Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly, voted on October 28 to set up an all-party ad hoc committee to deal with requests by the Prosecutor-General for permission to institute criminal proceedings against Ataka leader Volen Siderov and party MP Dessislav Chukolov in connection with incidents of hooliganism and intimidation.
A total of 136 MPs voted in favour of establishing the committee, with Ataka’s 11 MPs – including Siderov and Chukolov, the party is one of the two smallest in the National Assembly – voting against.
Addressing MPs, Siderov said that they and the media had sentenced him and wanted him handcuffed, “like some kind of People’s Court”, a reference to the late 1940s kangaroo courts over which the Bulgarian Communist Party regime presided.
The committee, to be headed by Dimitar Glavchev of GERB, Parliament’s largest party, will examine the evidence presented by Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov about the episodes in which Siderov and Chukolov were involved in on October 12 and 26, one a confrontation with shopkeepers at an all-night liquor store in central Sofia, the other an aggressive intrusion on students at the National Academy for Film and Theatre Arts in the Bulgarian capital city.
Bulgaria’s constitution grants MPs immunity from prosecution, unless the National Assembly agrees to a request from the Prosecutor-General for it to be lifted to answer charges in a specific serious criminal case. GERB has initiated talks on changing the constitution to cut back this provision solely to privilege on the House floor. After his repeated antics in recent weeks – and other episodes in past years, in connection with one of which he is on trial after starting a row with a foreign diplomat and allegedly assaulting police – several critics have accused Siderov of abusing his immunity, with Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva saying that Siderov had brought disgrace on Parliament.
In debate on setting up the committee, Ataka MP Yavor Notev, a lawyer and a failed candidate in the October 25 Sofia mayoral elections – countrywide, the party got only about three per cent of the vote – proposed postponing the question of the committee to next week, but this was rejected.
Notev then proposed setting up a committee to deal only with the October 12 all-night-shop incident (in which Siderov claimed to be acting against contraband at the store, though police found none) and to omit the October 26 national theatre academy episode. Notev said that this would give Siderov and Chukolov time to give up their immunity voluntarily. This too was rejected.
On October 27, Siderov and Chukolov said that they would not give up their immunity voluntarily.
Siderov told MPs that his “battle against the illegal drug business” would continue. He said that in Bulgaria, there was no democracy, no police but only a fascist dictatorship. He went on to describe Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova as an employee of the US embassy and to say that Bulgaria was occupied by the US military.
Outside the National Assembly, a group of his supporters waved Russian flags and placards saying, “I am Siderov, arrest me”.
One of Siderov’s supporters, of a group of about 200 that gathered near Alexander Nevsky cathedral, said that they were there to defend Siderov, “we support Russia, we do not support America”.
After the vote, Siderov made a little speech and later led a remnant of the initial group, about 20 people, in procession to the Cabinet building in Dondoukov Boulevard, where they demanded the resignation of the government.
There was a strong police presence in Sofia on the morning of October 28, with Parliament guarded by a cordon of gendarmerie as the two protests, one for Siderov and the other against him, were held near the National Assembly building.
One of the anti-Siderov protesters told Bulgarian National Television: “Personally, I have always been very suspicious of his political affiliations to Russia,” adding that it was possible that Siderov’s “Kremlin masters” had activated him because of the pro-Western orientation of Bulgaria. Siderov had been allowed to divert public attention from important issues “and what is most important, behave in a really scary ugly way. This person cannot be ignored, he should be stopped”.