Monday

8th Mar 2021

Protestors blame provocateurs, as Bulgaria demos turn violent

  • Protestors gathered to block the parliament building before lawmakers returned from the summer break, and some attempted to break through police lines (Photo: Ivan Shishiev/ Sketches of Sofi)

Protesters outside the parliament building in the capital Sofia clashed with police last week, in one of the most violent episodes of the two-month long anti-corruption demonstrations taking place across Bulgaria.

Over 60 people were arrested, according to police reports, and 45 people required medical assistance.

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  • 'I myself was hit twice with a club by an officer who shouted angrily at me to go away at a moment when I had already stepped aside from the crowd', one protestor told EUobserver (Photo: Ivan Shishiev/ Sketches of Sofi)

Demonstrators against prime minister Boyko Borisov turned up in their thousands demanding that the PM and Bulgaria's prosecutor general, Ivan Geshev, step down over alleged links to the mafia and various oligarchs, and their ailure to fight corruption.

Borisov's critics were angered after the country's chief prosecutor ordered a raid on the offices of country's president, Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of the governing party.

The two sides have since been locked in a confrontation since early July, with last week's demonstrations marking a record turnout.

"The protest was huge with over 50,000 participants, mainly young people, middle class, highly-educated, students taking part", MEP Radan Kanev, from the centre-right European People's Party, told EUobserver.

Demonstrators were emboldened to take to the streets of the Bulgarian capital by a controversial proposal for a new constitution that would keep the current centre-right government in power.

Adrian Nikolov, researcher at the Institute for Market Economics, describes the push to amend the constitution as an attempt by Borisov to buy time and remain in power until elections in March next year.

"The entire constitutional debate is a deception", he told EUobserver.

'National Uprising'?

The past few week's unrest have been dubbed a 'National Uprising', deriding the National Assembly - Bulgaria's legislative body in charge of amending the constitution, according to Bogomir Bogomirov, one of the protesters in Sofia who planned a peaceful rally.

Protestors gathered to block the parliament building before lawmakers returned from the summer break, and some attempted to break through police lines surrounding the Bulgarian legislative assembly.

"The protesters wanted to make themselves heard. They have been ignored by both MPs and the government in the past two months", according to Dimo Diminov, another protester.

He told EUobserver the police were not doing enough to cordon off violent individuals - but then suddenly reacted with violence directed at all demonstrators, including the peaceful majority.

"I myself was hit twice with a club by an officer who shouted angrily at me to go away at a moment when I had already stepped aside from the crowd."

Demonstrator Bogomir Bogomirov said tensions escalated when some demonstrators started throwing fireworks at the General Assembly building.

Police stepped in and that provoked a response from the more radical groups of demonstrators.

"There was also a lot of anger. Anger that demands haven't been met after 60 days of demonstrations", Bogomirov told EUobserver.

MEP Kanev, a critic of the prime minister, said that provocateurs had been deployed to compromise both the protest itself and the politicians who support it.

"The use of provocateurs to justify higher levels of police violence is something common in Bulgarian politics for the last 30 years", he told EUobserver.

Bulgarian defence minister Krasimir Karakachanov, however, publicly labelled the protesters' actions as "organised, deliberate attacks," in a Facebook post.

Andrey Kovatchev, and MEP from Bugaria's ruling conservative GERB party, told EUobserver that confrontation was not the solution.

"We urgently need to return to political dialogue in preparation for the next parliamentary elections. The upcoming elections are the best way for Bulgarians to determine the future government and course of the country using democratic means," he said.

Last week, commenting on the state of affairs in Sophia and across Bulgaria, a European Commission spokesperson called for a proportional use of force, and voiced support for the right of Bulgarian people to protest.

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.

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. President Rumen Radev has been a vocal critic of the government and its record on graft.

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