Bulgarian commissioner speaks out after 40 days of protests in her country

Protest in Sofia.jpg

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva expressed concern yesterday (23 July) about the political situation in Bulgaria, her home country, where anti-government protests turned violent on their 40th day.

Demonstrators blocked the parliament and prevented its members and staff from leaving the building for more than eight hours. Early today, police broke through the protestors, opening space for MPs to leave the parliament.

TV footage this morning showed protestors hurling bottles and stones at the policemen. [See photo gallery and videos by Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria]

Opinion polls show that Georgieva is the most popular political figure in the country. She met with journalists on Tuesday and denied reports that she sought to influence the Bulgarian political scene.

Georgieva, a former World Bank vice president, said she took her Brussels job very seriously and was determined to fulfil her mandate as commissioner, a high-profile job that puts her at the centre of global natural disasters and conflicts.

She also said that messages from Brussels would not play a decisive role in improving the situation in Bulgaria.

“I don’t think that statements from Brussels would fix the situation in Bulgaria,” she said.

Bulgaria has been mired in months of protests over sinking economic conditions and political battles. The previous government, led by Boyko Borissov, collapsed in February, and elections took place on 12 May (see background).

The protests started on 14 June, when the three-day old government of Plamen Oresharski nominated Delyan Peevski as leader of the State Agency for National Security. Peevski, a controversial powerbroker who owns the New Bulgarian Media Group, has since withdrawn his candidacy for the job, but protests continue to demand that the prime minister resign.

Many Bulgarians took to the streets denouncing a corrupt political system in EU’s poorest country. Many Bulgarians have left the country to seek opportunities abroad.

‘Slanderous’ information

Georgieva strongly denied reports in a Brussels-based newspaper, New Europe, that reported she was pushing for an immediate election in Bulgaria with the aim of returning Borissov to power.  

“I don’t read New Europe. When I arrived here at the beginning of my mandate, they published a lot of slanderous information about me, about my cabinet and my work. What they wrote is absolutely not true. I have never breached the rules of conduct, valid for each commissioner, that is, not to interfere in domestic affairs,” Georgieva said.

The commissioner said she takes the commissioners’ code of non-interference in national politics seriously and made the effort of being “absolutely transparent” in her work.

“I believed that my authority as a Commissioner and my team’s authority are growing stronger thanks to this principle,” she said.

The commissioner also denied that she sought the post of prime minister, and reports in some Bulgarian media that her real name was Stalinka, after the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

“Let me say that my name is Kristalina, I’m named after my grandmother Kristina,” Georgieva said.

Asked what kind of advice she could provide to her country, she said that the most important was to “change the political tone” from outright aggression and slander to “rational discourse”.

“The quiet voice of reason is not shouting. The issue is how the quite voice of reason could overtake the screams of confrontation,” she said.

Georgieva said that Bulgaria should try to follow three priorities:

  • Public institutions should open to people and listen to their messages;
  • The government should focus on the absorption of the much-needed EU funds;
  • Make progress in the fight against corruption and reform the inefficient judiciary system.

“If there will be no changes, we would be losing friends,” she said, referring to the position of Bulgaria in the EU and in the wider international context.

Georgieva’s fellow Commissioner Viviane Reding was in Sofia the same day, participating in a Debate on the Future of Europe, organised by the European Commission with civil society groups.

The debate was marked by the political situation in Bulgaria, with many of the speakers calling on the European Commission to play the role of arbiter in Bulgaria’s political stalemate. Reding replied that the European Commission could not replace the government of Bulgaria.

Reding also said that in Bulgaria she keeps hearing about corruption, oligarchs, and that the people are desperate. “A democracy cannot function like that,” she said. 

The leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Sergei Stanishev, who is also leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES), blamed the protestors for instigating the violent clashes over the past night.

“We saw a completely different face of the protestors,” he said, adding that “someone” was seeking to bring down the cabinet and bring back the party GERB of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to power.

In the next day BSP will do its utmost for the normal work of institutions, including the Parliament, Stanishev said, as quoted by the media in Bulgaria.

MEP Ivailo Kalfin (S&D, Bulgaria), who is one of the heavyweight of the Bulgarian left, said in contrast that early elections would be a better solution for the country.

“This parliament cannot continue to work because of several reasons, but none of them is related to the aggressive attitude of protestors,” Kalfin wrote in his blog. He basically explains that Parliament couldn’t work basically because of the election results which didn’t allow a majority to be formed.

Kalfin blamed Borissov for “watching TV at home”, but also Stanishev and the leader of BSP coalition partner, the Movement of Rights and Freedoms Lytvi Mestan, for not showing up at the protests. 

Bulgaria's Socialist-led government took office on 29 May, ending months of political impasse but lacking broad backing. Plamen Oresharski, a nonpartisan former finance minister, is prime minister.

One of the first decisions of the Oresharski cabinet was to appoint Delyan Peevski as leader of the country’s State Agency for National Security (DANS). Peevski, the owner of the New Bulgarian media group, is considered a controversial powerbroker.

The vote in the Bulgarian parliament on 14 June which installed Peevski as chief of DANS took the country by surprise, and unleashed unprecedented reaction in social media and in the streets. He later withdrew from the job.

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