Bulgarian political crisis: Ten injured, socialists blame political opponents and other reactions

Ten people were reported to have received treatment at Pirogov emergency hospital in Sofia for light injuries in clashes with police on the 40th day of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, late on July 23 and the early hours of July 24. Two police officers required treatment, the reports said.

None of the injuries required an overnight stay in hospital, with one protester reportedly diagnosed with concussion asking to be released.

On the morning of July 24, the Bulgarian Socialist Party blamed opposition politicians for encouraging a “radicalisation of the protests” and accused the protesters of “pushing an agenda” that benefitted GERB, the party in government until February 2013.

At a news conference, socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said that “there was a conscious attempt to instigate conflict” and that some protesters behaved violently towards police officers. He said that he expected the Interior Ministry to identify the people responsible and guarantee “normal conditions” for Parliament to resume work.

After short remarks by Stanishev and socialist Parliament Speaker Mihail Mikov, the news conference ended with assembled reporters not given the opportunity to ask any questions.

He said that the government and ruling coalition would not cave in to “ultimatums” and described the situation in which about a hundred people, including three cabinet ministers, MPs and Parliament staff were blocked inside the National Assembly for hours as an instance of “hostage-taking”.

Parliament protest day 40 bus
The bus carrying, according to reports, at least several MPs and Cabinet ministers, which tried to break through the throng of protesters shortly before midnight on July 23.

“You cannot have a conversation with protests that are pursuing their goal regardless of the cost,” he said.

Mikov said that he called on MPs not to show up for work on July 24 because they “were not elected to work under ultimatum and have all the rights that other Bulgarian citizens have.” He called off the Parliament sitting by phone, in breach of Parliament procedure, which requires a formal resolution to cancel a sitting.

This has prompted a sharp reaction from GERB, which asked for Mikov’s resignation and re-iterated their demand for snap parliamentary elections.

GERB said that Mikov’s actions in calling off the Parliament sitting – “his obvious incompetence and dictatorial behaviour that violates democratic norms” – was the latest evidence that the current legislature was unable to function and had exhausted its entire “credit of trust”.

The party also asked President Rossen Plevneliev to call a new meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss a date for early elections before the end of the year.

(The previous attempt to hold a meeting of the consultative council, on June 20, ended in debacle when ultra-nationalist Ataka leader Volen Siderov interrupted proceedings seeking to pepper Plevneliev with questions about the President’s alleged offshore accounts, a claim raised by media controlled by interests close to Delyan Peevski, the controversial MP whose appointment as head of the State Agency for National Security on June 14 sparked the anti-government protests in the first place.)

The narrative that agents provocateurs are to blame for the escalation of the protests – and that the current government must stay in place to prevent a descent into ruin – was pursued by other Cabinet ministers who spoke about the latest day of protests.

Economy Minister Dragomir Stoynev – one of the three cabinet ministers caught in the blockade of Parliament – said that he saw “another face of the protests, people who sought confrontation, who perhaps sought bloodshed”. He said that the government needed to stay in place and revise the Budget to prevent “the country reaching a standstill.”

Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin said that while some protesters went to the rally with peaceful intentions, others meant to instigate unrest. In a Facebook comment published in the early hours of the morning, Vigenin said that “hostage-taking is a crime” and blamed “vandals in front of the National Assembly” for clashing with the police and throwing paving stones.

Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, who said shortly after the first attempt to break the blockade using riot police in full gear that “the police did not use force”, said on the breakfast show of bTV channel that police had behaved “appropriately” and that the police would check all footage to identify those who threw bricks at MPs and police. At the same time, any claim that police officers overstepped their authority would also be investigated.

Parliament protest day 40 police

He said that he was one of the people who made the decision to attempt to extract the MPs and cabinet ministers from Parliament because “they are Bulgarian citizens and no one has the right to impede their movement.”

Meanwhile, several notable socialist politicians known for their opposition to the current leadership of the party, renewed their calls for early parliamentary elections.

Socialist MP Georgi Kadiev – who was in Parliament for the committee sitting that saw the Budget revision pass at first reading, but managed to break the blockade early on, several vegetable projectiles notwithstanding – told Bulgarian National Radio that elections now would not solve any of the pressing issues and that snap polls in May 2014, to be held at the same time with the European Parliament elections, were the “most appropriate” solution.

Former interior minister Roumen Petkov, one of several influential socialist politicians sidelined by the current leadership before the May 2013 elections, said that the attempt to break the blockade was a gross mistake and that the socialist party should not try to hang on to power at any cost.

Former foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin, the socialist nominee defeated in the presidential election in 2011, said that the current legislature was unable to function “for a number of reasons, none of which is linked to the protesters’ aggression”. He said that new elections were needed “to offer the opportunity to hear arguments.”

Among the politicians yet to weigh in are Plamen Oresharski, who sits in the prime minister chair in the socialist-led coalition; Lyutvi Mestan, leader of the second party in the ruling coalition, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms; or Ataka leader Siderov, whose presence in Parliament proved crucial for the Oresharski cabinet to be invested in late May.

Parliament protest day 40 barricade

Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova, who has been repeatedly criticised by socialists and their allies for rejecting calls to ban the late-night rallies, estimated the costs of fixing the damages – mainly putting back paving stones that protesters removed in order to create impromptu barricades around Parliament – at about 30 000 leva. The work to put back the paving stones was already underway.

(Bulgarian Parliament, cordoned off by police in the early hours of July 24. Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer and Alex Bivol)



Alex Bivol

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