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February 14 2014

A Visitor Describes How it Feels to be Mugged by Bulgarian Police

Central Bus Station Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, published on Wikipedia under CC-BY license.

Central Bus Station in Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, used under Creative Commons-BY license.

Political scientist and blogger Anastas Vangeli described his experience of extortion by Bulgarian policemen on his way from Macedonia to Poland, in a Facebook post. On February 9, 2014, two armed officers “detained” him at a secluded area of the main bus station in Sofia, until he gave them some money. In conclusion, he wrote:

This was probably one of the most disappointing experiences in my lifetime. What added to the disappointment, however, were the comments and the double victimization by people when I told them this happened:

  • I was asking for it since I look “like a foreigner” and rich
  • I was asking for it since I was bragging with my China books and looked rich
  • I was supposed to know and expect this kind of things
  • I was supposed to hold my grounds better, e.g. not let them take me to a room, not let them get my money
  • I am supposed not to complain, as this stuff happens every day and I am not special

These are all statements that not speak only of the reality of omnipresent corruption and abuse of office and power, but about the complete lack of empathy, or even consciousness that one day it might be you. Moreover, it is an indicator that people have given up the hope that things will change; but also the responsibility that they should contribute to such change. At the end of the day, the state holds the monopoly of the use of force; I was mugged by those who are supposed to protect me (even though I don’t have a Bulgarian passport – no pun intended). So all kinds of relativizing comments are completely out of place on this.

These reactions are consistent with one of the key characteristics of “backsliding from democracy,” exposed at the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held in Lima, in October 2012:

“…corruption becomes so widespread that citizens accept is as a norm.”

People commenting (in various languages) on Vangeli's Facebook post about the incident reminisced that such a “toll for foreigners” was common Bulgarian police practice during the dismal 1990s – but that they had not expected its resurgence in this day and age. Some of the commenters related similar experiences from other countries, from Russia to Kenya. Activist Besim Nebiu wrote:

Notice how they immediately asked you if you have a flight to catch at the airport. That gave them the ‘upper hand’ in dealing with you. A friend of mine who lives in Kenya, once wrote a blog post, in which he describes how corrupt police have “opportunity cost” (8 hours shifts in which they try to maximize revenue). They usually avoid “difficult customers,” so any strategy of acting dumb and not too upset should work, after 15 minutes, they give up on you, and move to someone easier to deal with.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police. Source: Ministry of Interior.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police presented [bg] on the website of Ministry of Interior Affairs. According to the victim, the officers in question wore green and carried badges of common police (“Ohranitelna Politsiya”), which according to the Ministry wears dark blue uniforms.

Bulgarian blogger Komitata translated Vangeli's post within his post [bg] titled “They Protect Us and It's No Theater,” which includes opinions about the local context of wasted state resources on questionable police actions praised by the relevant minister:

Системата на МВР не е реформирана. Предното неслужебно правителство положи големи усилия, но поради липса на решителност и политическа воля, реформите останаха скромни и далеч не необратими.

The system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not reformed. The previous government invested great efforts, but due to lack of decisiveness and political will, the reforms remain modest and far from irreversible.

In his post, Komitata also referred to Twitter discussion [bg] in which Bulgarians ask whether the police have the right to search them at the bus station, and pointed to information on citizen rights during police searches [bg].

November 22 2013

GV Face: Students Occupy Bulgaria's Future

Bulgarian students have occupied key universities in their country, bringing academic activities to a resounding halt for the last few weeks. Their revolt is part of larger anti-government protests that have rocked the country since June, with demands that the government resign because of widespread poverty and corruption.This Friday on GV Face we talk about the future of Bulgaria's protests with our Bulgaria authors Rayna St (@MaliciaRogue), Nevena Borisova and Ruslan Trad (@ruslantrad) along with our Central and Eastern European Editor Danica Radisic (@NikiBGD).

The organizers of the latest spontaneous occupation pledged they wouldn't meddle with any political force in the country. Their blockade began when a group of indignant students occupied the largest lecture hall at the the oldest and most prestigious university in capital city Sofia.

The desperation of many Bulgarians has been marked by a series of self-immolations since the start of the year. At least nine people have burnt themselves to death.

On November 10, thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets to mark the 150th day of anti-government demonstrations, chanting “resign,” “mafia” and “shame on you” as they passed parliament.

Hangout participants:

Rayna is a PhD and research fellow at Paris Descartes University, a self-described geek and DIYbio hacker, working to achieve gender equality in science and tech. She's also an Editor for Global Voices Bulgarian, and a board member of the French chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation.Ruslan is a Syrian-Bulgarian blogger. He's the founder of @arabculture and co-founder of Global Voices in Bulgarian.

Nevena has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, from Sofia University, and has studied Sociology as a second university program. She worked as an international News Editor at the Bulgarian Information Agency Focus for two years and as an editor and screenwriter at the Bulgarian National Television for two years. She is currently doing two Master’s degrees in Literature, Cinema and Visual Culture, and in Human Resources Development.

Danica is our Central and Eastern Europe Editor. She's speaks Serbian, English and Portuguese fluently. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and US.
Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 17 2013

Waiting for Freedom of the Press in Bulgaria

Caricature of the former prime-minister and media by Christo Komarnitzki.  Used with permission

Caricature of the former Prime Minister and media by Christo Komarnitzki, used with permission

More than 20 years after the instatement of democracy in Bulgaria, the country should be well out of a transitional period, at least regarding basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech and media freedom. This, however, is not the case. According to some recent studies and public sentiment, Bulgaria is rated as the country with the worst state of media freedom among EU member states.

A few months before the resignation of his cabinet, former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov made a controversial public comment after website Bivol, a partner of Wikileaks in Bulgaria, had published a document that allegedly revealed [bg, pdf] that the now former Prime Minister had been under police investigation in the 1990s. This comment to media representatives from Borisov came only four days after he announced on Bulgarian National Television that he wasn't controlling the media in the country:

The thing they [Bivol] did, I can do to all of you who are standing here today. I can order the [government] agencies to form similar trials against all of your journalists, or anyone.

Along with issues of government corruption and social inequality, which first sparked mass protests almost immediately after the new polls in May and then an occupation of Bulgarian universities by students, key issues in the country include the state of freedom of the press in Bulgaria, which now seems to be on the public agenda.

On September 16, 2013, the car of Bulgarian journalist and co-host of a popular morning show on bTV Genka Shikerova, known for her in-depth interviews of Bulgarian politicians, was set on fire outside her home in Sofia, bringing more concern about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Bulgaria. Reporters Without Borders published an interview with Shikerova recently, while OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović urged “swift investigation” into the suspected arson attack.

Mijatovic had also made an earlier official statement regarding threats against journalists in Bulgaria after a television crew from Bulgarian SKAT TV was verbally and physically assaulted by Ataka Party leader Volen Siderov and other members of his political party in Bourgas while trying to interview him. In this statement, she said:

Such intimidation not only threatens the affected journalists, it can also harm free expression and have a chilling effect on media freedom.

According to a Freedom House study of democratic development in 29 countries Bulgaria is also rated as one of the five countries in Europe, along with Russia, Kosovo, Estonia and Romania, which face democratic issues and challenges. In the report Freedom of the Press 2013, a part devoted to developments in Bulgaria states:

A number of private newspapers publish daily, and most are owned by two rival companies. Two of the three leading national television stations, bTV and Nova TV, are owned by foreign companies. The third is state-owned Bulgarian National Television (BNT). Like Bulgarian National Radio, BNT generally provides news coverage without a clear political bias, but the legal structure leaves public media vulnerable to potential government interference.[...] The New Bulgarian Media Group, which takes a staunchly pro-government line, continued to acquire outlets during the year, raising concerns about concentration.

Alternative information outlets

Students occupy Sofia University and use laptops to send information out; photo from the Early-wakening students Facebook fan page, used with permission.

Students occupy Sofia University and use laptops to send information out; photo from the Early-waking students Facebook fan page, used with permission.

With the traditional media landscape as closed as it is in the country, many are turning to social media and websites as alternative sources of information. Many people are turning mainly to small or mid-sized websites that are not owned by any of the big media companies to stay informed.

Orlin Spasov, a Bulgarian media expert and director of Media Democracy Foundation, commented [bg] on a Bulgarian news site about the media situation in relation to the polls in May:

Много медии следват политическата конюнктура и се ориентират не ценностно, а спрямо нея, пиковете в подкрепа на една или друга политическа формация са основен ориентир на голяма част от българските медии.[...]

Нашите изследвания показват, че социалният интернет – Фейсбук, блоговете, сайтовете за видеосподеляне – се радват почти на толкова голяма степен на доверие, както и телевизията.

Many media follow the political conjuncture and they orientate not according to values, but according to this [politics] and pick in support for one political formation or another, as a main point of orientation for a large part of the Bulgarian media.[...]

Our research shows that the social web – Facebook, blogs, video exchange sites – enjoy almost as much [public] trust as television.

Twitter user @zzdravkov tweeted a sentiment that seems to be becoming more common in Bulgaria:

I wonder whether it is too hard for the governments from the last six years now that phones with cameras have appeared, as well as the Internet and social networks?

— zzdravkov (@zzdravkov) October 13, 2013

Social media has played a key role in protests for a large part of Bulgarians who use the Internet. According to research [bg], in 2012, 57 percent of Bulgarian citizens use the Internet regularly, and earlier studies point out that over two million people in Bulgaria were active Facebook users in 2009 alone.

In a story about the recent developments in Bulgaria, Euronews points out that social media emerged as a crucial source of information in leading both the anti-government protests that began in June and the current sit-ins by students at several Bulgarian universities:

#ДАНСwithme has become the main hashtag – along with #Bulgaria, naturally – around which tweets, videos, blogposts and messages about the demonstrations have focused.[...]

Protesters on the internet are using both blogs and social media to voice their anger and let the world know their feelings about the political situation in Bulgaria.

In a blog post [bg] titled “About the Success Reached and the Possible (Eventual) Victory of the Protests”, Professor Nikolay Slatinsky wrote:

Хубавото на социалните мрежи и блоговете е и това, че те помнят и пазят позиции, мнения, становища, виждания – кой какво е писал, казал, изрекъл, споделил преди време и когато е трябвало, а не post factum.

The nice thing about social networks and blogs is that they remember and save stated positions, opinions and points of view – what someone has written, said, shared in the past, and when it was needed, not post factum [after the fact].

Many observers and bloggers in Bulgaria reflect on whether the energy expressed on online networks is a reason for social developments, such as the recent protests, or a consequence. Slatinsky adds:

На протестите трябва да се гледа и мисли малко по-различно (Защото сме не в 20 век, а в мрежовото общество на 21 век)[...]
А това е време на мрежовите структури, а не на йерархическите (каквито са и партиите); на социалните мобилизации по хоризонтала, а не по вертикала; на спонтанно възникващите общности; на автентичните изблици на обществена енергия; на стихийните самоорганизации.

One should view and think about the protests a bit differently (because we are not in the 20th century but in the networked society of the 21st century)[...] And this is a time of network structures, not of the hierarchal ones (like those belonging to the parties); of social horizontal mobilizations and not vertical ones; of spontaneously born communities; of authentic eruptions of social energy.

Bulgarian journalist and blogger Ruslan Jordanov writes on his blog about the phenomenon of the power of social mobilization on online networks:

Прощъпулникът на гражданската съпротива показва нещо много важно -
всеки е медия, всеки е журналист, от всеки нещо /или много/ зависи.

The first steps of the citizen opposition show something very important -
everyone is media, everyone is a journalist and something /or much/ depends on everyone.

November 09 2013

Bulgarian Students Occupy the Country's Future

Protesting students in front of the Sofia University St. Kl. Ohridski. Photo from Early-wakening students' Facebook page. Used with permission.

Students protest in front of the Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. Photo courtesy of Early-wakening Students’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

“We build the future”, a group of Bulgarian students announced loudly on October 23, 2013 holding colorful signs, declaring a permanent blockade in key universities in the Eastern European country which only recently was rocked by anti-government protests. The students are demanding, along with other citizens, that the current Bulgarian government step down because of several controversial decisions by Parliament and widespread corruption in the country.

The organizers of the occupation called their spontaneous movement “The Early-wakening Students” and pledged they wouldn't meddle with any political force in the country. The blokade began when a group of indignant students occupied the largest lecture hall, number 272, of the St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia, the oldest and most prestigious Bulgarian university. The students announced their dissatisfaction with a decision of the Constitutional Court to reinstate the parliamentary rights of а contradictory deputy.

Previously, on June 14, 2013, a parliamentary vote to appoint Delyan Peevski to head the country's National Security Agency was the reason for an eruption of large anti-government protests of thousands of people.

In a few declarations, including the latest one in the first days of November, the students demanded that the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party resign and that the 42nd National Assembly be dissolved. In a portion of their latest statement [bg] that the student group published on their Facebook page, which now has over 24,370 followers, they said:

Ние, Ранобудните студенти, сме обединени от убеждението, че държавата ни се намира в тежка политическа и още по-тежка ценностна криза. Обединени сме от възмущението си, предизвикано от липсата на морал и политическата безотговорност на народните представители. Протестът ни е срещу ежедневно демонстрирания от политиците цинизъм, задкулисие и липса на чуваемост. Смятаме, че настоящото правителство, олицетворява всички тези недъзи на българския политически и обществен живот. 42-то Народно събрание на Р. България е изчерпано откъм легитимност…

We, the Early-wakening students, are united by the conviction that our country is in a tough political and even tougher value crisis. We are united by our indignation, born from the lack of moral and political irresponsibility of the deputies. Our protest is against the daily demonstration of political cynicism, backroom deals and a lack channels for voices to be heard. We think that the present government embodies all those defects of Bulgarian political and public life. The 42nd National Assembly is depleted in terms of legitimacy…

The universities blocked are open for students to attend. There are no official statistics about how many students have joined the occupation. Konstantin Golev, a history PhD student at the university and one of the active “occupiers”, suggested that in one of the most crowded days in the first week of October, there were 400 or 500 people who came and sat in the main hall just on one of the first evenings. According to him, approximately 150 people are the core of the occupation of the main Bulgarian university, including people who work in shifts to guard the doors of the university and write lists of people who have entered.

The reasons of the occupation are said to be rooted in the action of three students from the University in Sofia, who stretched a placard in Parliament that said: “Aren’t you ashamed?!”. After less than a minute, they were being moved out of the hall and escorted to the cabinet of the National Assembly’s Chairperson, Mihail Mikov. According to the students and some media [bg], Mikov said he doesn’t “care” about the students’ opinion.

Soon after the beginning of the blockade, over 200 university professors announced their support for the students’ initiative. At the same time, after a debate, the Sofia University Academic Council expressed disapproval of the blockade, announcing that the students have a right to protest, but should not hamper the university's work processes.

Meanwhile students from other universities in the capital and other cities supported the occupation in a similar manner. Students from the National Theater Academy made a protesting flash mob performance as a sign of solidarity. The inscription on the street mob was OSTAVKA (RESIGNATION) and parts of this performance can be seen in this video:

Student with a sign:

Student with a sign that says “resignation” on his back. Photo from the Early-wakening Students’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

Kiril Chukanov, another PhD student from the Faculty of History and one of the main representatives of the protesting student group, stated [bg]:

Това, което се случва в университета, е отражение на извънредното положение на събитията в страната.
Ние няма никога да отстъпим от тези принципи, които имаме, и окупацията ще продължи до оставка, защото знаете, че оставката за нас не е цел, тя е само първа стъпка за това, което ние се борим, а то е реална промяна в системата

The events happening at the university are a reflection of the extraordinary situation of the developments in the country. We will never step back from those principles that we have and the occupation will continue, because the resignation is not a goal for us. It is only a first step towards that for which we fight and this is a real change in the system.

In the public space and some media, there are opinions of support that express concern that no change is really possible in a country that has no political alternative. An editorial of E-vestnik, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, said:

Лошата новина сега е, че студентската окупация ще свърши зле. Зле за всички страни. Управляващите продължават да натрупват негативи и стават все по-омразни. Но не само те. И окупаторите и подкрепящите ги преподаватели, партии и т. н. също трупат негативи. Просто разделението в обществото продължава. Това, което е красиво и достойно за едни, е недостойно за други.

The bad news now is that the student occupation will end badly. In a bad way for every side. The authorities continue gathering negative points and they are gaining more disapproval. But they are not the only ones. And the people who occupy, the supportive professors and political parties are also heaping negative points. The division of society just continues. The thing that seems beautiful and full of dignity for some people is deprived of dignity for others.

It added:

Протестът не роди нов политически субект, а беше от полза на съществуващите партии – ГЕРБ и изпадналите от парламента десни. Протестът не роди нови политически лидери, не поиска конкретни реформи. Зацикли на посланията „Оставка”, „Червени боклуци” и „Кой издигна Пеевски?”. Няма как да събереш мнозинството българи под тези лозунги”.

The protest didn’t give birth to a new political subject, it gave benefits to the existing parties like the former ruling party of GERB and to forces from the right who remained outside the National Assembly. The protest didn’t give birth to new political leaders, it didn’t call for any specific reforms. It got stuck on messages like: “Resignations”, “Red trash” and “Who appointed Peevski?”. And one cannot gather the majority of the Bulgarians under those slogans.

According to research [bg] conducted from October 26 to 31, 2013, in different regions of Bulgaria, 60 percent of Bulgarian citizens support the occupation.

Ivaylo Dinev is one of the initiators of the of the Early-wakening occupation. Dinev, who holds a Master's degree in Cultural Anthropology and a Bachelor's in History and Contemporary Times in Southeast Europe, also heads a movement called “Change for the Students”. On the online platform Sofialive, Ivaylo said:

Окупацията не е толкова шокираща. В последните години всяка балканска държава имаше студентска окупация. При нас не е имало от 16 години и всеки е: „Оу, ау, какви са тия? Някакви екстремисти!” Ами, не, не сме екстремисти и, не, не сме нахълтали изведнъж. Ние от четири години организираме събития, прожекции, акции, конференции…

The occupation is not so shocking. In the last years every Balkan country had a student occupation. We didn’t have such in the last 16 years and now everyone says: “Oh, who are those people? Some kind of extremists!”. Well, no, we are not extremists and didn’t invade in a sudden. Since four years we organize events, movie projections, actions, conferences…

Ivaylo added:

Осъзнаваме, че сме се влели във времето. Или ще сме провал, или ще сме за пример.”

We realize that we are in line with the times. And we will either be a failure or an example for others to.

July 09 2013

Bulgarian Protesters March Kilometers to Challenge Government

After 27 days of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, the leadership of this Eastern European country has so far made no changes.

The mass protests, which began on June 14, 2013 after the appointment of a controversial deputy, Delyan Peevski, to head the Bulgarian National Security agency, have steadily grown in the number of citizens joining the daily demonstrations in the streets of the capital Sofia and other cities. Although Peevski immediately resigned from the position, protesters are asking that the newly formed government, elected in May of this year, to step down and major reforms in several sectors be made.

On Sunday, July 7, the number of protesters in the streets of the Bulgarian capital was unprecedented, as tens of thousands of citizens marched in the streets, again demanding the resignation of the current regime. The ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, with the allied ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) by their side, refused to relinquish power despite the protests, which specifically call for more transparency and less corruption in government, action against organised crime, and an end to the “rule of oligarchy”.

Bulgarian protesters show solidarity with fellow protesters in other countries; image meme courtesy of Revolution News.

Bulgarian protesters show solidarity with fellow protesters in other countries. Image meme courtesy of Revolution News.

On June 27 on an official visit to Brussels, the Bulgarian prime minister stated that he has no intention of resigning until he has parliamentary support to do so. When asked about the appointment of Peevski, a MRF deputy, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski admitted that it was a political mistake which, in his own words, “is not a sufficient reason for a resignation”.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes of the protests, Bulgarian police officials decided to stop announcing the number of the protesters [bg], pointing out that they do not want to cause any political conflicts.

At the same time, alternative online media are highly critical of previous announcements by police as to the scope of the protests. In response to this, a massive number of protesters strayed from their already traditional trajectory to government headquarters and poured into the streets on Sunday, the twenty-fifth day of the protests, with the particular aim of filling the three-kilometer space between Orlov most (Eagles’ Bridge), downtown Sofia, and the Pliska hotel. In the days prior to this, “Let’s fill the space in between Orlov most and Pliska hotel” was one of the popular slogans seen on Facebook.

A sea of protesters fill the 3 kilometer distance from the Rectorate at Orlov most to the Pliska hotel; photo courtesy of From the Rectorate to Pliska Hotel Facebook fan page.

A sea of protesters fill the three-kilometer distance from the Rectorate at Orlov most to the Plska hotel. Photo courtesy of “From the Rectorate to Pliska Hotel” Facebook page.

As Offnews reports, tens of thousands of people [bg] stretched over the long path to Pliska hotel. The numbers that this article and other alternative media refer to contradict the information given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that there were barely 3,000 people [bg] gathered at the protests. Offnews adds that in the beginning of the evening there were 15,000 people just at Orlov most at 10:15 in the evening. A banner on the side of the road read: “Bulgaria is ours, the bill is yours.”

On Monday, after some review of the previous day's events, media reported that Sunday's #ДАНСwithме protest, a popular hashtag for the protests, was the largest to date. Bulgarian National Radio reported [bg]:

Хора, занимавали се с охрана на масови мероприятия, заявиха, че според тях са присъствали между 30 000 и 40 000 души.

People who have experience dealing with protection of mass events, said that according to them between 30 and 40,000 people attended.

A page titled “The Bulgarian Vagabond” (“vagabond” is now common mockery in Bulgaria of a socialist deputy, Hristo Monov, who called the protesters “vagabonds”) was started on Facebook to mock the discrepancies between unofficial sources and official information.

Journalist Tony Nikolov wrote in the online edition of Kultura magazine:

Масовият протест на гражданите би трябвало да се възприеме от властта в България като въпрос, на който тя дължи незабавен отговор. Никакъв отговор обаче няма – повече от 20 дни, с което се стигна до ситуацията „парламент под обсада”.

The mass citizen protest should be perceived by the authorities as a question to which it owеs an immediate answer. However there isn't any kind of answer – more than 20 days, which lead to the situation “a parliament under siege”…

The situation formed gives us the right to make the following conclusions. First, the people who rule over us, do not care for democratic rules, for their dignity, nor do they respect the dignity of those who have sent them to the parliament or to the high levels of power. They prefer to rule behind police rows. To pretend to be blind and deaf. With the sole hope to stay a little more on power in the name of small party, personal and corporate interests.

The Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev expressed his opinion on Facebook about the reactions by authorities:

Те съзнават, че не биха могли да устоят на пряк конфликт. Изплашени са. Затова го избягват на всяка цена. Ще има извинения, прошки, рокади, размествания, решения, протакане, имитации, няколко глави ще бъдат хвърлени на улицата…

They [the authorities] know that they wouldn't stand a direct conflict. They are frightened. And that is why they avoid it. There will be apologies made, forgiveness, castling, changes of places, decisions, prolonging, imitation, few heads would be thrown out on the street.

In one of the most commented articles on social networks, originally posted in the newspaper Standartnews, young journalist Raiko Baichev wrote:

А сега протестите имат нужда от едно: постоянство. Най-трудното е. Погледнете всички по-лекички избухвания на недоволство през последните години. Тия пичове с властта му знаят тактиката – чакат. Чакат като луди. Да прощавате за тъпото сравнение, но протестите май са като любовта и имат същите фази – разгар, пик и угасване. В момента ви чакат да идете на море. Надеждите им са във вашия петък вечер, вашата планина, вашитe палатки и плажове. Чакат ви да се изповлюбите…

And now, the protests need one thing: persistence. It is the most difficult thing. Look at all those lighter explosions of discontent in the recent years. These dudes in power know the tactics – they are waiting. They are waiting like mad people. Forgive my stupid comparison, but the protests seem to be like love and they have the same phases – height, culmination and dying away. At the moment they are waiting for you to go at the seaside. Their hopes are in your Friday evening, your mountain, your tents and beaches. They are waiting for you to fall in love…

A ballet dancer performing on the streets in a sign of solidarity with the Sunday protests; photo by Ivo Mirchev, used with permission.

A ballet dancer performing on the streets in a sign of solidarity with the Sunday protests. Photo by Ivo Mirchev. Used with permission.

June 19 2013

Anti-Government Protests Rock Bulgaria's New Leadership

The appointment of a controversial deputy from Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish political party as the head of the country's National Security Agency has set in motion a wave of massive protests throughout the country against the two-week-old government.

More than 10,000 people gathered in the capital city of Sofia on June 14, 2013 after Delyan Peevski, a media magnate and a member of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), who has been involved in several corruption scandals in recent years, was confirmed for the key post after just a 15-minute vote in the National Assembly without any debate.

The enormous protest was organized within a few hours through social networks and, although torrential rain poured on the city, thousands of people showed up in front of government headquarters. Protests were organized in provincial areas of the country as well.

Thousands gather to protests in the streets of Sofia. (Photo used with permission)

Thousands gather to protest in the streets of Sofia. Photo from Saprotiva resistance website. Used with permission.

After the first day of the unexpected mass protests, Peevski announced that he is ready to withdraw from the post.

Despite Peevski’s announcement, in the following days the protests continued on an even larger scale. On June 16, 15,000 people gathered for an anti-government protest against the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and the allied ethnic Turkish MRF Party, who had previously endorsed Peevski's appointment.

The demonstrations are putting pressure on the new government, which only came to power with the May 12, 2013 election after the resignation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's government in February. That government stepped down following nationwide protests against high electricity prices, low living standards, and multiple corruption scandals. Those still recent protests, unprecedented at the time, are now being rivaled by the enormity of the current demonstrations, which appear to be even bigger.

Bulgarian blogger and journalist Ruslan Trad expressed [bg] his own observations about the protesters this time around on Facebook:

Не мога да отрека едно много важно нещо за сегашните протести- профилът на недоволните е различен. Видях много мои любими хора, приятели, познати, някои от които никога не са протестирали. Представете си колко мотивация им дава правителството, за да излязат на улицата?

I cannot deny one thing of high importance related to the protests – the profile of the indignant is different now. I saw many of my beloved people, people I know, some of whom have never protested. Imagine what motivation they have because of the government in order to go out in the street?

Journalist Luboslava Russeva had this to say [bg] about the events and Peevski's background, marked by a streak of scandals and controversies:

Да се коментира този чудовищен цинизъм изглежда трудна задача, така че ще пробвам да загрея с някои факти от възходящата кариера на „силната ръка“.

„Капитал“ припомня, че най-големият скандал, в който е замесено името му към онзи момент, е свързан с приватизацията на столичната зала „Универсиада“ и спортния комплекс „Тотошанс“ в Златни пясъци.

Историята е следната:
Майката на Пеевски – Ирена Кръстева, е шеф на Българския спортен тотализатор. Покрай нея, синът се сближава със спортния министър Васил Иванов-Лучано. Така имотите се оказват апортирани от държавната фирма „Олимпика“ ЕАД в смесено дружество, в което участва частна фирма, свързвана със самия Лучано.

It seems to be a difficult task for one to comment on this monstrous cynicism, so I will try to warm up with some facts about the progressive career of Mr. “Strong Arm”.

The Bulgarian weekly newspaper Capital reminds us of the biggest scandal which Peevski's name is attached to, which is related to the privatisation of Universiade Hall in Sofia and a sport complex in the seaside resort Goled Sands.

The story goes as follows:
Peevski's mother – Irena Krasteva, is the head of the Bulgarian Sports Totalizator [Bulgarian national lottery organization]. Along with her, Peevski became close to then Minister of Sport Vasil Ivanov – Lucano. And that is how these properties are revealed to have been separated from a state company into public-private partnership, in which a private company participates, and Lucano's name is related.

In recent years, corruption scandals such as the one described by Russeva above have become common practice and common knowledge among Bulgarian citizens. Among other such scandals, Delyan Peevski was fired in 2007 from his then post as Deputy Minister for Disaster Management after a corruption row. As Sofia Echo reported then, Peevski was restored to the post of examining magistrate in Sofia by a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on November 14, 2007. Due to this history, Peevski's appointment for the head of the National Security Agency earned strong reactions online.

A protester in Sofia carries a sign saying: "The lack of evolution in you leads to a revolution in us!" (Photo used with permission)

A protester in Sofia carries a sign saying: “The lack of evolution in you leads to a revolution in us!” Photo by Ivaylo Nenov. Used with permission.

Another Bulgarian journalist, Svetlana Georgieva, lamented the appointment [bg] of Peevski in an editorial in the daily newspaper Sega:

Най-тежките ни кошмари се сбъднаха. България вече не е демократична парламентарна република. След избора на Делян Пеевски за председател на Държавната агенция “Национална сигурност” (ДАНС), след най-вонящата сделка на века, България е с олигархично държавно устройство.

One of our worst nightmares became reality. Bulgaria is not a democratic parliamentary republic anymore. After the appointment of Delyan Peevski as Head of Bulgaria's National Security Agency, after the most repulsive deal of the century, Bulgaria has an oligarchic structure.

Christo Komartnitski, one of Bulgaria's most famous caricaturists, wrote [bg] on Facebook:

Добре де, като се замислих, каква новина е, че мафията си има държава?

Okay, when you think about it, what kind of news is this – the mafia has its own country.

Ivan Bakalov, editor-in-chief of, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, commented [bg] in an editorial about the ruling class:

Те напълно изпариха впечатлението, че има нещо експертно в този кабинет. Дори някои министри заради избора на Пеевски станаха смешни и търпят негативи, че участват в този кабинет.
Умряха надеждите, че България има що годе разумно правителство, което ще спасява страната след управлението на ГЕРБ.

They [the politicians in power] absolutely destroyed the impression that there is any expertise in this cabinet. And even some ministers became ridiculous because of Peevski's appointment and they suffer of the negativity they are part of this particular cabinet.
The hope that Bulgaria has a relatively reasonable government, which will save the country after the ruling of GERB [the former ruling party], has died.

Bakalov added:

Орешарски и БСП имаха звезден миг, който изпуснаха – можеха да се опънат на натиска на ДПС за Пеевски, с цената на отказ от правителство, нови избори наесен и т н. И щяха да оберат овациите и да получат подкрепа от избиратели извън своята периферия. Сега правителството е под въпрос. Не може да се предвиди кога ще има избори.

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski and the Bulgarian Socialist Party had its moment of fame, which they lost – they could have resisted MRF's pressure for Peevski to be chosen and the cost would have been their resignation and new elections in the autumn. And they could have been applauded for that and have received support from voters out of their perimeter. Now the government's existence is questionable. And one cannot predict when elections will be called.

As the previous government resigned and called for an early election following protests, it seems the same is expected of this government or rather of part of the ruling majority, the Socialist Party. Some, as Bakalov above, are revolted that the Socialist Party seems to be giving in to the pressure of the MRF, with whom they have formed the ruling majority, to preserve this new government. The protests and mass dissatisfaction with the government in Bulgaria continue.

Reposted bymofo mofo

May 27 2013

Alphabets Bring Joy and Sadness to Bulgaria

[...] One of the purest and most sacred holidays in Bulgaria! It's a celebration that makes us proud to have given something to the world! It's a holiday which is not related to any rebels, battles or violence, although it fills us with patriotism and joy. [...] When you walk on the streets, foreign signs and directions, they far exceed our domestic ones. [...]


May 07 2013

Crowdsourcing a Fair Election in Bulgaria

The government of Boyko Borisov fell on Feb. 20, 2013 after a month of incessant protests, and in less than five days, on May 12, Bulgarian citizens will elect a new parliament (an in-depth GV text is here).

There are doubts, however, about the fairness of the upcoming vote. To help monitor the violations of the electoral process, Bulgarian activists have created several online tools.

  • Аз Гласувам ["I Vote"; bg] was created by Institute for Public Environment Development (IPED), a nonprofit organization supporting political and social change in Bulgaria. IPED works to increase citizen participation in the Bulgarian government, limiting the influence of the mafia in politics, securing a fair electoral process, and combating corruption and abuse of power. The platform's goal is to promote the rights of voters in Bulgaria, to answer most frequently asked questions about the upcoming election, to assist in reporting violations of the electoral process, and to aggregate election news published in the media.


az glasuvam


  • За честни избори (“For Fair Elections”; bg] is an Ushahidi-based crowdmapping platform, which will help gather reports of violations (text and photos submitted via Facebook, Twitter and email).


Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 1.48.50 AM



Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 1.48.27 AM


On Twitter, netizens can report violations and post updates using these hashtags: #bgizbori2013, #izbori2013, and #izbori (izbori means ‘elections’ in Bulgarian).

Wiretapping Scandal, Voter Disillusionment Ahead of Bulgaria's Elections

Bulgarian citizens will have to make some difficult choices as they go to the polls on May 12, 2013 to vote in the parliamentary election.

The election had originally been scheduled for July, but the date was changed after the Feb. 20 resignation of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s government, following the nationwide protests against high electricity prices, low living standards and corruption scandals. On March 13, President Rosen Plevneliev appointed an interim cabinet, which will work until the election.

There are 240 seats in the Bulgarian Parliament, and a party would need 121 seats to form a majority. After a series of scandals and protests, the issue of the potential winner is a divisive subject for the Bulgarian society. The main political forces competing in the polls include [.pdf] the former ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB); the Socialist Party, which is currently the main opposition force; the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which represents the country’s Turkish minority; Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, led by the former PM Ivan Kostov; Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, led by the former European Commissioner (2007-2009) and former Foreign Minister (2002-2006) Meglena Kuneva; and the far-right party Ataka.

"Bulgarian Roulette," featuring logos of the parties running in the upcoming election. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgarian Roulette, featuring logos of the parties running in the upcoming election. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Ivan Bakalov, editor-in-chief of, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, comments [bg] in an editorial:

Who is going to win the election? For now, the answer is – nobody. A research by the sociology agency BBSS Gallup International (March 7-12) showed that GERB and the Bulgarian Socialist Party are almost equal on votes.

Elections 2013. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Elections 2013. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

A reader named Georgieva expresses her mood in this comment [bg]:

For the first time I feel a complete disgust with all kinds of political parties. I don’t want any familiar face, neither from the left nor from the right, from none of the points of the political spectrum. [...]

Similar comments can be found on Facebook. User Radosveta Dimova, for example, writes [bg]:

[...] People who hope for a savior to come and are not self-reliant, people who want someone else to “fix” them, they are not right-wing, left-wing or centrist. They do not know what they want, they do not want to learn how to achieve it and they do not want to work as they should and to vote for whoever they should. These people are not interested in democratic values, they do not recognize them, and they haven’t lived in a society with that kind of values. [...]

A number of political scandals taking place alongside the election campaign have complicated the Bulgarian electorate’s moods even further.

At the end of April, the Bulgarian media received an anonymous report, written in shorthand, of a meeting between the ex-PM Boyko Borisov, the former Minister of Agriculture and Food Miroslav Naydenov and the Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov. The letter, sent from, began this way:

If you think the former Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov has stopped spying on you after February 20, 2013, you are wrong. But I’m nearly certain you know it. Because I am one of those spying on you. I am an employee of SDOTO (Specialized Direction “Operative Technical Operations); I still work there, and do what chiefs order me to do. With this email I am informing you about the last case of illegal spying in which I was involved. [...]

The sender elaborated on the focus of the wiretapped conversation:

[...] At the beginning of April, my colleagues and I eavesdropped on a discussion between Borisov, former Agriculture Minister Naydenov, and Sofia City Prosecutor Kokinov, on how to drop corruption charges against Naydenov and a number of other things important for the country. We were told we were on a “training mission” on Tsvetanov's order, despite the fact Petya Parvanova was already caretaker Interior Minister. Why did we agree to become involved? There is one word to explain it – FEAR!

After all these things at the office to which I am dedicated, honestly, I am sick and tired. I consulted attorneys and they told me what the law says about this conversation we taped – those being recorded and those recording have committed a crime. It is clear about us – we have snooped illegally regardless of the person – be it the former PM or a waiter from the pub next door. But from what the attorneys told me, I think what is more important is the crimes committed by Borisov, Naydenov, and Kokinov, while chatting. All three are accomplices in crime, according to the Penal Code, as they have plotted to spoil criminal proceedings in order to help someone avoid prosecution and punishment. This calls for 1 to 6 years behind bars. I am still somewhat confused though about another crime – leaking State secrets. Was it committed only by Kokinov, or all three are guilty of it? This is punishable by 2 to 8 years of jail time. [...]

The disclosure happened a day after the former Interior Minister swore he had not conducted phone tapping. As a result of the scandal, City Prosecutor Kokinov resigned, and, a few days later, criminal proceedings started against four high-ranking officials in the Bulgarian Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted by sociologist Mira Radeva states [bg] that the former ruling party might win most of the votes. The alternative publication accused [bg] Radeva of pro-government bias.'s Ivan Bakalov makes these forecasts [bg] in another editorial:

[...] It seems that Borisov’s party is beginning to fall into isolation. What is the alternative? Many people don’t want to vote for this party, but they don’t find a relevant alternative. What are the opportunities?


What are the arguments against the Socialist Party? [They] promise to build the Nuclear Power Plant in Belene, which is a risky investment for a state in a difficult financial situation. And it is a risk from the ecological point of view as well. [...]

Bakalov points out that the Socialist Party has also “promised to lift the smoking ban in Bulgaria” – which, according to him, is “populism.” As for Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, Bakalov writes:

[...] This is another party that has a chance to enter the next Parliament (in addition to the Socialist Party, the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and “Ataka”). This is the party most attacked by the media controlled by GERB. [...]

Bulgaria's ex-PM Boyko Borisov sitting on top of a citizen, luring him to vote. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgaria's ex-PM Boyko Borisov sitting on top of a citizen, luring him to vote. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgarian journalist Ivo Indzhev writes [bg] on his blog, in a post that has been re-published in a number of alternative media outlets:

[...] One of our leading national specifics is obviously that here the bell is really ringing twice for the deaf people in order for them to open their eyes. This is an explanation of the marked tendency of GERB to be the winners in the polls, although, according to the logic of democracy, they should lose catastrophically [...].


Borisov understands what attracts people to him, and he tells them: “The more wiretapping devices are used, the stronger we become.” In translation, he is appealing to everyone who does not care about the democratic procedures to unite under his direction as the “proletariat” against the democracy. When someone is so candid, how can one not believe in the conspiracy statements that GERB had organized the wiretapping scandal themselves? [...]

Reader PETQ left this comment [bg] for Indzhev:

Mr. Indzhev, the closer the election is, the more GERB supporters mobilize. It’s visible even in your blog. Recently, the first comments under almost all of your articles are written by people who support GERB. I’m sure these are not your usual readers and there are thousands of more suitable sites for Borisov's fans to write at. However, obviously a lot money is paid in order for the public opinion to be manipulated on the Internet. And they obviously expect that the people who read your blog will say: “Well, even here people have changed their minds and it seems most of them are going to vote for GERB.”

March 18 2013

Welcome Spring and Good-bye Evil Eye

File:Martenitsa E5.jpg

Martenitsas on a blossoming tree.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Μάρτης [el], мартеница [bg], мартинка [mk], mărțișor [ru]…however you call it, an ancient tradition [el] with multiple variations that takes place in the Balkans. So, weave your red-and-white threads for protection against the “evil eye” or to welcome Spring!


March 01 2013

Self-Immolations Energize Bulgarian Protests

Protests continue in Bulgaria for 20 days without stopping. In the latest major protest, on Feb. 24, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of the biggest cities in the country – Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. Their demands against monopolies in the energy sector and revision of the political system remain unfulfilled. Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, speaking on Feb. 28, said he would create a caretaker government formed with the participation of civil society organizations. But the protests continue – on March 3, Bulgaria's National Day, there will be new rallies.

One of the reasons for the protests to continue are the self-immolations – three cases in less than a month, all largely neglected by the media.

One of the self-immolators, 36-year-old Plamen Goranov [bg], has become a symbol of the fight against the mafia and the political system. He is now called the “Bulgarian Jan Palach,” after the Czech student who set himself on fire in Prague in 1968, in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Plamen Goranov.

Plamen Goranov.

Goranov is one of the main critics of the mafia in his city, Varna, whose mayor Kiril Yordanov has been alleged to have ties with “the murky and powerful” TIM group. Yordanov has been the mayor of Varna since 1999. Activists believe that Goranov's self-immolation was in protest against TIM.

TIM is the informal name of a Varna economic holding group connected with “KhimImport,” founded in the mid-1990s. It is most often associated with the criminal activity of the 1990s and the economic activity of the 2000s.

According to an article [bg] in the Bulgarian newspaper “Capital,”

[...] TIM was created by ten people. All are former Marines from the “Tihina” section near Varna. This is a secret branch of the Navy, which for years has been trained as elite special forces – commandos, parachutists and divers. Most of the founders were former karate athletes who participated in the national team and took not one or two titles in international tournaments. [...]

[...] In the early 1990s, reforms in the army left many former Marines unemployed. [...] Good physical form and karate skills allowed the majority of them to engage in different activities requiring the use of force. [...]

Bulgarian blog PsyGlass posted this [bg] about Plamen Goranov:

[...] What a name! Burning flame [refers to the translation of the name Plamen from Bulgarian]. [...] Like most people, I learned about him from pictures and stories. Who is he? Why is he a hero? Why did he set himself on fire?

Plamen is a dangerous character, because he is still alive. His self-immolation is not comparable with the actions of Levski and Botev [Bulgarian national heroes]. Those whom we admire. Whose portraits we admire. But Plamen burned. He is real, his pictures are in color, they can be seen, and the background and visible context can be found. [...]

[...] It's safer for heroes to have black-and-white portraits. So we can worship without questions, take their decisions for granted. They are white – perfect, flawless, bright. [...]

[...] The courage to look honestly at Plamen, in all of his humanity, to ask burning questions, to seek explanations and to act according to the meaning that we find – this is the position of citizens, of humans. And maybe of heroes. [...]

On the Bulgarian investigative journalism website (which was hacked a few weeks ago), a text about Plamen Goranov and the reasons for his act was published both in English and in Bulgarian, titled “Plamen Goranov – the Martyr of the ‘Bulgarian Spring'.” There is also an article about Goranov and democracy in Bulgaria on the website.

Bulgarian news blog, SamokoVest, has this [bg] on Goranov:

Plamen Goranov from Varna expressed his protest against the outrageous situation in the country and in his hometown with a staggering final act of negation. He was on fire and turned himself into a living torch for the protests.

Blogger Radan Kanev wrote [bg] about the symbolism of Goranov's self-immolation and asked why people aren't asking the government to act against the mafia:

[...] There is no compelling physical force against the citizens of Varna. No Soviet troops. Even no Bulgarian troops there. The sacrifice of Plamen Goranov is undoubtedly a protest against the shadowy power of TIM Group, which everyone talks about over coffee, beer and dinner. But Bulgaria has the power to oppose the shadow government. Varna has the power to stop it. The resources of the public authority are far greater than those of any group of thugs, any oligarch – or even all of them together. [...]

[...] The only tanks that sparked this protest are the tanks of our silence. The silence of the politicians’ ‘public’ media … the silence of the otherwise noisy protests. [...]

There is a Facebook group [bg] in support of Plamen Goranov, with more than 1,600 members. A concert rally has been organized through Facebook [bg] to help Goranov, who is in hospital now and in need of blood donations:

Sometimes courage causes fear inside us. Sometimes an act of understanding leads us to demonize or belittle. [...] Let us try to understand the sacrifice for the sake of an idea, and it will unite us rather than divide us. [...] Let's donate blood – Plamen needs it. Let us unite, at least around the idea to help this man.
Let us pray for his health and life. The initiative is part of a series of events in support of Plamen Goranov around the country.

February 25 2013

Bulgarian Government Quits, But Protests Continue

On Sunday, Feb. 24, tens of thousands of Bulgarians protested against corruption, high utility bills and poverty. The coastal city of Varna was declared the Protest Capital: over 40,000 people turned up for the Sunday's rally there. Some 15,000 people protested in Plovdiv. While it is difficult to determine the exact number of the Feb. 24 protesters, activist sources say there were more than 200,000 of them nationwide.

In Sofia, the slogans included: “Let's Set the Monopolies on Fire!”; “Balkans, wake up! For a real democracy!”; “End to illusions, civil action every day!”; “We, Bulgarians, Turks, Roma, Armenians – we are all #Bulgaria-n citizens! We must stand up against political manipulation!”

The Feb. 24 protest in Sofia. Photo by Ruslan Trad.

The Feb. 24 protest in Sofia. Photo by Ruslan Trad.

Here's a video from the protest in Sofia, filmed by the author of this post:

The protest in Sofia coincided with the enthronement ceremony for Neofit, the newly-elected Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church; the city was paralyzed, no public transport, except for the metro, was running. Minutes after he was officially enthroned, Patriarch Neofit vowed to pray for peace and unity of the Bulgarian people. This gesture of support for the protesters was well-received by them, while President Rosen Pleveliev, who addressed the crowd in Sofia, was booed.

The protesters called political parties not to manipulate or get involved in the protests. At the rally in Veliko Tarnovo, they even chased some political representatives away [bg; video]. Stanislava Stefanova wrote [bg]:

Don't they understand that there is no place for them at the protest of the people???? Isn't it clear enough that we don't want them???

Following the surprise resignation of Boyko Borisov‘s government on Feb. 20, which came after an earlier protest turned violent, activists of the protest movement held a meeting in the city of Sliven and agreed on a list of demands: not to adjourn the Parliament; the President should appoint experts to the new government, instead of making it a caretaker one; to draft a Civil Participation Bill providing a 50% civil quota in all institutions; to return 51% of the energy sector shares to the State; to close the Bulgarian Energy Holding, BEH, for draining the energy sector; to summon the Grand National Assembly, establishing a procedure to recall MPs.

Lada Dimitrova wrote [bg] in a comment at the Feb. 24 protest photo gallery on the “Saprotiva” (“Resistance”) page:

I'm not concerned with who will be the leader, it is important for me to live in dignity!

February 20 2013

Bulgarian Police Attack Anti-Government Protesters

Screen shot 2013-02-20 at 5.31.18 am

GV Author Ruslan Trad has posted a video from the Feb. 19 anti-government protest in Sofia, Bulgaria:

There were provocations and police violence. Police beating everyone. They did not want to arrest provocateurs, and people shouting, “These are provocateurs,” but police beat anyone on the street. Attack of the police was surprising – my phone fell to the ground – after 1:59 recording is black because the camera is watching the asphalt. Many people were on the ground – even women.

February 18 2013

High Energy Bills Keep Bulgarians Protesting

On Sunday, February 17, tens of thousands of people in Bulgaria's capital Sofia and other cities continued to protest against high electricity and heating bills, and against the monopoly of energy distribution companiesChCEZ, EVN, and Energo-Pro. The protesters are demanding the nationalization of Bulgaria's three power utilities – CEZ, EVN, and Energo-Pro, with the National Electric Company NEK.

More than 20,000 people showed up for the protest in Varna, 10,000 in Plovdiv, 6,000 in Sofia, 5,000 in Blagoevgrad. Four people were detained as protesters in downtown Sofia clashed with police who tried to cut the rally heading for the headquarters of power utility company CEZ.

The protesters want their demands met next week – and, if this does not happen, they are demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and the President. Although nationalist parties tried to gain political advantage, protesters stood up against such manipulation, shouting “No parties!”

YouTube user iasssen posted this video of the Sofia protest (shot by from the air using a quadcopter, sound recorded separately down on the ground). Another HD video from the Sofia protest was posted by user MickeyMouseFrance:

Bulgarian blogger Kostadin Kostadinov posted an entry titled “Where to after the revolt?”[bg]:

Around 100,000 people protested today across the country. The protests, which began as a reaction against the pompous arrogant and brusque bills, become more social and political. People chanted “Boyko [Boyko Borisov, Bulgarian PM] out” and “Down with [GERB, the ruling party],” and then wondered who would follow them. [...] What those 100,000, many of them young people, would do in the elections this summer is extremely important. Obviously, they have the potential to awake the sleeping Bulgaria and to make Bulgarians believe in themselves and change their country. On the other hand, they do not trust anyone, and they have a good reason.

Bulgarian blogger Sabina Panayotova expressed her pessimism about the Feb. 17 protests [bg]:

These people are not those people.
- People in [the summer 2012 protests of Eagle Bridge] are not those of today. The people today were sad, desperate and gray.
- Protests today were like [the anti-communist protests of 1989], except that afterwards they will likely bring communists back to power.
- Whatever happens after these protests will not be good. In the best case, it will remain as it is.

Taralezh (“Hedgehog”) blog commented on the missing responses from the ruling party and ministries:

The first men of the country ran away from the protests and the people's “love.” While hundreds of thousands chanted in the streets of 35 cities in the country, none of the leaders thought of returning to Sofia to stand in front of the citizens as [real] men.

D-r Beloliki blog posted a collection of photos of the Feb. 17 protests across Bulgaria. Dimi Lazhov posted photos from the northwestern city of Vratza where people protesting against the monopoly and the new “rain tax.” Facebook page Saprotiva (“Resistance”) has photos from the nationwide demonstrations as well, and there is also a Storify collection with reactions, here.

Bulgarian journalist Adelina Martini tweeted:

Thousands protest in various cities in #Bulgaria against high electricity prices, shouting “mafia” and “resignation”, local media report

Another Bulgarian journalist, Mariya Petkova, who is based in Cairo, tweeted about the protests, too:

Hundreds of thousands are out in the streets across #Bulgaria protesting private monopolies of utilities and economic hardship!!!

January 22 2013

“Bulgaria's Image Stands to Lose” Due to Attack on Politician

On January 19, 2013, a gunman attacked Ahmed Dogan, the founder of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), described by some politicians as Bulgaria's “Turkish party,” as he was delivering a speech at a televised party conference in Sofia. No shots were fired, and the gunman was beaten by MRF members, while security guards acted slowly.

In 1985, Dogan was among the founders of the National Freedom Movement, which reacted against the “Process of Rebirth” (Възродителен процес), a campaign by the Bulgarian Communist Party to assimilate the Turkish minority by forcing the Pomaks and Bulgarian Turks to adopt Slavic-sounding names. Over 300,000 families were forced to leave Bulgaria back then. There are 67,000 Pomaks in Bulgaria now, and the Turkish minority is the country's largest ethnic minority.

The attacker, Oktay Enimehmedov, is an ethnic Turk who purchased a gas gun a few days earlier. Later it became known that he had written a suicide note to his mother, in which he suggested that he might be killed. Enimehmedov's friends told the media he was a good man who never caused problems to others. However, the attacker is well-known to the police in the coastal city of Burgas as a perpetrator of minor crimes.

After the incident, Dogan resigned as MRF's leader, the post he had held since 1990.

A screenshot of the footage of the Jan. 19 televised attack on Ahmed Dogan.

The assassination attempt has provoked many reactions by Bulgarian politicians and netizens - and some of them seem convinced that the attack was staged.

A leftist journalist, Alexander Simov, wrote this [bg] on his blog:

I'm not sure if people realize just how dangerous what happened at the MRF conference really was.


Everything in Bulgaria is a big stage play - a stage play of democracy, of political parties, of normalization and decency.


We've witnessed an assassination attempt on an acting Bulgarian politician, for the first time since the dreadful date of October 2, 1996, when the ex-Prime Minister [Andrey Lukanov] was shot dead in front of his home. This raises the question of whether these past 17 years of transition have actually happened at all. The murder in 1996 and the assassination attempt today will surely be linked in all political analyses, which demonstrates in practice how the transition is still stuck at its starting point.


Some people actually felt sympathy towards the (would-be) killer – it's as if they felt he was pointing a gun at the transition itself. […]

Simov continues, asking this:

Where was the Interior Minister this whole time? Why did it take so long for him to make a statement? Why didn't he make one immediately? Was the National Service for Protection asleep this whole time? Why did they mix up their stories so badly? How was someone with a criminal record ever allowed to come up on the stage?”

Bulgarian blogger Konstantin Pavlov (@Komitata) wrote [bg] on his blog:

Who benefits and who loses from the whole ordeal?

The MRF will benefit – its hundreds of thousands of supporters will once again feel threatened and under siege, and the party ranks will be brought into line for the upcoming elections. It won't be a surprise if we see a record turnout.

The [far-right Attack Party] and similar formations will benefit, because they now have new arguments against the vicious nature of the MRF and the degradation of its leadership.

The police state, the cops and similar political-economic elements will benefit as well.

The biggest loser in all of this is the National Service for Protection and the political leadership of the country, which has shown its full inadequacy in the tasks it should perform.

Nelly Alexieva commented [bg] on the effect the attack might have on Bulgaria's image:

No one bothered to ask what motives this young man would have to shoot Dogan. That's because no one believed his stated motives to begin with. The performance was all too theatrical. But it did draw public attention to the MRF and its Conference.

Comments and opinions have been pouring all day on who benefits from this stage play.

One thing is for certain – Bulgaria's image stands to lose from all this.

The author of “Rusensko vareno” blog described [bg] what happened as “circus”:


1. A few days ago Dogan declares that people are to expect big surprises on Saturday, i.e. today.
2. On Saturday, i.e. today, a would-be punk-thug stages an assassination attempt on Dogan.
3. Ahmed Dogan resigns.
4. [Lyutvi Mestan] is elected chairman of the MRF with 100% of the votes.
5. Dogan is appointed honorary president of the party for life.

Alexander Lyutov wrote [bg] on his blog:

Much like the Gulf War, we saw a real action movie unfold before our eye, shot by a camera that no one seemed to get in the way of, not even accidentally, as security guards, but mainly MRF delegates were starting to maul the assailant. […] The European observers at the MRF conference evidently couldn't stand the barbaric display and seemed to have lost their sound and picture.

It's clear that the upcoming [Jan. 27 referendum on building a new nuclear power plant] is no longer on our minds.

User Stoyan wrote this [bg] on The Other Truth blog:

[…] It's my opinion, and a lot of people seem to share it, that the idea behind this staged attack was to bring the ranks of the party into line. If you remember, the MRF lost many municipalities in the last elections, as a big portion of their supporters broke away from the party. Clearly, the season of negative campaigning starts today. MRF delegates were shouting for the resignation of [Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov], and other things of that kind. In other words, the MRF will be blaming the Prime Minister for what happened, he in turn will be blaming [Sergei Stanishev, the leader of the socialists], perhaps Stanishev will start blaming Dogan, and so on. […]

On Twitter, some of the reactions were as merciless.

@therealgenadi wrote [bg]:

the next assassination attempt against Dogan will be more serious - with a Star Wars sword bought at a toy store.

@DidiGK wrote [bg]:

I bet Dogan has organized this attack against himself. Like Berlusconi. Garbage next to garbage.

@asengenov wrote [bg]:

The janissaries who kicked and jumped on the head of Dogan's “attacker” must to be sued for moderate and severe injuries and attempted murder.

Jonathan Allen, the British Ambassador to Bulgaria, tweeted this comment [bg] about the attack on Dogan:

I hear that someone has attacked Mr. Dogan. I hope he feels okay. Democracy means disputes, but with words and ideas.

December 04 2012

Bulgarian Activist on Hunger Strike Against State Monopoly

On Dec. 1, Chavdar Yanev set up a tent in front of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council in Sofia and went on hunger strike to protest a judicial system that allows cases filed by individuals against state institutions to continue for years. Or even decades: Yanev and his wife, Latinka Georgieva, have been in a legal battle against Toplofikatsiya [bg], a state monopoly that provides heating to the country's residents, for nearly 12 years [bg].

A flashmob in solidarity with Yanev, organized via Facebook group “We are against high prices for electricity” [bg] (more than 3,000 members), is scheduled for Dec. 4.

This poster, urging people to come to a flashmob to support Chavdar Yanev, has been shared by 2,060 Facebook users.


November 25 2012

Bulgaria: The Rise of Homo domaticus

On November 24, people gathered in front of the Bulgarian Parliament in the capital city of Sofia, thus officializing what has become known as the ‘Tomato Revolution.'

Tomato threat over the Parliament

The logo of the Tomato Revolution Facebook event. Screenshot adapted by the author

The logo of the Tomato Revolution Facebook event. Screenshot adapted by the author.

On November 9, the independent media outlet OFFNews published photos [bg] of the Parliament building smudged with tomato sauce. It is unclear who did it and why.

On November 14, Nikolay Kolev, aka Bossiya (The Barefoot), published an open letter [bg] on his blog, openly threatening to throw tomatoes at the government buildings, because he held the Bulgarian officials responsible for the rampant corruption in the country. The letter was sent to the Parliament, the President, the Prime Minister, the Supreme Judicial Council, the Bulgarian National Television and the Bulgarian National Radio. Bossiya wrote:

Всички вие ръководите институции, които са пряко свързани със състоянието на страната ни за последните години. Затова и смятам, че вие сте основни виновници за ужасното състояние на страната и обществото.В страната цари корупция, престъпност, безотговорност, информационна мъгла, слугинаж, деморализация. Празните приказки и театрални пози и монолози ежедневно замъгляват съзнанието и надеждите на обществото като цяло, както и на всеки един български гражданин отделно.

All of you manage institutions that are directly responsible for the condition our country has been in in the recent years. That's why I think you are the main culprits of the terrible state of the country and the society. Corruption, crime, irresponsibility, information fog, servant behaviour and demoralization reign the country. Fudge as well as theatrical poses and monologues daily cloud the minds and hopes of the society as a whole and of each Bulgarian citizen individually.

In his open letter, Bossiya also exposed the details of his peaceful symbolic protest:

На 20 ноември /вторник/ ще закупя от пазара 6 /шест/ развалени домата и ще ги разпределя по един за шестте институции, към които съм се обърнал. В 10 ч ще бъда пред Народното събрание, където ще хвърля един домат по фасадата, с което ще изразя протеста си срещу липсата на ориентация, професионализъм и патриотизъм при изготвяне на законите. Ще запратя домата протестирайки срещу лошите текстове на законите, носещи само нещастия на обществото и отделния български гражданин. Законът трябва да бъде обществено полезен, а не изработен срещу човека.

След това ще отида пред президентството и ще запратя по фасадата му следващия домат. Той ще бъде срещу нищоправенето от страна на президентската институция, наведената поза при среща с представители на великите сили и назначението на отрепки за дипломати. Срещу безкритичното отношение при подписването на укази за влизането на законите в сила.

Третият домат ще бъде хвърлен срещу сградата на МС заради цялостната му политика и действията му срещу обществото и националните интереси.

Четвъртият домат ще бъде хвърлен от мен срещу съдебната палата. За моите съотечественици не е необходимо да обяснявам защо.

Петият и шестият домат ще хвърля по БНТ и БНР поради това, че с нашите пари те обслужват една малка шайка от политически престъпници и мафиоти.

On November 20 (Tuesday), I will buy from the supermarket 6 (six) rotten tomatoes and distribute them to one of the six institutions which I addressed. At 10 am, I will be in front of the Parliament, and I will throw a tomato at its facade in protest against the lack of orientation, professionalism and patriotism in lawmaking. I will do so to protest low-quality law texts bringing only misfortunes to the society and the Bulgarian citizen. The law should be socially useful, not crafted against the people.

Then I will go to the Presidential palace and hurl the next tomato at its facade. It will be against the consistent inaction by the presidential institution, its stooped posture while meeting with international representatives and the appointment of lowlives as diplomats. [I will throw it] against the uncritical attitude in signing the decrees of laws coming into force.

The third tomato will be thrown in front of the Prime Minister's HQs for overall policies and actions against the society and national interests.

The fourth tomato will be thrown against the Courthouse. I don't need to explain why to my compatriots.

The fifth and the sixth tomatoes will be thrown against the Bulgarian National Television and the Bulgarian National Radio because they serve a small bunch of political criminals and gangsters on our money.

On Tuesday, November 20, Bossiya was arrested [bg] in front of the Parliament, where reportedly 40 policemen were deployed waiting for him to show up. Reactions were contrasted, as some news outlets were dismissing his action as “a salad” [bg], while others were sidelining [bg] with his action. Political stances were equally distinct, and netizens reflected these positions on Twitter as well:

@VeselaAngelova: Добре де, ако са нужни 40 полицаи, за да арестуват човек с домат, за човек с патлангач сигурно ще викаме НАТО или нещо такова.

Oh well, if 40 policemen are needed to arrest a single man with a tomato, for a man with an aubergine, we'll need to call NATO or other suchlike.


@SlaviVIP: Некъв мизерник хвърлил домат по парламента днес и вече е “светец”, ето заради такива боклуци държавата е на този хал. А този е за Белене!

Some bonker threw a tomato at the Parliament today and is now a 'saint,' it's because of such morons that our country is in this situation.

Reacting to the disproportianate participation of 40 special forces policemen to arrest a single man, netizens joke:

@benkovski: @tourbg @cipisec Али Домат и 40 разбойници

Ali Tomato and the 40 thieves [An allusion to “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves,” a popular classic story]

@gtsmilev: @CapitalBg Стола на парламента ще се казва “Дон Домат”

The Parliament's canteen will be named “Don Tomato”

Later on, the media announced that Bossiya was charged with “hooliganism” and risked up to two years in jail. A Facebook group [bg] “Tomatina — The Tomato Revolution” was created, in support of Bossiya and calling for a demonstration and symbolic tomato throwing at the Parliament on November 24.

“Each tomato — a bomb against the rulers”

The initiative gained momentum and broad support [bg], with more than 1,000 people subscribing to attend. The media reported [bg] that vegetable sellers from Sofia's most popular supermarket refused to make people pay for tomatoes if those were to be used at the protest.

"Wake up, the mafia rules us!" A banner from the demo. Image by Ruslan Trad (CC-by-SA 3.0)

“Wake up, the mafia rules us!” A banner from the demo. Image by Ruslan Trad (CC-by-SA 3.0)

The November 24 protest was live-streamed by Assen Guenov, a contributor to the independent Open Government initiative. Some of the participants tweeted:

@reguligence: Полицейското присъствие около НС е стабилно. #TomatoRevolution

Police presence around the Parliament is robust #TomatoRevolution

@GerganaBoteva: По канал 3 казаха, че има около 300-400 човека #TomatoRevolution

Channel 3 announced that 300-400 people are attending. #TomatoRevolution [Channel 3 is an independent TV channel which was also live-streaming the protest]

Twitter user @ju joked echoing the infamous outcry in some media that called to limit the influence of the social media in the country:

@ju: Банват думата “домат” от Facebook за България

The word “tomato” is banned on Facebook in Bulgaria

Global Voices Author Ruslan Trad has published a few photos from the protest, and I have curated a Storify [bg, en] with more background information.

November 23 2012

Candles Lit for Gaza in Bulgaria's Capital

About 100 people gathered in Sofia's central square to show their support for the victims of Israel's recent Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip. Facebook page “Together for Palestine” [bg] has this photo of commemorative candles lit in Bulgaria's capital; another page, “Bulgaria supports Palestinian independence in the UN” [bg], has more updates and photos. A few pro- and anti-Assad Syrians were seen arguing with each other during this solidarity gathering:

Photo by Ruslan Trad.

November 07 2012

Massive Anonymous Rally in Bulgaria's Capital Ends in Arrests

On Nov. 5, some 1,500 people took part in an anti-government rally in Sofia, organized by the Bulgarian section [bg] of the Anonymous. There were other, smaller, protests in other Bulgarian cities and towns. The rallies were part of the worldwide Global Day of Protest declared by the Anonymous. The Sofia protest resulted in a broken police cabin near the Parliament - and in arrests [video, bg].

September 05 2012

Bulgaria: Independent Journalists Demand EU Intervention

A group of Bulgarian NGOs and individual journalists issued an open letter [bg, en] to Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, asking for a public meeting because “the situation of the media in Bulgaria is a threat not only for the Bulgarian society, but for the EU as a whole.”

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