, had undertaken several initiatives in Studentski Grad (the student area of Sofia), SU, and Parliament. They had all been attempts at raising awareness and a direct signal to their fellow students and citizens. When we did not receive any answers to our questions, three days after the beginning of the 272 occupation, we decided that we ought to take a more radical route. As of October 25th, the building of the Rectorate is fully occupied. This occupation is permanent and its goals are as follows:

1. Immediate dissolution of the XLII National Assembly;

2. Immediate organization of new Parliamentary elections;

3. Active critique of civil society against the widespread criminality within the highest echelons of the governmental institutions;

4. The transformation of Bulgaria in a civilized, lawful state;

5. The upholding of justice and knowledge as the pivotal societal and cultural values.

BanitzaTell us about the Early Birds Student – are you a part of that group? When was it formed?

Raya Raeva: It is a community of young and enlightened individuals, which is growing significantly every single day. This is not an organization, in the strict sense of the word. There are no leaders here, no official hierarchy or membership preferences. This is really important to us. Nonetheless, we do not expect or wish to remain anonymous. We stand firm behind all those young people with a clear civic stand and ambition for change and a better, brighter future in Bulgaria.

BanitzaIn one of the first lectures held in the auditorium, Dr. Kristian Takov warned, that this government, this regime, is formed by “big-eyed, thick-skinned” individuals who cannot be tamed by this occupation. What are your thoughts? What are the long-term goals of this occupation?

Raya Raeva: Dr. Kristian Takov held a very captivating lecture. The students responded with a very lengthy standing ovation. I agree that against those “big-eyed, thick-skinned” individuals need to be counteracted permanently, with efforts and perseverance. It is difficult, but by no means is it impossible. It is not enough to simply remain in the auditorium or go out in the streets. It is crucial that we share our story to someone, to remain alert and awake at all times. One of the messages written on the blackboard in 272 is “We care that you don’t care”. We want that to change. We believe that we can overcome the growing apathy. Our civic consciousness needs to be awake at all times, we need to communicate, to demand accountability, to ask our questions, to rise from our slumber, to always stand firm, together.

BanitzaAre you worried that the institutions of Bulgarian democracy are being eroded?

Raya Raeva: Of course. If I was not worried, I would not be in the auditorium today. Yet, besides the fear we are motivated and confident that change will come. We know it is our duty, each and every individual’s responsibility.

BanitzaDo you see your future in Bulgaria?

Raya Raeva: Yes, at this given moment I am sure that it is important that I stay here

BanitzaAnd how do you imagine the future will unfold?

Raya Raeva: I do not wish to speculate, but my prescriptive vision is positive. We are optimistic and we hold strong faith and resolve. I wish, within the space of the next 20 years, to feel the same way I do today, regardless of the overarching social or political situation within the country.

BanitzaThe occupation is spreading to other universities in Sofia (New Bulgarian University and the Journalism Faculty) – do you expect for it to continue growing?

Raya Raeva: We expect that the initiative will grow because we think that the young people are here and have many questions, whose answers they are yet to receive. Also, we believe that our example is contagious. We are receiving support from our colleagues not only in Sofia, but from the entire country. Today we found out that our colleagues in Veliko Turnovo are showing their solidarity for us and will attempt to occupy their respective university as well. Among us are students from the University of National and World Economy, New Bulgarian University, National Academy of Arts, University of Architecture, the Medical University, and many more.

BanitzaWhat would you like to share with our foreign readers?

Raya Raeva: I would like to call upon them – students, colleagues, young people… all like-minded people, be watchful and stay awake!

This interview was originally published on banitza.net

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