At a moment where citizens take it to streets in several countries around the world to express their deep dissatisfaction with governments and deficit in their political representation, Bulgarians continue to gather in Sofia and other cities in the country demanding that their newly formed socialist government step down. Protesters are also calling for deep reforms to improve democracy and representation in the country, including changes in the Electoral Code to facilitate entry of new parties and favour changes in the political status quo, and measures to strengthen media freedom and judicial independence.
Following the spirit of the street movements, a group of 60 prominent Bulgarian intellectuals, lawyers, political activists and journalists have proposed the “Charter 2013” to end the plutocratic system that dominates politics in the country. Other civil society organisations have analysed the current situation and manifested support for the claims presented in the demonstrations. One such example was the memorandum circulated by ERCAS’s partner Centre for Liberal Strategies, authored by its chairman Ivan Krastev. The text below, published on 25 June 2013, provides a valuable insider look at the present civil society movements and the perspectives for future positive changes in Bulgaria.
Tens of thousands of people have been marching for 11 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 appoint Mr. Delyan Peevski as 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 Mr. Oresharski, which has been built by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms representing the Turkish minority (together, both parties having exactly half of the seats in Parliament). Yet the government cannot survive without the support of the far-right populist party Ataka.
According to representative polling data, 85 per cent of Bulgarians support the protest against the appointment of Mr. Peevski, a media mogul and politician, a front-man of corporate interests with strong influence over the last three governments. The respondents put remarkably little confidence in the current government and parliament at the beginning of their term (23 and 14 per cent, respectively – lowest point since the 1990s), while only 18 per cent reckon Oresharski’s cabinet will fulfil its full mandate.
Bulgaria protests for a second time in less than half a year, with the mass protests in February against the electricity monopolies having brought down the centre-right government of Mr. Borissov. The unrests from the last 11 days should be seen as a second wave of Bulgarian citizens’ anger with the political establishment from the transition who in society’s 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 home-grown and have a grass-roots pedigree. They are not the result of external pressures (e.g. from EU 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 support for the political leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (member of PES), and GERB (member of the EPP), the former ruling party.
These views are apparently not shared by the Bulgarian citizens. As their slogans demonstrate, the Bulgarians are protesting:
– against the merging of public institutions with nationwide gray-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 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 civilized behaviour of the protesters will not make this protest go largely unnoticed internationally. In our judgement, the moment demands broad support for the democratic efforts of Bulgarian society.
25 June 2013
Centre for Liberal Strategies”
(The picture featured above is from presstv.ir.)