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The protests are a contagion that cannot be stopped

15 July 2013 / 21:07:05  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The civil protests in Bulgaria against Oresharski’s government have continued for a month already. Over the recent weeks, GRReporter has talked to people from different areas of the public life who analyzed the events following the elections in May. After director Javor Gardev, political scientist Vladimir Shopov, professor and expert on security, defence and public order Nikolai Slatinski, writer Vladimir Levchev, today we offer you again a conversation with journalist Ivan Bedrov.

Just a day after the parliamentary elections in May, he had forecasted ​​the present political crisis in Bulgaria, again in an interview for the website.

Mr. Bedrov, what is your assessment of the situation in Bulgaria?

The situation is very unclear. There is a feeling that something is happening, but no one can define exactly what it is. I think that this will be a very long process. Everyone wants resignation and elections. It is clear that these elections will reproduce the old parties to some extent and that they will continue to behave in the same way. There will be protests after a few months again and the people will once again want to overthrow the government.

The moment is historically significant although this may be high-sounding. There is some change among the people. It starts from a more alert, active and informed minority which is in Sofia, on the yellow paving stones, but I think this is a "contagion" which cannot be stopped.

What is happening to the protests a month after their start?

What surprises me a month later is the fact that the energy is not waning, that thousands of people gather outside the Council of Ministers every evening and then hold a procession to the Parliament and Eagle’s Bridge, continuing to demand the resignation of the government.

The number of the people is actually much higher than what we see on TV because they are not the same. I know people who travel and, when they return, they take part in the protests again. Others can participate only one evening and the third group involves people who can take part in the protests for two evenings. This means that the number of the people who are actively involved in the protests is much higher than the number of the people we see every evening.

The situation is very unclear. There is a feeling that something is happening, but no one can define exactly what it is. I think that this will be a very long process. Everyone wants resignation and elections. It is clear that these elections will reproduce the old parties to some extent, and they will continue to behave in the same way. There will be protests after a few months again and the people will once again want to overthrow the government.
The moment is historically significant although this may be high-sounding. There is some change among the people. It starts from a more alert, active and informed minority which is in Sofia, on the yellow paving stones, but I think this is a "contagion" which cannot be stopped.

However, the fact that the state has got used to living that way is disturbing the protesters. The protest is now part of the everyday life of all - not only of the protesters, but of the others too. Thousands of people are demanding the resignation of the government which, currently, is not disturbed in any way whatsoever. It is continuing its activities, appointments, the “takeover” of various positions of power and the scandals. It is a disturbing fact that the big scandal, namely the split between the government and the citizens, this gap between them, is covering up a large number of small specific scandals which the government is continuing to produce. They remain somewhat hidden against the background of everything else.

The government is stable in the Parliament and the people outside want its resignation. There had been some criticism of leader Sergey Stanishev in the ranks of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) but it had faded. Do you think that the socialists themselves agree with each other in terms of their leader and that we can expect any changes to be triggered by them?

I personally do not hope that a change will be triggered by them. However, there are different voices in the BSP. Even former President Georgi Parvanov appeared on a television broadcast yesterday and directly criticised current party leader Sergey Stanishev again. But I really do not expect anything to happen inside the party because the only motivation of the people who have a majority in the National Assembly is to hold power and this is apparent.

The fierceness with which they started to govern, the control over the State Agency for National Security (SANS) which they had obtained literally for hours through the express change in the law and the express election of its head, albeit withdrawn, is continuing in other areas. There are such appointments every day and "scandalous" and "controversial" are very mild words for them. People who are being appointed to certain positions have scandalous biography and this is continuing.

I think that their only motivation is to remain in power since they are very aware of the fact that the people outside are not a threat to them as long as they are cheerful and original.

Furthermore, I have noticed a tightening in the ranks of the government whose behaviour has become very arrogant. For example, the ambassadors of France and Germany came out with a quite unprecedented joint letter in which they actually support the protesters and the President's position. The reaction of part of the government was like in 1983. They described the letter as interference in the internal affairs of Bulgaria.

The gap which I previously mentioned is becoming even greater. One of the sides is governing without ever being interested in the others whereas, on the other hand, the protesters are not ready to compromise.

What will the outcome of the protests be in your opinion? Formally speaking, we can say that they have succeeded since Delian Peevski’s appointment was withdrawn. However, the goals have gradually increased. Which of them could be implemented in practice in order for the people to unite around it and to achieve it?

In fact, the goal of the protest has not been achieved because, from the first evening, the people have been shouting "resignation" outside the building of the Council of Ministers. They are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Oresharski and Peevski was only the reason for this demand.

Very often we hear some analysts and representatives of the government saying, "What do these cheerful and colourful people in the streets want? They do not have a specific goal." However, it is very specific, namely resignation.

From this point onwards, there are a few options at least. The first is for the government to continue to persist, which means that it will continue to take power and control. This is necessary, of course. Bulgaria needs a government.

On the other hand, my prediction is that the protests will not stop. They may subside for a while because it is summer - a season which active people use to rest. But this tension cannot just disappear. This means that the protests are likely to slightly subside and to start with renewed vigour in September. Therefore, it was clear from the outset that this government was gone. It is only a matter of time for this to happen since so many people want it to resign. A month later, however, it seems to me that this time can be surprisingly long.

How would you comment on Edvin Sugarev’s hunger strike? What is the point of this kind of protest?

Let me not comment on this topic. This is a very serious personal decision and I do not feel comfortable commenting on it.
What is your opinion of what you have already mentioned, namely that several ambassadors of European countries have openly expressed their position in support of the protests? How do you define the response of the government that this is interference in Bulgaria’s internal affairs?

I would define it as inadequate. Bulgaria is part of the European Union. Over the past 20 years, the declared goal of all Bulgarian governments has been for the country to be a part of it and share the same values. Bulgaria has signed a pile of documents that establish the rule of law, democracy, etc. So, I do not know why some are surprised by this position. Someone has to defend the values ​​for which the European Union exists. Once you do not see anyone in the government to do so, the ambassadors are completely right.

But even if we look at the matter from a more cynical angle, this is about the money of the taxpayers and they mention this in their letter. This is because the majority of European Union (EU) funds that come to Bulgaria have been taken from the pockets of Germans and Frenchmen. And when you have an oligarchic model of government and much of the EU funds go to certain companies associated with certain parties that are in power, then they are perfectly right to ask where their money goes and why the ordinary citizens of Germany and France who are working and paying for their taxes should feed the mafia in Bulgaria. The question is reasonable.

How do the Bulgarian media cover the protests? Reading them, one thinks that the articles are about two different countries. What is your comment on the way in which different media present the same events?

The gap which I have mentioned exists in this field too. On one side, we have the government which does not really understand what is happening and the fact that the majority of the public is awakening and the people are starting to assert their rights. Some of the media, which present a fictional situation which we do not see in Bulgaria, are on this side too.

However, the good news is that the main and major media seem somehow freer over the past month. One can now mention the words "mafia" and "oligarchy", and talk about Peevski. Previously, this person was not mentioned anywhere.

This means that there is a little more freedom and I am hopeful because the people know that the manipulative media which show a false situation are actually false. And I think their influence is insignificant whereas the mainstream media behave much better actually.

The President has supported the protests but criticism against him followed from both sides. Some media have published discrediting materials about him whereas others are criticising him for not doing anything substantial to support the protests in practice. How would you comment on this?

The first comment is that I would not like to be in his place because, on the one hand, if he wants to remain a relevant and recognized political figure he has no other choice than to take the side of the protesters. On the other hand, the constitution limits his powers and he has no right to intervene in the political process, to "deliver" a political alternative, help any organizations and individuals reach a common solution. From this point of view, his position is not easy.

But the campaign you have mentioned is carried out by the same media of the mafia and, probably, there is a centre somewhere which is “processing” certain theses because we see that exactly the same materials appear in different media. These are the so-called "revelations" regarding who is hiding behind the protests. There we can see the same complex and xenophobic attitude towards the world, namely that we are the best but someone else has conspired against us. That is, if there are protests we need to immediately understand who pays the protesters. Moreover, none of the authors of these "discrediting materials" suggests that there may be free people too. The same happens with other media which are a little freer. This means that the attack is against everything that acts somewhat normally.

In political terms, the only thing that is happening in Bulgaria at present is the formation of the so-called reformist bloc. We see many difficulties, things are happening quite slowly and some commentators argue that the parties which are trying to establish it should have reacted faster. Are you optimistic regarding its creation and could it be a serious alternative to the current stalemate?

My answer may sound contradictory. I am both optimistic about the future of the organization and at the same time, I do not think it could be the alternative that the people expect.

This formation, it does not matter what it will be called in the future, will obviously be a factor in the political life of Bulgaria because the issue of it entering the parliament is not on the agenda at all. Even the first polls have already proved this. The point is that the majority of the people in the square really want a new and uncompromising attitude towards corruption, mafia, hidden control, underhand dealings, dependence, etc. Nevertheless, each of the parties which are trying to form the reformist bloc has something in the past which it wants to hide. Everyone who existed before and was part of the government has something to hide, or there is something for which it is to be blamed at least.

That is why the majority of the people can hardly accept a purely technical - mechanical union of some old parties. There is even an interpretation that they are uniting in order to avoid falling off the "board."

Do you think a national strike which Konstantin Trenchev has stated that he would announce will yield a result? Why are the trade unions in Bulgaria outside the protests? Why is that?

I take such statements with laughter because the trade unions in Bulgaria are also part of this "facade of democracy" against which the people are protesting right now. Now is not the time to analyze what they have done and in whose interests they have acted over the years.

However, the truth is that they are unable to cause a nationwide strike. Even if the two big unions come out and announce something like that, how do they imagine that they will do it? They have influence over two industries where there are miners and over another 1-2 former state-owned large factories and that is all. In fact, the majority of the people are not at all bound in trade unions, even if some of them are formally allocating a few pennies from their monthly pay to the union.

Unlike Greece, the trade unions in Bulgaria cannot do anything. They can transport 300 miners to the protests by buses and that is all. I do not see what other role this could play other than being a provocation.

Tags: PoliticsBulgariaProtestsGovernmentIvan Bedrov
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