The longest day for Bulgaria

The longest day for Bulgaria


By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgarians woke up on June 21, in the northern hemisphere the longest day, to the news that after a marathon meeting of Bulgarian Socialist Party senior members, party leader Sergei Stanishev had won the vote of confidence that he asked.

But this hardly seems a resounding sign of confidence, as the meeting also discussed the series of major blunders by the BSP government and discussed the steps that government should take in the month ahead.

The soaring temperatures of the day also seemed to symbolise the ever-rising political temperatures of the streets, as in parallel with the BSP meeting on the night of June 20, anti-government protests brought many thousands of Bulgarians on to the streets of Sofia and all major cities – for the seventh night in a row.

One of the Facebook groups where the protests are organised gave the government to end of June 21 to resign, or its protest participants would seek to occupy the Sofia venue for the June 22 meeting of the Party of European Socialists.

There were also some tensions on the hot night of June 20 as some of the protesters marched in a progress past the Sofia headquarters of the parties involved in keeping the three-week-old government in place – the BSP, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and ultra-nationalists Ataka.

Outside one of the headquarters, a reporter was injured by falling glass after people threw bottles at the building. Protest participants blamed agents provocateur, a claim made after police intercepted and arrested agitators in the crowd earlier this week.

Those opposing the government, which by now is a very large number, going by a recent opinion poll, protest turnout and the fact that it is a government made up of minority parties, are regarding as worse than a bitter joke the continued insistence by Stanishev that this is an “expert” government.

The appointments have overwhelmingly largely been political, the result of political deals and one would have to look very hard to find anyone with even the most tenuous claim to being labelled an “expert”.

Investigations by reporters also showed that those protecting Ataka headquarters allegedly were being paid to be there, or at least some of them were. Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television found that men were being paid 30 leva (about 15 euro) to be present, but had a meet a minimum weight requirement. Separate reports said that those “spontaneously” guarding the Siderov headquarters were given cash and pizza.

In turn, the socialists continue to blame the protests, which bring an estimated 10 000 a night in to the streets of Sofia, on Boiko Borissov’s formerly ruling party GERB. No journalistic investigation has established this, and participants interviewed on-camera have said that they came of their own accord.

The same poll earlier this week also showed that the “expert” cabinet – in fact, a hodgepodge of faces put there by BSP-MRF deals – had the lowest approval rating of any administration in Bulgaria this early after taking office, compared with all others of the past two decades.

In turn, Plamen Oresharski, appointed to sit in the prime minister’s chair in the BSP government, also so far has declined to resign, saying that his departure would not help.

From a separate quarter, in a moment unprecedented in recent Bulgarian history, the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Neofit – elected in February – issued a statement extending his blessing to the protesters. It was a move in sharp contrast to the silence that reigned from the church for years on contemporary political events.

All of this makes the “confidence” expressed in Stanishev ring hollow, and to add up to no more than proof that in the more than a decade that he has led the party, there has been time for the national council to be packed with his allies, outnumbering the party veterans who want him out.

And all of this also made it seem that June 21 would be a long day indeed, the overture to a weekend expected to see even stronger protests and leading to more long days ahead.