Social protests and increasing economic inequalities7 min read

The Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Valeri Simeonov this month displayed some rather controversial public behavior for which he is becoming known for. Previous examples include pushing an elderly woman coming from Turkey to exercise her right to vote in Bulgaria at the border, in order to restrain her from entering the country, as well as inaugurating a new public toilet at the main border point between Bulgaria and Serbia, an event that managed to make the central news. Evidently the current Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister has some fixation with borders (his meta-pride is the construction of a fence between Turkey and Bulgaria), but last month his attitude crossed the border of patience for many Bulgarians.

– On October 16th, Simeonov made a statement on television where he called mothers of disabled children “shrill women” and their descendants “supposedly ill children”. The comment was addressed towards the women who have been campaigning for a reform in the country’s system of assistance to children with disabilities. Due to this, protest erupted demanding Simeonov’s immediate resignation. While he has refused to resign from his position, he also refused to apologize until Prime Minister Boyko Borissov forced him to. The latter has not asked Simeonov for his resignation, as this would mean that the “construction of the government“ could eventually fall.

 Vice Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov inaugurates a public toilet at the Serbian border. Source: Vagabond

One interesting detail of the events around Simeonov’s statements is that in the midst of the scandal he held a meeting on October 22nd with representatives of the business organizations in the country. At the press conference after the meeting these distinguished businessmen backed Simeonov against the “social protests”. One of them called the protests as “junta” (potential to initiate a coup) and declared that the employers could easily bring 20 000 of our workers on the streets, suggesting a counter-protest: “we can do that” he underlined.

On October 24th a new draft law for “integration of the people with disabilities” was introduced in parliament by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy. One of the suggestions was the establishment of a National Council for People with Disabilities, that is to be headed by Simeonov. The suggestion was later dropped, but the bitter taste of humiliation remained. Protests for Simeonov’s resignation have been held every day since his remarkable statement. Simeonov’s party, the National Front for the  Salvation of Bulgaria, is currently looking for a company that can help clean off eggs from its headquarters building.

– A new Eurostat report, published on October 16th, suggests that the share of those “severely materially deprived” in Bulgaria is 30 percent  (the highest in the EU) and that the percentage of people in risk of social exclusion has grown steadily since 2008. Back then, the government led by Sergei Stanishev (the current leader of the Party of European Socialist) introduced a flat tax system with 10 percent  income tax, which in combination with other tax policies made the tax system in Bulgaria regressive in practice. Later in October, the director of the National Statistical Institute stated that inequality in Bulgaria is growing and the tendency is for this process to continue.

– The direct foreign investment in Bulgaria has plummeted with 71.6 percent in the first eight months of 2018 in comparison with the same period in 2017. The data is from the  Bulgarian National Bank published on October 19th, cited by Dnevnik.

– “Bulgaria offers the best conditions for investment in Southeastern Europe” said Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on October 20th during his meeting with Cao Jianming, Vice Chairperson of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress and urged China to invest more in science, education, information technology and agriculture projects in Bulgaria, BTA informs.

– “The country has never been in a better condition. Those that are against the current government are in practice against the stable development of the Bulgarian economy and society.” These are the words of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov which he said during a meeting with the Council of Ministers on October 28th, held to discuss the draft state budget for 2019. The document suggests to raise the minimum salary by ~25 Euro (from ~255  to ~280 Euro ).

– On October 29th 23 year old Marina Ministerska, was found shot to death in her apartment in Sofia. Her one-year-old daughter, who was also shot, later died in hospital. The suspect of both murders, Ministerska’s ex-partner, was found by the police superficially wounded after an attempt to suicide. He is charged for double-homicide.

Since the beginning of 2018 there has been 27 cases of murder and murder attempts on women by their male partners or relatives. A protest in Sofia voicing the public anguish caused by the intensifying violence against women in Bulgaria is going to be held on November 26th.

”The so-called gender ideology is not among the values we should teach our children to” said the Minister of Education, answering a question from MPs regarding a high school textbook in which homosexuality is described as a “sexual identity”. The presence of “some aspects of gender ideology” was among the arguments of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court to declare the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence unconstitutional earlier this year.

– On October 29th officials from the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad were arrested in three different cities on suspicion of making fake documents and receiving bribes, the prosecution announced. About 20 people are detained, including the head of the Agency. The latter was suggested for his position by one of the leaders of United Patriots and Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov. “I have proof that [Minister] Karakachanov and his party Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO) make their living out of selling Bulgarian passports” the former head of the Bulgarian Citizenship Department said in the Ministry of Justice on November 2nd.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov travelled to the United Arab Emirates in October. Source: Facebook

– Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s foreign activities has been rather intensive in the last month. Visits to the  United Arab Emirates, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Finland as well as the regular meeting of the leaders of Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Serbia have all taken place within just two weeks. The results from the Prime Minister’s external action efforts are eloquent; traineeships for young Bulgarian football players in Manchester City FC were negotiated in Dubai, Bulgarian lamb export to Egypt was lobbied for in Cairo. Some news that received significant international attention  was the joint Balkan bid to host the 2030 Football World Cup, which was announced in Varna, Bulgaria.

– On the November 11th people from over 30 Bulgarian towns and cities took to the streets and blocked roads to protest rising fuel prices and changes to vehicle transport legislation. The protests have been  taking place every day since and are exponentially addressing wider public discontent related with the living standard in the country.

– On the November 12th, after a Coalition Council meeting (Between Citizens for European development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the United Patriots), the head of GERB’s parliamentary group Tstvetan Tsvetanov announced that “The position of the Bulgarian government will be to not join the United Nations’ global pact on migration”. The MEP Angel Dzhambazki (IMRO) explained the decision: “This document would be threatening for our national interest”. Bulgaria is the sixth EU country after Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czechia and Croatia to signal that it will not sign the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

On November 16th, in the late afternoon Valeri Simeonov resigned.

Main sources: Balkan Insight (EN), Barikada (BU), BTA (EN), Dnevnik (EN)

Bozho Kolov is a Political Science graduate from Sofia. After working and studying in Poland and Romania he decided to continue his education in the EU-Russia master program at Tartu University, Estonia. His main research interests are Eastern European Politics, Church-State relations and Socialist monumental architecture. Besides politics he is interested in literature and theatre.