Sunday, June 23, 2013

Protests in Sofia, which have been overshadowed by Turkey and Brazil, began after the ruling coalition, a motley crew of Socialists, Ethnic Turks, and the Far Right, nominated and approved an unqualified and widely-believed-to-be-corrupt business man, Delyan Peevski, to head the country's FBI. His appointment was almost immediately rescinded, but this has done nothing to quell the protests. The feeling is that this appointment simply revealed the deep criminality inherent in all four of the parties represented in Parliament. This deep dissatisfaction (the ruling coalition currently has an approval rating of 23%) is manifested by nightly protest marches throughout the center of the city. On the 22nd, I went downtown with my friend Garth to see what would be the ninth consecutive night of marching.

At around Six-thirty pm, people began to congregate around the Cabinet building.
Within an hour, the square was over-flowing with thousands of people. Остаква! was the most popular cheer, meaning simply resignation.
The March proceeded though and around the center of the city for more than three hours.

I love you Bulgaria! They cannot take me away from you! 

The sign above includes the ascription ИНТЕРНЕТ ЛУМПЕН, an expression that a politician used to dismiss the protesters as, "Internet Ragamuffins", but which has been reappropriated by the protesters.

Many families march; both strollers and canes are attending. 

From the daily newspaper Труд
Initially the protesters were dismissed as having been bought by the opposition party, the center-right GERB. In response, this protester's sign reads, "And I am not paid! I hate you for free!" Another popular sign reads simply, "Enough" and then has each of the four parties on parliament crossed out. The protesters chant, "Red Trash" to the socialists, "Mafia" at the ethnic Turkish party office , and to avoid giving it media coverage, ignore the far right ATAKA's offices completely.

The parade route goes by all of the major centers of the city. I think that it would take about an hour for the whole march to pass any single location. 

But what now? Of course, the marches may fizzle out. But if they continue? Towards the end of the march, I began to feel that the situation was clearly untenable. If the protests continue at this level, effectively shutting down the city each evening, even without a general strike, I think the government would be forced to resign in the coming weeks. But as for what comes after the resignation that the protesters cry out for, no one seems to be able to say.  New elections, of course, but there is no new party with the apparatus to take advantage. Certainly it would seem likely that GERB, who ran the government until the Prime Minister resigned in the face of much smaller protests a few months ago, would benefit. Despite receiving the plurality of votes in the recent elections, they couldn't muster a majority in the face of the antipathy of the other three parties. GERB too is mired in corruption scandals and incompetence, and almost no one views them as the messiah that the crowds seem to seek.

Astute watchers should have seen this coming. Because of the 4% threshold that is required for a party to enter Parliament, more than a quarter of Bulgarians who voted for smaller parties in the last election are entirely unrepresented. Without any viable alternative, without figures untainted by the moral compromises that have been required for power over the last twenty years, "Throw the bums out!" threatens to simply allow a revolving door of differently constituted coalitions of the same old parties. At the end of the route, marching through the dark, I saw power enough to topple a government but not yet nearly enough to rebuild it.