Bulgaria’s Consultative Council on National Security was scheduled to hold a meeting on February 26 2013 to discuss risks and threats to stability in the country because of the political crisis, while Parliament was meeting to approve urgent legislation ahead of its expected dissolution when a caretaker government is appointed.
The latest in the series of protests that have gripped the country for more than two weeks was held on the night of February 25, drawing a vastly smaller turnout than the huge columns of people who rallied in the streets of Bulgaria’s major cities on Sunday afternoon.
Initially mobilised to protest against high electricity prices, those taking part in the protests have backed an ever-growing list of demands, including for radical political reform and action against corruption.
The protests have largely passed peacefully, with the notable exception of the confrontation in Sofia on January 19 between a group of youths and police that ended in violence and prompted Boiko Borissov to announce that his government was stepping down to enable early elections.
The mainstream of protesters have been acting to prevent small groups of youths, frequently seen with beer bottles in hand, from provoking violent confrontation. Wearing of masks and hoods to conceal faces has been banned by the unofficial leaders of the protests. On recent nights, police have taken some youths into custody, confiscating weapons including knives and knuckledusters.
On February 25, police barred youths from again blocking traffic at central Sofia’s Eagle Bridge intersection, as protesters had done on previous nights. The groups who have been blocking intersections are separate from mainstream protests and have been the subject of comments in media and social networks that the youths are paid agents provocateur.
At the same time, in the Black Sea city of Varna, a young man who is in hospital after setting himself on fire last week in front of the municipal office has been adopted as a symbol by the protesters, even though his motives remain unclear, including whether they were linked to the national protests. Local media said that before he self-immolated, the young man had a sign calling for the resignation of the mayor.
In Varna’s landmark Orthodox Christian cathedral, a service was held on February 25 to pray for the young man’s recovery.
Meanwhile, Borissov’s challenge to the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms to get together with minority parties to form a government to serve out the remaining term, instead of allowing the formation of a caretaker government, was received with scorn among these parties.
Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said that Borissov obviously did not realise that people had taken to protesting in the streets because they were desperately disappointed with the way that Borissov’s government ran the country. Stanishev described Borissov’s statement as “frivolous and hysterical” while MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan said that Borissov was increasingly incapable. Ivan Kostov, co-leader of the centre-right Blue Coalition and leader of a 1997-2001 government that served a single term before being voted out by an electorate disillusioned by its reform policies and its handling of privatisations, said that Borissov’s challenge was “beneath comment”.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)