23rd Mar 2018


Bulgarians: Citizens with a cause

  • Anti-government protests have been going on for over 40 days (Photo: Bmw Spirit)

It has been more than 40 days now since protests started in Bulgaria's capital. Thousands hit the streets in Sofia every day to voice their frustration and disgust with the Bulgarian political establishment.

It all started on 14 June, when the parliament approved the nomination of the 32-year-old media mogul Delyan Peevski as head of the country’s powerful national security agency.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Peevski, who is also a member of parliament from the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), was investigated for corruption as a deputy minister in a previous government in 2007. The charges were eventually dropped and he was reinstated in his post, but he is still perceived as a clear example of private interests controlling institutions and of the country's ill-functioning judiciary.

After being nominated by Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, Peevski’s appointment was swiftly voted through by the parliament without any debate or explanation.

The public reaction was instantaneous and massive. The government – only two weeks in office – reacted quickly and cancelled the appointment, but the damage had already been done.

The truth is that, as controversial as Peevski is, his nomination is a symptom of Bulgaria's deepest problems, not the root.

This is also why it is wrong to assume that Bulgarians are demonstrating against the current government alone, led by the Socialists and the MRF.

People in Sofia have been protesting against all parties represented in the current parliament – formerly ruling centre-right GERB explicitly included – and calling on them to leave and let room for real change in Bulgaria's dysfunctional and corrupt political system.

For almost 25 years – since the communist regime fell in 1989 – the country has been ruled by a rotating system of politicians with shady links to shady economic and/or crime circles. Bulgaria's failed transition from communism has so far mostly served former communist state security networks, crime rings and oligarchies, while it has completely failed the country's citizens.

Government in denial

But despite the protesters' energy and tireless calls for change (42 days of protests during a hot Bulgarian summer is no mean feat), the government's silence has been deafening.

Ministers and MPs from ruling parties have dismissed the protesters as insignificant in number, not representative of Bulgarian society, or paid by the opposition.

Various ministers have rejected the possibility of resigning. Meanwhile, Volen Siderov, the extremist leader of far-right party Ataka, has spared no effort in trying to radicalise the demonstrators – luckily, with no success.

"The institutions do not recognise that there is a protest. Whether they (the protesters) are a majority or not – I do not know. But they are Bulgarian citizens who have been protesting for 42 days and this is not normal… I am 61 years old and I have not seen such a thing (before)," Bulgarian Ombudsman Konstantin Penchev said on Thursday, 25 July.

Penchev's comments came a day after the first clashes happened between police and protesters.

Late on Tuesday, after the adoption in parliamentary committees of a controversial revision of Budget 2013, citizens circled the National Parliament blocking inside some hundred MPs, members of the Cabinet, civil servants and journalists.

Tensions escalated when riot police attempted to escort the trapped politicians in a bus right through the crowd of protesters. Clashes followed and some ten people were reported injured.

The calm has since returned in Sofia and the protests continue in their traditionally peaceful and creative manner.

Unusually strong EU reaction

The long-lasting protests and the large number of people participating – there have been more than 10,000 people on certain days – have provoked unusually strong reactions from EU countries, as well as from the European Commission.

On 8 July the ambassadors of France and Germany published a common op-ed in one of Bulgaria's biggest dailies saying they understand Bulgarian citizens' protest against oligarchic models.

"Good governance is all Bulgarians' business. But it's also all Europeans' business: as tax payers (almost 40% of EU funds going to Bulgaria come from French and German taxpayers); because our economies are inter-dependent; and simply because our destinies are now linked," the ambassadors wrote.

Similar reactions from the Dutch and Belgian ambassadors followed, as well as from Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission.

Reding, in charge of fundamental rights, also pointed to the need to maintain the EU monitoring of Bulgaria's judiciary – the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism imposed on Bulgaria and Romania.

"A strong and independent justice system is not a luxury but a necessary part of public life in a country… Delivering results on the CVM is also a powerful tool to help restore the confidence of the citizens in the political and judicial institutions," she said.

What next

It is extremely difficult to predict what will happen next. A majority of analysts seem to agree that the government should resign soon and many say that new elections will be held in May next year at the latest (together with the European elections).

It is unlikely that this solve anything, however, unless bigger and more substantial change takes place.

Unfortunately, the protesters have not put forward a clear leader (or leaders) yet, nor has a new political force appeared that could bring in the much desired change.

This has allowed politicians from the biggest parties to all but ignore the protests.

A positive sign is the strong EU reaction. Moreover, the EU has a concrete tool to act. The Commission already suspended large amounts of EU funds once over Bulgaria's persistent corruption problems (during the government led by Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev in 2008).

Still, the EU "stick" is also unlikely to do the job on its own.

For change to be genuine, it must come from within. It must be sought after, fought for and achieved by Bulgarian citizens themselves.

In that respect, the undoubtedly positive energy of the protests is a very good sign.

By its sudden and hopefully irreversible awakening, the Bulgarian society has already won the battle against its sclerotic government.

But in order for it to win the war, this positive energy has to be transformed into something concrete and cohesive, bringing in new faces that have not been corrupted by the old system.

If that happens, Bulgaria's transition to actual democracy may at last move forward.

Bulgarian elections result in uncertainty

Political turmoil is set to continue in Bulgaria after Sunday's general elections, as the tight result will make the formation of a coalition government difficult.


Selmayr case symptomatic, says EU novel author

The controversy over the new EU Commission top civil servant is revealing of what is wrong with EU institutions and how they are blocked by national governments, says award-winning Austrian novelist Robert Menasse.


The populists may have won, but Italy won't leave the euro

The situation as Rome tries to form a government is turbulent and unpredictable. However, the most extreme eurosceptic policies floated during the election campaign are unlikely to happen - not least due to the precarious state of the Italian banks.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

News in Brief

  1. EU will be exempted from tariffs, says US minister
  2. Malmstroem: EU 'hopes' for US tariffs exemption
  3. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says
  4. Italy's centre-right set to share top posts with 5-star movement
  5. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  6. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  7. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  8. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU summit takes hard look at Russia
  2. Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing
  3. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  4. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  5. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  6. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  7. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  8. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction
  2. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  3. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementEuropean Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  6. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  7. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementSuing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name