THE TWO FACES OF THE CIVIL REVOLUTION IN BULGARIA /Prof. Krastyo Petkov/
The one face is economic: a revolt against the monopolies; the other one is political – an attack against the power and the oligarchy. Until now the events in Bulgaria evolve, following the logic and the historical characteristics of peoples’ revolutions.
• Spontaneous beginning, which made over 100,000 angry Bulgarians from more than 30 cities go out on the streets and squares to protest. The nationwide protests are against the unbearable costs for the electricity utility bills, which in January, 2013 were higher by 50% to 100% than the previous winter season in 2012. The target is the Czech company – CEZ, which is notorious with cheating the consumers in Albania.
• Paralysis of the power, coupled with the surprising resignation of the populist Government of Mr. Boyko Borisov – an ex-fireman, a body-guard, and a policeman.
• Formation of an administratively appointed Government by the President of Bulgaria and arrangements for extraordinary elections for members of the National Parliament (the President of the country – Mr. Rosen Plevneliev, announced the election date to be May 12, 2013).
• Failed attempts of the President to compose a “Community Council”, which was deemed to gather the protestors and the closed to the power public individuals and settle the problems. In addition, demands of the protestors escalated, and even radicalized the situation more. Today, the protestors demand “Change of the System!” and “Direct Democracy!”.
How did all this happen? And why it is Bulgaria, which attracted the attention nowadays by making a sharp turn in the inertial behavior of its civil society? How come everything went from a total obedience to an extensive and stormy revolt?
The one who searches for the reasons only in the national characteristics of Bulgarians will get confused. What made people go out to protest and keep protesting has one universal generator – poverty. It is this factor, which makes the present social protests different from the protests conducted 15 years ago, when there was a hyperinflation crisis in the economy. And it is the poverty, which created today’s mass demonstrations in contrast to the mass rebellions 23 years ago, when people demanded to farewell the communism.
Although poverty exists in other countries, as well, in Bulgaria it is at dangerously high levels since many years. One quarter of the population of the country lives in conditions of extreme poverty; and about 50% of the Bulgarians are endangered from getting into the poverty trap. The real unemployment rate since 2008 tripled: from 5,6% to 17,5% on an annual basis.
You could be a poor man, or an unemployed man, but if you are entitled to receive social benefits or if you have the chance to find a job, these could nurture your hopes to live a better future. However, to be deprived from both – from your working status, and from seeing no hope in the future, then it turns to a personal catastrophe in life. Furthermore, this social failure is not all, which could happen to you.
Having in mind the critical situation of life in Bulgaria, in which many people failed into during the years of the crisis, formed a special class of hopeless individuals: 30% of the youth are unemployed; 75% of the retired people are considered desperately poor; and a great share of the middle class live with scarce incomes or have bankrupted totally. It is only a small minority of 3% to 5% of the population of the country, which has a thriving standard of life. During the years of the crisis the number of savers-millionaires increased by 100 to 110 on average per year. A group of influential tycoons received for no price numerous lands and industrial sites for construction projects at good locations on the Black Sea and in the beautiful mountains of the country. The market value of all these transactions is estimated by some analysts to exceed 4 billion euros. Moreover, corruption scandals in privatization transactions, in public tenders and in “absorption” of the euro-funds became a part of the daily life. And last, but not at least, it was the sharp maneuver towards adopting austerity policies, which turn was completed in 2009. It was in that year, when after a mass euphoria, the GERB party came onto power /GERB is an acronym in Bulgarian, which stands to mean “Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria/.
Governance of the public finances of the country was handed to a guest-performer from the World Bank; and this man has a Bulgarian origin – Mr. Simeon Dyankov. Thus, in the poorest country of the European Union, just in the very heat-point of the crisis, the Missionary – Dyankov enforced “a unique, anti-crisis packet of measures” to further tackle the belts. The state discontinued paying businesses for contracted tenders; the state canceled inflation-indexation schemes to the social transfers, payable to the retired; the state cut-off numerous social transfers by 30% to 50%, and so on. And then, Bulgaria reported to the European Commission excellent results – 0,5% budget deficit for 2012 and 17% external debt. These figures, however, were due to sucking-out the last reserves of the tax-payers’ money.
It was at this moment, when the losers rioted. The power elite, financial oligarchy and mainstream media initially were found unprepared. Since many years the official propaganda was trumpeting the mantra that the civil society in Bulgaria was dead, and that all those born after 1989 are “a lost generation”, and that social inequality was “a natural phenomenon” for societies, such as the Bulgarian, which has adopted the “values of the free and perfect market”.
This whole ideologically-fueled construction failed for counted days. When I write these lines, it is a third wave of national protests evolving, thus mobilizing more than 100,000 Bulgarians. These protests delivered new initiatives: establishment of a National Assembly on March 9th, blockade of the National Parliament until they pass a new Election Act. There is a strong demand for cancelling all articles in the present Electoral Code, which ban civil organizations from direct and democratic participation in the political life of the country; and introduction of an electoral system, which favors the major vote rule, not the proportional vote rule, as it is the system today.
And due to the fact that the society goes towards and open and continuous political collision, which end seems unpredictable, let us ask the following: Whom the citizens protest against?
Is it against the System? Yes, it is, but this statement is very general. It is clear that the overpraised representative electoral democracy derailed. The people want a direct vote; the people demand they are citizens, who want to participate in the structures of the power and have a seat in the decision-making processes, related to resource distribution.
The opponents of the protestors are the parties, who keep the status-quo.
A glance view may tell us that the political landscape is normal and pro-European. There are three right parties – members of the European People’s Party /EPP/; one of them is GERB and the others are two smaller formations, which are off-springs from the strong anti-communist bloc of the Union of Democratic Forces /UDF/ in the past. There is one left party - the Bulgarian Socialist Party /BSP/, which is a member of the Party of the European Socialists /PES/. There is another formation – Movement for Rights and Freedoms /DPS is the Bulgarian acronym/, which is a member of the Liberal International; DPS is considered to represent the Turkish minority votes in Bulgaria. Furthermore, there is even one parliamentary represented nationalistic party – ATAKA (Attack). However, it is not their European identity, but their desire to be constantly onto power, which led them not only to total departure from the interests of their voters, but also to mingling political relations with the networks of the financial oligarchy. Thus, the nature of these parties turned them into public enemy number one, at present.
Besides, trade unions are not seen and desired as partners of the civil movements, as they remained surprisingly passive for the first two weeks of the protests.
There are no warranties that the civil revolution in Bulgaria will end with a victory of the authentic civil movements. The enemies of the revolution are ready to strike-back, and form a counter-attack through the media and through in-filtering agent-provocateurs and agent-lumpens among the protestors; very many militia-style attempts were started to discredit the civil leaders, as well.
Protestors, however, are lagging behind into restructuring and forming coordinated mechanisms on national level. Established partnership between the leaders of the protestors and some independent experts dates back from only a few days. Having gained some results after the anti-monopoly attack (a procedure for taking away the license of CEZ was started; a procedure to announce some of the privatization and concession contracts was started; a procedure for temporary delay in payments of the electricity and heating bills was started), there comes the time for the strategic battle: shall or shall not natural monopolies be nationalized.
In line to the pressure to de-monopolize the public services, a new attack against the cartels in the banking industry is on its way; there are hundreds of thousands people, who as credit-receiving individuals were subject to cheating from the banks.
In summation, the two main generators of the civil revolution – the anti-monopoly revolt and the protests against the elites onto power will merge. The extraordinary elections in May, 2013 (in case the country can get there by a peaceful mode of actions) will demonstrate whether the Street of the Citizens will earn a strategic victory, or the status-quo will survive at a price of tactical retreats.
Professor Krastyo Petkov, PhD
University of National and World Economy, Sofia,
European College of Economy and Management, Plovdiv
Chairmen of the Confederation of Independent Unions in Bulgaria (1990-1998);
Member of Parliament ( 2001-2005)