In Battered Bulgaria, Where are the Protestors?

by MILENA HRISTOVA   February 16, 2014

As temperatures dropped, it was harder not to see them – the homeless and the poor. The storms tore through the cloak of statistics and once again an abstract problem – discussed in percentages and demographics – became a gaunt man, a toothless woman, a pair of sad eyes.

A year after protests against poverty and corruption brought down the center-right cabinet of former PM Boyko Borisov, Bulgarians are hardly better off.  Photo by Dimiter Muftieff
A year after protests against poverty and corruption brought down the center-right cabinet of former PM Boyko Borisov, Bulgarians are hardly better off. Photo by Dimiter Muftieff

Last year, just before temperatures dropped, trade unions and opposition forecast that social tensions will escalate and break out into the street once the winter sets in.

 

The storm came in February, when protests against high electricity bills eventually toppled the government of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

 

The storm was over, but doubts about the spontaneity of the unrest continued to linger, prompting many people to view Borisov's resignation as the PR move of a coward.

 

This year doomsayers raised their voice again and with a much better reason, at least at first glance.

 

On the one side of the fence, thousands of protestors rallied for months in the capital Sofia calling on the government to resign and end the "reign of oligarchy". Students chained and padlocked doors at Bulgaria’s largest university. Scuffles broke out with riot police as anti-government protestors tried to block off parliament.

 

On the other side of the fence, Bulgaria's power-crazed government tightened its grip on power.

 

But social unrest has been concentrated from the very beginning exclusively in the capital. Outside Sofia, despite the deterioration in living standards, there is a widespread lack of political consequences and social activism.

 

This is an amazing phenomenon due to the omnipresent apathy, „nothing will change” mentality, the decline of trade unions and the lifeline that migrants' remittances represent.

 

A few weeks ago an unusually intelligent taxi driver in a small, sleepy town explained to me that the 'sleepyheads' outside the capital are hoping that the ''alerts'' in Sofia will start the revolution. He fumed that the protests were not powerful and radical enough to make any impression on the government. The young man went as far as to say it may take some blood shedding for the changes to start. Only to add that all his colleagues share his gloom and anger, but release it only verbally in the company of their family and friends and most often after one drink.

 

Now the anti-government movement has died down even in the capital and the cabinet seems to be on the safe side and free to pursue its highly dubious agenda till the end.

 

Bulgaria's civil society is young, but already faithless.

 

This stops it from acting with determination when a tumor appears in its body, probably thinking the fever makes the cold appear more sinister than it actually is.