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Opinion

Bulgaria’s ‘early-risers’ protest political unrest

By Hristina Mangelova ’16

December 5, 2013

Over the past ten years, political instability and social unrest such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 have left the post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe in turmoil. The reasons behind these uprisings have been topics of political research as countries continue to struggle in a trap between the communist past and the democratic present.

When most people list Eastern European countries that have still not overcome the impacts of communism, few think of Bulgaria. After all, Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since 2007, a member of NATO since 2004 and according to Freedom House it is a “free” state. So why do Bulgarians identify their country as “a mafia state?” Are the foreign “objective” evaluators of democracy turning a blind eye on the country’s issues, or are the citizens blinded by their lack of political knowledge and ignorance?

Since the scandalous preliminary parliamentary elections in Bulgaria in June this year  and the formation of a leftist coalition government led by the Socialist party, second party in the elections, the people have set a record for the biggest and longest-lasting political protests the country has ever seen. Over the last six months young and elderly have been out on the streets daily, chanting, “Resign!” “Oligarchs!” and “Red mafia,” but the government pretends the hundreds of thousands of people outside the Parliament do not exist. What is more, the European Union does not seem to show much concern for the public dissatisfaction and governmental ignorance, either.  Even though during her visit over the summer EU justice commissioner Vivian Reding stated her support toward the protesters, the Union has not taken any further actions. After all, it is not like the political corruption that the protesters are fighting against could possibly correlate with the fact that, according to reuters.com, Bulgaria is “the poorest member state of the EU”...

In mid-October, just when it seemed like the protesters were about to give up, a small group of university students, calling themselves “the early-rising students,” occupied the auditorium of Sofia University, where the chairman of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court was scheduled to give a lecture. Since then the “early-rising” students’ movement has gained the support of Bulgarian students all around the country and abroad. The organization of the protests takes place mainly on Facebook where the official page of the “early-rising” students posts events, news, photos and official statements. On that same webpage Bulgarian students who study abroad, such as myself, can post pictures of themselves showing their support for the early-risers.

It is important to know that the public demand for resignation of the socialist government is only the trigger of the protest, and the demands of the early-risers go way beyond new elections. The government flatters itself by thinking all of those bright young people dress up, act, sing and create every single day because they do not like them. 

This is a protest for a bigger cause, not against small people. This is a protest for humanity and for the rule of law; for people’s rights to be true citizens of their country and for progress; for our families and friends; for the burning desire for change but mainly for the love of our country.

This is what makes the protests of the “early-rising” students so special and even though the Prime Minister continues to make statements that he is “fighting for the future of the country” his actions speak differently. Beating up peacefully protesting university students while passing the most restrictive legislation on the human rights of public speech and demonstrations since 1989 is not the future but the ugly past.

We have yet to see whether the protests of the students will succeed and whether the government will resign.    What is certain, however, is that the early-risers will stand their ground because they are the future of the country and they know it. Five or 10 years from now, they will be the ones who will lead the country out of the political and social crisis of the past twenty years; and on Dec. 26, I will be right there, in front of the Parliament, chanting with them, chanting for change and for revolution!

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