Bulgaria's ‘Class War'

Views on BG | July 27, 2013, Saturday // 15:17|  views

The definitive division in today's Bulgaria is no longer between right and left, but between the citizens and the mafia. Photo by Dimiter Muftieff

The long-running protests in Bulgaria are not a plot led by middle-class Soros-oids – they are about social alternatives.

Mariya Ivancheva, Sofia
The Guardian

On Tuesday the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, witnessed a night of violence. After 40 days of protest the National Assembly was besieged amid demands that the government resign, and police stormed the peaceful crowd. A bus full of MPs trying to get away was surrounded and its windows broken, and scores of people were wounded. The next day Mihail Mikov, chair of parliament, said that "looking for solutions within the constitution becomes increasingly difficult".

A brief look back can explain why. The collapse of Bulgaria's centre-right government in February following protests against rising electricity bills led to early elections in May. These produced a coalition of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Liberties – the party supported by the Turkish minority in Bulgaria – under the prime minister, Plamen Oresharski.

Since 14 June protests have demanded Oresharski's resignation. He was elected on a pledge of popular reforms that would benefit the most economically vulnerable, but any trust in him dissipated with the appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the state agency for national security. In the eyes of most Bulgarians the media monopolist was corruption incarnate.

The peaceful protests – which coincided with more violent events in Brazil, Turkey and Egypt – have been described as "middle class" by international media that have otherwise largely ignored them. This trope eclipses the reality of the people on the ground, who barely make ends meet on average incomes in the EU's poorest member state.

This rhetoric also exists in local narratives, both for and against the protests. The creation of a strong middle class as a result of Bulgaria's transition to liberal democracy and a free market was once the collective dream; now it is used to divide the country. Rightwing intellectuals present protesters as "intelligent", "moral", even "beautiful" and "smiling". This self-proclaimed "cultural and professional elite" presents itself as "European", "non-violent", "able to pay bills and taxes", as distinct from the "uncivilised" Bulgarians who staged the protests in February. By contrast, most protesters – public service workers and students – see all the protests as intrinsically related. They do not formulate, however, any economic demands or critique the IMF- and EU-inspired austerity and privatisation agendas – embraced by all Bulgarian governments – that led to mass unemployment and dismantled the welfare institutions of the socialist state.

The BSP and its media supporters have also used the "Sofian middle class" rhetoric to turn many Bulgarians against the protesters. They are portrayed as a part of a transnational elite network, connected to power centres in Washington and Brussels. It is alleged that the protesters are paid-up "Soros-oids"; the financier George Soros and the Open Society Institute are seen as masterminds of the protests. Oresharski's timid reforms are thus portrayed as fighting a world conspiracy against ordinary Bulgarians.

What really stands between the protesters and emancipatory politics is the neoliberal hegemony of previous decades, which emptied the collective political imagination. Protests are framed as explicitly "anti-communist" – and the "communism" of the BSP is expressed in its complicity with non-transparent privatisation deals and economic austerity. Talk of "anti-communism" stifles any real debate about economic and social alternatives. New legislative measures, meanwhile, render the emergence of new political actors increasingly difficult, and Bulgaria remains subordinated to local oligarchy and power blocs. As a consequence, the growing political and economic crisis and the precariousness of the majority of Bulgarians are addressed only by the racist far right, whose electoral power is slowly expanding.

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Tags: Bulgaria, EU, oligarchy, European Commission


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