In Bulgaria, marking a month of anti-government protests, around 15,000 demonstrators rallied in the streets of Sofia on July 14 and headed to the Bulgarian National Assembly. People have peacefully gathered there for 31 consecutive days, which they point out is an unprecedented feat.
Although initially triggered by the now cancelled appointment of a controversial media mogul as national security chief, the demonstrators have broadened their criticism and are accusing the government of corruption, among other things. Bulgaria remains the European Union’s poorest country.
Euronews spoke with a sample of those who have been taking to the streets by email: urban, highly educated and equally disillusioned with the state of current affairs in Bulgaria. They talk about what drives them to take the streets daily, what they wish to achieve and what they hope the future will offer for their country.
How old are you and what do you do?
Tzvetelina: “I am 35 and I currently work as a Research and Consulting Director for a local research agency.”
Rossitsa: “I am 34-years-old, from Sofia. Currently I am a Project Manager at a Content Marketing and SEO agency.”
Diana” “I am 30-years-old, an assistant professor in Sofia University, teaching Italian studies.”
Kiril: “I’m 34-years-old and I’m IT Director in a marketing research company.”
What motivated you to join the demonstrations in the first place?
Kiril: “My first reaction [to the Peevski nomination] was one of total disbelief. I actually went on to check the most popular satire sites and ‘fake news’ outlets here, because I couldn’t believe the government could really appoint such a figure in such a position. Imagine my surprise when it hit me that it was real news, not a bad joke. My Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with angry posts and every one of them had the same disbelief expressed. No further motivation was needed, it was obvious it’s not just me that is shocked, and it’s not just my own moral line that has been crossed.”
Tzvetelina: “There was a newspaper cover shortly after the protests started that for me summarises the whole point protesting and my personal motivation: ‘Because we are sick of being treated like monkeys’. In Bulgarian slang it is a synonym of being bull-shitted, and treated like a moron. I’ve been living abroad for a number of years before coming back to Bulgaria a while ago and would like to stay here but only if the political and economic situation start showing some signs of change. But I know this depends on all of us, especially those of us not necessarily involved in politics who need to play the role of a moral compass for the politicians.”
Rossitsa: “I joined the protest almost by instinct: fear for the future, my own and of my loved ones, anger and disgust of the arrogant demonstration of the Bulgarian politicians with the assignment of the media mogul Delyan Peevski as head of the Bulgarian National Security Agency. This act itself was almost surrealistically symbolic of how oligarchy has set roots deep in the state structures. It was like a slap on our faces, basically stating – your interests don’t matter to us, our agenda is completely different.”
Diana: “We all knew our political life is controlled by the economical interests of a few powerful people. Since 2001 we had a former king and the ex-bodyguard of [the last communist leader] Todor Zhivkov for prime ministers. The struggle of ideas was replaced by a struggle of savers. For us, working, studying and thinking people, this was some sort of grotesque. But we thought that we could still live a normal life, working and living in political and inner emigration. The day [of the Peevski nomination], I was shocked. This was going too far. They were becoming too insolent.
“It was not a wrong PR – the official explanation was that they had underestimated his public image, neither the prime minister or the so-called opposition ever distanced themselves from him – as they tried to make it seem, it was the tip of the iceberg. Me and my family, my friends, my Facebook contacts, the people I follow on Twitter and the bloggers I read, we all had no doubts that we must go out protesting.”
What do you think the demonstrators want most to achieve?
Tzvetelina: “In the short-term: resignation of the government, new election laws, and hopefully new faces in politics who know what they are doing and who don’t have a tainted past and suspicious connections, who don’t benefit all the time from abuse of their official capacity, who don’t have morals and motivations different than self-enrichment. In the long-term: greater accountability and transparency; politicians who represent the people and don’t just sponsor their luxury lifestyle; more active and informed civil society; better law enforcement; a more trustworthy judicial system; and in a general a country with a better standard of living but also of better moral standards, a place that one doesn’t feel ashamed of or thinks about leaving all the time.”
Rossitsa: “The protest is clearly in support of values and morals which have been missing from the politics for years: transparency, responsibility, honesty, democracy, freedom of speech, illustration. In long term the demonstrators want to see these values as the irreplaceable base of the political life, we want to see independent and trustworthy media, we want a new normality in Bulgaria, away from the mafia tentacles, foreign interests and shady businesses. In the short term, this process cannot start without the immediate resignation of the current government, which symbolises the status quo we are protesting against, followed by dismissal of the Parliament and new elections.”
Diana: “This government has no expertise and no will to break up with the mafia. We are worried also because this government is trying to divert Bulgarian’s European orientation. We can’t give more credit also because instead of listening and acting like our government, they tried first to negate, to ignore us, and then to manipulate and divide the protest and the public opinion.We saw so many disgusting methods to focus public attention on the protesters instead of focusing on the problems. Firstly the controlled media and the deputies were trying to make us look like violent criminals.
“As everyone saw, we were going to the protests with our children, dogs, flowers and creative spirit, deflecting all kinds of provocations, they tried to divide us, basing on some sort of old-fashioned communist class struggle. For the people reading the traditional newspapers and watching mainly TV we used to be wealthy intellectuals with some free time who ignore the needs of the poor. A deputy with psychological education from the Socialist Party invented the phrase: ‘internet lumpens’ referring to the fact the protests are organised in the internet. He even expressed concern that the internet is damaging the psychological health of the protesters.
“We feel like there is a war against us. Eighty five percent of the population supports the protest. The doubt is not whether they must resign, but when. The long-term goal however is more important. We need more civil control oover political life. The people, who used to think “politics” is a dirty word, now are getting more and more involved in the protests. In the square we have seen each other, we have talked, discussed important things, we have seen a possible common future that had seemed lost. Personally I realised I’m not the only one. And we are forming a community. I hope this is a process.
Kiril: “What we want most is to teach the political class in Bulgaria a lesson. A lesson in how things should not be done. We want to express our disagreement in not what kind of politics the government is trying to do, but in how it does them. We want to show, that it doesn’t matter if you are a left or right oriented politician, you need to follow some simple rules. And that when you break these rules we will be there and we will demand you to go away. This is what keeps us together. There are many differences between the people in the protests. There are people who would label themselves socialists, capitalists, Greenpeace activists, etc… But they all want rules to be followed and the law to be the same for everyone.”
Where does Bulgaria go from here?
Tzvetelina: “That’s the million-dollar question. Unfortunately, some of Bulgaria will be going abroad for good… Hopefully the rest is going towards a more transparent and fair form of democracy and a more vocal civil society that provides true checks and balances to the system. I believe new elections are inevitable, sooner or later, and my biggest hope for any change is that the next batch of politicians remember the taste of the slap on the faces that is the current protest. We’ll see…”
Rossitsa: “Generally, there are two options from now on. Option one: we get tired, we fail, nothing changes, we lose our final self-confidence and dignity as civil society. Option two: we continue to press the Oresharski government to resign, we succeed – this is the turning point for the changes we fight for. I don’t know what will happen. The stakes are high. I have the feeling that I live day by day, going to the protests, focused on that one single thing – not to give up. I am also trying to be realistic, because I feel there’s another not less important battle – the one against the apathy and the inertness of the Bulgarian society.
“It is a fact that Bulgaria is not completely united now and I don’t mean the supporters of the present parties in the Parliament. There are a lot of people who simply don’t believe that anything can be changed, that there are alternatives to choose from at new elections and that’s why they prefer just to accept silently the current situation. If this mindset changes, it will happen very slowly over a long period of time and it will again depend a lot on us who today are on the streets rallying.”
Diana: “Difficult question. I don’t know. Many people say that if the protester’s energy fades we need to choose some other place to live, because once you see the problem, you need [to decide] whether to fix it or go away, you can’t live with so much hypocrisy. Others say we can’t possibly lose, because even without resignations, the politicians will know we are here and we will rise every time we need to defend the democracy. I know we have already won: we have stopped some controversial appointments, the president has declared a firm position in support of the protests, there is a right political formation trying to restore politics based on ideas and not on leader-savers. I see my future here, as I didn’t see it three months ago.”
Kiril: “I’m no political analyst and can’t really say what will happen, hell, we don’t even know how the protests will end. The government is trying their best to ignore the protests to try to minimise the media exposure they get and to provide themselves with as much media comfort as possible. What I hope will happen, is that the obvious political void will be filled by new faces. There are between 49 percent and 55 percent of the voters in Bulgaria, who can’t find a candidate worth voting for.
“That’s a huge gap and it’s creating demand for new faces on the political scene. Hopefully, after some more cycles of elections, stupid decisions, protests, and elections and so on, the demand for change will be huge enough to create the new faces we need. What we are showing right now is that the people are ready for Europe and for real democracy. What is shown by the lack of effect is that the current political class has no idea what is happening and is about to become obsolete.”
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