Balkans wake up!
The first wave of privatization in Bulgaria took place between 1992 and 1994 under UDF (Union of Democratic Forces). Land and industry was privatized through the issue of shares in government enterprises to all citizens, but accompanied by massive unemployment as uncompetitive industries failed.
The negative reaction against economic reform allowed BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) to take office in 1995. In late 1996 and early 1997, mass protests took place against BPS’s government which had led the country to hyperinflation and a complete crisis.
In 1997 the BSP government collapsed and the UDF came to power, the first government to serve its full 4-year term since communism. Economic reforms were carried out under the guidance of IMF, including privatization of state-owned enterprises on a large scale. The country started accession talks with the European Union (which Bulgaria joined on January 1, 2007). UDF was accused of corruption, nepotism and illegal privatizations. The majority of the charges were aimed at selling at minimum value the enterprises from the so called “Videnov list for liquidation and isolation”.
The privatization has continued up to now. In 2004 The Republic of Bulgaria sold a 67% stake in its three electricity distribution companies to E.ON Energie AG of Germany, EVN AG of Austria and CEZ a.s. of Czech Republic.
Economic difficulties and a tide of corruption have led over 800,000 Bulgarians, including many qualified professionals, to emigrate. The reform package introduced in 1997 led to rising social inequality. The political and economic system after 1989 virtually failed to improve the living standard. On the contrary, according to a 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 76% of Bulgarians said they were dissatisfied with the system of democracy, 63% thought that free markets did not make people better off and only 11% of Bulgarians agreed that ordinary people had benefited from the changes in 1989.
The protest in Bulgaria began in Blagoevgrad in late January after consumers received electricity bills that were two times higher than those for the previous month. Protesters symbolically burned their bills.
Motivation video of protests in Bulgaria
On 10 February, demonstration took place in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Shumen, Blagoevgrad, Sandanski, Silistra, Yambol, Gotse Delchev, Belene, Montana, Dobrich and Kardzhali. The same day, two EVN (EVN Bulgaria, part of EVN AG – Austrian power company) utility vehicles were set ablaze in Plovdiv. Demonstrators in Sofia gathered in front of the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism and threw snowballs at minister Delyan Dobrev. One protester was stabbed in Varna on 13 February 2013.
By mid-February tens of thousands of people were on the streets, demanding nationalisation of the private regional monopolies, removal of subcontractors, assigning traffic and distribution to NEK EAD (the state-owned power distribution company), declassifying all contracts between the state and energy companies and more liberal combined heat and power usage laws, among others.
On 17 February, a national demonstration against monopolies gathered 10,000 people in Plovdiv, 8,000 (up to 30,000 by other estimates) in Varna and a smaller number in other cities. In total, 150,000 people protested all over the country in 35 cities and towns. Key motorways and transport routes in the country were blocked; rocks, bottles and eggs were thrown against Gendarmerie units, the Ministry of Economy and the National Assembly in the capital. People chanted “mafia” and “resignation”, and carried slogans such as “This is not a protest, it’s a process – the struggle for a new Bulgaria”, “Down with GERB” and “Janissaries, the end is coming”. They gave the government one more week to respond to their demands. Clashes occurred near CEZ’ headquarters (Czech power company) in Sofia.
On 18 February mass demonstrations continued all over the country. In Sofia, they escalated into civil resistance and protesters attempted to attack the National Assembly. The crowds were pushed back to Eagles’ Bridge (the starting point of the protest), and after their demands to begin immediate talks with government representatives remained unanswered, they moved towards the National Palace of Culture. Clashes with police and Gendarmerie units left two police officers injured and six patrol vehicles were damaged. Eleven people were arrested.
The same day Boyko Borisov dismissed finance minister Simeon Dyankov, unpopular among the population because of his abrupt manners and strong insistence on austerity, but this did not reduce public tensions.
On 19 February, which marked 140 years of national hero Vasil Levski’s execution, violent clashes between protesters and police occurred in Sofia. Two dozen people, including Gendarmerie officers, were injured during a police charge on protesters at Eagles’ Bridge. President Rosen Plevneliev was booed at during his speech at the Levski Monument. The number of demonstrators in Varna was around 8,000.
Protests in Bulgaria 19.02.2013 Sofia – chronology
On 20 February, Boyko Borisov announced that his cabinet would resign. The resignation was voted in Parliament next morning, with 209 MPs voting “for” and 5 “against”. Borisov said: “Our power was handed to us by the people, today we are handing it back to them” as the state “needs leadership that has new credibility.”
After Borisov’s resignation initiative committees by citizens formed around the country.
On 21 february around 500 members of the Anti-mafia civic associacion voiced their discontent with the judiciary. Posters called for stripping magistrates of immunity and of ousting magistrates involved in fraud schemes with real estate. The protesters called on the President to appoint an expert government until the convocation of a Grand National Assembly to amend the Constitution and the entire political and judicial systems.
On 23 February coordinators of demonstrations gathered in Sliven to discuss further actions after the resignation of the government. Several members of different political parties who were present at the gathering were expelled. Demands for a change of the political system, a ban on all political parties in power, abolishment of value added tax on electricity production and state ownership of natural resources and strategic sectors were added to the original calls for nationalisation of the power companies. TIM, a semi-legal company, was reported to have organised a crackdown on an initiative committee gathering in Varna. The “Rakovski Legion”, an organisation of military officers and supporters of the Bulgarian Army, have joined the protests.
At a roundtable discussion, which was organized by the National Association of the Free “Free Choice” about 100 citizens and NGOs demanded constitutional change, especially of article 12, according to which citizens’ associations, including trade unions, cannot have political goals and carry out political activity. They also demanded a civil quota everywhere – ministries, agencies, including the judiciary and prosecutor’s office so that citizens can exercise some kind of control over the political system. The declaration adopted at the roundtable discussion and the one adopted at another roundtable discussion in the southern city of Sliven were almost one and the same.
The protesters’ demand for a constitutional change was adopted by some MPs and parties. On 22 February Bulgarian independent MPs launched a petition calling for the convocation of a Grand Assembly tasked with drafting a new Constitution. Such a decision can be initiated by half of the total of 240 MPs, the President or by a referendum. The Constitution provides for a two-month long procedure before elections could be held, during which each political party and social group could state its ideas on the Constitution, after which the Grand Assembly would prepare it within a short term.
End the illusions! Self-government. Civil activity every day!
The far-right party Ataka also expressed support for the convocation of the Grand Assembly. Ataka also wanted a revision of the privatization deals, cancellation of the contracts with the power distribution companies and bringing all people who were to blame for the privatization to justice.
Bulgaria’s Grand National Assembly (Велико народно събрание, Veliko narodno sabranie) is the only body entitled to draft and adopt new constitutions and to change the organization of the state. A total of seven Grand National Assemblies have been in operation in Bulgaria, the last one from 10 July 1990 to 12 July 1991 adopting the current constitution.
A petition for a referendum on the summing of Bulgaria’s Grand National Assembly for the adoption a new constitution had been organized in 2010 by the “Order, Law, Justice” (RZS), a controversial marginal Bulgarian conservative party.
According to the inspection of the Bulgarian census authorities, there were a total of 389 705 authentic signatures backing RZS’s petition for a referendum for a new constitution. Under Bulgarian legislation, any petition backed by more than 200,000 people has to be considered by the Parliament, and any one backed by more than 500,000 signatures is binding.
The party tabled to the Bulgarian Parliament a motion for the holding of a referendum on this topic on 26 February.
On 24 February president Plevenliev met the protesters gathered in front of the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism ahead of the official start of the before the announced protest and received an open letter, signed by 35 initiative committees, with their demands. The protesters set a deadline of one week after which the resignation of the president would also be demanded if there were no results.
The demands of the protesters can be viewed here:
Thousands of Bulgarians living abroad supported the national protest with demonstrations and rallies held in a number of cities across Europe.
A demonstration was held in front of the Bulgarian embassy in Vienna. The participants pledged support to the open letter of the 35 initiative committees. Many Bulgarians marched the streets in London showing their solidarity with the protesters in Sofia. The Bulgarian communities in Valencia, Madrid, Manchester, Athens and Munich also rallied in support of their protesting compatriots across Bulgaria. A number of Bulgarian students gathered in front of the city hall in Manchester. They said that the political model in Bulgaria had to be changed.
The left-wing Coalition for Bulgaria Parliamentary Group declined the exploratory mandate to form a government in the framework of the 41st National Assembly, as they had stated earlier. Under the constitutional procedure President Rosen Plevneliev handed the mandate to the second largest parliamentary group on Wednesday, after GERB declined to form a cabinet on Monday. On Friday the mandate will go the third largest group in Parliament – the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). The MRF have also said that they will not accept a mandate to form a government under the incumbent Parliament. If all three attempts fail, the President must appoint a caretaker cabinet, dissolve the National Assembly and, by the same decree, schedule new parliamentary elections within two months.
In less than 10 days there have been three self-immolations in Bulgaria. In Veliko Tarnovo a man set himself on fire and later died in a hospital. A 36-year-old from Varna is in a coma due to severe burns and another man has been hospitalized with burns over 71% of his body. A man who began a hunger strike in Sofia was detained by police.
Management of corrupt politicians and the alienation of people from making decisions affecting directly their economic and social prosperity inevitably leads to similar acts of civil unrest. Of course, the more important question is what happens after that. Whether it leads to phase transition into a whole new state of the system, or just as a discharge valve of social stress and the replacement of some people in a return to a power system which creates the same problems.
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 the first open meeting among citizens and protesters from all the country was held in Sofia. The next meeting will be organized on Friday, 1 March. One of the protesters said, “For now we are dissscusing the short term demands, for example minimising the price of electricity and majority vote for parliament elections. There are no debates about a new system we want to live in. But I hope we start soon.”
As the protesters stated in one of their slogans, “We are not a protest, but a process.”