Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev was set to name a new national police chief on November 25, with the betting being on Plovdiv district police directorate chief Todor Grebenarov to take over from Angel Antonov, who was dismissed on November 22.
Official reasons for the change were to be announced on November 25, although mass-circulation daily Trud said that the government wanted a “more suitable person” to be in charge of efforts to police anti-government protests and cope with conventional crime.
Public protests demanding the resignation of the Bulgarian Socialist Party government have been continuing since mid-June 2013. The protests have been largely peaceful, with the exception of two incidents, in July and November, in which police actions against protesters led to allegations of police brutality. These allegations have produced scant official response, while in the second case, the Prosecutor-General said that he saw no evidence of police brutality.
In a recent report to the Consultative Council on National Security, Yovchev depicted the anti-government protests as a national security risk while adding that he did not believe that acceding to popular demands for fresh parliamentary elections would resolve tensions in the country.
Further, while opinion polls have shown majority public support for the anti-government protests, some close to the ruling axis have criticised the continuing disruption represented by the daily protests in Sofia.
On another front, there also has been controversy about so-called “citizen patrols” by ultra-nationalist groups in the centre of Sofia in response to the increasing number of foreign refugees in the capital city.
Initial reports that participants in these patrols, who wear black jackets with armbands based on the Bulgarian flag, were demanding to see people’s identity documents – a clear breach of the law that gives such a right solely to police officers – were denied by patrol organisers.
The patrols have been continuing, with police reportedly doing nothing other than cautioning participants not to break the law.
Concern about the phenomenon deepened when it emerged that the current BSP government had drafted changes to the Interior Ministry Act that appear to legalise a form of citizen patrol.
Deputy Interior Minister Yordan Gramov, in a recent interview with local media, sought to portray the changes to the Interior Ministry Act as not giving more powers to the Interior Ministry but making its operations more efficient.
He said that the draft law contained the concept of a “supernumerary assistant” as a measure to improve the fight against crime, “in remote or sparsely populated areas or those with a concentration of criminal activity”.
These people would not have police powers and nor would they be paid, Gramov said.