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Bulgaria, protest for the future

Bulgarian citizens are protesting across the country against the capture of their government and for a meaningful democracy. A memorandum from Sofia outlines the heart of their case.

Demotix/Katya Yordanova. All rights reserved.

Tens of thousands of people have been marching for eleven days now on the streets of the capital Sofia and in some of Bulgaria’s major cities. The mass protests were sparked by the decision of the Bulgarian parliament to make Delyan Peevski - a media mogul and politician - chief of the State Agency for National Security. After his resignation on the second day of the protest, its main demand became the resignation of the government of Plamen Oresharski, which has been built by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (which represents the Turkish minority). Together, both parties have exactly half of the seats in parliament, yet their government cannot survive without the support of the far-right populist party Ataka.

According to representative polling data, 85% of Bulgarians support the protest against the appointment of Delyan Peevski, a front-man of corporate interests with strong influence over the last three governments. The respondents put remarkably little confidence in the current government (23%) and parliament (14%) at the beginning of their term (these figures are the lowest since the 1990s), while only 18% reckon Plamen Oresharski’s cabinet will fulfill its full mandate.

This is the second wave of demonstrations in Bulgaria in the first half of 2013. The mass protests in February against the electricity monopolies brought down the centre-right government of Boyko Borissov. Now, the days of unrest since 15 June should be seen as a second demonstration  of Bulgarian citizens’ anger with the political establishment from the transition years, who in their view has betrayed the values of democracy in the service of behind-the-screen corporate interests.

For the first time in years, the civil society of Bulgaria is voicing strong demands for genuine reform of the ailing state institutions and for effective democracy. These demands for reform are homegrown and have a grassroots pedigree. They are not the result of external pressures (e.g. from the European Union or international organisations). In fact, external bodies so far have been largely supportive of the status quo: for instance, both the Party of European Socialists and the European Popular Party have recently expressed backing for the political leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (a member of PES), and GERB (a member of the EPP, and the former governing party).

These external views are apparently not shared by Bulgarian citizens. As their slogans illustrate, the Bulgarians are protesting:

* against the merging of public institutions with nationwide grey-economy groups (“No to the oligarchy!”)

* against clandestine  political deals (“No to behind-the-screen deals! ..Transparency!")

* against the promotion of corporate interests presented in democratic garb (“No to façade democracy!”)

* against Bulgaria’s reneging on its European commitments and the accommodation of extreme nationalist-populists in power (“Bulgaria is Europe!”)

The peaceful protests in Bulgaria are momentous for the future of democracy in this country. They show that there is a committed civil society which will no longer tolerate corporate takeover of public institutions, or unprincipled coalitions with nationalistic or irresponsible parties. Our hope is that the lack of violence and the civilised behaviour of the protesters will ensure that the protests draw international attention, rather than allow them to go largely unnoticed. In our judgment, the moment demands broad support for the democratic efforts of Bulgarian society. 

About the authors

Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM).

His latest books in English are Democracy Disrupted (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) and, In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don't Trust Our Leaders, (TED Books, 2013); The Anti-American Century, co-edited with Alan McPherson, (CEU Press, 2007) and Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anticorruption (CEU Press, 2004). He is a co-author with Steven Holmes of a forthcoming book on Russian politics.

More On

Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia; executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans ; permanent fellow of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Institute for Human Sciences / IWM) in Vienna; and a board member of the European Council on Foreign Affairs . He is the editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy and a frequent contributor to Transit - Europäische Revue (edited at the IWM)

His publications in English include: Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anti-Corruption (CEU Press, 2004); (co-editor, with Alina Mungiu-Pippidi) Nationalism after Communism: Lessons Learned   (CEU Press, 2004); and (co-editor, with Alan McPherson) The Anti-American Century (CEU Press, 2007)


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