Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author and editor-in-chief Iva Kopraleva.
For more than a month now citizens protest every day in the streets of Bulgaria. This is one of the most numerous and prolonged protests ever to occur in the history of the country. Every evening thousands of protestors gather at Independence Square in Sofia and march for hours chanting “Resign!” and “Mafia!” Bulgarians all over the world organize mini-protests in expression of their support for the demands of their fellow citizens. What is it exactly that the Bulgarian protestors want? Why do they urge the Government to resign? What motivates them to be so insistent?
The newly elected Bulgarian Government, led by Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, took office in May, 2013. According to the results of the Parliamentary elections, which took place the same month, only four parties surpassed the 4% threshold and are now represented in the Bulgarian Parliament. These are the right-centre Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria; the Bulgarian Socialist Party; the party of the Turkish minority – Movement for Rights and Freedoms and, finally, the ultranationalist party “Ataka”. Currently, the Government is sustained by a coalition between the Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Interestingly, the number of MPs from the coalition and from the other two parties combined is exactly equal. This is an important detail because the right-centre party is currently boycotting the Parliament since it considers the results from the elections illegitimate. In order for a session of the Bulgarian Parliament to be valid, however, at least 50% plus one of the MPs must be present. This means that the existence of the current Parliament and the Socialist Government depends on the presence of the MPs from the ultranationalist party “Ataka” during the sessions of the Parliament. Such a configuration of the powers puts the Government in a very uncomfortable and, arguably, dependent position.
On top of the aforementioned situation in the Parliament, the Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski made serious mistakes in the beginning of his mandate. Most notably, Oresharski made a series of scandalous appointments, starting with Delyan Peevski, a media mogul and a member of the Parliament at the time, who became the head of the State Agency of National Security, one of the most powerful agencies in the county. Delyan Peevski is a controversial figure in the Bulgarian political life and, as a consequence, his appointment was met with outrage. Immediately after the news reached the public, tens of thousands of people organised themselves in the social networks and the first protest took place that same evening. Peevski withdrew from the position shortly after he was appointed but the Bulgarian citizens were not satisfied.
They protest against the appointment of people with dubious reputation on high positions but also, and, more importantly, they protest against the lack of transparency and the lack of dialogue with the citizens and the civil society when it comes to issues of paramount importance for the Bulgarian state. The protestors on the streets believe that the oligarchy dictates and controls the political life in the country. They demand that the citizens have the right and the mechanisms to influence those in power and their decision. Since the current Government proved itself unreliable, a logical step would be for it to resign, according to the protestors. On the other hand, the Prime Minister argues that it would be irresponsible to hand in his resignation at this point since this would mean the beginning of a political crisis in the country. The reluctance of those in power to let go of their position has led to a stalemate situation where neither side is willing to surrender.
The protests receive substantial support both in and outside the country. The Bulgarian President stated in a nationwide address that, according to him, the legitimate way to resolve the tension is to hold new Parliamentary elections. Shortly after, the ambassadors of France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they expressed their concern regarding the non-transparency of the Bulgarian institutions, the lack of pluralism in the media and the lack of communication between the State and the civil society. A number of NGOs and professional organizations have also expressed their solidarity with the protestors.
This strong support results from some fundamental characteristics of the on-going protest. Firstly, the demonstrations are entirely peaceful so far, the police and the citizens work together in order to assure the security of the people. Secondly, the protestors do not support a particular party, ideology or organization. For the most part they are middle-class citizens who simply want their voice to be heard by the political elites. Finally, this is probably the first time in the contemporary history of Bulgaria when citizens protest about democracy values – transparency, media pluralism, accountability of the institutions – and not about (the lack of) money.
The outcome of the current complicated political situation in Bulgaria remains uncertain. Nevertheless, it is clear that whichever political party holds the power, its actions, decisions and appointments will be scrutinised much more thoroughly by the Bulgarian citizens in the future.