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The police are tired and demoralized, they want to leave their jobs

25 July 2013 / 01:07:49  GRReporter
9591 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Nikolai Staikov is a journalist and a member of the Antigovernment press centre which, for several days already, has been holding press conferences, providing information about the protests. "The fact that such a slightly secretive organization is necessary is indicative of the situation of the media market in Bulgaria. Currently, the media are reminiscent of the characters of the classic novel by Aleko Konstantinov - Gochoolu, Dochoolu and Danko Hairsazinat who had gathered together to create a newspaper. This is a little funny when reading the book, but it is not when you are seeing it live.

"We are seeing media which are damaging the trust of their readers obviously not driven by a long-term media interest, we are seeing parties that are damaging their future obviously not driven by any ideals and principles. The media war is something that cannot be avoided and we have actually created a tool in this war."

It is like when you see that the future of the Bulgarian political system rests on the fact that someone has been able to buy certain media and create a media empire through dubious schemes and an unclear source of funds, which is not complying with any code of ethics.

We are seeing media which are damaging the trust of their readers obviously not driven by a long-term media interest, we are seeing parties that are damaging their future obviously not driven by any ideals and principles. The media war is something that cannot be avoided and we have actually created a tool in this war," Nikolai Staikov said in an interview for GRReporter, continuing to very closely monitor the developments in Bulgaria.

Mr Staikov, what happened outside the parliament building last night?

Between 5,000 and 8,000 people had gathered at different hours during the protest. They occupied the entire perimeter of the security zone of the parliament building, which is now quite expanded. This is precisely to prevent concentration of large numbers of people.

I would define the events as an emergency because the Bulgarian Parliament usually meets from 09:00 am to 3:00 pm. However, for the first time last night, there was information of meetings of two important commissions, namely of economic affairs and of budget and finance, which involved three ministers.

The information was available on the social networks and as a result, this afternoon session which started at 5:00 pm and lasted for about 2-3 hours, coincided with the already regular protest which usually takes place at the same time.

What happened last night was that the people were aware of the meetings and gathered around the parliament building from all sides although they are not connected with each other. The people had to go around the building a lot because all the small streets and lanes were closed. However, they knew from where the deputies would leave the building and had covered these points. They already have experience from previous attempts at a peaceful occupation of the parliament building.

 

Photo: Ladislav Tsvetkov

How did the clashes between the protesters and the police start?

According to recent data, the number of policemen in the security zone could reach 1,200. The number was much higher last night. When they saw that the people had surrounded the parliament building, they did not make another attempt to take out the deputies.

The clashes began during the first attempt to take out the deputies, shortly before 10:00 pm. The policemen opened the fence at the main entrance of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and, with the help of specialized police forces, tried to make way for two gendarmes trucks and a bus. They entered the area and tried to push the people to clear a corridor. The protesters did not want to allow this and, in addition, it was difficult to implement it in practice. Definitely, this was not the most appropriate course of action.

The first clashes began there since the people behind were pressing those in front of them and did not want to allow the clearing of the corridor. It was very difficult for the police forces to advance, there were people sitting on the ground and protesting peacefully. The policemen were pulling them aside and pushing away other people and people on bicycles. About 10 people were injured, if I am not mistaken.

What I wanted to explicitly point out is that the policemen guarding the parliament building and this vast security zone in the central part of Sofia are very tired and are in low spirits. I am saying this from the position of an active protester as I sometimes go to protest twice a day – in the morning, before I go to work and in the evening, when I finish work. I have spoken with many policemen. If this becomes a daily round, quite a lot of them are ready to leave their jobs. Many of the policemen who were hesitant are already fully convinced of their decision and some of them have already filed to leave their jobs. Policemen are human beings like all of us but exhaustion is already felt in their ranks which, in certain situations, could turn into some kind of aggression. Unfortunately, some of the protesters and policemen may have a more aggressive setting and when they confront each other the result is like last night. For me, this result of the decision to break through, in this way, thousands of people who were pressed by the people behind them and the policemen in front of them in such a small area was inevitable.

In practice, we had three points of serious clashes. There were a lot of active citizens who lay down and sat down, and who wanted to be in the way by all peaceful means. Then, bottles of mineral water flew and, as we heard, more solid things. There was brutal pushing as well. My impressions are that things which were thrown by other protesters and the rude attitude of the police hurt the protesters. What I can say is that 95% of policemen are tired, unmotivated, demoralized and want this to end. I was knocked to the ground and then pulled by two policemen but I can say that no unusual force or malice was exerted on me. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a few cases in which things were otherwise.

What distinguishes the protest in Bulgaria from the protests in Greece is that it is for fiscal discipline whereas, in the majority of the countries of the European South, the people are protesting against major budget cuts. What is the cause of this?

It sounds like a paradox but only at first. When you do not trust a corrupt government, the last thing you want is for it to take large loans and to spend them, buying, for a short while, people’s love in the form of social benefits and allowances in order for this government to have a bigger budget and to be able to steal more.

So, the total lack of confidence, on the part of the protesters, in the honesty of the government explains this paradox.

How would you comment on Commissioner Viviane Reding’s support for the protesters in Bulgaria and what practical result could be expected from it?

I attended the meeting. Mrs. Reding is a unique, very unusual and charismatic politician compared with the others I have seen live or in the media. She said some very important things, two of which are of particular weight. Firstly, she has expressed her support for the spirit of the protests because their demands against the oligarchy and corruption are fair. The second important message was that "this government and the elections are your domestic problem." I see the connection between the two things as a common message, namely that Europe supports us, but it cannot remove the Bulgarian government. We saw the limit of official Brussels at the meeting.

The President supported the protesters some time ago too but then, despite the argument that he has no such powers, there was a lot of criticism that he was doing nothing more. How do you evaluate his position?

I am one of the people who support the President, although I expect a bit more from him. The main reason for him to obtain the support of the majority of the protesters, including mine, is that he is able to speak in a different way, especially with young people.

Bulgaria is currently in a very interesting situation in which the President can put a veto on the law on the budget. No such thing has been done so far. However, the situation is so radicalized, fortunately not in the classic sense of the word, and I do not see why it should not be extended to this option. I would personally support a similar decision of the President because the return of the law would mean that a larger majority must pass it. Then, the full parliamentary support which the current coalition cannot obtain will be necessary.

The "dirty" secret of this government is that the anti-European, Semitic and ultranationalist party called Attack supports it. If the law on the budget update is returned, the current double coalition, which is triple in practice, will have to demonstrate that it is backed by a party with which Sergey Stanishev, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), should disaffiliate as requested by the European Union and his European partners.

Although international media have focused on what is happening in Bulgaria after last night's developments, they have not covered the protests for 40 days. How do you intend to draw their interest as a press centre?

This is a fact. The protest was somehow overshadowed by more exotic protests. This is slightly disappointing because the people who have worked and are working in the media know the stereotypes about Bulgaria and the labels international media repeat about us: the poorest, most corrupt, most criticized, etc. country.

When the citizens of Sofia and other major cities rebelled with clear slogans against corruption, we expected a little more support from outside. The support from the diplomats of almost all major European countries and the unprecedented declaration of the ambassadors of France and Germany were a nice surprise. Incidentally, the French ambassador was at the protest on the following day. He did not hold a slogan and no one expected him to do so but he was walking around and talking with the people.

The lack of interest on the part of international media was a disappointment. But obviously this is reality. We know that the media do not work perfectly either.

However, they paid attention to the situation today. Do you think it will be retained without daily clashes outside the parliament building?

In all cases, the media interest will increase. I cannot predict how and why. I hope that it will continue. We are doing our best to help foreign media who are interested in the situation in Bulgaria; we are translating material into English. I.e. we are doing whatever we can to help.

What was the actual reason for the establishment of the Antigovernment press centre?

It was the very situation in which we, a not very organized group but very motivated to do something, have decided that we should have a voice and change somehow the stereotype of the media related to how they are covering the protest. I mean the 3-5-minute news reports which remain in the background.

So, we have decided that we have something to say and that we can be an alternative voice. In fact, people do not know many things. For example, they do not know that the Bulgarian Prime Minister is actually hiding from the media and that the announcements of events are being surprisingly made 15 minutes prior to start time. The government is not afraid of bad coverage, knowing that the national media have to do so. Regarding the other media, it is clear which side of the fence they are occupying. This is just one of the little "dirty" secrets of the government.

The Prime Minister is hiding to avoid making his schedule public, to avoid being surprised by blockades, banners and other embarrassing situations. This is something that needs to be communicated.

Another example is that the Bulgarian government is using the payments under the operational programmes of European Union funds as a tool of pressure on certain media, which are beneficiaries of these programmes. The entire process is taking place in the government administration and everything depends on an administrative structure under government control. A little known fact is that the operational programmes of the European Union are the biggest advertiser in the Bulgarian media market. We are talking about millions.

Many colleagues, journalists, who, for various reasons cannot publish information in the media in which they are working, are helping us in the press centre.

The criticism against you is that it is not known who is hiding behind the press centre.

I attend media events, other colleagues will do the same too. However, I can criticise the way of operation of the media market in Bulgaria too.

The answer is that some of the participants are people who are working in the media but they do not want to declare their support for us because, in Bulgaria, the media very easily turn their policy and it is very risky. These colleagues are helping us on a voluntary basis and for ideological reasons. As for the rest of the people, we would ask them to attend our events where they will be able to meet more of our friends and supporters.

We are talking about a very informal structure which is not organized in the conventional way. Think of it as a mini social network rather than as of an organization with a team, budget, etc.

Does this make the question of the financing of the press centre pointless?

Our budget is zero. The website does not cost anything. The software is free, people who are at the protests with us are helping us and so, we have not spent even a penny. We are all volunteers and the people are helping us with their work. Literally, we are people who have met in the square.

What do you think is the greatest injustice currently ongoing in Bulgaria?

It is that a government, and we have every reason to suspect that it is an organized criminal group although this word may sound strong, has all the tools to stay in power despite the breaches and blunders it is making.

A person who is a symbiosis between a deputy, businessman, media entrepreneur and politician was absolutely illegally appointed to one of the most important positions with huge levers of influence in the state. This is a man, aged 33, with a zero tax return, although he is required to submit one as a deputy and as an acting junior investigator at the National Investigation Service. It is zero. I think this alone is enough

The fact that this can happen and that the people who go out to protest can be punished under the ordinance for the public order in Sofia and can be warned by the police is a huge injustice. I.e. the lack of control over what the government is doing, this impunity and injustice, which I have already mentioned.

When do you expect that Oresharski’s government will fall?

I am waiting for it to fall any moment. This is a joke.

The longer answer lies in my perception that this is a struggle of life and death for someone. And these are not people who believe in the socialist idea of the BSP or in the liberal idea of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). These are circles which have made commitments and now they cannot leave the game although, in practice, they are killing their parties, especially the BSP.

What is the alternative to the government of Bulgaria? A large number of people are saying that if this government falls the same people will most likely be elected since there is no right-wing political structure which, at least at the moment, is ready to take the helm.

I follow the polls very carefully. They contain a lot of controversy. We cannot but see how at least two of the currently ruling political parties are apparently losing the support of the people, including the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party that is not involved in the cabinet. We cannot say, under these circumstances, that the same composition of the Parliament will be repeated. This is simply not true.

My opinion is that a vacuum has formed in politics that will become more apparent and noticeable after the collapse of the current government. However, vacuum forming is difficult both in politics and in life. Usually, something fills this space. I think that these will be both constructive, creative and civilized political organizations, and several new types of populist and nationalist structures. But that is life. Let us hope that we will move forward in this way too.

I do not trust sociology. And to the question of "when there is no alternative why should we put up with a corrupt government," I reply with a very nice example. It is like saying, "why should I divorce since I have not found my next spouse". This is unacceptable from a purely moral point of view. And lately, the word "morality" is often mentioned on the yellow paving stones in Sofia and this is something that I wish will happen.

The only thing which is taking place in the political arena is the reformist bloc. Will it be established and could it be an alternative to the government?

I am slightly pessimistic in order to keep the chance of being pleasantly surprised.

Tags: PoliticsBulgariaProtestsClashesPoliceAntigovernment press centreNikolai Staikov
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