When I was in Bulgaria, one of the things that I was researching was the lack of a civil society. Due to the form of socalism present in Bulgaria and many other factors, Bulgarians lacked that sense of “togetherness” or even a willingness to protest. That all changed in January. In January there were record electricity bills, which we were told were because of “record cold spells” in December (for the record, there was only 1 blizzard, and it wasn’t that cold, I was told by many that it was a mild winter). Many pensioners elecrticity bills were higher than their pensions.
People protested. It was scary, as my apartment was located near the protest sites. I was gone when the protests started, or else I would have gone. The protests got more animated (not violent…but threatened to be so), so I stayed home. Effigies were burned
And then…people started lighting themselves on fire. Like the Tibten monks, 6 Bulgarians doused themselves in gasoline and lit a match against the oppression they were feeling. One of these was in Varna, near where I lived. There was a cover up by the local government as to the sign he wore when he lit the match. And the mafia appointed mayor resigned (I just happened to be walking past the Oblastina when that happened–IT WAS CRAZY!).
The protests contained in various forms. In the spring, I joined the protests. We went to various restaurants with Mafia ties and protested outside of them with chants like “MAFIA NO!” As I left Bulgaria, the protests in the capital were heating up, into a summer street party. Where protesters were taking over the streets, with their dogs and kids to just be “spokonio” (chill) in the summer. They rallied through the tag #ДАНСwithme (DANCE with me). August came, and the protests dwindled.
School started again…and they came back. Yesterday, in honor of the 24th anniversary of the end of socialism in Bulgaria, thousands took to the streets in honor of the holiday– and asked for an end to the mafia-backed government.
Reflecting on all of this made me think about the importance of creating spaces for protesting within a society, both in the physical but also the intellectual spaces. The situation in Sofia was aided by the fact that there were many spaces left over from socialism for marches of workers that can now be used for protests. I think that planners should think and be aware of creating spaces that can be used in multiple ways. We should create wide boulevards in the central area that can be used to celebrate and protest. We should also do our part towards encouraging individuals to think and feel and challenge norms.
- Many thousands join November 10 anti-government ‘March of Justice’ in Bulgaria (sofiaglobe.com)
- Bulgarian President: Citizens Are Right, Institutions Are Ill (novinite.com)
- What does ‘#occupysu’ mean in the context of contemporary Bulgaria? (banitza.net)
- Bulgarian students protest to demand government resignation (trust.org)