Bussing in: Anatomy of a ‘spontaneous’ protest

It was inevitable that someone would give the game away about the “spontaneous” protest by a pro-government crowd outside Bulgaria’s Parliament on the August 16 day of drama around the vote on President Rossen Plevneliev’s veto of key elements of the Budget 2013 amendments.

It had been known in advance that huge crowds of anti-government protesters would rally, and in turn, it emerged that pro-government forces had been on the move too – on the move, literally, with convoys of buses bringing in people from socialist party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms strongholds to shout support for the government and against President Plevneliev.

While Bulgarian Socialist Party government leaders insisted that the pro-government protests were spontaneous, a woman who arrived on one of the buses, when asked by a reporter who had organised the expedition, shrugged and said, “the BSP”. Her statement was out of kilter with those who told reporters that they had paid their own fare. Bus drivers questioned by reporters about who had paid for the expedition declined to answer.

Bulgarian-language website Mediapool said that the organisation of the various groups of “counter-protesters” on August 16 had been entrusted to the youth structures of the BSP.

Local media reports said that the MRF too had a role in bussing in supporters, to provide a counterpoint to the anti-government gathering in front of Parliament.

Part of the show was the emergence from within Parliament of MPs from the ruling axis to greet the pro-government crowd, which was on a different side of the building from those keeping up the demands of many weeks for the government to resign.

Socialist Speaker of Parliament Mihail Mikov told reporters, “these are working people, people with chapped hands, such support is of great significance to us”.

Asked by reporters who had organised the crowds, Mikov responded that he could not say.

Mikov and BSP leader Sergei Stanishev were among those who came out to speak with the pro-government crowd.

Stanishev said that the pro-government turnout showed that there were many people who supported the current government, which he insisted was making progress in spite of what he said were the efforts by “political forces, economic circles and media groups” to prevent the government working properly.

In contrast to the anti-government now-traditional shouted call, оставка (resignation), the call of choice for the pro-government group was победа (victory).

The placement of the pro-government protests also was rather convenient, providing – in addition to the considerable police presence – a form of buffer for MPs to escape the scene, in contrast to the July 23 episode in which a busload of MPs under police escort was directed into a crowd of several thousand anti-government protesters.

The strategy of organising “counter-protests” appears likely to continue, to muster a greater show of strength than the running joke that has been the meagre gatherings of recent weeks to show support for the government and to demand the resignation and/or impeachment of Plevneliev.

These previous pro-government gatherings hardly managed 100 people, while ahead of the holiday season that sapped turnout, daily anti-government protests were attracting at least 10 000 people in Sofia, with lesser turnouts in other major cities.

The pro-government protests’ cause was hardly helped when the star of the daily show, Bulgarian rapper Misho Shamara, appeared on television and used an anti-Semitic slur in reference to former finance minister Simeon Dyankov.

A new note of ludicrousness was achieved when Plamen Oresharski, appointed in May 2013 to sit in the prime minister’s seat, held meetings with “protesters” who turned out to be a handful of those from the February 2013 demonstrations that had led, after a violent incident in the Bulgarian capital, to the resignation of then-prime minister Boiko Borissov.

Local media said socialist organisers were preparing a similar large rally in support of the current government at the beginning of September, when the 42nd National Assembly is scheduled to resume sittings after its – now-briefly-interrupted – August summer holiday.

On August 16, meanwhile, socialist MPs such as Maya Manolova repeated their allegation that Boiko Borissov’s GERB party of paying for organised groups of anti-government protesters.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.