Protests began in Bulgaria within a month of a government being formed and have continued for three-weeks without break. Nikolay Manov explains how an election caused such a chaotic result.
Bulgaria’s protests began on 14 June when Delian Peevski from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) was elected Head of State Agency for National Security, following a controversial law changed to suit his candidacy. The minimum requirement for experience in the security apparatus was lowered from ten to eight years – as much as Mr Peevski has. Moreover, the decision was voted on in Parliament after debates which lasted just 15 minutes and under the threat of Prime Minister Oresharski resigning and leaving the country without a government. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the MRF supported the nomination although it created a serious conflict within the former.
Mr Peevski‘s biography is controversial and casts doubts upon his suitability for the role. Aged 32, he possesses a ‘media empire’, including some of the biggest newspapers in the country and a TV station with national coverage. On the day before the parliamentary vote, his was among the first stations to report that ‘spare’ ballots were discovered in a printing house near Sofia.
Leaving the controversial appointment of Peevski aside, there are several other reasons for Bulgarians to protest. The turnout on 12 May was quite low – roughly half of those eligible casted their vote, showing that people might have become alienated from politics after a number of parties promised to improve the living conditions of the Bulgarian people and did little to turn this into reality.
For the first time since 1997 a party which had won the previous vote managed to win the subsequent election. However, GERB were awarded only 97 out of 240 seats, making it impossible to form a government. Therefore, the BSP and the MRF formed a government with the extreme right-wing party, Ataka, providing votes for a quorum despite its anti-MRF and BSP rhetoric earlier on.
Third, the government which was formed was described as ‘expert’, but in reality contained Deputy Ministers from previous Cabinets. Last but not least, among the first decisions of the Oresharski Cabinet was to consider ‘restarting’ of the construction of the Belene Atomic Power Plant which was stopped by the previous Cabinet and to consider increases in social benefits for certain population groups, stretching Bulgaria’s precarious fiscal balance. Therefore, the appointment of Peevski just triggered the unrest as preconditions had already been in place.
The protests in Bulgaria have the potential to turn to another Colour Revolution, similar to the ones in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004). For twenty days people have been on streets, but no violent confrontations has taken place. Gatherings are regular, take place at one and the same time, and demonstrators follow a specific route. There is no party officially standing behind them and most of those participating are (highly) educated young people who are dissatisfied with all political parties. They believe that the current government is illegitimate and their goal is to initiate a debate about a change of the political model in the country. Despite the fact that there are no formal leaders of the protests, a number of famous members of the intelligentsia have supported the demonstrations and several ‘people of the streets’ have acted articulated popular demands. Only time will tell whether protests will be successful.