Four hundred and five days after they began, public protests in Bulgaria demanding the resignation of the government turned to jubilation as confirmation came that Plamen Oresharski, placed in the prime minister’s chair in May 2013, had submitted his resignation letter to Parliament.
Outside the National Assembly building on July 23, a crowd of a few hundred – much less in number than in the first days of the protests, but no less in spirit – popped champagne corks, toasted each other and chanted, in the familiar ritual, “оставка” (resignation, the clarion call since June 2013 for the government to go).
At points in the celebrations, on the yellow brick paving in front of the heavy crowd barriers from where a strong and inscrutable cordon of police looked on, some of the chants turned to, “победа” – victory.
The gathering had started around the scheduled time of 5.30pm, and some carried posters reading “we are waiting for the resignation”. As it turned out from the announcement on the Bulgarian Parliament’s website, that resignation letter was lodged at 5.59pm.
By the time that the procession had left its starting point, outside the cabinet office, to reach the National Assembly building, news organisations and social networks had spread the news. As it filtered through, with some reluctant to exult too quickly lest it be yet another will-o-the-wisp rumour or false speculation of the kind of which Bulgaria has endured, the news caused exuberant shouts among many and looks of quiet satisfaction among others.
The July 23 protest had been called to mark the anniversary of one of the very few – and certainly the most dramatic – episodes of violence during the protests, the night on which a busload of MPs departing Parliament had, for reasons which remain unclear, been directed towards a huge crowd of protesters between the National Assembly and the landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
In contrast to that night, which went to dawn with clashes, barricades and soaring emotions, the July 23 2014 event was well on its way to fading away by some time after 8pm.
At one point, in the midst of the crowd, a young couple engaged – apparently oblivious to their surroundings – in a prolonged and very passionate kiss. Among people celebrating a life beyond Oresharski and all he came to symbolise, it seemed, as Bulgaria now heads to early elections and no doubt its next round of public melodramas, that there could be a life beyond politics too.
Those who had for so many months wanted the government gone and so earnestly had protested in hope that it would, now, on this dusky summer evening, had a new moment -however fleeting it may prove – of hope.
(Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)