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Bulgarian Students Occupy the Country's Future

Protesting students in front of the Sofia University St. Kl. Ohridski. Photo from Early-wakening students' Facebook page. Used with permission.

Students protest in front of the Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. Photo courtesy of Early-wakening Students’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

“We build the future”, a group of Bulgarian students announced loudly on October 23, 2013 holding colorful signs, declaring a permanent blockade in key universities in the Eastern European country which only recently was rocked by anti-government protests. The students are demanding, along with other citizens, that the current Bulgarian government step down because of several controversial decisions by Parliament and widespread corruption in the country.

The organizers of the occupation called their spontaneous movement “The Early-wakening Students” and pledged they wouldn't meddle with any political force in the country. The blockade began when a group of indignant students occupied the largest lecture hall, number 272, of the St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia, the oldest and most prestigious Bulgarian university. The students announced their dissatisfaction with a decision of the Constitutional Court to reinstate the parliamentary rights of а contradictory deputy.

Previously, on June 14, 2013, a parliamentary vote to appoint Delyan Peevski to head the country's National Security Agency was the reason for an eruption of large anti-government protests of thousands of people.

In a few declarations, including the latest one in the first days of November, the students demanded that the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party resign and that the 42nd National Assembly be dissolved. In a portion of their latest statement [bg] that the student group published on their Facebook page, which now has over 24,370 followers, they said:

Ние, Ранобудните студенти, сме обединени от убеждението, че държавата ни се намира в тежка политическа и още по-тежка ценностна криза. Обединени сме от възмущението си, предизвикано от липсата на морал и политическата безотговорност на народните представители. Протестът ни е срещу ежедневно демонстрирания от политиците цинизъм, задкулисие и липса на чуваемост. Смятаме, че настоящото правителство, олицетворява всички тези недъзи на българския политически и обществен живот. 42-то Народно събрание на Р. България е изчерпано откъм легитимност…

We, the Early-wakening students, are united by the conviction that our country is in a tough political and even tougher value crisis. We are united by our indignation, born from the lack of moral and political irresponsibility of the deputies. Our protest is against the daily demonstration of political cynicism, backroom deals and a lack channels for voices to be heard. We think that the present government embodies all those defects of Bulgarian political and public life. The 42nd National Assembly is depleted in terms of legitimacy…

The universities blocked are open for students to attend. There are no official statistics about how many students have joined the occupation. Konstantin Golev, a history PhD student at the university and one of the active “occupiers”, suggested that in one of the most crowded days in the first week of October, there were 400 or 500 people who came and sat in the main hall just on one of the first evenings. According to him, approximately 150 people are the core of the occupation of the main Bulgarian university, including people who work in shifts to guard the doors of the university and write lists of people who have entered.

The reasons of the occupation are said to be rooted in the action of three students from the University in Sofia, who stretched a placard in Parliament that said: “Aren’t you ashamed?!”. After less than a minute, they were being moved out of the hall and escorted to the cabinet of the National Assembly’s Chairperson, Mihail Mikov. According to the students and some media [bg], Mikov said he doesn’t “care” about the students’ opinion.

Soon after the beginning of the blockade, over 200 university professors announced their support for the students’ initiative. At the same time, after a debate, the Sofia University Academic Council expressed disapproval of the blockade, announcing that the students have a right to protest, but should not hamper the university's work processes.

Meanwhile students from other universities in the capital and other cities supported the occupation in a similar manner. Students from the National Theater Academy made a protesting flash mob performance as a sign of solidarity. The inscription on the street mob was OSTAVKA (RESIGNATION) and parts of this performance can be seen in this video:

Student with a sign: "Resignation" on his back. Photo from Early-wakening students Facebook page. Used with permission.

Student with a sign that says “resignation” on his back. Photo from the Early-wakening Students’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

Kiril Chukanov, another PhD student from the Faculty of History and one of the main representatives of the protesting student group, stated [bg]:

Това, което се случва в университета, е отражение на извънредното положение на събитията в страната.
Ние няма никога да отстъпим от тези принципи, които имаме, и окупацията ще продължи до оставка, защото знаете, че оставката за нас не е цел, тя е само първа стъпка за това, което ние се борим, а то е реална промяна в системата

The events happening at the university are a reflection of the extraordinary situation of the developments in the country. We will never step back from those principles that we have and the occupation will continue, because the resignation is not a goal for us. It is only a first step towards that for which we fight and this is a real change in the system.

In the public space and some media, there are opinions of support that express concern that no change is really possible in a country that has no political alternative. An editorial [bg] of E-vestnik, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, said:

Лошата новина сега е, че студентската окупация ще свърши зле. Зле за всички страни. Управляващите продължават да натрупват негативи и стават все по-омразни. Но не само те. И окупаторите и подкрепящите ги преподаватели, партии и т. н. също трупат негативи. Просто разделението в обществото продължава. Това, което е красиво и достойно за едни, е недостойно за други.

The bad news now is that the student occupation will end badly. In a bad way for every side. The authorities continue gathering negative points and they are gaining more disapproval. But they are not the only ones. And the people who occupy, the supportive professors and political parties are also heaping negative points. The division of society just continues. The thing that seems beautiful and full of dignity for some people is deprived of dignity for others.

It added:

Протестът не роди нов политически субект, а беше от полза на съществуващите партии – ГЕРБ и изпадналите от парламента десни. Протестът не роди нови политически лидери, не поиска конкретни реформи. Зацикли на посланията „Оставка”, „Червени боклуци” и „Кой издигна Пеевски?”. Няма как да събереш мнозинството българи под тези лозунги”.

The protest didn’t give birth to a new political subject, it gave benefits to the existing parties like the former ruling party of GERB and to forces from the right who remained outside the National Assembly. The protest didn’t give birth to new political leaders, it didn’t call for any specific reforms. It got stuck on messages like: “Resignations”, “Red trash” and “Who appointed Peevski?”. And one cannot gather the majority of the Bulgarians under those slogans.

According to research [bg] conducted from October 26 to 31, 2013, in different regions of Bulgaria, 60 percent of Bulgarian citizens support the occupation.

Ivaylo Dinev is one of the initiators of the of the Early-wakening occupation. Dinev, who holds a Master's degree in Cultural Anthropology and a Bachelor's in History and Contemporary Times in Southeast Europe, also heads a movement called “Change for the Students”. On the online platform Sofialive, Ivaylo said:

Окупацията не е толкова шокираща. В последните години всяка балканска държава имаше студентска окупация. При нас не е имало от 16 години и всеки е: „Оу, ау, какви са тия? Някакви екстремисти!” Ами, не, не сме екстремисти и, не, не сме нахълтали изведнъж. Ние от четири години организираме събития, прожекции, акции, конференции…

The occupation is not so shocking. In the last years every Balkan country had a student occupation. We didn’t have such in the last 16 years and now everyone says: “Oh, who are those people? Some kind of extremists!”. Well, no, we are not extremists and didn’t invade in a sudden. Since four years we organize events, movie projections, actions, conferences…

Ivaylo added:

Осъзнаваме, че сме се влели във времето. Или ще сме провал, или ще сме за пример.”

We realize that we are in line with the times. And we will either be a failure or an example for others to.

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