Bulgaria’s Protesters Blockade Capital Upping Ante in Push to Oust Cabinet, Chief Prosecutor
Murky connections among the country’s post-communist oligarchy and government institutions underline the protesters’ grievances.
Anti-government protesters in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia blockaded several key crossroads on Thursday in a self-styled civil disobedience campaign demanding the ouster of the Cabinet and the Chief Prosecutor over oligarchy ties and suspicions of high-level corruption.
More than a dozen years after it joined the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria remains the poorest EU member state, and is increasingly perceived as experiencing worse and worse problems with the rule of law and top-level corruption.
The crossroads blockades occurred on the 21st day of street protests in which various groups – from pro-democracy activists and pro-European urban youth to nationalist and pro-Russian groupings – have been insisting on the resignation of the center-right Cabinet of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov as well as the resignation of the country’s Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev.
The protests have been backed by Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, whose powers are largely ceremonial, and who was elected from the opposition Socialist Party and is perceived as a pro-Russian figure.
Borisov is the leader of the ruling nominally center-right and pro-European party GERB, and rules in a coalition with two smaller nationalist parties.
He is presently in his third term as Prime Minister although both of his previous terms (in 2009 – 2013 and 2014 – 2017) ended prematurely.
Geshev, on the other hand, became Chief Prosecutor in 2019, after appointment by Bulgaria’s chief judiciary body, in a single-candidate contest for the job which offers substantial influence, little public accountability, and a seven-year term.
The main cause for the protests has been the perception of both Borisov and Geshev’s backstage connections with murky post-communist oligarchy figures such as Ahmed Dogan and Delyan Peevski.
Dogan is a former leader and current honorary chairman of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish party DPS (“Movement for Rights and Freedoms”), who is, however, a former agent of the DS, the KGB-allied secret service and intelligence of the Bulgarian communist regime, and now has the reputation of a “grey cardinal” in Bulgarian politics.
Peevski, a media mogul and a Member of Parliament from the same party, DPS, is perceived as a key figure in the dealings with state and EU funds distributed by the Bulgarian government.
Peevski’s appointment back in 2013 as head of Bulgaria’s National Security Agency (DANS) sparked the country’s previous fit of mass street protests, which eventually helped catapult Borisov back into power the following year.
The current street protests erupted in early July, after Hristo Ivanov, a former Justice Minister, and the leader of a small pro-democracy party, tried to reach a publically-owned Black Sea beach near a coastal mansion inhabited by Ahmed Dogan, only to be kicked out by security guards in plain clothes, who proved to be employees of the government’s National Protection Service.
After the scandal, both Dogan and Peevski, who have been taking advantage of the state-paid security agreed to renounce the service.
The current political tensions in Bulgaria have also been spiced up by the ongoing leaks of taped phone conversation of Prime Minister Borisov revealing possible backstage dealings, and photos from Borisov’s government residence bedroom showing his night stand equipped with a gun and stuffed with 500-euro bills and gold bullions.
Another major recent development has been the zealous actions by Bulgarian government institutions with respect to Vasil “The Skull” Bozhkov, a gambling mogul who held the title of the richest Bulgarian for a long time.
Bozhkov is presently in self-imposed exile in Dubai, OAE, and attempts by Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office to extradite him have failed. He alleges that he has been the victim of extortion by Borisov and his ruling party GERB for years, paying tens of millions of euro per year secretly to be allowed to run his gambling business, while also enjoying tax cuts.
Bozhkov appears to be sharing the fate of another fallen Bulgarian oligarch, Tsvetan Vasilev, former owner of the KTB bank, presently in exile in Serbia. In both cases, the targeting of the respective oligarchs and some smaller-scale oligarchy figures seem to be the result of intra-oligarchy conflicts.
Last week, Borisov and his ruling coalition announced a major reshuffle by sacking three ministers considered to be the closest ones to Peevski, thus undermining public trust in the Cabinet.
In addition to the immediate resignation of Borisov and the holding of early parliamentary elections, the protesters, whose crowds have numbered up to 100,000 in Sofia at times, according to unofficial estimates, also demand the resignation of Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who they also perceive as connected with mogul Delyan Peevski.
(Banner image: Bulgarian National Radio)