The Bulgarian Judges Association, one of the organisations representing the country’s judiciary, said in an open letter on November 5 that it “fully shares the indignation” of police regarding cutbacks proposed in Budget 2016.
The letter was issued against a background of days of large-scale public protests by police after it emerged there were plans in the draft of the national budget for next year to cut back on their pay provisions, including reducing severance pay from 20 to 10 months’ salaries. After the protests began, the government has backed down on some of the cutbacks, but the protests are continuing.
The Bulgarian Judges Association said that in recent days, Bulgarian society had seen another attempt to set two professional groups against each other, police against judges. This had been provoked by none other than the government, the association said in its letter.
“We as judges cannot approve the violation of public order and the creation of difficulties for citizens by people who have a professional obligation to protect this order and protect citizens,” the letter said, in an apparent reference to severe traffic disruptions in central roads in Sofia and other major cities and along national motorways.
But on the other hand, the association said, it fully shared the indignation of the police about the manner of the provisions in the Budget bill, which had been “concealed” and which were devoid of any dialogue about them.
The judges’ association said that it was worrying that the Finance Ministry had introduced legislative proposals that showed a complete lack of strategic thinking and statemanslike responsibility precisely towards the sectors that the government declared its intention to reform, the Interior Ministry and the judiciary.
“The behaviour of the exectuive is leading to the exacerbation of confrontation in society and risks jeopardising the reform of the judiciary and the protection of public order,” the letter said.
The judges’ association letter has been one of the very few expressions of support for the police in their confrontation with the government. On social networks and comments on media stories, public reaction has been hostile to the police, with several criticisms that their perks are unjustifiable.
Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has said that protesting police will face disciplinary action.
Reformist Bloc parliamentary secretary Dimitar Delchev, a member of Parliament’s committee on internal security, said that the Interior Ministry required reform and this should be achieved through dialogue, in a different way. Resources should be targeted to people in the field and ensuring the safety of citizens rather than spending on administration, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva, a member of the Reformist Bloc, said in a television interview earlier this week that the issue would be solved through negotiation, but most important was reform of the Interior Ministry.
On November 4, President Rossen Plevneliev appealed for dialogue to resolve the situation. He said that he was sure that if all sides sat at the same table, with no surprises or “hidden” way to change the rights of employees in the security sector, a solution would emerge.
Predictably, opposition parties have fallen on the opportunity to criticise the government.
The leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Lyutvi Mestan, said that on November 5 that the party did not agree with taking away the social rights of police. Differentiating between police and clerical staff in the Interior Ministry administration was a subject for serious debate but this should be done in the framework of a dialogue, Mestan said, without it coming as a matter of surprise to the Bulgarian public.
In Parliament, the leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, Mihail Mikov, asked the governing party why it had been “too scared” to tell police it was taking away some of their social rights.