By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
A hot June night outside the Sofia headquarters of ultra-nationalists Ataka saw the latest drama in the anger of anti-government protesters against the party seen as collaborating with the Bulgarian Socialist Party-Movement for Rights and Freedoms government.
In contrast to the overall peacefulness of the civil protests that by the night of June 17 had brought several thousand Bulgarians on to the streets of Sofia and other major cities, it was reported that one Ataka supporter and a protester had been injured in a clash.
The protests that began on June 14 had as their catalyst the nomination of controversial MRF MP Delyan Peevski to head the State Agency for National Security, but now seek the resignation of a government seen by many as having discredited itself in just three weeks.
That government was voted into office only because Ataka leader Volen Siderov provided the vote needed for Parliament to have a quorum.
For that, his critics have sharply derided him for colluding with Ataka’s traditional political enemy, the MRF, which in the main is led and supported by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity.
Soon after the government was formed, a Saturday protest – the BSP and MRF alleged that it was organised by centre-right former ruling party GERB, which had been unable to form a government – saw a breakaway group head to Ataka headquarters, where they shouted abuse while some threw objects at the building.
After that incident, Siderov complained to the mayor of Sofia about inadequate police response.
As the incident around Peevski deepened, Siderov alleged that GERB was seeking to destabilise the country through the protests.
The protests have been organised on Facebook and GERB has insisted that it has no hand in them. At the protest events, there have been posters and slogans decrying GERB as part of a corrupt political establishment, and on June 17, some of the protesters marched on GERB headquarters to show that they were even-handed in their rejection of the parties in Parliament.
Towards the end of 2012, it had seemed that Siderov was facing political doom after the several scandals that had wracked his party. But the early 2013 protests, mobilised around resentment against high electricity prices and foreign-owned electricity distributors, issues that Siderov had been seeking to push for several months, meant a political revival for him.
Ataka was voted into Parliament for the third time, now becoming the fourth of four parties in the National Assembly, lending it a role in the power games of the BSP and MRF, much as Siderov denied that he was part of any such thing.
Because of his tacit involvement with the current government, Siderov has been lampooned, with protesters holding posters depicting him wearing a fez.
In the face of protests that have drawn numbers that clearly have left those in power wrong-footed, Siderov has sought to regain traction.
On June 17, he organised a counter-protest, even using beefy supporters to illegally block off a road at the junction near his party headquarters. The Interior Ministry confirmed that the road blockage was illegal and the case was being investigated.
Siderov has been insisting that he is at risk. At the time the government was voted into office, he appeared at Parliament with a phalanx of bodyguards.
He has been filmed getting into altercations with an employee of a television station owned by a rival ultra-nationalist and allegedly, on June 16, tried to beat up a reporter from cable channel Kanal 3.
These are among episodes that led to the situation on the night of June 17, as a thick police cordon kept apart the pro- and anti-Ataka groups. Objects were thrown and obscenities exchanged, while among some of the protesters against Siderov’s party, there were chants of “you are Turks” and “Janissaries”, emotive terms against the background of Bulgarian sentiment about the centuries of Ottoman rule and Ataka’s own policies.
The Ataka furore is only part of a much bigger picture as the BSP tries to find a path to the political survival of the current government. The recent days of drama have seen protests in some cities against the appointment of regional governors from the MRF. In some cases, among those objecting are at least one powerful figure from the BSP, in the city of Plovdiv.
In the event that matters reach the critical mass that would force out the government and open the way for another election, it remains to be seen whether Siderov’s resurrection would prove to have been temporary or perhaps merely partial.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)