SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Surrounded by fellow protesters, Ivan Diadovski shakes his fist angrily at the upper-floor window of a nearby government building. Tired of the corruption he believes is endemic among his country’s political class, the 73-year-old ecologist has taken to the streets to join his countrymen in protest.
“This government is worse than the communist government we had decades ago,” he said. “They are a danger to our country and to the European Union.”
All around, protesters are shouting slogans and waving banners, but, like Diadovski, most are chanting a single word, taken up again and again by the crowd: “Resign.”
For 75 days, the streets of the Bulgarian capital have filled every evening with hundreds, thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of protesters shouting angry slogans and demanding the resignation of a government that has been in office less than four months. The demonstrations, which are also happening in other cities across Bulgaria, are now the longest lasting since the country became a democracy in 1990.
Unlike in neighboring Turkey, so far the protests have remained nonviolent, barring one night when police were forced to intervene in order to release a hundred members of Parliament who the protesters had stopped from leaving the Parliament building. The lawmakers were trapped for eight hours in the building by a group of 2,000 protesters before baton-wielding riot police cleared a way out in the early morning hours.
“We don’t want a bloody revolution, just transparency,” said Tsvetozar Valkov, the 33-year-old “comandante” of the protest camp who has been part of the protests since the beginning.
“We want changes, we don’t want to live in the Bulgaria of the 1990s,” he said.
Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 but has remained its poorest member, with a population of 7 million and an average monthly salary of just 400 euros.
In February, the previous prime minister and his entire Cabinet were forced to quit after crowds of 100,000 took to the streets to protest about rising utility costs, austerity measures and mismanagement.
The new Cabinet was barely in place before these latest protests kicked off, triggered by the appointment June 14 of Delyan Peevski, a well-connected media mogul who had lost an earlier government position for alleged corruption as head of the national security agency.
Protesters gathered in central Sofia to voice their displeasure against the appointment and within a day Peevski had resigned. But by then his appointment had triggered a crisis of confidence in the whole government and a demand for something beyond the status quo.
“Trust in the government and the Parliament has been eroded to an unprecedented degree,” said Daniel Smilov, a professor of politic science at Sofia University.
Amid the protesting, the Open Society Institute released findings from a survey it had conducted that showed almost three-quarters of Bulgarians consider their country’s politics “intolerable,” with only 2 percent of those surveyed describing the current state of the nation as normal.
The new prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, already has had to dismiss his deputy interior minister shortly after appointing him because of alleged links to organized crime, and he also was forced to withdraw another Cabinet nomination because of the candidate’s involvement in a construction scandal. The country is considered one of the most graft-prone in Europe.