Bulgarians push for deep political changes

27/02/2013

Public rallies against power distribution companies in Bulgaria have grown into protests against poverty, corruption, monopolies and the entire political system.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 27/02/13

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Demonstrators protested in Sofia on February 24th. [AFP]

The downfall of Bulgaria's government has done little to quell demonstrations in the Balkan nation.

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians are continuing protests against the country's monopolies and its political class, developing a movement that is becoming the Balkan nation's largest uprising since the financial crisis in 1997.

Organisers claimed that up to 25,000 people had joined a peaceful march in Sofia on Sunday (February 24th), while smaller demonstrations formed in other cities. Organisers are in the process of negotiating amongst themselves for a unified list of demands.

The protests began two weeks ago when many citizens took to the streets frustrated by high electricity bills. Their ire was initially directed at the country's three main power distribution companies -- the Czech Republic's CEZ and Energo-Pro, which control western and northeastern Bulgaria, respectively, and Austria's EVN, which provides electricity to consumers in the southeast.

The rallies quickly grew into protests against all monopolies in the Balkan nation, against poverty and the entire political system, including all political parties that have run the country since the end of communism in 1989.

On Saturday, a group including film director Andrey Slabakov, Bulgarian flute virtuoso Christian Koev and several others organised a meeting in Sofia to help groups and individuals agree on a common list of demands.

"I expect us to be able to unite [the group] around several ideas, because we're tired of [politicians'] attempt to divide us," Slabakov told SETimes. "That's why we're trying to achieve some consensus … and set up a national committee or something that should represent as many citizens as possible."

Meanwhile, other groups gathered to protest in the eastern city of Sliven, as a third batch announced their own demands at a news conference in Sofia.

An open letter was given to President Rosen Plevneliev on Sunday by а "Steering Committee of citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria, not affiliated to any political party or similar formation." It called for "immediate measures to alleviate the financial burden imposed by monopolies."

Other demands included changes to the electoral code and a transition from the current proportional electoral system to a majoritarian one, as well as legal provisions allowing citizens to recall lawmakers.

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Bloody clashes between demonstrators and police in Sofia last week forced Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to submit his centre-right cabinet's resignation ahead of the country's next regular general elections, which were due to take place in July.

But the move did not satisfy the protesters.

"All parties must disappear. They have all sinned together and must all go," protester Marian Nikolov told SETimes as he stood with his wife and son. "Boyko is the least evil among them [the political leaders]. If the elections were held tomorrow, I'd vote for him again."

If the parliamentary represented forces fail to form a new government for the remaining months of the assembly's mandate, Plevneliev must dissolve the current legislature, appoint a caretaker cabinet and call early elections.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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