Bulgaria’s protests, the sound and the fury

Bulgaria’s protests, the sound and the fury


By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Rather like the fine lady in the nursery rhyme, who has rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, and shall have music wherever she goes, it seems that Plamen Oresharski shall have the sound of protesters wherever he goes.

Anti-government protests in Bulgaria have been reinvigorated by the outcome of the Constitutional Court process by which controversial figure Delyan Peevski is a member of Parliament.

It was the appointment of Peevski, scion of a family with massive media ownerships and who sees himself a youthful success story, as the head of the State Agency for National Security that prompted public outrage that has continued for 119 days of protests. Those protests began to dwindle at the height of summer, but the end of the court process this week in turn inspired sufficient indignation to bump up the numbers on the streets.

Peevski, who did not come to Parliament in the months while the question of whether he was an MP was before the Constitutional Court after the opposition said that his short-lived SANS appointment meant the end of his tenure as a lawmaker, has not been seen in the House since the Constitutional Court process ended.

But by the nature of his post, Oresharski, appointed in May to sit in the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet, cannot be quite as elusive.

Oresharski is by no means the kind of photo-op figure as former prime minister Boiko Borissov, who at the time of his government tended to be ubiquitous, especially when it came to ribbon-cuttings. Given the high emotions in Bulgaria these past months against the government, Oresharski’s public appearances have tended to be carefully controlled.

But this does mean that he has been immune from exposure. At a September national event in Plovdiv, he was brought in by armoured vehicle and turned a deaf ear to protesters in the crowd shouting for his resignation.

In the internet age, and particularly the era of active use of social networks, word is spread quickly when there is a sighting of Oresharski, or one is expected.

Thus he was dogged when he came to the public broadcaster, Bulgarian National Television, for a live interview, and the Peevski Constitutional Court episode, the same night saw him having to be escorted by a phalanx of police as he sought to leave an art exhibition opening.

Before his exit, he was found inside the gallery amid the crowd by a reporter who thrust a microphone at him and asked a political question. His initial faint smile rapidly fading, Oresharski abruptly turned away: “I thought you were going to ask me about the exhibition,” he said, perhaps ill-advisedly believing that whatever skills he may have as an art critic were to be called for.

Again, on October 10, anti-government protesters spread the word that Oresharski was due to address the Hellenic Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce at a hotel in central Sofia.

A crowd was waiting as Oresharski arrived, but was thwarted from getting close as a large police presence ensured that Oresharski got into the hotel by a side entrance. He got his chance to address the Greek business people, but not without a National Security Service guard rapidly ripping off a door at the conference venue a sign – place there by an anonymous hand – reading “resign”.

Asked by a reporter how it felt that every time he had to enter places via back doors or through blockades, Oresharski said that he “felt wonderful” because there were so many things to do in the state.

Asked how long it would last, he said, “until the end of the term of office”.

The same evening, protesters made their march in central Sofia, adding up to 500 according to the Interior Ministry, well more than double that figure according to media reports.

Participants in the protest noted that the police approach to them had got tougher. Lately, it appears that police deployments have become larger – one report from the night of October 10 saying that there seemed to be as many police as there were protesters.

There was, however, some wry amusement at part of the police contingent arriving in a hired bus, on the side of which was written an advertising slogan for a chocolate company: “Dare to add some softness to every moment”.

In the context of the hardness of opinions in Bulgaria right now, it was a prospect that seemed improbable.