Protests in Bulgaria are also about media freedom

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A man holds a banner as people take part in an anti-government protest in front of the Council of Ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria, 24 July 2020. Thousands of protesters met in downtown Sofia for another day of anti-government protests, demanding the resignation of the prime minister, Boiko Borissov, and the prosecutor general, Ivan Geshev, over claims of corruption and calling for early elections. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

Protests in Bulgaria are a genuine civil protest against the party-state and in favour of basic democratic rights such as media freedom, writes Maria Stoyanova.

Maria Stoyanova is a journalist. She has served as chair of the Regulatory authority for audio-visual media in Bulgaria and was a long-time bureau chief and correspondent for the Bulgarian National Television in Germany.

People protesting in Bulgaria will take to the streets on 29 July for a 21st day in a row. These are not just demonstrations with social demands, but rallies for basic democratic rights.

It’s raining in Sofia these days – summer storms, common for the season. They take place at around 7pm, when the crowd gathers in the centre of the city between the buildings of the government, the office of the president and the parliament.

And despite the rain, they are there. The protesters and their whistles, vuvuzelas and their hand-made posters. It is clear that these are not party manifestations, but genuine civil protests. Opposition politicians can be seen, but in the multitude, they keep a low profile. The protests are against corruption, as in 2015 in Romania. The demands are for a new morale in politics, as in Austria in 2019.

There are also demands for pluralism in the public TV broadcaster, as well as the resignation of its CEO, just like in Poland and Hungary.

The Bulgarian protesters are mature European citizens. They belong to people who stand for “normalcy”, for “justice”. Sometimes they use strong words. Balkan blood is boiling. At the very beginning, the police reacted with brutal violence against young people. The authorities were slow to react and further provoked the protesters. But the anger of the Bulgarians is not against the police, it’s against the party state.

The protests also reached the building of the public Bulgarian National Television. In their latest report, Reporters Without Borders confirmed for a third consecutive year the country’s ranking 111th in terms of media freedom, stressing that since Emil Koshlukov was elected director general, the editorial policy of the national broadcaster has shifted to pro-government propaganda.

Koshlukov a former MP, a former party leader and a former programme director of a party-owned nationalist TV channel. His management methods include, for example, initiatives to intervene in internal content.

He seized the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to take measures against an an internal program by BNT, which, according to him, criticized the government’s policy towards the church.

An open letter by journalists sacked by Koshlukov calling for his resignation and the return of BNT to the public gathered the support of 1,300 big names from the Bulgarian cultural, sports, financial and media life.

The protests in Bulgaria are not only social. They are for basic democratic rights – media freedom and political pluralism, for independent state institutions.

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