Protests in Bulgaria: The Awakening Aleksd
Protesters in front of the cabinet office

On 14 June 2013 the Bulgarian parliament elected Mr. Delyan Peevski as chairman of the State Agency for National Security (SANS). This nomination led to a spontaneous protests on the streets of Sofia and other major cities in Bulgaria. The reasons behind the protests are many.

The newly formed Bulgarian government includes the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MFR), which is the Turkish minority party in Bulgaria. The Bulgarians voted for their new parliament just a few weeks ago, on 12 May 2013. Still, the electorate in Bulgaria is already disappointed by recent government decisions and political initiatives, like allowing smoking at public places to please part of the business sector or undertaking structural changes which concentrate too much power for too few people. All these actions provoked the people to go out and put their demands to their national representatives. The majority of Bulgarians are disappointed by the lack of strong political figures on the national political scene. For the last two decades, the unemployment, the involvement of the business within the politics in too obvious way as well as the blindness of the politicians for the people’s needs led to apathy and lowered the electoral turnout.

The culmination which made people go out and protest was the nomination of some compromised names for ministers in the new cabinet.  The appointment of Mr. Delyan Peevski for chairman of SANS was just the last straw which triggered the current protests. 

The appointment

The election of Mr. Peevski was veiled in secrecy and conspiracy. It happened without broad (if any) public debate, without other nominations, even without a debate at the National Assembly. On 14 June the chairman of the parliament introduced the election of a chairman of SANS as an extraordinarily item at the parliament's agenda. SANS is the agency responsible both for the internal and the external security of Bulgaria. Its chair is one of the most important figures in the country. The chairman of SANS has even gained more power after controversial amendments in the SANS legislation were signed last week that made the organization dealing with organized crime part of SANS. The election of Mr. Peevski surprised everybody, except of course the current government whose members’ votes supported the election of Mr. Peevski. This vote, along with the hearings, took only 15 minutes - 15 minutes of shame. 

Mr. Peevski is a media mogul. He manages the New Media Group, a company that is owned by his mother, which comprises a plethora of newspapers, 2 televisions and controls 80% of the market of printed media in Bulgaria. The media group is being accused of lack of impartiality. Between 2005 and 2009 the company was strongly supportive of the cabinet of Mr. Sergei Stanishev and it was harshly criticizing the party of Mr. Boyko Borisov, the GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria). After GERB won the elections in July 2009, within one night the New Media Group changed their position in favor of the new government. The main reason behind this decision was that the whole media group was being financed by the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB). The president of this bank is Mr. Cvetan Vassilev – a good friend of Mr. Peevski and his mother. The reason for the servility of the New Media Group, however, was the fact that state companies have deposited 54% of their assets at CCB. Thus, the actions of the New Media Group was strongly following the logic that it is important to maintain good relations with the new cabinet, no matter who is in charge of the state. Otherwise the government might decide to withdraw its assets from Mr. Vassilev bank

Mr. Peevski has been involved in a big corruption scandal as a deputy minister in 2007, and is a compromised person in the eyes of the society. Consequently, his nomination raises a perplexity. Is this an arrogant and insolent decision of the government in attempt to show the Bulgarians that the cabinet can do whatever it wants? Or is this aiming to divert the attention of something more important, which is happening behind the curtain? 

No matter what stands behind this nomination, this decision has created a lot of dissension. The decision of appointing Mr. Peevski led to cleavages even among the BSP MPs but much more among their voters who are also disappointed of their representatives. 

Pros and cons

The prime-minister Mr. Plamen Oresharski and MR. Sergei Stanishev, the leader of the BSP and also the current leader of the European Socialist Party (PES), tried to defend the nomination of Mr. Peevski. They called him an “expert” (Oresharski) and emphasized that he has “the will and strong determination to work for the country and its people”.

In contrast to these praises stand the words of the Bulgarian president – Mr. Rosen Plevneliev. He canceled his attendance to the opening ceremony of the second bridge on the Danube, and called a meeting of the National Security Council, which will take place tomorrow. Later that day he said

“What we are witnessing is that one man, who is connected with private media and financial structures is being served on a platter the whole security sector and […] as man and citizen of this country I feel cheated, I feel soiled. Because what happened today in front of the nation is something, I would call it demonstration, an arrogant demonstration of something, that the citizens in the past 23 years have numerously signalized that is high time to be eradicated”

In addition to all of this, the diplomats of the EU countries in Bulgaria expressed their surprise of Mr. Peevski’s nomination, and made it clear that this will have a negative impact on the police and security cooperation between Bulgaria and its partners. 

According to Mr. Oresharski, the nomination of MR. Peevski has been coordinated with Bulgaria’s partners. The U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria H.E. Mrs. Marcie Ries said: ”We have been asked, whether this appointment has been discussed with us and the answer is - no, it has not.” 

Bulgaria is a member of the NATO and the EU. If the diplomatic corps of those countries are surprised of Mr. Peevski nomination than who the partners are with whom Mr. Oresharski has discussed this appointment remains an unanswered question.  

The grievance of the people

Consequently the nomination and appointment of Mr. Peevski led to protests around the country. On Friday evening, despite the rain showers in Sofia, more than 10,000 people protested on the streets. Protests were held also in other Bulgarian cities, although with less number of people. Bulgarians also protested in Brussels. 

The majority of the protesters are young and bright people, who demand normality in their country, and who are on the streets and squares not because of the high bills for electricity (like in February this year), but because they feel that their future, personal freedoms and security is at stake. The protests are peaceful and there are no signs of violence. Notably, this time there are also young families and their children out at the streets. Special places for children, where they can draw and play, were organized in the center of the city. Being organized spontaneously, via social media and networks, the number of people who are joining the protests is rising every single day as on Sunday more than 20,000 people protested in the capital alone.

The protests began with demands of Mr. Peevski to resign. The Bulgarian prime minister is under huge pressure, imposed not only by Bulgarian society but also coming from abroad. For example last Saturday, Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Social Democrats at the European Parliament, said that he is surprised by the nomination of Mr. Peevski, and that there should be a more appropriate candidate to take this post. As a result, the prime minister Plamen Oresharski has started to backpedal. On Saturday the prime-minister said that he would reverse his appointment. However, his response might come too late. Now the protestors are demanding the resignation of the cabinet, and it seems that they will not give up until they achieve their goal. 

Photo Credits: Sofia protests against Peevski in DANS  by Aleksd via wikimedia commons (contrast and lightning slightly edited)