Bulgarian Anti-Government Protesters Block Central Sofia

August 2nd marks the 25th consecutive day of protests against Bulgaria’s conservative and widely-regarded corrupt government. Large camping tents were set up at two major intersections in downtown Sofia to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, causing the public transportation system servicing nearly two million citizens to be re-routed.

In an attempt to disprove accusations of corruption, Borissov fired several key members of his cabinet. According to party officials, the Prime Minister also called for the resignation of the finance, commerce, and interior ministers. While the latter brought a certain degree of public approval, these attempts were nonetheless unsuccessful as many citizens continue to participate in one of the largest Bulgarian anti-government protests since 2014. A poll by independent organization Gallup International found that 59% of citizens support the protests against Borissov, whose current third term is scheduled to expire in March 2021 with the onset of a new election. Bulgaria is also the poorest, and most graft-ridden country in the EU according to the Transparency International corruption prevention index.

While some police officers have been injured, the protests have been largely peaceful. Tens of thousands of students, artists, and young professionals gather in the streets of Sofia demanding a reform of the justice system and the introduction of new politicians into the Bulgarian government. In a country where oligarchs hold an extraordinary amount of power over the happenings of the state, protesters are yearning for change that will create a true democracy. The left-wing party Democratic Bulgaria (DB) currently holds zero seats in parliament, but protesters hope that this will soon change as the masses begin to understand just how corrupt the state truly is. Head of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Affairs, Vessela Tcherneva echoes this, stating that “judging by the level of rage you see in the streets, a lot of young people won’t take cosmetic measures as an answer.”

In an era where information is so readily available, it is understandable that so many young people are eager for change and civically-minded enough to make it happen. With the onset of mass globalization, distances seem smaller and ideas spread faster. It is much easier to see corruption in a government when you have access to examples and materials that give you the ability to recognize what a truly fair justice system looks like. In the age of information, organizing a 20,000 person protest of individuals coming from many areas of the state also becomes much easier when virtually all that needs to be done is sharing a few posts online to spread the word. What may have been impossible to organize on a large scale 30 years ago has now become relative normalcy. While peaceful protests such as these may not have an immediate impact in the form of tangible change, it is certainly much more probable that they will instill a change that a participant may be able to see in their own lifetime.

It is unclear how long these protests will continue, but many citizens are committed to involvement until Borissov steps down. A resignation prior to the end of the Prime Minister’s current term in March seems unlikely, as he has insisted that a change in leadership will bring unwelcome state-wide instability during the uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, it is clear that an overhaul in leadership is needed for the government to effectively serve its citizens to the degree that they need it to do so.

Jenna Segal