While our eyes have been honed in on the glorious sparks flying in Turkey and Brazil, the citizens of Bulgaria are entering their second week of protest – and they are already winning…
As John O'Brennan states for The Guardian:
Make no mistake about it: Bulgaria is undergoing a profound crisis of representation.Every night for more than a week up to 10,000 people have taken to the streets of Sofia, initially protesting against the appointment on 14 June of the media oligarch Delyan Peevski as Bulgaria's “security tsar”, the head of the State Agency for National Security (Dans), the Bulgarian CIA.
32 year-old Peevski has no experience in the security field. Further, he was appointed without debate, and is widely understood to be a front and puppet for a powerful media network of national newspapers and television channels owned by his mother.
Peevski's controversial appointment is the perfect epitome of how shady private interests dominate state institutions in Bulgaria, at once the European Union's poorest member state and one of its most corrupt.
But the protests have already been a roaring success. On June 19th, Bulgaria's parliament dismissed him from his post as head of national security, mostly in hope that this will put an end to the growing rallies against the country's fragile three-week-old government.
But, as in Turkey and Brazil, what began as a protest against something small and specific, the protests have quickly mutated into louder and deeper outcries against far-reaching and systematic corruption of Bulgaria, ruled by shadowy oligarchic power.
John O'Brennan continues:
In Bulgaria it is often impossible to know where organized crime ends and legitimate business begins. The nexus between the two is characterized by complex bureaucratic structures, opaque corporate accounting and a maze of offshore accounts.
In Varna, Bulgaria's third largest city, the protests have taken direct aim at TIM, a business conglomerate allied to Gerb and long the real power in the region. Some estimates suggest that it controls up to 70% of Varna's economy, including most of the tourist infrastructure. When protesters in Varna yell "M-A-F-I-A" they are automatically collapsing business into politics and implicating local municipal officials as the agents of this powerful oligarchic network.
Varna perfectly illustrates why the current protests are largely non-party-policitical and anti-politics in tone: the definitive division in today's Bulgaria is no longer between right and left, but between the citizens and the mafia. This is a world where the guilty don't just go unpunished; they ascend to the highest citadels of power.
Although corruption and the abuse of power are the central themes of this protest, economic hardship also plays a role. New data from the EU demonstrates that Bulgarians have the lowest standard of living in the European Union, at around 50% of the EU average.
However, the protesters are being heard and acknowledged, whether out of fear or genuine remedial concern, it is hard to discern, but on June 19 the parliament backed government plans to raise minimum wage and pensions.
The protesters, meanwhile, are lavishing the attention and celebrating their first victories, while continuing to reinforce their message to their dubious leaders: demanding an end to corruption, mafia-rule and voracious oligarchical power which all too readily became the norm for Bulgarian politics – but not for any longer!