Bulgaria Protests Target Politics of Business as Usual

Bulgaria Protests Target Politics of Business as Usual

They have been overlooked by the international media, whose gaze has been fixed on Tahrir Square in Cairo and Taksim Square in Istanbul. But Bulgaria’s ongoing anti-government protests, which entered their 50th day last week, are indicative of a broader disillusionment with the political and economic elite seen all over Southeastern Europe. The concept of a state “captured” by business interests may resonate well beyond Bulgaria’s borders. The question is whether real change to how politics and the economy are run will come about.

The demonstrations are Bulgaria’s biggest since 1997, when economic crisis brought citizens to the street and led to the government’s ouster. At the peak of this summer’s demonstrations, a siege of parliament led to deputies being trapped in the building overnight; on another occasion, a bus carrying politicians was surrounded by protesters, who refused to let it pass.

The demonstrators are calling for the resignation of the government headed by Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, which was appointed in May following a snap election. The election was called after the previous center-right government of Boyko Borisov and his GERB party itself resigned following street protests. But whereas the anti-Borisov demonstrations were originally motivated by economic problems, particularly rising energy prices, the current protests are largely caused by political grievances. They were triggered in June by Oresharski’s appointment, rapidly reversed, of highly controversial politician Delyan Peevski as head of the national security agency, DANS. Peevski’s mother is a media magnate and former head of Bulgaria’s national lottery, and is associated with a group of media industry leaders linked to Corporate Commercial Bank, a controversial institution with alleged political ties.

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