More than 2000 protesters crowded in front of the Palace of Justice in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia on July 14 to press their demands for judicial reform and the resignation of Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov.
The protest was an episode in a continuing struggle not only for much-delayed judicial reform – an issue on which Bulgaria repeatedly has been criticised by the European Commission – but also specifically for constitutional changes that would rewrite the workings of the judiciary.
The government seeks, among other things, to reform the Supreme Judicial Council, which has hit back with public declarations against Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov.
The July 14 event was organised by the Protest Network, which emerged during the 2013/14 prolonged protests against the now-departed ruling axis after the appointment of controversial figure Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security.
The more reliable opinion polls in Bulgaria show a deep level of disapproval of the performance of the judiciary and the courts.
Tsatsarov was targeted for calls for his dismissal because his critics see him as opposed to the judicial reform that Ivanov, justice minister since August 2014, is attempting to pilot, while protesters also allege that the Prosecutor-General, in office since December 2012, serves interests other than justice, a charge that – along with calls for his resignation – he rejects.
At the protest, participants chanted “resignation”, “reform” and “mafia”, with many holding posters on the continuing theme among a civil society demanding an end to corruption of “who?”, a question that became a rallying cry after the abortive appointment of Peevski, encapsulating the call to know who was behind the appointment and overall exercised undue influence in Bulgarian public life.
Separated from the large crowd by a cordon of police was a “counter-protest”, demanding the resignation of Ivanov, numbering a few dozen people. They sought to compensate for their small presence by playing loud music in an apparent bid to rival the stentorian chants of the pro-judicial reform protesters.
Earlier, the Protest Network said it had lodged court action, seeking damages from three Bulgarian-language media that claimed that participants in the protests were being paid 50 leva (about 25 euro) each. This is a claim, never substantiated, that also was levelled against the 2013/14 anti-government protesters, as a politics and media nexus sought to discredit them.
(All photos: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)