Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bulgaria’s protests and political crisis: a mixed blessing

Several things come to mind about what happened in Bulgaria over the last weeks (the street protests and the eventual resignation of the government led by PM Boiko Borisov on 20 February):

                                          Photo courtesy

1) To be clear, the protests did not begin in February 2013: they only intensified to a mass scale this month, triggered by unbearably high electricity bills many people across the country received in January and February. Before that, there were regular, though low-scale and segregated, civil expressions of disagreement in Sofia and other big cities on various issues such as environmental and development policies and unpaid salaries in big state-owned firms. But there is this particular characteristic of Bulgarian citizenry: it is only aroused to mass civil action when something hits directly, and massively, its pocket. Back in 1997, when the truest democratic revolution took place in Bulgaria (1989 was only a coup d'état within the Bulgarian Communist Party followed by a mimicry of reforms), it was hyper-inflation and collapse of the banking system, leading to loss of savings and mass poverty, that drove people on the streets. They were not much impressed by the failure of democratisation after 1989. Now, it was the electricity bills. Of course, these are quite legitimate causes of protest. They seem to be the most effective ones in awakening the Bulgarian public conscience.

2) The mass protest action was spurred by the absurdly high electricity bills, but subsequently other legitimate, more general claims were posed by the citizens. They were disappointed with the political system in general, and found a vent in this budding mass action. They wanted a thorough change towards true democracy and citizens’ participation. These were not partisan protests: they were essentially against all political parties and the establishment as a whole. Also, they were not explicitly anti-austerity protests, as many Western media commented. Bulgaria has been implementing austerity ever since 1997. They were against the monopoly structures that command huge bits of the economy with the consent and collaboration of recurring governments – not only the current government – smothering small and medium-sized private initiative and ordinary earners with high end-prices. These monopolies are in the power sector, fuels, pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, even airport services.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Is the Post-2000 Improvement of Relations Between Serbia and Croatia Irreversible?

Despite recent drawbacks, relations between the two Balkan neighbours are destined to improve. Read my piece written for the blog of the German Marshall Fund of the United States here.