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Bulgaria: street protests against high living costs. Protesters demand a radical change of course

People took to the streets in Sofia and other Bulgarian cities against the high living costs, the rise in fuel prices and corruption. They call for the resignation of the government led by PM Boyko Borisov and a radical change in the political system. The comment of political analyst Tony Nikolov and of Catholic parish priest Fr Cortesi

Over the last period every Sunday the centre of Sofia has been blocked by street protests. Several groups demonstrate in front of the Parliament, each holding the Bulgarian flag. Most of them have decided to take to the streets against the high living costs caused by the rise in fuel prices and car taxes, but above all for the widespread feeling that government leaders are doing nothing to improve the situation. Last Sunday demonstrations took place in 30 cities across Bulgaria. The situation is tense and unstable.

Political and social instability. “The protests signal the instability of Bulgarian society, which is both political and social, seen also in the government coalition of the centre-right party Gerb with the ultra-nationalist United Patriots”, Tony Nikolov, political analyst, managing editor of the review “Christianity and culture”, told SIR. “The tensions within the Patriot movement are jeopardising the whole Cabinet”, he remarked. A large group of mothers of disabled children stand out in the crowd of protestors. They have been demanding a reform of social services for months. “But instead of delivering concrete solutions Vice-Premier Valeri Simeonov, with responsibilities in this area, insulted them, and the group of mothers asked for his resignation. He stepped down last week.”

Sofia divided from the rest of the Country. Massive protests took place across the Country but not in the capital city. Several motorways were closed to traffic, causing problems to thousands of commuters, as well as border crossings with Turkey and Greece. “It was surprising that people from non-poor households, and from the most affluent areas of Bulgaria, took to the streets”, said Father Paolo Cortesi, Passionate parish priest from Belene, a city on the Danube, in North-West Bulgaria. The priest described the difficult situation in rural areas. “Youths who complete their high-school studies can’t find a job here and they migrate abroad. As a result these areas grow poor, villages and towns are depopulated and all that is left are empty factories and abandoned homes.” As evidence, the Catholic priest brings figures from the parish register: “this year I celebrated 150 funerals but only 20 baptisms.”

Distrust of politicians. Nikolov agrees and adds: “these are not the protests of people with no prospects or hope. In fact they are motivated by their distrust of politicians.” “I would rather describe it as a moral crisis, the government shows utter disrespect of its citizens.” But 12 years after EU adhesion it seems that Bulgarians want to be full Europeans, not only in writing, but also in facts. For Nicolov, “an increasing part of the population considers transparency and responsibility to be indispensable factors in governing the Country.”

Early elections? For the time being PM Boyko Borisov has no intention to resign, “because the economy is on track, wages are rising and fuel prices are decreasing.” But for Father Cortesi “the cost of living is high, an average supermarket grocery shopping amounts to 60 Euro, and while the average wage is of 500 Euro, the pensioners of Belene must make ends meet with 100-Euro pensions.” In fact, Bulgaria remains among the poorest Countries of EU28 member States. “For this reason – he concluded – people mistrust public institutions and call for a radical change of course. But major transformations require reforms.”

European elections ahead. The widespread malaise does not feed into the consensus of opposition Socialist party. “In the upcoming elections the Bulgarian people not only don’t want to chose, they want to punish political leaders.” And while next May’s European elections are on the horizon, Nikolov pointed out that “there is no alternative to Borisov’s government that will last until European elections. The vote will be a decisive testing ground for the government”, then, according to the result, “early elections can take place next fall.” “In the meantime the election campaing is ongoing. Unfortunately it will focus on national politics alone, European issues will be left on the sidelines.”

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