Bulgaria’s political crisis: Silence of the sacrificial lamb

In the torrent of commentaries and reactions after the clashes between police and protesters in Sofia, one voice was notable by its absence – that of the man sitting in the prime minister chair in the coalition government, Plamen Oresharski.

Several cabinet ministers spoke on July 24 to condemn the behaviour of some of the protesters – including Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, who approved the order to send the police into the crowd to make way for the bus carrying ministers and MPs, which sparked the clashes; Economy Minister Dragomir Stoynev, one of three ministers caught in the Parliament blockade, and Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin.

Leaping to the government and Parliament’s defence – rejecting the resignation calls, in the process – were also socialist leader Sergei Stanishev and Parliament Speaker Mihail Mikov. (For more details on reactions to the clashes on the 40th day of Bulgaria’s anti-government protests, see The Sofia Globe reporting here and here.)

Meanwhile, Oresharski remained silent throughout the day. After the scheduled weekly meeting of the Cabinet, only Yovchev faced the reporters assembled for the traditional news conference that follows such sittings, fielding numerous questions about police’s actions the previous night.

The only quotes from Oresharski came from an interview with the Wall Street Journal, published on the newspaper’s website before the clashes on July 23 and picked up widely by Bulgarian media on the morning of July 24.

In the interview, Oresharski said that he had no intention to tender his resignation. He said that the protests could continue indefinitely “as long as they are peaceful and abstain from provocations.”

Nominated as the socialists’ prime minister-designate during the campaign preceding the May 2013 early elections, in turn caused by the resignation of Boiko Borissov’s centre-right government as a result of protests in February against high electricity bills and the rising cost of living, Oresharski has been trumpeted by the socialist leadership as a technocrat prime minister, while his government was “a Cabinet of experts.”

Throughout the recent upheaval, Oresharski has maintained that all appointments done by the Cabinet were ultimately his decision. Most controversially, this included the nomination of media mogul Delyan Peevski as director of the State Agency for National Security on June 14, which sparked the anti-government protests, but also that of Kalin Tiholov (nominated to the new portfolio of investment projects minister), who was pulled after Bulgarian media and online forums linked him to a previous controversy about alleged unlawful development on an ecologically sensitive dune area along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.

Another appointment that sparked immediate criticism was that of Ivan Ivanov as Deputy Interior Minister, fired only hours after his appointment was announced, following reports in several Bulgarian-language media that highlighted the ties between Ivanov’s father and the highly-controversial business group SIC, which was influential during the early years of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy in the 1990s.

Regional governor appointments in June have also sparked smaller protests in Blagoevgrad and Plovdiv.

Addressing the stream of criticism against the Cabinet’s appointments, Oresharski said in the Wall Street Journal interview that he too had his objections based on “the qualities of those appointed”, adding that parliamentary politics involves making compromises with partners.

That quote was widely lambasted in comments on forums and social media in Bulgaria, with numerous posters commenting that Oresharski should make public the names of those officials whose appointment he opposed, but also ridiculing Oresharski as a weak-willed marionette.



Alex Bivol

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