Iveta Cherneva is a Bulgarian author focusing on security policy, human rights and sustainability, who has worked for numerous international institutions and think-tanks.
Right now, she is “attending, blogging and inspired by the Bulgarian June protests,” according to her Twitter bio.
Euronews interviewed Cherneva by email on the protests in Bulgaria, what the demonstrators want, and where the country is going.
euronews: “To what extent do the current protests echo the demonstrations that took place this winter and toppled Borisov’s government?”
Iveta Cherneva: “I see the two as completely unrelated. The February protests were protests over electricity bills; the June protests — or as the Washington Post calls them ‘The Bulgarian Spring’ — are protests of values. One of the main messages of the June protests is ‘Citizens against Mafia’ where Bulgarians have finally come out of their shells and have decided to stand strong together against the toxic nexus government-mafia, which has paralysed the political, economic and justice systems for years.”
euronews: “What do you think the demonstrators want to achieve the most after close to a month of protests?”
Iveta Cherneva: “The single most important message of the protests – and what everyone can agree on – is the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski and his government. Right now in Bulgaria, you would hardly find anyone more disliked than Prime Minister Oresharski. The global magazine The Economist went as far as an article entitled ‘Noresharski! Noligarchy!’ I think that says quite a bit already about just how low his international and domestic reputation is.”
euronews: “Many signs and banners at the demonstrations I saw display anti-Communist symbols. Is it due to the history and political situation (with BSP being the heir of the USSR-backed Communist Party)? Or could the demonstrators be considered right-wing?”
Iveta Cherneva: “The ruling socialist party BSP is a direct descendant of the Communist Party and with that they bring a lot of baggage, because their ways of operating are very similar to the centralised view of the state, so typical for Communist parties. They openly say that if people protest against them, this is not a reason enough for resignation. This reveals an old-school Communist mentality and it’s a statement that raises a brow with any free-thinking person. Leaders in true democracies resign over much less. But it’s just their modus operandi – it’s just who they are, and it’s revealing of the style and mentality they are used to. And the Bulgarian people can’t stand that.
“When 10 days ago Prime Minister Oresharski was interviewed in Brussels about trouble at home, he suggested on camera that journalists don’t ask him questions about Bulgarian news when he is in Brussels, and instead should ask him only about Brussels affairs. That kind of answer sounds unacceptable to us – but the prime minister didn’t see anything wrong with saying that because in the old cCommunist regime if you’re the prime minister you could tell journalists what they should ask. That’s not fitting for a PM in an EU country.
“The protests are non-partisan in my view, as a regular protestor. I am non-partisan myself. The demonstrations can’t be classified as right-wing as there are many young socialists who also protest against the socialist government. I have high-school friends who voted for the socialist BSP party, but became disillusioned with Prime Minister Oresharski right away with his first steps. There are also groups who protest against right-wing parties, as they are also seen as part of the mafia-oligarchy-government’s triple toxic cocktail, which society has had enough of.”
“The main and only reason for the protests is the resignation of the government“
euronews: “How could a reform of the electoral law send the protestors home? What kind of political parties does this law plan to make more important in terms of seats at the national assembly?”
Iveta Cherneva: “The reform of election laws wouldn’t send protestors home. The only reason why this is on the table is due to the main and only reason of the protests — the demand for resignation of the government. People brought up the election law reform in order to ensure fair elections when this government resigns over the next weeks — and they talk about election laws only in relation to the main demand, which is the immediate resignation of the government.”
euronews: “At this point, what is each main party’s strategy to overcome the crisis? Why is GERB “boycotting” the national assembly?”
Iveta Cherneva: “The main strategy of Prime Minister Oresharski has been to ignore political developments. As an example, on Monday, the ambassadors of France and Germany made a strong statement condemning the government’s ties with oligarchy and warned that 40 percent of all EU funds received by Bulgaria come from France and Germany. In diplomatic terms, the ambassadors hinted that EU funding could be cut.
“Apart from a TV interview with a relatively unknown socialist parliament representative (who claimed that the ambassadors didn’t mean their criticism towards this government but towards the previous government), Prime Minister Oresharski has not actually come out with an official response to the Monday statement by the two largest EU members. Prime Minister Oresharski’s strategy is to ignore the French and German ambassadors, as we’ve seen. As a prime minister you can’t do that; we can only imagine that nothing good for the country would come out of this.
“GERB’s reaction to Parliament’s approval of Peevski’s appointment as national security chief, was to leave and boycott Parliament. I equate their boycott to acts usually undertaken by delegations at the United Nations — at the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council, for example. When something unacceptable is being suggested, or when an unacceptable leader is about to give a speech, a diplomatic walk-out is sometimes the only way for a delegation. That’s what happens at the UN when Iran’s leader is about to address the UN on human rights issues, for example. Probably that’s the right analogy when thinking about Peevski as a national security chief.
“I don’t see diplomatic walk-outs of this type as necessarily disrespectful towards the institution, but as a sign of outrage and zero-tolerance to what is taking place. That’s why I don’t see GERB’s actions as disrespectful towards the institution of Parliament generally, but rather as a specific reaction to the level of scandalous maneuvers taking place. And their reaction of outrage happened to coincide here with the way protestors felt. As to their political strategy, GERB’s strategy seems to be that of waiting and expecting new elections. New elections would be a favorable outcome for them, as GERB is expected to get more votes by the socialists — as they did in the May elections — if elections were to be held now.”
euronews: “In your opinion, how would you qualify the reactions at the European level (European Parliament, the European Commission) as well as the reaction of other European countries to the ongoing demonstrations?”
Iveta Cherneva: “The French and German ambassadors’ joint statement is as clear and as strong as it gets – even unusually strong for a diplomatic document. The protestors have applauded the fact that France and Germany stand strong for democratic values and are willing to stick their heads out and really confront the new government and Prime Minister Oresharski. The ambassadors have won our admiration for being willing to stand for what’s right instead of keeping a low profile.
“But at the European Parliament level, we can’t say the same for the European Socialist Party, and their leader Mr Swoboda. He has been informed that the socialists in Bulgaria formed an un-spoken coalition with the fringe ultra-right anti-EU party [Attack] – that’s the only way for socialists to actually gain a majority of over 120 seats on any parliamentary decision. They need the anti-EU party votes and on days when the party doesn’t appear in Parliament, there is no session and Parliament is paralysed. But Swoboda continues to claim publicly that the socialists in Bulgaria are not in coalition with the anti-EU party when in fact they are. So in this sense we are disillusioned with the European Parliament’s Socialists — an institution, which is supposed to be a beacon of European Democracy and instead compromised on their European values by supporting the socialists in Bulgaria which can only stay in power if they are in coalition with a party advocating for getting out of the EU.”
euronews: “In your opinion, where does Bulgaria go from here?”
Iveta Cherneva: “I am very positive about the future. I assume that Prime Minister Oresharski will finally muster the courage and dignity that Bulgarians and the rest of the world expect of him, and will finally resign like a man. From there onwards, I see an interim government taking place to run things for a few months until the next elections, which would hopefully take place by the end of this year. Then I hope that many more Bulgarians would go and vote, and take faith in their own hands. Something amazing has happened in Bulgaria and anyone who’s attended at least one protest day can feel it. Citizens and civil society finally woke up. We care now. We care about what happens in our country, in politics. There is the positive feeling that we are no longer cynical by-standers. A cultural paradigm shift took place in just a month and we can’t even realise yet just how big it is. Europe, we have arrived. We’re here.”