Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev, in a forceful special address to the nation on July 5, underlined his disapproval of politicians who choose to ignore the national protests and said that the only way out for Bulgaria was early elections.
The President was speaking on the 22nd consecutive day of protests that have drawn many thousands of Bulgarians on to the street to demand the immediate resignation of the government as well as constitutional and electoral law reforms.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party government, which took office in May with the support of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the tacit support of ultra-nationalists Ataka, has refused to resign, with the so-called “expert” cabinet in office devoting its efforts to eradicating the years that centre-rightist Boiko Borissov was in power.
Plevneliev said that for the past three weeks, the country had had a new wave of protests, which had been received differently by the various political forces.
There had been attempts to distinguish between some of the socio-economic demands of the February protesters from those of the protesters today, to put in contrast poorer and wealthier Bulgarian citizens with a bid for class struggle between them, and to distinguish between the protests in Sofia and elsewhere. There had been attempts to divide Bulgarian society and even to artificially provoke ethnic conflict.
This, Plevneliev said, was dangerous and destructive, “playing with fire, the consequences of which can be disastrous for our country. Have you learnt nothing from the history of our neighbours? I oppose all such attempts absolutely,” he said.
He said that the in the recent months of protests, citizens wanted a clear response to their expectations, which go far beyond demanding resignations. Plevneliev said that civil society was setting more and more questions, and along with the social demands there were more demands, aimed at the structure of the political system. This, he said, was a clear sign that among the demands of the people there were no contradictions.
What had happened in the past five months showed that civil society in Bulgaria had come of age and sooner or later, one way or another, politicians should understand this. Not for the first time recently, Plevneliev pointed to the fact that the anti-government protests were peaceful, saying that this showed maturity and was a demonstration that even in the way issues and demands were raised, the way in which this was done showed the aspirations and values held by those taking part.
Bulgarians would no longer tolerate the dependencies and parallel power structures and those who did not realise this would pay a high political price, Plevneliev said.
He said that already there had been 22 days of protests and “I still do not see politicians undertaking clear commitments, looking at what is happening in the country and in simple words explaining to the nation what they will do”.
Plevneliev said that as President, he could not accept that one part of society was protesting and another part was pretending not to see them. His constitutional duty, he said, was to seek solutions and it gave him the right to demand answers from political forces.
Citizens would not accept unquestioningly any act of political shamelessness just because the state was performing its other obligations such as caring for the poor, providing more money for mothers or building highways. It was good that the government had proposed a package of social measures, was making an effort to reduce the cost of electricity and that the National Assembly was working on changes to the electoral law. But, in the streets and squares of Bulgaria, people were chanting “mafia”, and Plevneliev asked how government and opposition would respond to this message. He called on parties in Parliament and the government to take action that would unequivocally show that politicians were willing to take the country away from the alleged backstage relationships.
The big issue was that a tumor had infected Bulgarian democracy. The most important national goal was to operate to remove this tumor, to heal Bulgarian democracy. “The lack of debate on the subject ‘how’ is monstrous,” Plevneliev said.
One thing was clear, that the current situation could not go on, Plevneliev said. There should be clear consensus on the steps to be taken. Real action and not mere words, he said.
In a clear reference to Ataka, Plevneliev said that an issue to be answered by the political forces that entered Parliament is what the value orientation of Bulgaria would be: “Will we be part of united Europe or believe that European investors are colonizers?”
He said that the response to this again had to be in the form of action, not words – an apparent reference in line with calls from political groupings at European level for the current government to distance itself from Ataka, on which it is dependent for Parliamentary sittings to proceed.
“As President, I am concerned and worried about Bulgaria,” Plevneliev said.
He quoted a letter sent to him by Bulgarian intellectuals, referring to Ataka as the spitzkommandos who wanted to “make citizens’ arrests” in the streets to impose order in the state, whose leader had entered Parliament with a firearm and a baton.
Thousands of people had approached the prosecution regarding the actions of the Ataka leader said Plevneliev, reminding that a few days ago the immunity of French nationalist leader Marine le Pen had been lifted because of her statements and actions.
“We have no choice – either to live in a European country where the civil rights of all are protected, and the sowing of hatred, racism and discrimination are not tolerated and are punished effectively and legally, or a mass of people will turn to Terminal 2,” Plevneliev said, while those who remained would, with the spitzkommandos, be branded as terrorists and jailed for three years for taking part in civil protests – again, a reference to a call earlier by Siderov.
President Plevneliev said that he was concerned about the signals emanating from Bulgaria, the country’s crumbling reputation.
Referring to the special debate on Bulgaria in the European Parliament this past week, Plevneliev said that what had been heard there were references to “falsified elections, manipulation, corruption, mafia, ultranationalists, illegal eavesdropping, oligarchs, populism”.
“This is not Bulgaria!” Plevneliev said, warning that if the image of a country was not good, there would no investments, no income and no jobs.
Plevneliev said that the constitution did not allow him to take the side of one party or another.
At the same time, he said that no one could convince him that elections are a bad thing or that this most democratic instrument could be “harmful”.
“This is the only way to solve the unsolvable conflicts, undoing the most complicated knot. When all else fails, when there is not even attempt to reach an agreement, then the only way out is democratic elections. To scare people with elections is to say that the law can be dangerous, that democracy is not a good form of organization of social relations. I do not believe that and that’s why I do not believe that an election could harm the state, its citizens or anyone else.”
He said that only the most urgent changes to electoral law could be made, given that Bulgarian society was not in a steady state for the long research and scientific approach for the development of an entirely new electoral law, which would take years.
“Citizens have returned to the political scene, now the spotlight is directed at politicians. Citizens will no longer turn a blind eye, it’s time for politicians to open theirs,” Plevneliev said.
* Reaction from the parties linked to the current government was predictably discontented. The BSP’s Anton Koutev said that Plevneliev was not fit to be President, while Ataka said that it would initiate a petition in Parliament to have Plevneliev’s immunity lifted, impeached as President and put on trial for treason.