Bulgaria’s school-leaving youths are caught up with the real question facing them before the country’s European Parliament elections on May 25: Will they still be able to party?
Like many European Union countries, the day before an election in Bulgaria is a “day of contemplation” on which canvassing is banned – and on which a ban on the sale of alcohol takes effect.
This has created a coincidence causing concern among Bulgarian pupils heading for their school-leaving proms on May 24 – that the day for partying is the same as the day of contemplation.
On top of that, May 24 is the day on which Bulgaria honours Saints Cyril and Methodius as the founders of the Cyrillic script, letters and learning so central to national identity. It is a day for school parades, learned comments from leaders in the country’s educational system, a trip to Rome by state leaders to revere the relics of the saints – and customarily (rather like every other day of the year) a day for politicians to score political points.
The coincidence of a day generally ending in drinking and carousing by school-leavers with a day that those entitled to vote are meant to be placidly contemplating the political future has sparked considerable excitement in local media.
“Election day ruins balls!” screamed one headline, by which was meant prom balls.
Some school-leavers had a slightly worse problem, having scheduled their parties for May 25 much earlier in the year, well before the election day was proclaimed. (Not really an act of genius, given that the EU’s timeframe for European Parliament elections, May 22 to 25, had been known for several months and Bulgaria customarily holds elections on Sundays, making it highly predictable that would be the date long before President Rossen Plevneliev confirmed it as such.)
According to a report by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, pupils at the 144th School in Sofia said that they would write to the Regional Election Commission asking that the election not get in the way of their plans for a party on May 25.
Class captain Krassimir Ivanov told BNT that May 25 had been the traditional date for school-leaving parties for the past 15 years and changing it would mean “chaos” because restaurant reservations had been made early in the year and could not be cancelled.
Then there is the key question of drinking.
Bulgarian law gives to municipalities the power to decide on bans on the sale of alcohol. Most city councils impose a ban from some time before, or even at, the opening of polls to the point that polls close. Generally, exceptions are allowed for alcohol sales in public places used for “family gatherings” such as weddings and wakes, but it remains to be seen whether prom parties would fall within this category.
The Central Election Commission has said that it is leaving the question of alcohol sales on May 24 and 25 up to individual municipalities.
The commission told this to local media after education minister Anelia Klisarova wrote to CEC chairperson Ivilina Alexieva to ask for clarity about the coincidence of the Day of Cyril and Methodius and the Day of Contemplation.
Klisarova asked Alexieva whether holding the traditional celebrations of May 24 would violate the prohibition on canvassing.
The minister referred to the traditional procession in the Sofia city centre, where participants customarily include the President, the education minister, mayor of Sofia, university rectors and lecturers, teachers, pupils and other citizens.
“I hope that the elections to the European Parliament will not disrupt the longstanding tradition of celebration on May 24 and spoil the holiday for thousands of Bulgarian school-leavers,” Klisarova said in the letter, as quoted by the education ministry.
The Central Election Commission’s response, however, seemed to deserve a “must try harder” note on their report card. The commission said that they had yet to resolve the question of campaigning, and nor had the commission yet decided on the question of the procession.
There is, at least, one bit of good news for all school pupils. The education ministry has declared May 26 a day off from school, because schools will have been used as polling stations.
(Photo: Ilja Wanka/sxc.hu)