Bulgarian Protesters March Kilometers to Challenge Government

After 27 days of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, the leadership of this Eastern European country has so far made no changes.

The mass protests, which began on June 14, 2013 after the appointment of a controversial deputy, Delyan Peevski, to head the Bulgarian National Security agency, have steadily grown in the number of citizens joining the daily demonstrations in the streets of the capital Sofia and other cities. Although Peevski immediately resigned from the position, protesters are asking that the newly formed government, elected in May of this year, to step down and major reforms in several sectors be made.

On Sunday, July 7, the number of protesters in the streets of the Bulgarian capital was unprecedented, as tens of thousands of citizens marched in the streets, again demanding the resignation of the current regime. The ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, with the allied ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) by their side, refused to relinquish power despite the protests, which specifically call for more transparency and less corruption in government, action against organised crime, and an end to the “rule of oligarchy”.

Bulgarian protesters show solidarity with fellow protesters in other countries; image meme courtesy of Revolution News.

Bulgarian protesters show solidarity with fellow protesters in other countries. Image meme courtesy of Revolution News.

On June 27 on an official visit to Brussels, the Bulgarian prime minister stated that he has no intention of resigning until he has parliamentary support to do so. When asked about the appointment of Peevski, a MRF deputy, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski admitted that it was a political mistake which, in his own words, “is not a sufficient reason for a resignation”.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes of the protests, Bulgarian police officials decided to stop announcing the number of the protesters [bg], pointing out that they do not want to cause any political conflicts.

At the same time, alternative online media are highly critical of previous announcements by police as to the scope of the protests. In response to this, a massive number of protesters strayed from their already traditional trajectory to government headquarters and poured into the streets on Sunday, the twenty-fifth day of the protests, with the particular aim of filling the three-kilometer space between Orlov most (Eagles’ Bridge), downtown Sofia, and the Pliska hotel. In the days prior to this, “Let’s fill the space in between Orlov most and Pliska hotel” was one of the popular slogans seen on Facebook.

A sea of protesters fill the 3 kilometer distance from the Rectorate at Orlov most to the Pliska hotel; photo courtesy of From the Rectorate to Pliska Hotel Facebook fan page.

A sea of protesters fill the three-kilometer distance from the Rectorate at Orlov most to the Plska hotel. Photo courtesy of “From the Rectorate to Pliska Hotel” Facebook page.

As Offnews reports, tens of thousands of people [bg] stretched over the long path to Pliska hotel. The numbers that this article and other alternative media refer to contradict the information given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that there were barely 3,000 people [bg] gathered at the protests. Offnews adds that in the beginning of the evening there were 15,000 people just at Orlov most at 10:15 in the evening. A banner on the side of the road read: “Bulgaria is ours, the bill is yours.”

On Monday, after some review of the previous day's events, media reported that Sunday's #ДАНСwithме protest, a popular hashtag for the protests, was the largest to date. Bulgarian National Radio reported [bg]:

Хора, занимавали се с охрана на масови мероприятия, заявиха, че според тях са присъствали между 30 000 и 40 000 души.

People who have experience dealing with protection of mass events, said that according to them between 30 and 40,000 people attended.

A page titled “The Bulgarian Vagabond” (“vagabond” is now common mockery in Bulgaria of a socialist deputy, Hristo Monov, who called the protesters “vagabonds”) was started on Facebook to mock the discrepancies between unofficial sources and official information.

Journalist Tony Nikolov wrote in the online edition of Kultura magazine:

Масовият протест на гражданите би трябвало да се възприеме от властта в България като въпрос, на който тя дължи незабавен отговор. Никакъв отговор обаче няма – повече от 20 дни, с което се стигна до ситуацията „парламент под обсада”.

The mass citizen protest should be perceived by the authorities as a question to which it owеs an immediate answer. However there isn't any kind of answer – more than 20 days, which lead to the situation “a parliament under siege”…

The situation formed gives us the right to make the following conclusions. First, the people who rule over us, do not care for democratic rules, for their dignity, nor do they respect the dignity of those who have sent them to the parliament or to the high levels of power. They prefer to rule behind police rows. To pretend to be blind and deaf. With the sole hope to stay a little more on power in the name of small party, personal and corporate interests.

The Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev expressed his opinion on Facebook about the reactions by authorities:

Те съзнават, че не биха могли да устоят на пряк конфликт. Изплашени са. Затова го избягват на всяка цена. Ще има извинения, прошки, рокади, размествания, решения, протакане, имитации, няколко глави ще бъдат хвърлени на улицата…

They [the authorities] know that they wouldn't stand a direct conflict. They are frightened. And that is why they avoid it. There will be apologies made, forgiveness, castling, changes of places, decisions, prolonging, imitation, few heads would be thrown out on the street.

In one of the most commented articles on social networks, originally posted in the newspaper Standartnews, young journalist Raiko Baichev wrote:

А сега протестите имат нужда от едно: постоянство. Най-трудното е. Погледнете всички по-лекички избухвания на недоволство през последните години. Тия пичове с властта му знаят тактиката – чакат. Чакат като луди. Да прощавате за тъпото сравнение, но протестите май са като любовта и имат същите фази – разгар, пик и угасване. В момента ви чакат да идете на море. Надеждите им са във вашия петък вечер, вашата планина, вашитe палатки и плажове. Чакат ви да се изповлюбите…

And now, the protests need one thing: persistence. It is the most difficult thing. Look at all those lighter explosions of discontent in the recent years. These dudes in power know the tactics – they are waiting. They are waiting like mad people. Forgive my stupid comparison, but the protests seem to be like love and they have the same phases – height, culmination and dying away. At the moment they are waiting for you to go at the seaside. Their hopes are in your Friday evening, your mountain, your tents and beaches. They are waiting for you to fall in love…

A ballet dancer performing on the streets in a sign of solidarity with the Sunday protests; photo by Ivo Mirchev, used with permission.

A ballet dancer performing on the streets in a sign of solidarity with the Sunday protests. Photo by Ivo Mirchev. Used with permission.


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