Bulgaria’s nationalist Patriotic Front has threatened to withdraw its parliamentary support for the coalition government unless “adequate steps” are taken in Roma neighbourhoods, and various changes to criminal and electoral laws are initiated, by July 1.
This was declared in Parliament on May 27 by Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov, against a background of the ethnic clashes between Bulgarians and Roma people a few days earlier in the Garmen municipality.
“This brutal and daily violation of the laws of the country and a sense of helplessness and abandonment by the state of those who pay their taxes and obey the laws the country is the reason for the deepening division of the nation and the increasing risk of mass unrest,” Simeonov said.
Simeonov demanded the immediate removal of all illegal buildings in the village of Marchevo’s Kremikovtsi, where Roma people live.
The Patriotic Front put forward several other demands, including “urgent measures” to tackle everday crime that they said was “terrorising” huge areas of the country.
The nationalist coalition also wants electoral changes, such as the introduction of compulsory voting (without a referendum on the issue), a system of active registration to vote, and increased penalties for buying and selling votes.
The PF also demanded the placing of defensive equipment at the border with Turkey and the repair of the existing fence by July 1. This was a reference to the Turkish-Bulgarian border being the main crossing point in illegal migration from the Middle East and North Africa.
The coalition also called for a ban on increasing the price of electricity, penalties for energy companies and for the Energy Ministry to stop “massive fraud and theft” in the industry. The PF further demand legislative steps against illegal logging and the solution of institutional problems with Bulgarian communities abroad.
The head of the parliamentary group of centre-right governing coalition majority partner GERB, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, told reporters that he had undertaken to prepare an official response from GERB to the Patriotic Front’s declaration within a week.
Tsvetanov said that GERB regularly was holding talks with parties supporting the government on possible legislative amendments that could be adopted by the current Parliament. But, he said, if every parliamentary group put forward proposals for changes to electoral laws, there would not be enough time to deal with them by the time of the municipal elections in the autumn.
The two other parties and coalitions supporting the government, the Reformist Bloc and the socialist breakaway ABC, said that July 1 was too short a deadline for the Patriotic Front’s demands to be dealt with. The Reformist Bloc’s Radan Kanev said that several of the PF demands were in the government programme, while ABC leader Georgi Purvanov said that his party too had made such proposals regarding electoral reform, but the steps could hardly be taken in the time set by the PF.
In the Garmen municipality, meanwhile, residents and people from other cities and towns were continuing protests, demanding action against alleged illegal construction and Roma people living there.
The Patriotic Front was not the only political group to make statements about Garmen in Parliament.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party’s Atanas Merdzhanov said that the BSP would not join the chorus of irresponsible politicians. The party would firmly resist political dramatisation and heightening of the ethnic element of the situation, he said.
Lyutvi Mestan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity but which said after the October 2014 parliamentary elections that it had made major inroads into the Roma community – said that the parliamentary group of the MRF “understands that the root cause of tension in the Roma neighbourhoods is the social exclusion of the Roma community”.
Volen Siderov, leader of far-right party Ataka, one of the two smallest parties in Parliament and a rival to the Patriotic Front, said, “why deny the fact that Bulgaria is in a civil war? For years I and my colleagues in the Ataka party have warned about it, emphasised it and talked about it”.