Update and Letter from Bulgaria #2

22 Nov. Liberty leading the people, Bulgarian version via @Vi_Ninua

22 Nov. Liberty leading the people, Bulgarian version via @Vi_Ninua

Dear people,

Kiev is really hot right now. You all know the story. Putin wants Ukraine to stay in the Russian orbit, and with who knows which promises or threats he has forced the Ukrainian government to renounce association with the EU.

Hundreds of thousands are on the street every day in Kiev. Millions all over the country. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s mostly the nationalists who are demonstrating, and for a revolutionary it doesn’t make sense to support nationalists anywhere. It must be exciting all the same. Pictures are coming in of protesters trying to break through a line of riot police with a bulldozer. Battles are raging every day. Demonstrators keep rebuilding their camp. They vow to continue until the government resigns.

I know, maybe I should be there. I should be on that bulldozer. Yet for now I’m in Tuscany, caught up in a swamp of distractions. But don’t worry, I’ll be back.

There are also things going on in Mexico, Thailand and Egypt. Respectively a protest against energy privatization, a bourgeois revolt and a student demo in Tahrir against a ban on unauthorized protests.

For the time being I will publish another letter from my friend in Bulgaria, about the events in Sofia over the course of the past few weeks.

“I am wondering how I can summarize the whole situation… It is not like Turkey. Not yet. This story with the riot police is actually ridiculous. Yes, there is a protest every single day, no matter if there are 30 or 3000 people, as the number varies each day, we are not skipping a day. A lot of people came out on the street on 10 November, because it is the anniversary of the big protests of 10.11.1990 when we took the regime down (or at least we thought so :)) the next few days were also quite intense and the politicians feared that the situation from 24 years ago would repeat itself, so they mobilized all the police in Sofia and a few other big cities. There were some clashes between police and people, but not too bad, even though that was the idea of this whole circus. What is ridiculous about it is that at some point there were more policemen then protesters on the square, pushing people away, threatening instead of protecting the citizens (what is their actual duty). So the reaction of the students was to come out on the square in the next few days and play “terrorists” with cardboard weapons and gas masks in order to deride the reactions of the police and the Parliament, who treated us as violent criminals the previous days for no reasons. There are different actions every day apart from the regular protest, unfortunately not enough people are participating.”

-NN

Bulldozer against riot police in Kiev. Dec 1. Via @newsrevo

Bulldozer against riot police in Kiev. Dec 1. Via @newsrevo

Mexico protests. Dec 1. @amadorlicea

Mexico protests. Dec 1. @amadorlicea

Femen piss protest against Ukrainian president in Paris. Via @selcukkaracayir

Femen piss protest against Ukrainian president in Paris. Via @selcukkaracayir


Letter from Bulgaria

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Dear people,

I received a letter from a friend in Bulgaria. She has been close to the action since the start, and did a lot to help me understand the situation when I was there. What is happening in Sofia is definitely historic. People have been protesting since mid June, every day, same time, same place.

“Here we are not giving up. It is true that September and October were quieter than the first months. The people got tired and feeling a little hopeless, because little by little it is becoming more and more clear that ALL of our politicians are simple marionettes and there are other people pulling the strings from outside (not that it wasn’t clear before that :)) and our country and all the institutions in it are like a big joke.

BUT as I said, we are not giving up – there is a new wave of protests – on a different scale and it is growing, oh yes it is! There were some big public actions a few weeks ago. For example at the qualifications for the World Cup – during a game in the National stadium on the 14th minute more than 30 000 Bulgarians were screaming “Resign”  together.

Dayu 139. Sofia University occupied. Via @enough14

Day 139. Sofia University occupied. Via @enough14

The Prime minister has not used the main entrances to go in or out of a building in the past 4 months, because there is always someone to greet him with booing and inconvenient questions. He is using the back entrances where they take the trash out.

The main building of Sofia University was taken over by some students, who have locked it up and there are no classes for 10 days already, no one can enter and exit freely and it will stay like that until the government resigns. In the past four days the other universities have started joining in to this action, not only in Sofia but in the whole country. There are also a lot of people on the streets again and more and more are joining in with different ‘attacks’ against the government and the whole oligarchic machine! So the people’s will is growing stronger and bigger, the voice of the simple Bulgarian is getting louder.

Some journalists have lost their jobs, for asking the ‘wrong’ questions, but now more and more journalists, artists and intellectuals are personally and publicly joining the protests. And the people still want to keep it peaceful 🙂 there are other ways to put pressure..

And as I’ve told you earlier in our conversations – something very significant is happening – one nation is waking up after a very long time of sleep and obedience – this process takes time, but it has already started 🙂 It feels so good! I just hope that the people will not get tired, hopeless and ‘fall asleep’ again… We will see…”

-NN

Solidarity from Amsterdam. Via@christzolov

Solidarity from Amsterdam. Via@christzolov


“Tales from the Crypt”

'The UFO': Communist Party convention centre in the Bulgarian mountains.

‘The UFO’: Communist Party convention centre in the Bulgarian mountains. Via Archdaily.com

[Spanish translation attempt here]

Sofia, August 4

Dear people,

There is one more layer missing. People here have rightly pointed this out to me. The fourth dimension.

Imagine time. Imagine people, cities, nations, empires. Imagine birth, growth, stagnation, decay, death. Over and over again. Imagine the fog. You’re somewhere on the line of time. Actually, you’re exactly in the middle, always. When you look forward, you can’t see where you’re going, which is frightening. When you look back, you can distinguish the road appearing out of the haze. You see yourself, your parents, your tribe, your species.

Here in Sofia I met a Russian girl, an archaeologist, who had come all the way from California to dig up pieces of an old Thracian city. It’s the furthest point of the road behind us that we can still vaguely see. We know it’s much longer than that. This fertile land between East and West we now call Bulgaria has been inhabited long before that by nomadic tribes. The whole idea of settling down in cities, and keeping records, is pretty recent.

Entrance to the convention centre

Entrance to the convention centre

So what’s the use of history? Well, quite simply, it serves to understand who we are, and more in particular what distinguishes us from ‘the others’, what makes us special. We look back, we downplay the tragedies, the defeats, the decline and instead we try to focus on something that boosts our national ego. The Dutch for example, they concentrate on the ‘Golden Age’, when the trading fleets from the Lowlands ruled the seven seas, when great painters left their immortal masterpieces, when those who were persecuted for their ideas or their beliefs found refuge in a climate of relative tolerance.

Here in Bulgaria, like in other places around Europe, you have your Romans and your Greeks and your Christian missionaries, who are used to define us as a civilization. More in particular, as far as the nation is concerned, people learn in school about the Bulgarian Empires, first and second, which ruled the greater part of the Balkans during the middle ages.

In my conversations with the people here, most of the highlights and lowlights of Bulgarian history have made their brief appearances. The people remember with pride how the Bulgarians besieged mighty Constantinople more than once. But then, then came the Turks. For four centuries they dominated the land, and schoolbook history pictures them as cruel heathen overlords.

There is a significant minority of Turks still living in Bulgaria. Many Bulgarians don’t like them, as a result of what they are taught. They also say the Turks refuse to speak to Bulgarian. They can’t stand to see a Turkish minister in the Bulgarian government. During communist times, the Turks were forced to bulgarianize their names. After the fall, they quickly turkified them again, which angered many nationalists. From their side, Bulgarians generally don’t speak Turkish, except for maybe one single phrase, a particularly insulting one.

In opposition to the Turks, Bulgarian history paints the Russians as a big brother, if only because they helped the country regain its independence from Ottoman rule at the end of the 19th century. Fortunately, local wisdom also includes a sense of irony. The saying goes that if you put three Bulgarians together, then one is a leader, one is a follower, and one is a traitor. To which people usually add: “Most probably, two of them are traitors.”

Outskirts of Sofia, via Tumblr

Outskirts of Sofia, via Tumblr

Bulgaria sided with the losing coalition in both world wars and ended up under direct Soviet domination. Forty-five years of communism really screwed this country up. It’ll take time for people to get the communist heritage out of their system. It’s still present all around. The other day I went with a friend into the outskirts of Sofia. Contrary to the centre, which is pretty charming, the outskirts are like a cemetery. People live in huge concrete tombstones, which are heavily suffering the passage of time only decades after they were built. They are lacking maintenance, they start falling apart. Some of them are mere skeletons.

It was here that I heard a few of the ‘Tales from the Crypt’, as my friend called them, the stories of pure Bulgarian hopelessness. He told me about poverty, corruption, emigration, and about the people staying behind who try to avoid the bitter reality by getting drunk on cheap booze every day.

In the 90s, omnipresent authority in Bulgaria transvested itself from the communist party into the mafia. If I’m to believe what I hear, the mafia is not simply a criminal organization that leeches off the economy. Much like in southern Italy, the mafia is the economy. It make things go around, and either directly or indirectly, people depend on it to get by.

I got to see one of the outskirt flats from the inside the other day. It’s everything you expect it to be. The small dark rooms, the leaking tubes, the flaking plaster, the rusty window frames, the broken doors. Then there’s the 1970s furniture, wall paper and curtains. The mix of brown and orange and dark green. There is a world map on one of the walls that still shows the old Soviet Union. The television comes from the era when screens were not flat yet and had a big butt behind them. You know, the kind of screen that used red-blue-green cathode ray tubes. Even the programs it broadcast matched the environment: 1980s trash horror with ditto special effects.

Soviet war monument in Bulgaria via 9gag.com

Soviet war monument in Bulgaria via 9gag.com

Nothing worthwhile to do here but drink, I begin to understand that. Drink and play ‘tavla’.

Now, getting back to the culture discourse, there are numerous ways to classify a civilization. By mobility (nomad or sedentary), by religion (polytheist, monotheist, atheist), by dominant status symbol (property, knowledge, age, valour, etc.) by language, by dominant cereal type (grain, corn, rice), by preferred or endorsed drug (alcohol, coca, caffeine, weed, opium, etc.), or by games. One of the oldest artifacts found in the tombs of Egyptians faraos was a board game. Nowadays you have chess civilizations, mahjong civilizations, poker civilizations, etc. Bulgaria, like Turkey, is part of the backgammon civilization. It’s a beautiful game that adds a touch of luck to strategy and tactics. Me, coming from a different civilization, I had the pleasure to be taught some of the game’s tricks in an original communist environment.

In Sofia’s outskirts you will still encounter the Lada’s and the Moskvitches. I am amazed that these cars haven’t disintegrated yet. They are famous for their crappiness. Let me give you an example. My dad once brought me a toy Zil from the Soviet Union. The Zil was the limousine of the party officials. Usually, toy cars are pretty much indestructable. You can throw them off a skyscraper and continue to play with them without trouble. But the toy Zil fell apart by itself. So imagine the original limousine. Imagine the common man’s Lada.

20130803_121450On our way back to the centre, we don’t pass by the Gypsy ghetto. Bulgarians like to avoid those places. Generally, they hate Gypsies. Their motives are the same ones you will hear in other countries. “They don’t work. They steal. They breed like rabbits.” This is quoted from one of the most open-minded and reasonable people I met here. The Turks are at the penultimate rung of the social ladder. Then there’s a big gap, then there’s the Gypsies at the bottom. The hatred of Turks is mainly based on “stupid prejudice”, and in some cases on envy (one of Bulgaria’s big business tycoons is a Turk). The hatred of Gypsies on the other hand is mainly based on personal experience: “You get robbed a few times, and you turn into a racist.”

It comes down to pure incompatibility. The Gypsies are fundamentally nomads. Most societies try to assimilate them, turn them into “normal people”, store them in big building blocks. The Bulgarian government made similar efforts. But the Gypsies treated the flats as tents, they lit fires in the living rooms and parked their horses on the balcony. They don’t pay for utilities. They tap their electricity directly from the source, which is cited as another reason why electricity companies raised prices out of proportion, causing yet more ethnic animosity.

The Bulgarian population is shrinking, the Gypsie population is thriving. They usually don’t send their kids to school. But the schools are funded on the basis of the amount of students. And it’s obligatory to send your kids to school if you want to receive child benefits from the government. So officially they are registered and attending. This way the school receives funding, and the Gypsies as well. It’s the kind of minor corruption that most people will understand and forgive. But it’s also a symptom of a wider and broader corruption on which Bulgarian society is based. All of this will not change overnight should the current government resign.

Stormtroopers attacking press, August 2. Day 50.

Stormtroopers attacking press, August 2. Day 50.

Friday marked the fiftieth day of protest. To celebrate it there was a re-enactment of last week’s siege on the parliament. People had built a cardboard bus, which featured the images of members of the government. It was escorted by Star Wars stormtroopers and medieval knights who ruthlessly yet playfully attacked any camera who tried to catch the scene.

The fiftieth day also marked the end of this stage of the protest. Parliament will go on holiday. Some people have vowed they will continue the protest here in Sofia, others have said they will follow the government to the seaside and continue to make noise on the beach and even offshore. In any case, the protests are likely to pick up again in September. One of the protesters hinted to this by paraphrasing a famous verse from a Bulgarian poem: “September will be May.”

“September will be January”, the sign said, in reference to the last popular uprising against the post-communists in January 1997. At that time, exasperated by hyperinflation, the people stormed parliament, entered, and brought down the government by force.

Inside the UFO. VIa Flickr.

Inside the UFO. VIa Flickr.


Day and Night

Performance in front of parliament. A bubble as a metaphor.

Performance in front of parliament. A bubble as a metaphor.

[Spanish translation here]

Sofia, August 2.

Dear people,

At Occupy Wall Street there used to be the Morning Bell March and the Closing Bell March. Also in Bulgaria the beginning and the end of the day are marked by protest.

The evening march is the main event, no doubt. It attracts thousands of protesters, it targets the government as a whole and its main slogan is ‘resignation!’ The morning protest only drums up a few dozen people, it targets the parliamentarians individually as they arrive at parliament in their fancy black Mercedeses. The main slogan you will hear is ‘Mafia! Mafia!’

Both protests have their own spaces, and every space has its own encampment. The evening protest takes place in front of parliament, where there is the main camp around the monument with the piano, the banners, the slogans, the cross, the plastic swimming pools and the communications tent. Today, while others staged their morning coffee protest, there was yoga all around the equestrian statue.

Toronto with Bulgaria.

Toronto with Bulgaria.

The morning protest takes place at the back of parliament, in the park, where there is a small camp with a handful of tents, and four park benches in a square under a gazebo, giving it a living room type of feel. Every evening I drop by there to speak to the locals and catch up on the latest news, rumours, accusations, conspiracy theories, etc. Then I usually go back to the main camp, for the live concert.

Yesterday, a second piano had appeared. A small one, without a wing. There was an old man who sat down to play. Beethoven. You wouldn’t believe it. From a classic start he took his listeners on a tour of musical history that had people dancing the charleston and the polka before he arrived at jazz, at rhythm and blues, at swinging 1950s rock and roll. Truly, the man smashed up the piano, playing like Jerry Lee Lewis. If only he had set it on fire, his act would have been complete. Or if he had played on a little longer, the piano would have ignited by itself.

Tonight, as well, we might have a swinging little party, to celebrate 50 days of protest…

Horsehead on the steps of parliament

Horsehead on the steps of parliament


Horseheads

Start of the march on day 46

Start of the march on day 46

[Spanish translation here]

Sofia, July 31.

Dear people,

Let me tell you a story. It’s the kind of story you would hear around the fire in winter. Now in summer, you can hear it around the piano.

It was told to me by comrade M., the man who carries a styrofoam horsehead on a stick every evening, in protest against the mafia. Comrade M. is a repatriate. There is no way for me to verify if his story is true, but frankly I don’t care. A good story doesn’t need to be weighed down by truthfulness.

Holland is with us ;)

Day 47. Holland is with us 😉

M. was 17 years old when he fled from communist Bulgaria in 1980, together with his dad. They didn’t really have a choice at the time. His dad was an engineer who had invented a device for the quick and even distribution of cocoa powder. The authorities seized his machine, and employed it for military purposes, replacing the cocoa with gunpowder. M’s dad was furious. He had constructed his device for the joy of all man kind, not to sow death and destruction. So he raised hell.

Criticizing authorities in a communist regime can be very dangerous, deadly even. Faced with the choice to die at the hands of the secret police, or to die while trying to escape to the free world, the inventor chose the latter. His son decided to take the risk and come along.

For one month they were in hiding along the border with Yugoslavia, observing every single defensive measure that the Bulgarian state used to protect their citizens from the evil temptation to leave.

There were mine fields, electric fences, watch towers with armed border guards, and booby traps linked to invisible fishing lines strung between distant poles. On the day of their attempt, they made it through the minefield, they crossed the electric fence with a special ladder constructed for the purpose, they avoided the booby traps, but they didn’t manage to escape the attention of the border guards.

For fifteen kilometres into Yugoslavian territory, the Bulgarian border guards came after them with dogs. Fortunately, they were prepared for this. They used little bundles of pepper to disorient the dogs’ sense of smell. Until they lost them, finally, somewhere deep in the forests of Serbia.

Crowd arriving at parliament. Day 47.

Crowd arriving at parliament. Day 47.

It meant by no means that they were safe. Yugoslavia wasn’t part of the eastern block, but it was a communist country and it had supposedly struck a deal with the Bulgarians to curb illegal emigration. For every refugee caught and returned by Yugoslav authorities, the Bulgarians offered a trainload of salt as a reward.

M. and his dad had to walk, all through the country, 32 days to the Austrian border. They couldn’t fool the locals they encountered. Everyone could tell that they were refugees, but in all the republics they past – Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia – none of the locals turned them in.

The border between Yugoslavia and Austria was practically unprotected. They stayed in observation for three days, fearing that it might be a trap. Finally, they took their chances and successfully crossed into the free world.

M. ended up as a shop owner in Chicago, where he a made a decent living for more than a decade. Then the Wall came down and in 1992 he decided to return to his home country, convinced that a new age of freedom and opportunity was dawning on Bulgaria.

Oh, how bitterly wrong he was! The Communist Party was replaced by the mafia, although the people remained more or less the same. Because of his contacts in the U.S., he was offered to become part of the organization. He refused. And ever since, for over twenty years, he has been struggling to get by.

In front of parliament.

In front of parliament.

Now he is one of the familiar faces of the protest. He proudly carries the horsehead, a new one each day, because every evening at the end of the march from Communist Party HQ he throws it over the barrier onto the steps of parliament. A friend of his always carries a sign that explains that these heads are fake, but that the real ones are coming, once the people will get rid of the ‘red scum’.

I don’t know what happens to the horseheads, but I already imagine a future museum of democracy, where they are all lined up, one after the other, each with a sign that shows the date, right up to the end, when the government came down, and the people took power.

M. notices my glass, it’s empty. “Here, have a refill.”

“Just a little bit.” He pours the homemade wine from a plastic bottle until the glass overflows.

“To the brim, man. To the brim!”

I smile, I lift the glass. “Cheers, mate.”

Orthodox priest handing out candles.

Orthodox priest handing out candles.


International Intrigue

Pipeline projects. All images Wikipedia.

Pipeline projects. All images Wikipedia.

[Spanish translation here]

Sofia, July 30.

Dear people,

Like most eastern European countries, Bulgaria has rarely been master of its own destiny. Things were decided either in Constantinople, or in Moscow, or more recently in Brussels and Washington. As part of the next layer, I will concentrate on the country’s geopolitical importance.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the West swiftly moved to incorporate eastern Europe in its expanding sphere of influence. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004, and of the EU in 2007.

As far as Europe is concerned there is a disequilibrium in the relationship between Sofia and Brussels. Bulgarians long to be as free and prosperous as the West, but Brussels doesn’t really seem to care for them. They are a second rate member, outside of the Schengen area and outside of the euro. If the EU ever bothered to welcome Bulgaria in its ranks, it was most of all to prevent other powers (Turkey, Russia) from re-asserting their influence over the region.

From a Realpolitik point of view there is indeed no reason why the European Union should care too much for democracy in a corrupt little nation of seven million souls on its far periphery. But in the grand global scheme of things, Bulgaria is an important link between East and West. So forget democracy, forget freedom, opportunity, human rights. It’s all about energy. And Russia has everything to do with it.

During the Cold War, Bulgaria was the closest ally of the Soviet Union, and even today the Russians are considered more positively here than elsewhere in the former Warsaw Pact. They have considerable investments in the country and a big influence over the post-communist government. The Kremlin’s great project for which Bulgaria is vital is the South Stream pipeline.

Moscow, the Kremlin.

Moscow, the Kremlin.

If Russia is still of any importance internationally, it’s because they sell weapons, they got nukes, they got good chess and ice-hockey players, and because they deal in fossil fuels to a wide range of junky states. Many of those are in Europe, and they get their supply of natural gas through pipelines. At the moment the major pipelines pass through Poland and Ukraine. In order to bypass these troublesome countries and strengthen its hold on customers in the Balkans, the Putin government intends to build another pipeline under the Black Sea, through Bulgaria and Serbia up to Slovenia and into Italy.

The post-communist governments in Bulgaria are always most willing to collaborate with the Russians, while the right-wing governments have traditionally been more oriented towards Washington. The Americans have four military bases in Bulgaria, and just before being toppled the government of Boyko Borisov requested indefinite American military presence on Bulgarian soil.

For the West, Bulgaria is vital in keeping the Russians away from the Mediterranean, and has been so ever since the modern Bulgarian state came into existence in the late 19th century. Today, the country is also crucial as a link in an alternative pipeline project called Nabucco.

The idea behind Nabucco is to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia as its natural gas dealer in favour or smaller nations which are more easy to control. The Nabucco pipeline would pass through Turkey, a loyal US ally, into the Southern Caucasus, through the Caspian oil fields, towards Central Asia, with offramps to the Middle East, thus completely avoiding Russian soil.

Since the project was conceived in 2002, the Russians have frowned on it with suspicion. It was in reaction to the Nabucco project that state controlled Gazprom announced the South Stream pipeline in 2007. The Nabucco project has one major drawback on which the Russians wanted to capitalize with their South Stream alternative: it has to tap into significant energy sources outside of Russia. The conquest of Iraq by US forces, and the constant western threat on Iran cannot be properly understood without taking the global energy question into account.

Washington, the White House.

Washington, the White House.

Bulgaria will host both pipeline projects, and so the Kremlin and the White House will prefer the Bulgarian government to be controlled by themselves rather than by, for example, the Bulgarian citizens.

Of course, there is a way around all these schemes, and it’s called ‘renewable energy’. If Bulgaria, or any other country for that matter, will one day want to be independent, they will have to switch to home-produced sustainable energy. And this is being done, indeed. The Bulgarian government has granted huge incentives for the creation of renewable energy supplies. Foreign investors jumped on it. Solar panels and wind parks popped up like crazy in the last few years.

Great, you’d say. Well, no. Picture this. In practice, the boom in renewables resulted in an overload of the antiquated infrastructure. The grid couldn’t handle it. So the government cut the incentives, which resulted in rising prices. It’s one of those strange occasions were a rise in supply (of something that’s basically free), caused prices to rise, which in turn caused the people to revolt, last February.

So we’re back at our starting point. Everything is more complicated than it seems. Renewable energy is part of the solution. Direct democracy is part of the solution. An end to foreign influence, be it Russian or American, is another part of solution. The difficulty is to find a way to fit all these things together. But we’ll have time to think about it, to talk about it. Tonight is day 47. Yesterday was day 46. And it was good. Lots of noise. More people than the day before, and great discussions until late at night, fueled by homemade wine. This time, for a change, the piano man played songs from Jesus Christ Superstar.

[With thanks to Stratfor Global Intelligence Agency for their reports. And to Wikileaks for leaking them 🙂 ]


Water Melon Day

Statuary protest along the road to Parliament, July 28.

Statuary protest along the road to Parliament, July 28.

[Spanish translation here]

Sofia, July 29.

Dear people,

I haven’t seen people dancing in circles out on the streets since early June when Taksim Square was ours. Yesterday, the Bulgarians danced in front of parliament. It was the 45th consecutive day of protest.

For the occasion, some people had brought water melons. It took a while for me to figure out the reference. It was an intricate one. The Bulgarian word for water melon (диня, dinya) is similar to the words for ‘day’ (ден, den)  and ‘year’ (година, godina). The communists ruled the country for 45 years, the protest is lasting for 45 days, the melons meant to say that it has been enough. It’s time for the ‘mafia’ to leave. So, on the beat of the drums the crowd chanted the unambiguous slogan of ‘оставка’ (ostavka, resignation).

As I promised, I will try to onion my way around the core to capture as much of the Bulgarian situation as I can. First of all, the political context.

Call for resignation on national monument

Call for resignation on national monument

Most of you will know that a revolution sometimes comes in two different stages. This is the case in Bulgaria. It started with the February Revolution, earlier this year, which was sparked by a dramatic increase in electricity prices. For almost a decade now, the Bulgarian energy sector has been sold off to foreign companies as a result of privatization frenzy. These companies have no trouble to raise prices even if they are completely out of proportion with the average wage in Bulgaria, which is the lowest in the EU. For many families, the electricity bill swallowed up more than their entire income this winter.

All over Bulgaria, people took the streets. As if to underline exactly how desperate the situation was, six people died after they set themselves on fire out of protest. These gruesome acts got hardly any attention from international media.

The right wing government of Boyko Borisov resigned as a result of the protests. When he got elected Borisov had presented himself as a strong man, the ‘roll up your sleeves’ type of guy, who likes to be pictured as a doer in the style of Benito Mussolini or Vladimir Putin. And yes, quite literally, he is a strong man. He had been a bodyguard of Bulgaria’s long time communist leader Todor Zhivkov before he embarked on a career in organized crime during the Wild West years that followed the communist collapse. His policies of strict austerity, combined with a sell-out of state property in an atmosphere of endemic corruption quickly made him lose support of the population.

During the February Revolution, councils of citizens were formed which formulated a series of more or less practical demands. The first was the re-nationalization of the energy sector. Others included criminal accountability for politicians, a change in the electoral system and increased citizens’ control over the nation’s political life.

When the government resigned, the protest collapsed. I was here in April, I spoke to people about the political situation, about the upcoming elections, and all I harvested was complete apathy. Elections or not, there was nothing to elect, the next government would be as bad as the previous one, and probably worse. That was the general idea.

Indeed, for some strange reason, Borisov’s party won the most seats in parliament. Only half of the people bothered to vote. There were widespread allegations of electoral fraud. I heard stories of dead people who miraculously turned in a ballot paper. I asked people about it.

“Yeah, sure. That’s normal in Bulgaria.” Apparently it’s such a normal practice that it isn’t even considered fraud anymore. No, this time it went beyond these minor ‘adjustments’. Printing presses were running overtime to deliver extra ballot papers.

Fraud or not, Borisov’s party finally renounced to form a new government and preferred to let the post-communists handle the mess. They had come in second in the election and managed to form a highly unlikely coalition with hardcore nationalists and the Turkish minority party.

I say highly unlikely, but in practice it may be less so than it seems. Vox popoli says that both the nationalist and the Turkish minority parties are ‘inventions’ of the post-communists, designed to give an appearance of democratic plurality to what is otherwise an attempt to continue the hegemony of Bulgaria’s former Communist Party.

When the post-communists returned to power in June, they nominated a minister who had gotten his hands dirty with a controversial building project on the coast of the Black Sea. Environmentalists staged a protest against his nomination starting on May 28 (the same day that environmentalists in Turkey started protesting against the destruction of Gezi Park). The minister withdrew from his post over the protests.

On June 14, the new government made an ever more controversial nomination. In less than half an hour they agreed to make 32-year old Delyan Peevski the head of almighty ДАНС (DANS, the Bulgarian KGB). As any candidate for a serious post in government, Mr. Peevski possessed the necessary credentials he gained from organized crime. On top of that, his mom owns the majority of Bulgarian press outlets.

Bulgarian people calling on the Oresharski government to get out of parliament.

Bulgarian people calling on the Oresharski government to get out of parliament.

This nomination sparked the current protests in Bulgaria. June 14 was day 1. The appointment of Peevski was quickly withdrawn, but the protests have continued ever since. For the people it’s not about conflicts of interests or lurid characters being placed in sensitive positions. It’s about the whole political culture being rotten to the bone from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Yesterday, on day 45, the people took it easy. They marched around parliament, blowing their whistles and beating their drums. They sat down in front of the Alexander Nevski cathedral, and then most of them went home. Those who remained gathered around the piano for a concert that varied from classic waltzers to ragtime, to Abba…

It’s not sure if the protest will last throughout August when parliament is on holiday. But even if it doesn’t, it’s bound to flare up again. As the citizen committees stated earlier this year, ‘We are not a protest, we are a process.’

The Bulgarian civil society has started the long process of laying the foundations for a new way of doing politics. This process must and will continue, because the current political game is not an option any more.

"Europe listen to us, because the Bulgarian parliament refuses."

“Europe listen to us, because the Bulgarian parliament refuses.”