More than 1000 police gathered outside the National Assembly building in Sofia on November 8 in a national protest against plans that emerged several days earlier to cut back their perks – with the protest going ahead in spite of backdowns by the goverment on the issue.
A succession of speakers addressing the crowd, who mostly were out of uniform – except in the sense of the uniformity of off-duty cop sartorial choices of dark jeans and black leather or plastic jackets – repeatedly expressing contempt for Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov, who included the cutbacks in the proposed national Budget 2016. At the protest, there were chants for the government to resign.
Speakers told the crowd that they had messages of solidarity from police associations elsewhere in Europe.
Not far from the National Assembly, in the parking area opposite the National Art Gallery, were ranks of large buses that had transported police from all over Bulgaria for the protest.
Protests by police, backed by prison warders and firefighters, began when it became clear that the centre-right coalition Cabinet intended reducing various pay privileges for Interior Ministry and Defence Ministry employees.
The initial cutback plans included reducing from 20 to 10 the monthly salaries paid on severance, reduction of annual leave from 30 days to 20, abolition of seniority bonuses and reductions in food allowances.
This resulted in wildcat protests by police, causing major traffic disruption in Sofia and other cities throughout the week. Going by media reports and social networks, most Bulgarians are unsympathetic towards the police grievances. A counter-protest against the Interior Ministry trade unions’ protest was scheduled for the afternoon of November 8.
After an initial backdown by the government mid-week, following the intervention of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, a meeting of senior government officials on the morning of November 8 saw a complete backdown, postponing Budget cutbacks linked to reforms from next year.
Separately, it was announced by the Interior Ministry on November 8 that a joint operation involving law enforcement and security agencies was being held against people who planned “provocations” at the national police protest. Ten people had been arrested, none of them Interior Ministry staff, a statement said.
Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer