Bulgarian Protests Revive Memories of 2013 Upheavals

November 13, 2018
A new wave of streets protests in Bulgaria – over rising fuel prices and new automobile regulations – contains echoes of the mass discontent of 2013 that brought down the then government.
The February 2013 protests against high electricity bills lead to the downfall of the first Borissov cabinet. Photo: Georgi Licovski, EPA.

Although they did not attract more than a few hundred people each, latest protests over the fuel prices drew alarmed reactions from the governing coalition on Monday.

Bulgarians from over 30 towns and cities took to the streets and blocked roads on Sunday to protest over rising fuel prices and changes to vehicle transport legislation.

These changes will result in higher environmental taxes on older cars and increased automobile insurance prices, voted in by parliament in the past week.

Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov and GERB parliament chair Tsvetan Tsvetanov on Monday both pledged that car insurance prices would not soar as high as 500 euros a year, as the Bulgarian Insurers’ Association warned last week, sparking an outcry.

“Protests are part of the democratic processes, but there is a tendency of some to destabilize the country,” Tsvetanov told a press conference.

Some of the marches intertwined with other protests that took place over the last few days, including protests by mothers of disabled children, seeking a reformed disability law, and calls for action against air pollution in cities like Ruse and Pernik.

Analysts see clear parallels between rising public tensions now and the mass protests of the winter of 2013, which brought down the first government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his GERB party.

“These are once again protests with primarily social demands, rather than demands for better governance – like the protests of the summer of 2013,” Parvan Simeonov, a sociologist from Gallup International – Balkan agency told BIRN, recalling the rallies against Plamen Oresharski’s government, led by the Bulgarian Socialists and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

He said an outburst of popular disaffection with the government was to be expected after a few months of relative peace during Sofia’s stint as president of the Council of EU, and reflects continued, long-standing socioeconomic disparities in the country.

“It is clear that they organized quickly and that certain interests may be behind some of the protests, but they will only succeed in attracting support if there is a niche for that. And there is one, now – rising consumer prices and social divisions,” the same sociologist said.

The protests, which appear mostly organized through social media channels, have received the backing of some anti-establishment parties, including the “Vazrazhdane” (“Rebirth”) movement.

On Monday, a Facebook event organized by the movement attracted over 4,000 followers, and it escalated its demands.

“We want the resignation of this criminal regime and to send them all to jail,” Kostadin Kostadinov, Vazrazhadane leader told BIRN over the phone, calling the government’s policies “genocidal” to the Bulgarian nation.

“Protests won’t bring down prices. We want a revolution, one that takes down all the metastases of the corrupt regimes in power, in one shape or another, over the past 30 years,” he added.

The protest movement of Kostadinov, an ex-city council member in the port of Varna, became the only party not represented in parliament to pass the 1-per-cent threshold in the 2017 general elections.

This granted it the right to obtaina state subsidy. It later declined the funds. The party ran for parliament on an anti-migration, anti-Euro, anti-privatization platform.

Many people interviewed by TV channels on Sunday refused to identify with any political force or social movement, however.

The possible long-term effects of the protests divide experts. To Simeonov, the big question is whether GERB repeats the 2013 scenario – when it quit the government in the heat of the protest – or sticks to its guns and pushes through to the upcoming EU and local elections, due in the spring and autumn of 2019.

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