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A response to Mary Taylor

Val HadjiyskiTo your questions:

1) The parties of the ruling coalition, BSP and DPS, are the parties that most vehemently opposed the Gerb regime. BSP was the only consistent opposition in both ideology and practice, throughout the 2009-13 period. And since January 2013, DPS came out with the most vociferous critique so far against Boiko Borisov dubbing him a “dictator” and “threat for democracy”. A member of the Party of European Socialists (with its party chairman Sergei Stanishev being also European socialists’ president), BSP has been recently moving slowly towards a more Keynesian, anti-austerity ideology, although the centrist Oresharski government doesn’t fully subscribe to it. While BSP is a pro-business party “with a heart”, Oresharski himself is a conservative finance professor, formerly quite successful as finance minister, and although proclaimed an expert figure, stems from a right-wing political background (and hence for BSP he is a figure much like Kimon Georgiev in 1944 for BKP). DPS is essentially a clientelist, largely ethnic party but one with pragmatic and reasonable leaders who stand to lose a lot from a protracted Gerb rule.

2) The summer protests were largely staged, instigated by manipulative media and directly organized and paid by Gerb (a populist-cultist movement, essentially a criminal syndicate, parading as a right-wing party and desiring virtually “eternal”, unlimited power and scope much in the old BKP style) and the “blue”, or traditional right-wing,) parties (including the “restitutki or ‘restitutes’” crowd) and their media and NGO network — with the purpose of salvaging the Gerb elite from prosecution and imprisonment and reinstating them in power, as well as venting revanchist fury for the “blue” collapse at the May 2013 elections that left them out of parliament for the first time since 1990. Another very important drive for the summer protests was protecting the interests of oligarchs such as Tsvetelina Borislavova, Valentin Zlatev, Ivo Prokopiev, etc., who stood to lose a lot from unexpected the toppling of the Gerb regime, especially in speculative solar energy projects, but also pulling them out of bankruptcy and criminal prosecution such as in the Prokopiev-Plevneliev case.

The anti-Oresharski media (especially the Iconomedia publications owned by rogue oligarch Prokopiev, Sega daily owned by gas oligarch Sasho Donchev, several TV and radio stations) created the “middle class, beautiful” imagery seeking an easy albeit misleading parallel with Istanbul TV images. In fact the Sofia June protests have no economic or lifestyle demands on behalf of the middle class and did not spread outside central Sofia, and even there they were limited demographically to Gerb political appointees and party apparatchiks, the traditional hard-core “blue”, and the “blue” NGO and university “project-grant” crowd: all groups being heavily concentrated in Sofia.

3) The February protests were truly mass spontaneous public manifestations that engulfed the entire nation, with the self-immolations that quickly became their gloomy symbol, with 70 thousand demonstrators on the streets in Varna alone on Feb 24, with distinctive economic demands on behalf of the middle class that felt squeezed to the bone by the Gerb austerity rule and monopoly racketeering, and particularly by skyrocketing utility bills. The June protesters themselves, propped by Iconomedia spin doctors, sought to distance themselves from the February crowd (the “beautiful and successful” against the “ugly losers”). And little wonder this turned out to be suicidal tactics. In my opinion, the only “spontaneous” elements in the summer protests were the Gerb apparatchiks’ horror of their former close confidant, suddenly turned archenemy, media mogul Delyan Peevski as head of the national security agency, and the “blue” hard core’s revanchist fury after shamefully losing the elections.

4) The middle class, excluding the Gerb appointees and apparatchiks, the privileged Gerb companies’ employees, and the “project-grant” crowd, was virtually decimated by the Gerb rule. It destroyed 450 thousand jobs, 200 thousand+ small businesses, racketeered virtually all businesses not owned by Gerb cronies, discouraged new investment, including cutting on large industrial projects for purely ideological reasons. It created a lunatic propaganda environment of censored media Newspeak and a personality cult of the former fireman-gangster-bodyguard Borisov, a police state with mass eavesdropping of anyone of any importance by interior minister Tsvetanov’s “private” police, and mass lawlessness, including election rigging and endless tolerance even to the Gerb regime’s wildest antics such as the notorious “Misho Birata” scandal, unthinkable in a free civilized society.

5) The media (including the so-called Bulgarian National TV and Bulgarian National Radio) in the summer protests were mostly dominated by “blue” and Gerb spin doctors, both from media and NGOs, who silenced any dissent, not just leftist. But especially leftist. For instance, I was censored by the Sega daily from their electronic forum for my leftist critique of what I called the June putsch against the legitimate government by those who lost the elections and who didn’t recognize the popular will. And there is no doubt that Bulgaria needs leftist economic policies now.

6) OWS is leftist, fighting against excessive corporate power, and the June protests in Sofia are right-wing, for preserving rogue corporate power. In Istanbul, we saw urban middle class defending its cultural and lifestyle, but also economic rights against an obscurantist Islamist regime, in Sofia in June – right-wing party apparatchiks and privileged office workers, as well as the rich, and also hired mobs, trying to reinstate a regime essentially hostile to the middle class.

7) Gerb and its puppet master oligarchs are the ones most intimately related, аs renegade communists, to post-communist “political capitalism”. Borisov himself, as well as Valentin Zlatev, the head of Lukoil Bulgaria, are part of the “Pravets clan” of former communist ruler Todor Zhivkov. All important Gerb leaders are healing from a similar enterprising former communist background. President Plevneliev is a former paid Komsomol apparatchik, appointed by the reformer communist government in 1990 to be a capitalist , making money in Germany via political protection and exploiting two thousand Muslim Bulgarians he smuggled into Germany to work in construction and paid them 20% of what they earned. Borislavova, Tsvetanov and the like all come from the same hatch.

8) No, there’s no common ethos. A major part of the summer protesters were party crowds fighting for their own, and there were hired crowds as well. The similarity of the summer protests to Istanbul and elsewhere is just visual and not in substance. The February protests were essentially hunger revolts much like the initial Arab Spring in Tunis and Egypt. Indeed, there are some people both in February and in June who sincerely desire political change and protest political corruption on all sides — but their protest was cynically made use of in the summer and they served the interests of Gerb, the oligarchs, and the “blue” parties. Since no mass “moral” protests ever erupted under Gerb, with mass and flagrant corruption, election-rigging and police-state scandals shaking the nation virtually daily, it’s very hard to justify the “moral” character of the summer protests, and the summer protesters demonstrated double standards on way too many occasions.

9) Gerb’s austerity policy, promoted by former finance minister and long-time World Bank staffer Simeon Djankov and by Borisov himself, brought Bulgaria to an economic catastrophe. At the peak of the crisis of demand, when enlarged government spending should compensate for the deficiency in private and corporate spending, austerity brought forward a self-catalyzing downward spiral of decreasing income, government revenue and spending. At the same time, Gerb-promoted speculative interests particularly in EU-subsidized  new energy (solar), along with Western European monopolistic behemoths in utilities, made utility prices skyrocket. E.g., in February, my father in law in Plovdiv, at 85, paid BGN 265 a month for electricity while his pension had been frozen since 2009 at BGN 218 per month! And he heats just one room in his apartment. That’s why hundreds of thousands of people rebelled in February and quickly toppled Gerb’s cabinet. Clearly, anti-austerity feeling is running very high, combined with anti-privatization and anti-monopoly feeling (the bulk of privatization was completed under Ivan Kostov’s right-wing rule in 2007-2001). There is also a strong sentiment against big international discount retailers that, in popular opinion, stifle small neighborhood stores and smaller domestic producers and siphon their profits abroad. And a general anti-Western feeling is steadily picking up, especially now with the Syrian crisis.

By Val Hadjiyski

Val Hadjiyski is a New York-based author, translator and educator. He graduated in philosophy an history from Sofia University and holds a PhD in history philosophy from the Bulgarian Academy of Science (BAS) and an MBA from CalState. He formerly worked as BAS research associate, NGO expert, UN human rights diplomat and consul for Bulgaria in New York.