The protest rally in Sofia on Wednesday (2 September) marked the peak of two months of demonstrations demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. EURACTIV’s Kalina Angelova was there and captured the mood.
I arrived in the morning as thousands of protesters from all over the country already gathered in front of the National Assembly.
The bigger-than-usual rally was scheduled to coincide with the first day of the new parliamentary season when MPs would discuss а motion for a new Constitution initiated by Borissov’s GERB party – an act widely seen as а government attempt to cling on to power.
The tension first rose when gendarmerie vans blocked the road to the National Assembly in an attempt to prevent direct contact between protesters and MPs going to the Parliament.
The police used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators, including journalists. Smoke bombs and eggs flew in the air.
During the day, people from all walks of life and political views, young and old, chanted “Mafia out”, showing unity in protest against the erosion of democracy, corruption and political cronyism that they say has turned Bulgaria in a captured state.
Some people had taken a day-off to take part in the protest. A young woman told me that she was here during her lunch break and was hurrying to get back to work.
One of the leaked audio files of Borissov blasted from the speakers. Nobody doubts that the files are genuine. Hand-made posters and signs were carried mostly by young people – the driving force of the protest – ridiculing Borissov’s government and the Chief Prosecutor.
A young woman braved the gendarmerie in front of the National Assembly building, holding a poster showing Borissov in his well-known SUV in the company of the powerful businessman, media mogul and MP Delyan Peevski and the Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev.
The car’s trailer is loaded with money while three figures in the background – supposedly Emmanuel Macron, Ursula von der Leyen and Angela Merkel – are pretending not to notice.
My colleague @kalinangelova is among the protesters in Sofia, it's her photo. The cartoon shows Borissov's SUV, and @vonderleyen Angela Merkel and a gentleman I cannot identify pretending they don't see. pic.twitter.com/yjQT6XZUfR
— Georgi Gotev & EURACTIV.bg (@GeorgiGotev) September 2, 2020
The protests in Bulgaria are happening simultaneously with those in Belarus but international media coverage, as well as the EU’s political involvement, is rather different.
While EU foreign ministers proposed sanctions against high-ranking supporters of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, the reactions to two months of Bulgarian protests have been timid, to say the least.
While I was in Bulgaria, media paid a lot of attention to reports from a closed session of the Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group in the European Parliament on 28 August, dedicated to the situation in Bulgaria.
People are also well aware of the EU calendar: on 10 September, a debate on the issue will be organised by the EP’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Even though this is widely seen as a step in the right direction, many Bulgarian citizens expect more decisive actions from the EU and the EPP group, the political family of Borissov’s GERB party.
On my way to the airport later I thought about how best to describe the energy of the demonstrations and the messages sent by thousands of people on the streets.
As I switch on my phone after the flight to catch up with the latest developments, the news is not good. Police violence, nearly 100 arrested, over 50 people hurt, reports about provocateurs and ultras pop up on my screen.
The political crisis in Bulgaria is deepening and protests will continue for the 57th consecutive day on Thursday. Bulgarians are really furious at Borissov and it is hard to see how the protests will stop without his resignation.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]