Anti-government protests in Bulgaria: A parliament behind barricades and a ‘different reality’
In the 42nd National Assembly on the morning of November 13, Movement for Rights and Freedoms leader Lyutvi Mestan said that the current government meant a “different reality”, one much better than when Boiko Borissov was running the country. Many might agree that the current government is operating in a different reality, but it is highly doubtful that they would see it as comparing favourably with anything.
Bulgaria’s Parliament was holding its meeting behind new-style stronger barriers and a powerful police presence, with the ruling axis determined to continue business as usual – the first reading vote on Budget 2014 – or at least the form of business that is usual when protests demanding the resignation of the government have majority public support.
Or that is usual after a day that saw 23 people arrested for what the Interior Ministry described as various acts of “hooliganism” (as the offence is termed in Bulgarian law) and for disobeying police orders.
One of those arrested, going by video footage, was a man who had been filming police action against anti-government protesters on November 12 using his mobile phone. It is not presently clear whether this counts as hooliganism or as disobeying police orders.
Entering the building of Parliament on the morning of November 13, Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Maya Manolova spoke of “protesters aggression against police” – a perspective with which protesters themselves are likely to disagree.
Also entering Parliament, by its rear entrance, Plamen Oresharski – appointed in May as prime minister in the BSP government – did not say anything to waiting reporters.
In the House, a member of centre-right opposition party GERB, Tsveta Karayancheva, read a declaration on behalf of the parliamentary group condemning police violence against protesters.
Referring to the events of November 12, in which police prevented anti-government protesters forming human chains to block the departure of members of Parliament, Karayancheva said, “under our windows our children were tossed, struck and beaten”.
Addressing herself to the government benches, she said: “How long will you be blind and deaf, gentlemen of the government? If you still have a conscience and a sense of shame, resign.”
GERB members then walked out, some displaying photographs of those injured in the protest of the previous day.
None of this would have been seen by viewers of the public broadcaster, because the House voted for its proceedings to be broadcast only after Karayancheva had finished speaking.
Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev, at the podium as GERB walked out, condemned what he called the “vandals and ultras” who had besieged the building and who were acting to return GERB to power.
Mestan, backing up Stanishev, said that the “”ultras and skinheads” who had been outside Parliament had “nothing to do” with the students’ protests. He went on to make his unfavourable comparison between the current government and its predecessor headed by Borissov.
Meanwhile, on a breakfast television show, Tatyana Doncheva, formerly a BSP MP but highly critical of the party’s current leadership, hit out at the notion of “imagining that the battle is between GERB, and the BSP and the MRF. But that is not so. Boiko Borissov also thinks that, and that’s his problem”.
November 13 was the 153rd day of anti-government protests. Students, who three weeks ago began their allied protest demanding the resignation of the government, fresh elections and profound reforms of the political system, decided in the light of events the previous day to continue their “Occupy” protest at the central campus of Sofia University. The day’s “blockade” of Parliament was scheduled to start at 10.30am.
In the virtual world of social networks, comments streamed about the events, comments that too came from different realities.
Local media quoted a Facebook post by Kristian Vigenin, foreign minister in the BSP goverment, who said that the events of November 12 made him think of the film The Exorcist, “five months chasing demons, to bring them back to torment Bulgaria”.
On the other side, one of the tersest comments was on the Facebook page of a stalwart supporter and participant in the DANSwithme protests: “Utterly discredited”. No explanation was needed to which reality was being referred.