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Article, Cultural Diplomacy and Human Rights, Human Rights

“Protests!” This has been the daily routine for Bulgarians for over a month now.

By Vladislav Strnad, The Institute of Cultural Diplomacy

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On 29th of May, 2013, Bulgarian cabinet “Oresharsky” were given the vote of confidence. Plamen Oresharsky, erudite economist with international experience, was commissioned to form a government after all attempts to negotiate with a majority coalition failed. The Prime Minister, although independent, was nominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Socialists, together with the Movement of Rights and Freedoms of Turkish Minority, pledged support in parliament to the new government. Former Prime Minister Borisov’s Conservative Party GERB, which received the majority of votes in earlier elections, found itself isolated in opposition. In addition to this, GERB MPs boycotted parliamentary work. For the parliament to function, the for-government minority under certain conditions must rely on the votes of the last parliamentary party, the ultra-nationalist Ataka formation.

This new government of “independent experts” has promised to meet the demands expected by its people; economic recovery, social reform, parental benefits, higher wages and pension, whilst the unsuccessful party, who is now politically weak, must adhere to various agreements and concessions. During its existence the previous cabinet showed the incapacity to appoint appropriate people in high places. The designated candidates were involved in cases of corruption and theft of state property. This justified suspicions that some members of the Cabinet were reliant on the Bulgarian oligarchs. Some figures in various current state institutions are still associated with the former regime.(1)

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The appointment of a businessman to the post of Director of Intelligence Services became a trigger for mass protests, which have been going on for over a month. Tens of thousands of people of different ages, social groups and of different political orientations have been taking part in protests. Day after day, moderate marches are entering streets and besieging parliament. There is not a particular political organization behind those protests and it seems participators have been organized through social networks. Other big cities have also begun to protest and the Syndicate “Support” have threatened nationwide strike.(2) On Facebook, Bulgarian communities in 25 cities and 11 countries around the world are organizing a global demonstration under the slogan “DANSwithme Global”.(3)
Unlike the February riots that caused the fall of the GERB government, nowadays the demands for cheap electricity or the increase of salaries is not at the forefront of the protests. This protest is political, not economic. People feel that the politicians from all over the political spectrum have failed them. Bulgarians chant anti-communist slogans and are demanding the resignation of the government, a new morality in politics, change of the electoral law, constitutional changes and changes to legislation and executive power. Even in smaller numbers there are pro-government groups gathering in front of Parliament. Only time will tell if these “peaceful protests” will suffice.(4)
In response, the government has appealed to the Director of Intelligence Services and cancelled several other controversial nominations, but the government does not intend to submit its resignation. Indeed the current protests, the possible resignation of the government or early elections will not automatically solve socio-economic problems of the country, however, it would be sufficient if the political elite do not ignore the interests of citizens.

The questions remain, how is Bulgaria to achieve a new order without chaos? What is to be the shape of the new state institutions?.

The Bulgarian right wing, which did not get into Parliament, based a reformist block called “Associations of Civil Society Against the Mafia.” Reformers discuss the creation of new electoral rules, the independence of the courts, prosecutors and police against mafia and oligarchs, a strict antitrust rule, the new rules for procurements, de-politicization of public administration, elimination of media monopolies and transparent media ownership.(5)

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European partners are watching with the current crisis in Bulgaria with interest, with the expectations that the voice of civil society will be heard.
Ambassadors of Germany, Matthias Hoepfner and France Philippe Autio, are urging Bulgaria to yield the oligarchic model of governance and for the government to take into account the views of civil society. An article published in the newspaper “24 Hours” noted that good governance is in the interest of all Bulgarians and all Europeans.
“It is already clear that the Bulgarian society urges its political, administrative, judicial and economic elite to take into account the voices of public interest. Obviously society is concerned about the intrusion of private interests in the public sphere…” they wrote. Ambassadors also paid attention to the necessity of liberality in the media. They highlighted the lack of transparency and the increasing concentration of media ownership and the resulting risks to freedom of speech. “Membership in the European Union is a civilized choice. The Oligarchic model is not compatible with it in Bulgaria nor anywhere else: it can only lead to the creation of a “state within a state.” Civil society is concerned about democracy and the future. Peaceful conduct of the strike shows that the company refuses to succumb to provocations. They also noted that “such an active, strong, modern civil society that believes in its country and asks what it can do for her is actually the keystone of any democracy in the world, and will determine the future of Bulgaria “.(6)

Ambassadors of the Netherlands, Karel van Kesteren, and of Belgium, Annick Van Kalster, commented on the situation in Bulgaria in interviews for “Capital” and “Capital Daily”. The Ambassador of the Netherlands characterized the protests in Bulgaria as a “sign of hope.” According to him, for the first time since the country’s accession to the EU, civil society has raised its voice clearly and wants to respect European values, honest procedures, the onset of competent and honest people in high places, to respect the sovereignty of the law and freedom of the media.” Karel van Kesteren remarked that democracy is not just to win an election. Democracy is all about taking responsibility for one’s actions to the public and continued communications.(7)

The Ambassador of Belgium explained in order to be functional the government must have a quorum and also must be legitimate. Protests question the very legitimacy of the government. “The best solution will be what is widely supported by the population,” he says. Annick Van Kalstersi thinks that the crisis will not affect Belgian investors, but the predictability is important for companies. “The European Commission has launched a very clear signal during the visit of Prime Minister Oresharski in Brussels that the government must respect and comply with relevant standards, in particular the appointment of people in important positions. Strong concern about the sovereignty of the law has independently been expressed,” she said.(8)

Both ambassadors detect a peaceful on-going of the protests and hold a collective view that the basis of these protests are the hope of new ideals and principles, while in February protests were focussed on economic reasons.

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Sources:

1. http://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2013/07/14/2103171_gorchiv_mesec/Горчив месец. Първите седмици на кабинета “Орешарски”: скандални назначения, блокирани институции и спорни решения , 14.7.2013
2. http://targovishtenews.com/news.php?item.1452 Синдикатът ‘Подкрепа” заплаши с общонационална стачка , 7.7.2013
3. http://www.dnes.bg/obshtestvo/2013/07/14/mesec-v-protesti.193618 Месец в протести. В социалната мрежа се организира “ДАНСwithmeGlobal” 14.6.2013
4. http://www.dnes.bg/politika/2013/07/14/sled-mesec-na-protesti-ni-chaka-nesigurno-liato.193623След месец на протести ни чака несигурно лято. Демонстрациите може да загубят мирния си характер, прогнозира ЕФЕ, 14.6.2013
5. http://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2013/07/14/2102241_ima_li_jivot_vdiasno/?sp=1#storystart Има ли живот вдясно? Обединението на петте партии в реформаторския блок дава надежди, но успехът е все още далече, 14.7.2013
6. http://www.24chasa.bg/Article.asp?ArticleId=2128929 Съвместна позиция на посланиците на Франция и Германия. Доброто държавно управление е в интерес на всички, 8.7.2013
7.http://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2013/07/12/2102078_karel_van_kesteren_vijdam_protestite_kato_znak_za/ Карел ван Кестерен: Виждам протестите като знак за надежда. Критикуваме, защото сме едно семейство, казва холандският посланик пред “Капитал”, 12.7.2013
8.http://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2013/07/14/2103137_anik_van_kalster_koncentraciiata_na_mediite_v_rucete/Аник ван Калстер: Концентрацията на медиите в ръцете на неколцина буди притеснение. Посланикът на Белгия в България пред “Капитал Daily”, 14.7.2013

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