Tuesday

19th Jan 2021

Analysis

What's behind the sudden political unrest in Bulgaria?

  • Demonstrators are demanding prime minister Boyko Borissov and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev resign, following a raid on the president's office (Photo: Ivan Shishiev / Sketches of Sofia)

New civil protests in Bulgaria began in early July, angry at the government in Sofia's failure to curb widespread corruption.

"There is a deeply-rooted sense of injustice, of rules only being applied to some and not everyone", said Louisa Slavkova, director of Sofia Platform, an NGO that aims to promote dialogue and civic education.

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  • Protests have now reached 10 cities across Bulgaria (Photo: Ivan Shishiev / Sketches of Sofia)

Demonstrators are demanding prime minister Boyko Borissov and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev resign, following a raid on the president's office. President Rumen Radev has been a vocal critic of the government and its record on graft.

That raid has been regarded by many as an attempted to silence the popular head of state, pointing to a simmering feud between the two.

Last month, Borissov accused Radev of using drones to spy on him.

President Radev meanwhile has come out in support of the protesters calling on them to "throw the mafia out of the government". He also commented that the popular anger is deep, and has been piling up for years.

Borissov took to social media saying that he is open to dialogue. "I respected the right to protest and to exercise power responsibly."

Borissov is currently serving his third term as Bulgaria's prime minister.

The ex-fireman, bodyguard to Bulgaria's last communist leader and former mayor of Sofia has been climbing through the ranks to hold the most powerful position in the country for a decade.

Despite calls to resign, the governing coalition said it will remain in power till the end of the mandate, next spring.

Secret villa

Meanwhile, the secret beachfront villa of the former leader of the Turkish minority party, Ahmed Dogan (a Borissov protégé), became public - further fuelling ongoing demonstrations.

The scandal reached all the way to Brussels, where president of the liberal ALDE group, Hans van Baalen, tweeted in support of Dogan. The post generated a backlash after Baalen called protesters extremists.

The protests, which began last week in Sofia, spread throughout the country. They have now reached 10 cities across Bulgaria.

Slavkova pointed out that many people taking part are not those relying on state aid or jobs within state institutions.

"The critical mass is made up of those who left the country, of those who went to study abroad but are back now. They are less depended on this government, on the political reality in this country and less fearful they could lose their jobs. They are not really dependent on anything here."

Students, young people, and self-entrepreneurs have been coalescing in their thousands for several days, chanting anti-government slogans outside the council of ministers building in Bulgaria's capital.

"These are extremely youthful protests. You'd see people in their late 20s, between 20 and 40. These protests are in my opinion the perfect storm because they come after a long period of quarantine, people want to go out and can't travel abroad", Slavkova told EUobserver.

Andrey Kovatchev, an MEP from Borissov's ruling GERB party, told EUobserver that the Bulgarian president was using the protests as an opportunity.

"The motivation of the president is clear. Should the current government resign, it would be up to him to form a caretaker government. There are concerns that this potential caretaker government would be pro-Kremlin oriented."

EUObserver also reached out to Borissov's official spokesperson, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

In a move to quell the protests on Thursday (16 July) Borissov sacked three of his own ministers.

The demonstrators welcomed the news, but close to 20,000 people were later back on streets - continuing to call for Borissov's resignation.

Bulgaria is one of the EU's poorest countries and according to the Corruption Perception Index one of its most corrupt member states.

In recent Gallup poll, 77 percent of Bulgarians considered corruption to be widespread across government and state institutions.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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