As France not only celebrated Bastille Day on July 14 but also mourned those who died in the country’s worst train crash in 25 years, plans were circulating among Bulgaria’s anti-government protesters to lay flowers at the French embassy as a gesture of condolence on France’s loss.
This was the second emblematic gesture in as many days, after the leading image from the protests on July 13 was a re-creation of the famous Delacroix painting from the French Revolution, an image that captured the imagination of those who support the protests – as well as foreign media, naturally including those in France.
In the role of the bare-breasted leader of the revolutionaries was Tanya Ilieva, a star Bulgarian model who works abroad. She was accompanied by a group in period gear, bearing prop weapons from the French revolutionary era.
Protests demanding the immediate resignation of the Bulgarian Socialist Party government entered their 31st day on July 14.
The protesters, whose numbers run into tens of thousands in capital city Sofia alone (much less, according to Interior Ministry official figures that have become a running joke online among protest supporters) are demanding not only the departure of the current government – described in an interview with Spanish EFE news agency by an unnamed Western diplomat as “having started with no credibility and dropped from there” – but also root-and-branch reforms to make the political system truly representative and the economic system free of the domination of oligarchs.
The most recent public opinion poll, by Sova Harris, shows 56 per cent support among adult residents of Sofia and other large cities for the anti-government protests. Like everything else currently, opinions reflected in polls are disputed terrain. Another recent poll showed the country evenly divided on whether the socialist-Movement for Rights and Freedoms-Ataka should go immediately, or stay on to carry out urgent electoral reforms.
But there is public skepticism about polls, especially because many agencies are seen as likely to slant the outcome of their surveys according to their political backgrounds or clients’ desired conclusions.
Various figures connected to the government come up with their own mathematics, arguing that if the vote for the governing parties is taken together with the vote for parties other than the former centre-right ruling GERB and then the voters who did not turn out are mixed in, the conclusion is that the current government has popular support.
Anti-government protesters, in turn, point out that it has been not only them to demand the departure of the government, but also business associations and trade unions. To varying degrees of openness, Western diplomats have identified themselves with the protests (including, in a joint statement, the ambassadors of France and Germany), while President Rossen Plevneliev has said that the only way out for Bulgaria is early elections. Even one of the Interior Ministry trade unions has criticised the ministry’s leadership and signalled the frustration and lack of support among police for having to staff the barricades against the protesters.
Meanwhile, at the pro-government protests, the task of police continued to be less onerous. In contrast to the daily tens of thousands of anti-government protesters, the pro-government group drew about 100 people.
(Main photo: Vassil Garnizov)