Mon, 08/05/2013 - 12:12

Bulgaria is in for long, unpredictable spell of instability

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Even the chance observer of events in Bulgaria during the past several months cannot but see that the ongoing street protests, whilst being sparked by a number of unthought-over staff appointments by the current fragile parliamentary majority, have been conditioned by events dating back to the previous rulers, GERB. It is temptingly easy to focus on the street rallies of the "intelligent and beautiful," but to get to the larger picture, one needs to remember the runup to the current spate of public discontent – which will in turn explain why Bulgaria is where it's at at the moment.

When Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria's former strongman prime minister, resigned last February and called a snap general election, he did so with a very specific purpose in mind. True to his style of saying something and then doing exactly the opposite, he explained his decision with his "reluctance" to see blood in the streets (if anyone would remember, February of 2013 will go down in local history as the time when thousands took to the streets to protest against their inability to pay their electricity bills and about a dozen Bulgarians committed desperate acts of self-immolation, possibly the largest number in Europe since the end of the Second World War). Borisov's real intention, however, was not difficult to fathom – he planned to use whatever public support he had in his GERB party to win a second term in office.

Borisov's righthand-man, former Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, mobilised the troops. The tapping equipment he controlled was set in motion to spy on political opponents and journalists, his henchmen in the provinces started using their trademark coercion tactics to garner voters' support, and the printing presses started rolling out "backup" ballot papers – spectacularly busted by the General Prosecution Service just ahead of election day.

GERB did win the election: it emerged as the largest party in the Bulgarian parliament. However, its leaders had alienated themselves so much from all other political parties that no one wanted to even talk with the Boyko Borisovs and Tsvetan Tsvetanovs that had ruled Bulgaria much in the same way as mob ringleaders would have managed their dubious enterprises.

GERB's legacies will be felt for years to come. The economy is in shambles. Bulgaria hardly produces anything and the surreally empty shopping centres stand silent witnesses to the impoverishment of the general population under GERB. The country is controlled by a handful of monopolies, referred to in Bulgaria by the word that has gained currency in Russia – oligarchs. Voters traditionally vote with their feet, and younger people are doing what they can to emigrate. Inter-ethnic relations are at an all-time low (in post-1989 standards). Under Borisov, the state refused to fulfil its financial obligations to many contractors, causing inter-corporation debts at best and bankruptcies at worst. Instead of getting reformed, the legal system was subordinated to the police and its head, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who liked to promote his own pals for senior judiciary positions. Sometimes, the results of his incompetent arrogance produced a rather comical effect – one example is his refusal to be registered by the police, citing the "unconstitutionality" of an act he had himself approved.

There are hundreds if not thousands of lesser or graver errors GERB committed while it had the power, and all of them will be felt by posterity if not judged by the courts.

But there are two GERB crimes that are difficult to estimate by figures and numbers. One is the almost complete destruction of Bulgaria's civil society. That includes, but is not limited to, the sidetracking of many NGOs from having any say in public life, by stifling the media by allowing ownership to be concentrated in the hands of a few individuals with at the time good relationships to GERB, by arbitrary if not plainly illegal actions committed by GERB's senior functionaries in all areas of public life. All of those led to the obliteration of what fragile institutions of civil society the Bulgarians had managed to establish since 1989.

The second GERB crime is even more abstract. It is the general moral crisis that Bulgaria has been plunged into. It is the crisis of Bulgaria's tiny middle class that sees no way out of its economic predicament; it is the crisis of Bulgaria's intellectuals that fail to stand up for their rights and become what they should have become immediately after the collapse of the Berlin Wall – moral if not political leaders; it is the crisis of the thousands of students willing to sacrifice an arm and a leg to get to study abroad and never to return; it is the crisis of the millions of TV viewers whose brains have become so inundated by the mixture of lies, half-lies and half-truths being force-fed upon them from the TV screens that they have lost their sense of sound judgement. It is the crisis of the people who are willing to take to the streets and protest but would rather stay at home and curse their TV sets on election day.

Bulgaria post-GERB has become so disoriented and confused that the street protests that have gripped Central Sofia are failing to produce either clear demands or identifiable leaders.

The sort of slogans put out by the protestors include calls for the new government to resign and for the election code to be amended. In actual fact, however, what the protestors want is to annul the result of the May election. A variety of hypotheses have been promulgated: the protestors are in fact helping GERB (who still hope for a comeback), or the rallies are being organised by people who either voted for parties that failed to break the 4 percent election barrier to enter the Bulgarian parliament or did not vote at all.

One of the most immediate consequences of what is going in Sofia in the heat of the 2013 summer is that someone will have to pay the bill for the disrupted transport, for the dysfunctional civil service and for the massive police presence. All Bulgarian taxpayers will have to do that. But the bill will not come now. It will come next January when the citizens of Bulgaria will again struggle to pay the electricity bills.


Divided Nation

If opinion polls are to be trusted, 41 percent of those surveyed by Gallup International want the Oresharski government to resign. 40 percent don't. 43 percent think that the street rallies must stop while 39 percent say that they should continue. 39 percent do not want a fresh general election while 35 percent favour it.

Bulgaria protests, 2013

If a general election was held in July, 21.6 percent would support the BSP, or Bulgarian Socialist Party; 17.8 percent would vote for GERB; and 6.7 percent would support the DPS, or Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Ataka would have garnered just 1.8 percent of the vote.

Issue 82

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