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Bulgaria On The Brink

Outgoing Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov waves to supporters outside the parliament in Sofia on February 21. It is unclear who will replace him following the elections.
Outgoing Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov waves to supporters outside the parliament in Sofia on February 21. It is unclear who will replace him following the elections.
By Robert Coalson
Following days of sometimes violent protests against austerity measures and reports of corruption in Bulgaria, the government stepped down this week, triggering a political crisis in the European Union's poorest member state.

Amid protesters shouting "Mafia!" and burning their utility bills on February 20, one demonstrator expressed his frustration. "How much longer do we have to endure this? Let's wake up and be Bulgarians! Long live mother Bulgaria!" he told Reuters.

The protests -- the worst since the country's financial meltdown in 1997 -- were triggered by high utility bills combined with corruption scandals, including one involving the government's nominee to head the state electricity regulatory commission, the agency that determines electricity rates.

Bulgarians are frustrated that the austerity budgets they have lived under now for years have yet to pay off and they're increasingly feeling squeezed by rising prices in a stagnant economy. But the crisis there differs from the antiausterity crises that have swept other EU members, such as Portugal, Spain, and Greece.

But this week's demonstrations were not triggered by new austerity measures and all of Bulgaria's governments have followed austerity programs since the 1997 crisis, says Daniel Smilov, a program director for the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. In fact, Bulgaria hasn't introduced a whole package of new austerity measures since 2008 or 2009," he says. "The thing is that we have lived, in fact, under very strict fiscal and financial rules since about 1997."

As a result, Bulgaria has had minimal budget deficits and foreign borrowing for more than a decade. When the 2007-08 global financial crisis hit, Sofia was in a position to weather the storm without an international bailout, despite its close economic and financial ties with ailing Greece.

Suffering For What?

Despite not being in the eurozone, Bulgaria has voluntarily signed on to the EU's Fiscal Compact.

Like most former Soviet bloc countries, Bulgarians have far more trust and confidence in European institutions -- particularly the European Union -- than they do in their own politicians. There has been no significant decline in Bulgaria's enthusiasm for the EU in recent months.

However, Dimitar Bechev, head of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), says the benefits of these policies have not trickled down. "Fundamentally it is about poverty," he says. "Although Bulgaria has been fiscally stable and has posted good financial figures, at the micro level, at the level of the household, incomes have stagnated and people haven't experienced the benefits of stability."

Analyst Smilov sees a sort of "austerity fatigue" brought on by Bulgaria's changing economic circumstances. In the period before the global economic crisis, Bulgaria experienced satisfactory levels of economic growth and foreign investment. Bulgarians were relatively poor, but the economy was stable.

However, that has changed over the last few years. "Since 2009-10, Bulgaria entered into a period in which, in fact, growth is almost zero and the economy is almost stagnating," Smilov says. "This puts a lot of pressure on people in terms of lowering their income, freezing their income. And also they start to feel, of course, the pressure of rising living costs."

Who Will Fill The Vacuum?

Now the country enters an uncertain period. A new general election will be called, most likely for late April or early May. In the meantime, a caretaker government will be installed and outgoing Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has said he will not participate in it.

Smilov, however, thinks the general nature of public political frustration in Bulgaria makes the election unpredictable. "The public protests were against the government, but also they showed some sort of frustration and disappointment with the political system as a whole," he says. "So, you could say that people are not happy with all existing political parties, and this makes predictions of the results a little bit difficult."

It is likely the vote will result in a deeply fragmented parliament that will have great difficulty forming a government, the ECFR's Bechev adds. "You might be expecting that the opposition will do marginally better because the momentum is from their side. [But] those people who protested are not necessarily Socialist Party voters," he says. "So it is a very tight race and there are many possible coalitions."

The country's political crisis could drag on for months.

As Borisov said when he stepped down on February 20, "the people gave us power and today we are returning it."

Robert Coalson

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: person from: thinking place
February 22, 2013 21:41
Israel must be very upset, they must have spent so much money to get the Bulgarian government to frame Hizbullah and now that regime is gone.

Combining Israel’s gruesome terrorism practices with the fact that in 2012 Bulgarians gave about 150,000 bribes to civil servants every month, exceeding the number in 2010, it is not surprising that Israel got Bulgaria to go along with its false flag operation against Hizbullah and Iran. In December 2012 a detailed presentation titled "Government Level Corruption and Ties with Organized Crime" on Bulgaria, delivered by Bulgarian journalists Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov, founders of the site for investigative journalism Bivol.bg, exposed deep ties of Bulgarian government officials with organized crime. Given that Israel often serves as a safe haven for the Russian criminal syndicate, one should not be surprised to learn how and why the Bulgarian regime decided to follow the Zionist scheme against Iran and Hizbullah.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 24, 2013 00:53
More BS BW from Eugeno-Jack type great thinkers of our time.The present regime is gone but the
ruling GERB party will win the next elections although it will rule in a right wing coalition.Israel`s investments in Bulgaria cannot compare with
the former `communists``Billion $$$ arms &drgs trade with the arabs and all kind of western terrorists,which made the former `communists`the richest people in Bulgaria today.Same is true for all former Soviet-bloc countries.Today`s protests are organized by the red mafia which controls bulgarian economy and is responsible for the dire state of bulgarian society.The Journalists you mention are dubious Assange Wiki-leaks type slot machines and have not any credibility but for those who pay them.Organized crime in Bulgaria as in any former soviet bloc country has its origins in the red secret service police which now controls almost anything in their respective countries.Take a look at the photograph at the top of this article-there is a statue of a soldier on horseback looking down at the crowd-it` the russian tsar who freed Bulgaria from turkish yoke-he also gave freedom from serfdom to his compatriots and was killed as a thank you from the day`s `communist` terrorists.They are today`s bulgarian Big brother and they cannot watch idly power slipping away from their dirty claws -hence the Sound and the Fury.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 23, 2013 12:35
VIDEO: Protests in Bulgaria - uncensored 18.02.2013 Sofia - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb8oOk-ituI
In Response

by: SeoKungFu from: Pragiana
February 25, 2013 11:45
You can also see all the live recording to the top right here ( dates need no translations :) ): http://www.ustream.tv/channel/najivo
Meanwhile, the protests continue, even after the .gov resignation - people demand real change, not just replacement and substitution.

Many ask for a grand national assembly - a parliament that is going to craft a new constitution, lowering the number of senators ( currently 240 for a nation of about 7 mil. ) etc.

Situation is still unfolding, stay tuned

by: Jack from: US
February 26, 2013 16:14
on the other hand, Bulgaria is a NATO minion which gets its orders from Washington and Israel. That should give Bulgarians some consolation in their daily plight. Happy slavery

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