2020 Bulgarian protests
|2020 Bulgarian protests|
|Protests in Bulgaria (2020)|
|Date||9 July 2020 - ongoing|
(1 year, 2 weeks and 4 days)
|Resignation of the head of National Service for Protection and 3 ministers offered, later revoked|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The 2020 Bulgarian protests are series of ongoing demonstrations that are held in Bulgaria, mainly in the capital Sofia, as well as some cities outside of Bulgaria such as London. The demonstrations were triggered on 9 July 2020 when the Presidency of Bulgaria was raided by police and prosecutors as a result of a long-lasting conflict between the prime minister Boyko Borisov and the president Rumen Radev.
Background[edit source | edit]
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his GERB party, which have ruled Bulgaria for 9 of the preceding 10 years, (the one year he was out of power was when he was overthrown by similar protests in 2013) came into a conflict with Rumen Radev after the latter defeated GERB's cadidate for President in the 2016 Bulgarian presidential election and was elected to the mostly ceremonial post of President of Bulgaria. Radev, an independent, was nonetheless backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party - Bulgaria's largest opposition party. Radev frequently criticised the prime minister over what he alleged was corruption, mismanagement and authoritarianism inherent in Borisov's rule. Consequently, Radev frequently vetoed legislative proposals by Borisov's party had passed in parliament and vocally opposed his government. In turn, Borisov accused Radev of sabotaging the government's work, disunifying the nation and compromising his independence in favour of the opposition. Bulgaria's parliamentarist constitution holds the Prime Minister responsible to the National Assembly instead of the President and allows for the parliament to overrule presidential vetoes via a simple majority. As such, Borisov was able to maintain his power in the country despite the president's objections and criticisms, as the latter lacked any legal mechanism to sack or seriously obstruct the government.
This inter-institutional conflict seriously deepened in late 2019, as the President attempted to stop Borisov's pick for Chief Prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, from appointment to that post. However, Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council constitutionally forced Radev to accept Geshev as Chief Prosecutor, which he reluctantly did after noting that further refusals could amount to a violation of the constitution. The newly-appointed Chief Prosecutor released what he described as wiretaps of the president shortly thereafter, which allegedly implicated him in criminal activities. Radev, who was at this point exchanging critcisms with the Prime Minister over the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, strongly rejected the allegations and accused Borisov of having the nation's security service illegally spy on him and fabricate evidence.
Cause of protests[edit source | edit]
Scandal with National Security Service guards[edit source | edit]
One of the events that provoked a strong public reaction was the action of activists of Yes, Bulgaria!, broadcast live on social media. The members of the political coalition Democratic Bulgaria (part of which is Yes, Bulgaria!), led by Hristo Ivanov, reached the coastal beach by boat in front of the residence of Bulgarian oligarch Ahmed Dogan, located near the port of Rosenets in Burgas. Their purpose was to check whether the regime of exclusive state ownership of the surrounding beach is actually observed and whether as such it is accessible to Bulgarian citizens. There, they were intercepted by security guards, who pushed them out and insisted that the beach was privately owned, and called the police, who assisted them. Democratic Bulgaria activists subsequently called on the president and the prime minister to verificate who the anonymous security guards were and whether they were National Security Service employees. Representatives of the political union also called on the prosecutor's office to launch an investigation against Ahmed Dogan for violating the constitution and state property law.
The reaction of president Rumen Radev, who the next day in an address to the nation confirmed that the anonymous sports-dressed men were in fact employees of the National Security Service (NSO), performing civil service at the same time, was not long in coming. The president says he has no legal authority to put pressure on the NSO leadership, as the weight of the decisions is in favor of the executive in the name of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. He subsequently called on the leadership of the service to remove the guards of Ahmed Dogan and Delyan Peevski. GERB also wants urgent penalties in the NSO. In this situation, GERB and the United Patriots introduce amendments to the Law on NGOs, according to which the appointment of security guards by the service should become the responsibility of the head of the service.
Incursion of the public prosecutors into the presidency[edit source | edit]
The next day, representatives of the General Prosecutor entered the presidency, and searche and seizure operations were carried out inside by heavily armed officers from the Prosecutor General's Office. They also made demonstrative arrests of officials from the presidential administration. At the same time, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev told the media his indifference to the incident on the beach, where the national flag was trampled. This happened against the background of the suspicious inaction of the prosecutor's office towards scandalous audio recordings and photos leaked to the media, related to corruption deal in which Prime Minister Borisov may be involved. The name of the Prosecutor General is also mixed up in the corruption scandal "Eight Dwarfs", which erupted at the same time, related to senior magistrates, with which the American ambassador to the country is personally acquainted. Eventually, all of this provoked a spontaneous protest in front of the presidency.
Timeline[edit source | edit]
9 July[edit source | edit]
The protests began on July 9. They set as their goal the removal of Borisov's cabinet and the resignation of Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. They are encouraged by President Rumen Radev, who has called for the expulsion of the mafia from the executive and the judiciary, as well as EU member states to express a position on the situation in the country, which is growing into a constitutional crisis. However, the prime minister and the chief prosecutor refused to resign. The prosecutors' board and members of the government oppose the resignation of the chief prosecutor and the prime minister.
10 July[edit source | edit]
Thousands of protesters blocked the center of the capital for the second night in a row. At 5:27 pm the Head of the National Security Service, Gen. Krassimir Stanchev resigned. This comes hours after he was asked to do so by President Rumen Radev after a series of scandals in which the service was involved in guarding the summer residence of honorary DPS leader Ahmed Dogan. Earlier, Stanchev's resignation was demanded by Democratic Bulgaria.
About an hour and a half after the protests began President Rumen Radev told protesters in front of the presidency that "the protest against the mafia is turning into a campaign and there is no force to stop us." Radev called on the protesters not to be divided into left and right, Russophiles and Russophobes, Americanophiles and Americanophobes, Europhiles and Europhobes, Bulgarians and Turks, and not to repeat the mistakes of the 2013 protests. He ended his speech with the call "Mafia - out".
With calls to defend "Bulgaria's legitimately elected government", GERB party members urged party supporters to take part in a counter-protest in front of the Council of Ministers. At 7 pm, the protest in front of the Council of Ministers of GERB members in support of the government began. The Chairperson of the National Assembly of Bulgaria Tsveta Karayancheva, the Minister of Labor and Social Policy Denitsa Sacheva and GERB MPs Toma Bikov and Alexander Nenkov came to the square in front of the Council of Ministers building. "No one has the right to insult us, the voters of GERB, by calling us mafiots." said Chairperson of the National Assembly of Bulgaria Tsveta Karayancheva. At 8 pm, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also appeared before the counter-protesters. He commented on the government's success in joining ERM II starting Bulgaria's path to the Eurozone. Borisov was greeted with applause. A few minutes later, he returned to the building, along with all the government ministers. After Prime Minister Borissov's speech, GERB supporters began to disperse, while there was a significant crowd of police around the protesters on the side of the presidency. Protesters against the government blocked traffic on Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd. between Orlov Most and Sofia University. Another group separated and tried to wait and block the buses with GERB supporters. However, the police did everything possible to avoid mixing the two groups.
11 July[edit source | edit]
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev addressed the nation in a television speech broadcast across the country, in which he endorsed the protests and called for the resignations of both Chief Prosecutor Geshev and the entire Bulgarian government. Bulgarian police arrested 18 people amid clashes in an otherwise peaceful protest.
12 July[edit source | edit]
Bulgarian emigrants living in London joined the protests and gathered peacefully outside the Bulgarian embassy in the United Kingdom, expressing their greivances to Bulgaria's ambassador to the country.
14 July[edit source | edit]
Thousands of protesters blocked traffic in downtown Sofia as a small group of pro-government counter-demonstrators, whom the protesters accused of being bussed in by the government, were placed just 50 meters across from the main demostrators by police. Several groups of anti-government activists reportedly organized raids against the pro-government buses.
The National Representation of Student Councils in Bulgaria accused pro-government police forces of illegally beating protesting students and demanded the resignations of police officers found responsible.
Chief Prosecutor Geshev released a series of wiretaps that he stated were collected by the State Agency for National Security. He alleged that the tapes proved that Aleksandar Paunov, Communist Party of Bulgaria leader and opposition MP, held a conversation with Vasil Bozhkov, a Bulgarian exile wanted by the prosecution. He further accused President Radev of "supporting fugitives from justice". Paunov confirmed that he had a conversation with Bozhkov, but denied any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, he left the socialist parliamentary group to avoid associating it with Bozhkov and discrediting the protests, continuing his mandate as an independent politician. The Union of Democratic Forces called on the prosecution to ban the communist party entirely, stating that it had supported the protests and "contributed to the destabilization of the country". They also expressed a desire to see all communist parties in the country banned.
15 July[edit source | edit]
A very large protest took place in the centre of Sofia, with turnout so big, that the demonstration stretched across several of the city's largest boulevards. The protests were peaceful troughout the day, but tensions escalated after 22:30 as young men attempted to break into the parliament's office building and threw fireworks, bottles, stones and red paint in the police, resulting in six arrests.
The opposition socialist party introduced a motion of no confidence against Borisov's government in parliament, accusing it of collaborating with the Bulgarian mafia. Meanwhile, President Radev called for further peaceful protests, but cautioned participants to avoid provocations that could be used to 'sow discord' among the protesters.
Borisov issued his first concession to the protesters by asking his ministers for finance, the economy and the interior to resign after police violence was documented during the protests. Nevertheless, the ruling party excluded the possibility of early elections. The majority of protesters rejected these concessions and vowed to keep protesting until the entire government resigns.
16 July[edit source | edit]
Both Chief Prosecutor Geshev and Prime Minister Borisov made statements refusing to hand in their resignations and vowing to remain in power until the final day of their term. That same day, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria, Bulgaria's largest labour union, officially endorsed the protests.
The protest on 16 July was stated to be the largest that far, as the demonstrations spread to Bulgaria's smaller towns. The protest movement also saw demonstrations outside of the country, as student organizations and immigrant communities organized solidarity protests in London, Mancester, Berlin, Cologne, The Hague, Brussels, Copenhagen and other cities.
Prime Minister Borisov once again rejected calls for early elections, stating that his resignation would "break the country". Political analysts writing for New Europe stated that the government could expect to survive the no-confidence motion tabled for the following week, as the coalition government MPs had enough votes to reject the motion and keep the government in power at least until the next scheduled election in 2021. He also announced that he was withdrawing his previous concession of demanding the resignations of three of his ministers - stating that neither he, nor his ministers would resign.
The protests continued late into the night. After several smoke bombs were thrown into the square, the protestors formed a human chain to prevent provocateurs from committing violent acts. The policemen guarding the demonstrators removed their riot shields in gratitude to the protesters.
Reactions[edit source | edit]
Opinion Polls[edit source | edit]
|Statement||Agree||Disagree||No opinion/Don't know||Source|
|Borisov's government should resign||58%||32%||10%||Gallup|
|Statement||Already attended anti-Borisov protest||Would attend anti-Borisov protest||Would attend pro-Borisov counter-protest||Already attended pro-Borisov counter-protest||Source|
|Would you attend a protest?||6%||36%||8%||2%||Gallup|
International organizations[edit source | edit]
- Party of European Socialists (PES) leader Sergei Stanishev issued a statement of support for the protest movement, announcing that the PES would stand behind protesters' demands.
- The European Green Party supported the protests and condemned what they dubbed "violence against peaceful protesters". It also condemned the positions of ALDE and the EPP.
- Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) chairman Hans van Baalen supported MRF leader Ahmed Dogan and condemned what he dubbed "extremism" among the people that had "attacked him and his property". Later Hans van Baalen appologised for his tweet stating that he wasn't informed enough about the situation.
- The leader European People's Party group (EPP) supported Borisov's government and stated that Bulgaria "needs Borisov, because he protects the border and doesn't demonstrate a pro-Russian orientation".
National[edit source | edit]
See also[edit source | edit]
- 2013 Bulgarian protests against the first Borisov cabinet - a similar protest movement that overthrew Borisov's first government in 2013
- List of protests in the 21st century
Notes[edit source | edit]
- Self-reported figure based on an opinion poll by Gallup
References[edit source | edit]
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