Bulgaria’s winter of discontent - Monocolumn | Monocle


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25 February 2013

It has been a rough start to the year for Bulgaria. First, the country was showered with negative international press coverage speculating that millions of Bulgarians would flee to the UK when all EU work restrictions get lifted in 2014. Now, after weeks of protests and bloody clashes in the capital and main cities, the government has resigned only months before the next official elections. The street protests across the country, which is among the poorest in Europe, started in early February initially over rising electricity prices and austerity measures but soon they took an anti-government turn that led to the resignation of prime minister Boiko Borisov and his centre-right GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) cabinet.

Unlike its neighbours Greece and Serbia, Bulgaria is not generally regarded as a protesting country. However, the events of the past two weeks have reminded many of 1997, when the socialist administration was brought down by street demonstrations. This time around the core of the protesters were youngsters organised via social media sites. As usual, there were the believers asking for lower energy prices, better living conditions and, ultimately, an honest government. But there were also the impartial sceptics who doubted that anything in the country would ever change for the better.

In the end they might turn out to be right. The surprise resignation of Borisov has left Bulgaria in turmoil. The next government elections were initially scheduled for July but with the cabinet’s resignation they might be brought forward, though not before April. Meanwhile Bulgaria’s destiny is left in the hands of an interim government assigned by president Rosen Plevneliev, politically affiliated with GERB. Even though Borisov has made it clear that he will not take part in an interim administration, for many his resignation is regarded as a well-timed tactic and even raging hypocrisy that could yet increase his chances of being re-elected.

Formerly a bodyguard of Soviet-era dictator Todor Zhivkov, Borisov became mayor of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia in 2005. Regarded as the city’s saviour, the then-considered-charismatic mayor quickly worked his way up the political ranks and was appointed prime minister in 2009.

"Our power was handed to us by the people, today we are handing it back to them," Borisov said when stepping down on Wednesday, adding that he couldn’t bear the bloody clashes in the centre of the capital. As for the competency of his cabinet he’s remained as affirmative as ever: "We did our best over these four years."

Whether the resignation was GERB’s trump card will only become clear at the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, Bulgaria is still licking its wounds over the clashes and trying to make ends meet – not always easy in a country where the average monthly salary is as low as 800 levs (€407).

Nelly Gocheva is associate editor for Monocle


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