By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
As Bulgaria waits to see just when the Bulgarian Socialist Party government will resign, there is another question – on June 14, will anti-government protesters be celebrating victory or still campaigning?
The coming Saturday will be the first anniversary of the day that many thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets in protest against the election by the National Assembly on June 14 2013 of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security.
That appointment, made with the votes of the BSP and its ruling axis partner the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, was the catalyst for several months of street processions – mainly in Sofia – demanding the resignation of the government and fresh parliamentary elections.
Peevski’s appointment was withdrawn, with the government saying that it had been an error, but those in power steadfastly stood against demands for the cabinet’s resignation.
The protesters have been equally determined, staging an array of symbolic forms of protest, with events remaining largely peaceful with the exception of a July night in which there was a clash when – under circumstances that remain unexplained – a busload of MPs was directed towards a crowd of protesters. Protesters and police were injured in the ensuing confrontation.
The government declined, as several Western ambassadors and the head of state called on it to do, to heed the message being sent by civil society. The response of those in power was to float conspiracy theories that the protests were a front for an attempt by centre-right former ruling party GERB to get back the reins of power. Similarly, when the more reliable among Bulgaria’s opinion polls showed majority public support for the resignation of the government and fresh elections, this too was ignored.
In the end, what could not be ignored was the outcome of the European Parliament elections, in which the Bulgarian Socialist Party was dealt a stinging defeat. At first, the BSP essayed a denial, denouncing the result as unpersuasive because of relatively low turnout and hurling blame in various directions, such as at a rival left-wing minority party.
The catalyst for the beginning of the end has proved to be a June 5 news conference by the leader of the MRF, Lyutvi Mestan, at which the ruling axis partner said that the cabinet could not serve out a full term and the country had to go to elections, preferably around the end of November or beginning of December.
Matters accelerated further on June 10 when BSP leader Sergei Stanishev said that the cabinet should resign by Friday the 13th and elections should be held in July.
Should that resignation really take place by June 13, it might seem to some that the protest planned for June 14 would be redundant, at least in its original purpose.
The Facebook page of the event, on which more than 2200 people said they would attend the event (acknowledging that such statements of intent on Facebook are not always matched by reality), said that it was “time to finish the job”.
“Today and tomorrow’s government should be aware that civil society has woken up and watches over their every action,” the organisers of the event said on the page, appealing for people to come to Independence Square in Sofia or otherwise to organise protests locally.
The event is themed with the hashtag # DANSNoMore. This is a reference to the original Peevski protests, themed DANSWithMe – in turn, based on the Bulgarian-language abbreviation for the State Agency for National Security.
In the fast-unfolding political drama in Bulgaria, it is clear that the days before Saturday could hold new developments that will affect how the June 14 anniversary is marked.
Beyond that lie new debates – taking into account that the immediate political fate of Bulgaria is, for now, being decided by discussions among mainstream politicians from established parties, and is not being decided by the street. In turn, however, there is an issue that no one should fail to acknowledge: Would the outcome of the European Parliament elections have been as decisive had there not been the anti-government campaign of months to make a difference?