Monday, 2 December 2013

Bulgarian anti-government demonstrations: revolution, evolution, or just a street party

Bulgarian demonstrators asking for the EU help in getting rid of their government. November 2013.

From a distance it sounds like a football match: the pulsating noise of chants, vuvuzelas and whistles. Approaching closer, you start to register separate phrases being shouted out by the crowds: Ma-fi-ja! - Os-tav-ka! - Cher-ve-ni pod-klu-tzi! Then you see them.

Hundreds, on some days thousands of demonstrators: carrying Bulgarian flags or wrapped in them; walking, marching and cycling; people with small children in prams and the elderly; dog walkers and those straight from the office; serious-looking citizens and guys with plastic two-litre beer bottles.

Every day they meet at the Largo, demonstrate there, then march along the Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, stop at the Parliament, then continue towards the Sofia University and beyond. Some live in tents in the proximity of the Parliament building. The monument of the Osvoboditel (Liberator) himself, sitting tall on a horse opposite the Parliament entrance, is covered up to the hooves with banners, slogans and perching demonstrators.

For some the demonstrations are a type of social gathering, a street party where new friends are made and romances start; for others it is a very serious business. Some of my colleagues dilligently go there every day after work. I have seen groups demonstrating in front of the German embassy - asking for the Germans' help in removing the corrupted Bulgarian government.

The police fence the access to the main government buildings and close certain streets every afternoon in preparations; TV crews park their vans and wait for that night's spectacle. For journalists, being and working there does not necessarilly mean that their reports will be broadcasted, as much of the media is said to be ruled by the same governing clan.

My relatives abroad find out about the demonstrations months after they have actually started - and I have been witnessing them every single day since the early June. Only in August, the holliday month, the parades had diminished for a couple of weeks in Sofia - but even then there had been some outbursts on the Bulgarian seaside, including one at a beach campsitte. In September Sofian troops were firmly back in the streets of the capital once again.

I have seen masses of people chanting while riding the metro; quiet commuting pensioners with their Bulgarian flags carefully rolled away, dogs dressed in slogan-bearing dog vests. I have felt an air of upheaval and solidarity. The sheer amounts of the demonstrators, especially during the early summer days, were those comparable to only what I had seen as a child back in Vilnius during the Lithuanian 'Singing Revolution'. 

The Bulgarian 'singing revolution', however, was not meant to take over. People are still demonstrating and the same government is still on. Nothing has changed.

When asked who might be a better replacement for the government still in power a few Bulgarians simply do not seem to know any alternatives. 'No political culture here, everyone is corrupted', one of them says.

Then a watching youngish foreigner from Wester Europe thoughtfully suggests the demonstrators set up a party and pick the new leaders from among themselves. 

Below are some images from various days of the demonstration.

 Text and photos (c) Agne Drumelyte, 2013.

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