Maryia Radeva in response to some questions posed by Mary Taylor
Quite a few leftist intellectuals have recently discussed the discursive mobilization of the “middle class” in the last waves of protests in Bulgaria and worldwide (Ivancheva, Medarov, Seymour etc). It is not what I want to return to here. Instead, I’d like to bring up two different contemporary tactics of political suppression of public discontent in Bulgaria, addressing your fifth question to a certain extent. The first tactic entails the mobilization of physical force to neutralize anti-capitalist action. The second makes use of media representations to co-opt discontent.
On February 24, 2013, during a nationwide protest against high electricity bills, organized attacks on anarchists and communists took place in Sofia. Several members of the Federation of Anarchists in Bulgria, including a woman, were beaten that Sunday morning handing out flyers in a small city park. During the rally later that day, members of a radical student organization were followed and subsequently attacked , including a woman, by members of neo-Nazi gangs. Precedents of these attacks occurred outside the protest environment. It would not be an overstretch to claim that neo-Nazi attacks on student activists have followed their attempts to disturb the muddy waters of the privatization of public space in the Student Quarter. Neither would it be too much of an exaggeration to insist that the neo-Nazi hit brigades on February 24 were recruited from the neo-Nazi Lukov March that lights the streets of Sofia every year to commemorate the assassination of Gen. Hristo Lukov by a communist bullet on February 13, 1943.
In terms of the struggle for public space, Lukov March is a peculiarity of the Bulgarian situation of the past 10 years. Despite public pressure against the procession, it was never once banned. In February of this year, security arguments – that there was not enough police force to guard the protests and the march at the same time, were not cited against the march. In fact, a security argument was made against the counter-vigil in memory of the victims of the Holocaust in Bulgaria, which had to be rescheduled for an earlier hour. On the other hand, when Sofia Pride appeared to coincide with the anti-government protests and the meeting of the Party of European Socialists on June 18, 2013, security arguments effectively postponed the parade. I guess we can see some parallels with the Gezi conflict in the sense of struggle against the ways public space is regulated, privatized and securitized, not only by state arms and the private security paramilitary apparatus but also by neo-Nazi mercenaries.
But what does that have to do with the protest of this summer? Well, no mercenaries were sent this time around and we can therefore recognize a different tactic of suppression. Let’s first notice that when the protest broke out with the appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security, no word was penned or uttered against state security as such and the state-capital nexus. Quite to the contrary, an odd call for a more democratic state security agency was launched. Liberal media outlets were put to the task of molding and massaging the protesters into a beautiful and intelligent middle class. We know, from handing out flyers and participating in the public assembly at Eagles’Bridge, that the range of political views and social positioning at the protests is broad, unrestrictable to anti-communist or petit burgeois, for example. All that cosmetic media work was deliberate. Yet, we can recognize the signature style of the anti-communist opposition of the first postsocialist years, mobilizing the streets as a supplement to/means toward parliamentary politics. Alongside capitalist in-fights and their partisan expressions, however, an ideological deployment is under way, aimed to consolidate the neoliberal hegemony now shaken by the lived reality of failing capitalism. (Rossa and Panayotov of Xaspel did a wonderful performance against Edvin Sugarev’s hunger strike and the politics of deprivation it sanctifies).
Despite the difference in tactics, in both February and June, strategic effort was made to clean the face of capitalism and muffle its critics. The more important question then – jumping to number 7 on your list of questions – is not one of language as much as one of counterhegemonic praxis. What is our role, if any, as leftist intellectuals and artists, in mobilizing the eastern European workforce to ovethrow capitalism? What techniques, tactics and sites can we use to counteract its hegemonic operations? This task, it seems to me, supersedes the intellectual exercise of grasping the –isms.