Will Historic Protests in Bulgaria Dislodge an Entrenched Oligarchy?

Will Historic Protests in Bulgaria Dislodge an Entrenched Oligarchy?
Protesters carry Bulgarian flags during a demonstration in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 29, 2020 (AP photo by Valentina Petrova).

Karate coach, firefighter, bodyguard, Interior Ministry chief and now prime minister. Boyko Borissov has had an eclectic career, and if the protesters on the streets of Bulgarian cities have their way, he’ll soon leave the prime minister’s office for the third time. The burly, pugnacious politician is accused of presiding over a state that has been captured by a cabal of oligarchs and corrupt officials. Antigovernment demonstrators say the situation should shame the European Union, which Bulgaria has been a member of for over a decade and which provides billions of euros in development funds each year.

Borissov’s time as prime minister spans three nonconsecutive terms since 2009; cumulatively, he has been in office nearly a decade. An adroit politician, he knows his political opponents are weak and divided. He also has the backing of his center-right allies elsewhere in Europe and a base of enthusiastic supporters. But protests against him have been going on for over six weeks, at times attracting tens of thousands of people. Participants are more confident of spurring change than in previous uprisings that have roiled the country.

“Electorally, there seems to be a very significant shift in Bulgaria—virtually the entire landscape is shifting dramatically,” Hristo Ivanov, leader of the opposition Yes, Bulgaria! party, told WPR. “This is a spectacular moment.”

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