Bulgarian President, Prime Minister speak out – and other talking points as protests set to continue

As protest rallies in Bulgaria are set to continue for a fourth consecutive day on June 17, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said that he had no intention of resigning, while President Rossen Plevneliev asked political parties to prepare “clear positions” on the growing political crisis, ahead of the June 20 meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security.

Triggered by the rapid-fire appointment of Delyan Peevski as director of the State Agency for National Security (SANS) on June 14, the rallies have increasingly become an expression of disaffection with the Oresharski cabinet and the parliamentary coalition backing it.

The latest rally on June 16 was the largest so far – according to police estimates, 15 000 people participated in the protest in Sofia alone. In Bulgaria’s second city, Plovdiv, official figures indicated that turnout on Sunday was triple that the previous day, at 3000. New rallies are being planned for June 17, with the largest Facebook group calling for continued protests growing to more than 72 000 members.

* After strongly protesting Peevski’s appointment on June 14, describing it as “a triumph of backdoor politics”, Rossen Plevneliev praised the protest rallies as a show of “strong democratic culture” in Bulgaria’s society. “The people spoke very clearly – we want to be governed by people with a moral compass, who would not rob us and lie to us,” he said on June 17. Having already called a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the recent reforms in the law enforcement sector, adopted by Parliament, Plevneliev said that he was expanding the agenda of the meeting to include the current crisis.

“This means that on Thursday we will debate not only reforms in the security sector and the appointments, and the way in which they were made, but we will also discuss the situation in Bulgaria and what are the proper measures to exit this crisis. By Thursday, I expect the parliamentary-represented parties to consolidate their opinions and come to the presidency with clear positions – will there be resignations and whose, if any,” Plevneliev said.

Despite saying after the Peevski nomination that the Cabinet exhausted its “credit of trust”, Plevneliev said that he was prepared “within my constitutional powers, to work with them and support, or not create obstacles, for any rational idea that moves the nation forward in this situation.”

* Speaking on the breakfast show of private broadcaster bTV, in his first live media appearance since the start of the protests, Oresharski said that Peevski’s nomination was “clearly a mistake”, which had “underestimated the controversial image created about Mr Peevski.”

Oresharski said that he was concerned with the protests, but had no intention to step down, saying that his resignation would not solve any of the problems faced by Bulgaria, since it would only lead to snap elections that would, most likely, result once again in a hung parliament. “If I lose the parliamentary support […] I will tender my resignation. As for public opinion, this is something that we can work on,” he said.

He said that he would once again meet representatives of protesting groups – as he had on June 14, when some of them left the meeting in protest against the Peevski appointment. He said that he had also invited representatives of the 22 civil society NGOs who demanded a new and transparent appointment proceedings for SANS director.

In a letter, the NGOs said that they would not attend the meeting because their initial requests, which included overturning Peevski’s appointment, had not been met.

* During his TV appearance on June 17, Oresharski repeatedly refused to answer the question who put forth Peevski’s nomination in the first place. Peevski is an MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which has come under fire for the “disproportionate” influence it was being given in government – both by protesters and some voices in their coalition partner, the socialists.

In Blagoevgrad, the newly-appointed regional governor Moussa Palev – whose appointment was opposed by the local socialist party organisation – had managed to enter the building of the regional administration only after police forcefully pushed aside protesters gathered in front of it. The small rally continued even after that, under police oversight, but Palev avoided facing the protesters for a second time, exiting the building through a backdoor, local media reported.

In Plovdiv, the influential head of the local party organisation, Georgi Gergov, said on June 17 that the local socialists did not accept the appointment of Ventsislav Kaimakanov as regional governor. Kaimakanov, a businessman, said that he was nominated by Oresharski, but is seen locally as another MRF nominee.

Gergov said that the Plovdiv socialists demanded that the appointment is rescinded: “It is an issue of honour, but the people of Plovdiv and the socialists in Plovdiv do not deserve such treatment.”

* The growing rebellion in socialist ranks against socialist leader Sergei Stanishev was to be manifested with a protest in front of the party headquarters at Positano Street in Sofia – organised by one of its own MPs, Georgi Kadiev. In a message on Facebook, Kadiev called on all “socialist members and left-wing voters who feel betrayed” to band together and show that “we are not part of the backroom dealings, but part of that Bulgaria that wants honesty and honour in politics.”

Kadiev was among the most vocal opponents of Peevski’s appointment in the socialist ranks, apologising to his followers on Facebook; he was also one of the first voices to call for Stanishev’s resignation as party leader, at the weekend.

A similar call came on June 17 from former president Georgi Purvanov, whose challenge to Stanishev as party leader at the party congress in 2012 fizzled out without making much impact. Purvanov asked for an emergency meeting of the party’s national council, which would be tasked with assessing the situation “created as a result of the myopic and irresponsible actions of the socialist party leadership.”

* Meanwhile, nationalist Ataka leader Volen Siderov blamed the protests on former prime minister Boiko Borissov and “gangsters working with him”, who were allegedly “preparing terrorist acts”. Siderov, whose vote provided the necessary quorum to vote the Oresharski cabinet in power, has been one of the targets of less-than-complimentary chants during the protests.

On June 15, the Ataka leader was caught unaware by a small group of protesters in the early hours of the morning and had to answer uncomfortable questions without his usual entourage, according to reports in Bulgarian media. In June 16, however, Siderov and a number of his supporters appeared in front of Parliament at the end of the protest, engaging in a shouting match with reporters and protesters, mediapool.bg reported.

Siderov also, reportedly, accused police officers of failing to protect an MP from hooliganism. On June 17, he said that he would ask prosecutors to investigate reporters for “incitement to breach public peace” and “creating organised crime groups” that targeted Ataka MPs at Borissov’s orders.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.