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Anti-Government Protests Rock Bulgaria's New Leadership

The appointment of a controversial deputy from Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish political party as the head of the country's National Security Agency has set in motion a huge wave of protests throughout the country. Against the only two-week-old government.

More than 10,000 people gathered in the capital city of Sofia on June 14, 2013 after Delyan Peevski, a media magnate and a member of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), who has been involved in several corruption scandals in recent years, was confirmed for the key post after just a 15-minute vote in the National Assembly without any debate.

The enormous protest was organized within a few hours through social networks and, although torrential rain poured on the city, thousands of people showed up in front of government headquarters. Protests were organized in provincial areas of the country as well. Six days later the protests continue.

Thousands gather to protests in the streets of Sofia. (Photo used with permission)

Thousands gather to protest in the streets of Sofia. Photo from Saprotiva (Resistance) website. Used with permission.

After the first day of the unexpected mass protests, Peevski announced that he is ready to withdraw from the post.

Despite his announcement, in the following days the demonstrations continued on an even larger scale. On June 16, 15,000 people gathered for an anti-government protest against the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and the allied ethnic Turkish MRF Party, who had previously endorsed Peevski's appointment.

The demonstrations are putting pressure on the new government, which only came to power with the May 12, 2013 election after the resignation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's government in February. That government stepped down following nationwide protests against high electricity prices, low living standards, and multiple corruption scandals. Those still recent protests, unprecedented at the time, are now being rivaled by the enormity of the current demonstrations, which appear to be even bigger.

Bulgarian blogger and journalist (including in GV)Ruslan Trad expressed [bg] his own observations about the protesters this time around on Facebook:

Не мога да отрека едно много важно нещо за сегашните протести – профилът на недоволните е различен. Видях много мои любими хора, приятели, познати, някои от които никога не са протестирали. Представете си колко мотивация им дава правителството, за да излязат на улицата?

I cannot deny one thing of high importance related to the protests – the profile of the indignant is different now. I saw many of my beloved people, people I know, some of whom have never protested. Imagine what motivation they have because of the government in order to go out in the street?

Journalist Luboslava Russeva had this to say [bg] about the events and Peevski's background, marked by a streak of scandals and controversies:

Да се коментира този чудовищен цинизъм изглежда трудна задача, така че ще пробвам да загрея с някои факти от възходящата кариера на „силната ръка“.

„Капитал“ припомня, че най-големият скандал, в който е замесено името му към онзи момент, е свързан с приватизацията на столичната зала „Универсиада“ и спортния комплекс „Тотошанс“ в Златни пясъци.

Историята е следната:
Майката на Пеевски – Ирена Кръстева, е шеф на Българския спортен тотализатор. Покрай нея, синът се сближава със спортния министър Васил Иванов-Лучано. Така имотите се оказват апортирани от държавната фирма „Олимпика“ ЕАД в смесено дружество, в което участва частна фирма, свързвана със самия Лучано.

It seems to be a difficult task for one to comment on this monstrous cynicism, so I will try to warm up with some facts about the progressive career of Mr. “Strong Arm”.

The Bulgarian weekly newspaper Capital reminds us of the biggest scandal which Peevski's name is attached to, which is related to the privatisation of Universiade Hall in Sofia and a sport complex in the seaside resort Goled Sands.

The story goes as follows:
Peevski's mother – Irena Krasteva, is the head of the Bulgarian Sports Totalizator [Bulgarian national lottery organization]. Along with her, Peevski became close to then Minister of Sport Vasil Ivanov – Lucano. And that is how these properties are revealed to have been separated from a state company into public-private partnership, in which a private company participates, and Lucano's name is related.

In recent years, corruption scandals such as the one described by Russeva above have become common practice and common knowledge among Bulgarian citizens. Among other such scandals, Delyan Peevski was fired in 2007 from his then post as Deputy Minister for Disaster Management after a corruption row. As Sofia Echo reported then, Peevski was restored to the post of examining magistrate in Sofia by a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on November 14, 2007. Due to this history, Peevski's appointment for the head of the National Security Agency earned strong reactions online.

A protester in Sofia carries a sign saying: "The lack of evolution in you leads to a revolution in us!" (Photo used with permission)

A protester in Sofia carries a sign saying: “The lack of evolution in you leads to a revolution in us!” Photo by Ivaylo Nenov. Used with permission.

Another Bulgarian journalist, Svetlana Georgieva, lamented the appointment [bg] of Peevski in an editorial in the daily newspaper Sega:

Най-тежките ни кошмари се сбъднаха. България вече не е демократична парламентарна република. След избора на Делян Пеевски за председател на Държавната агенция “Национална сигурност” (ДАНС), след най-вонящата сделка на века, България е с олигархично държавно устройство.

One of our worst nightmares became reality. Bulgaria is not a democratic parliamentary republic anymore. After the appointment of Delyan Peevski as Head of Bulgaria's National Security Agency, after the most repulsive deal of the century, Bulgaria has an oligarchic structure.

Christo Komartnitski, one of Bulgaria's most famous caricaturists, wrote [bg] on Facebook:

Добре де, като се замислих, каква новина е, че мафията си има държава?

Okay, when you think about it, what kind of news is this – the mafia has its own country.

Ivan Bakalov, editor-in-chief of E-vestnik.bg, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, commented [bg] in an editorial about the ruling class:

Те напълно изпариха впечатлението, че има нещо експертно в този кабинет. Дори някои министри заради избора на Пеевски станаха смешни и търпят негативи, че участват в този кабинет.
Умряха надеждите, че България има що-годе разумно правителство, което ще спасява страната след управлението на ГЕРБ.

They [the politicians in power] absolutely destroyed the impression that there is any expertise in this cabinet. And even some ministers became ridiculous because of Peevski's appointment and they suffer of the negativity they are part of this particular cabinet.
The hope that Bulgaria has a relatively reasonable government, which will save the country after the ruling of GERB [the former ruling party], has died.

Bakalov added:

Орешарски и БСП имаха звезден миг, който изпуснаха – можеха да се опънат на натиска на ДПС за Пеевски, с цената на отказ от правителство, нови избори наесен и т н. И щяха да оберат овациите и да получат подкрепа от избиратели извън своята периферия… Сега правителството е под въпрос. Не може да се предвиди кога ще има избори.

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski and the Bulgarian Socialist Party had its moment of fame, which they lost – they could have resisted MRF's pressure for Peevski to be chosen and the cost would have been their resignation and new elections in the autumn. And they could have been applauded for that and have received support from voters out of their perimeter. Now the government's existence is questionable. And one cannot predict when elections will be called.

As the previous government resigned and called for an early election following protests, it seems the same is expected of this government or rather of part of the ruling majority, the Socialist Party. Some, as Bakalov above, are revolted that the Socialist Party seems to be giving in to the pressure of the MRF, with whom they have formed the ruling majority, to preserve this new government. The protests and mass dissatisfaction with the government in Bulgaria continue.

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  • nimh

    Protests in February swelled to over 100,000 demonstrators by February 17. So if the new protests described here drew 15,000, I don’t think it’s justified to write that the February protests “are now being rivaled by the enormity of the current demonstrations, which appear to be even bigger”.

    The quote by Ruslan Trad also sounds a tad elitist to my ears – seemingly implying that a protest by ‘our kind of people’ is, by that fact alone, more legit than those by presumably lesser (poorer, older, less educated or urbane?) people out the last time. Maybe I’m just misreading the sentiment of his quote though.

    I would have actually expected many of the same people to return to the streets now. Having your government so visibly owned by shady, corrupt business cliques is reason enough to take to the streets regardless of whether it’s GERB or BSP in office.

  • Guest

    Hello, thank you for comments.

    We are talking specifically about the protests in Sofia which are growing with a faster pace than the previous demonstrations in February. Indeed tens of thousands people protested during the Anti-monopoly demonstrations, but they were spread in over 30 cities in Bulgaria and their scope has been growing during the different phases. And now we comment the initial phase.

    Regarding Ruslan’s post, I think he is excluding the “poorer, older, less educated” people, they are also protesting. In fact the protesters’ status is ver- you can see it even by the photo galleries published in the networks or media.

  • Nevena Borisova

    Hello, thank you for your comments.

    We are talking specifically about the protests in Sofia which are
    growing with a faster pace than the previous demonstrations in February.
    Indeed tens of thousands people protested during the Anti-monopoly
    demonstrations, but they were spread in over 30 cities in Bulgaria and
    their scope has been growing during the different phases. And now we
    comment the initial phase.

    Regarding Ruslan’s post, I think he is excluding the “poorer, older,
    less educated” people, they are also protesting. In fact the protesters’
    status is ver- you can see it even by the photo galleries published in
    the networks or media.

  • Iavor

    People against politics: episode 2 – “Citizens strike back”

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