A further attempt has been made to backtrack on Plamen Oresharski’s controversial statement that people on the public payroll who take part in anti-government protests will be dismissed.
The November 15 statement by Oresharski, appointed in May 2013 to sit in the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party government, has led to two formal complaints to the Prosecutor-General’s office while some lawyers have told the media that the threat was in violation of Bulgaria’s constitution and statutes.
At the November 15 meeting with a group of “civic organisations”, Oresharski said that the government wanted to have the best people in the administration and that was why it was trying to get rid of people who took part in anti-government protests.
He also was quoted as referring to “operational data” about participants in the anti-government protests, which since mid-June have been continuing to demand the resignation of the BSP governnment, fresh elections and thorough political reforms.
Media reports at the time linked the statement to a reported request from the Sofia BSP to its local structures to get people who wanted government jobs to a pro-government demonstration on November 16. That demonstration saw people, many low-income, brought in by bus and train from BSP and Movement for Rights and Freedoms strongholds, given free food and drink – a show in Sofia that seemed not to fully achieve its hoped-for turnout as video walls along Tsarigradsko Chaussee were left without spectators and reports said that some of those bussed-in bunked to go to a football match instead. Turnout at the pro-government rally remains a matter of dispute.
Also a matter of dispute is whether what Oresharski said was legal, or for that matter, just what he meant by what he said.
MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan offered a re-interpretation as the controversy due, seeking to ameloriate the impact of Oresharski’s remark, while on November 19, MRF MP Yordan Tsonev said that Oresharski had meant those who protested during working hours and who sought to commit sabotage by concealing documents that would lead to the suspension of European Union funds.
By the time of Tsonev’s statement, the Association for European Integration and Human Rights had on November 18 approached the Prosecutor-General’s office asking for action against Oresharski on the grounds that he had violated fundamental human rights provisions in the Bulgarian constitution.
The association’s Mihail Ekimdzhiev said that the November 15 statement by Oresharski was a clear threat leading to the suppression of personal opinion and the right to peaceful assembly. Lawyer Ekimdzhiev said that this was a basis for initiating pre-trial proceedings and Oresharski being charged with a crime.
At the same time, Ekimdzhiev dismissed a statement by opposition centre-right GERB leader Boiko Borissov that Oresharski, as a public servant, should be dismissed for taking part in the November 16 political event. In law, the prime minister was not a public servant, Ekimdzhiev said, adding that he took what Borissov said as “folk humour”.
On November 19, GERB said that it was referring Oresharski’s statement to the top office-bearers of the European Commission and to the Prosecutor-General of Bulgaria.
The complaint was being filed to European Commission President Jose Barroso, to Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, and Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, GERB said.
Senior GERB MP Desislava Atanasova said that such a stance on the part of a prime minister not only threatened Bulgarian civil servants but also the fundamental rights of citizens to impart freely information and ideas.
GERB’s Krassimir Tsipov, who along with Atanasova filed the formal complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office, said that he expected prosecutors to investigate the actions of Oresharski and of the authorities who were collecting operational data on those participating in the anti-government protests.
Asked by reporters for his reaction to the approaches to the Prosecutor’s Office, Oresharski said on November 19 that he respected the protesters “so long as they do not protest when they should be at work and so long as they do not sabotage state institutions”.
He said that all protesters had the right to demonstrate in their free time.
“Sabotage of institutions” was when employees attended protests during working hours. Oresharski said that he was not worried about the formal complaints against him.