Protest rallies were held in Bulgaria’s largest cities for a fourth consecutive Sunday on March 10 – in addition to the usual demands against monopolies, protesters also demanded an immediate halt to the sale of the cargo division of state railways BDZ, briefly blocking the central railway stations in Sofia and Varna.
Despite the warmer weather, the latest weekend rallies attracted fewer participants than protests in previous weeks.
In Varna, an estimated 5000 people gathered at the usual rallying point, Asparouhov Bridge, marching to the city’s train station. The protesters surrounded the train station, blocking traffic, while some lay down on the railway tracks.
After a two-hour blockade, which prevented at least four train departures and delayed the arrival of several more, the protesters left the train station.
The rally was significantly smaller than on previous occasions – a possible explanation is that one of the main demands voiced by the protesters in the city was granted earlier this week, when four-term mayor Kiril Yordanov resigned.
In Sofia, several groups gathered in different areas, the largest one in front of the Economy Ministry, later converging on the city’s central train station and moving to fill the train platforms. In total, about 2000 people joined the protest.
The rally in Sofia, however, did not appear to impede railway traffic, as trains were moved just outside the station and passengers were able to board, Focus news agency reported.
The demands against the privatisation of the cargo unit of BDZ first surfaced in recent days and appear motivated by the same sentiment against foreign ownership of infrastructure assets that has resulted in calls for the nationalisation of the three electricity distribution companies.
According to Yanko Petrov, one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the protest (for more on the main voices in the protests, read The Sofia Globe’s story here), the Bulgarian state stood to lose billions from future freight traffic through the tunnel under Bosphorus, set to open later this year.
“Someone wants to privatise the profits from linking Asia to Europe, which in Bulgaria’s case would be two billion (sic),” Petrov was quoted as saying.
After leaving the train station, the rally briefly blocked traffic on Maria Luiza Boulevard and later at the Presidency. Among the numerous chants calling on protesters to stay united, occasionally there were demands for the resignation of Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova, Bulgarian media reported.
In Plovdiv, the protest rally gathered about 500 people and there, too, demands for the resignation of mayor Ivan Totev were heard. The reason appears to be the 35 per cent increase in local taxes proposed by the city hall.
Rallies in other towns gathered even fewer people, according to reports in local media – 300 in Bourgas and Blagoevgrad, 200 in Shoumen, fewer than 50 in Veliko Turnovo, Smolyan and Vidin.
The protesters in Blagoevgrad, however, managed to block traffic on the E79 motorway to Greece for about 30 minutes, despite police attempts to prevent the protesters from doing so.
(As on other occasions, the rallies on March 10 saw a lot of Bulgarian flags and the occasional folk ensemble. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)