Collage created by Nikol with images by jorono and Christopher Ross from Pixabay
Nikol Nikolova reports on the turbulence, the protests and the European Union’s silence in her homeland
A worldwide pandemic, issues with freedom of speech and poverty, Bulgaria has now added anti-corruption protests to its list of challenges.
In a long summer, rocked by police brutality and political scrutiny, people took to the streets to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev.
Being an Eastern European in London, it’s often difficult to watch the corruption unfold from afar. And like other immigrants, although we have escaped many of the problems, it doesn’t mean it’s not our job to make noise about the injustices that are happening.
The Corruption Index 2019 currently rank Bulgaria as the most corrupt country in the European Union (EU) and number 74 in the world. In January 2020, the country had the lowest gross minimum wage in the EU, as reported by Eurostat. It’s also number 111 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Nevertheless, the issues that the protesters are addressing are nothing new. In fact, the country has been plagued by corruption for decades and it makes us question, where are the values of democracy that promised to save us?
An investigation into the Bulgarian government’s expenditures is essential and has been demanded for a long time
The spark of this year’s protests, however, can be traced back to one particular event. A video of a former justice minister and leader of the anti-corruption party revealed that he was impeded from accessing a public beach due to the claim that it was “private property”. The security men that approached him attempted to push him and his boat back into the water. The video prompted hundreds of Bulgarians to flock to the beach in anger, demanding their rights.
Subsequently, a flood of protests took over the capital city. It’s been over 140 days and people are still out on the streets, though the protests are now on a much smaller scale in comparison to the summer. With incidents of police violence and journalists being attacked, this year couldn’t get any more tense and sombre.
What many don’t realise is how closely tied together our fight against corruption is with the EU. The people of Bulgaria have long been demanding transparency when it comes to how EU funds are being spent by our politicians.
For many Bulgarians back home and in the diaspora, it’s a sign of the EU’s inability to pay close attention. An investigation into the Bulgarian government’s expenditure is essential and has been demanded for a long time.
In fact, when Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, it seemed like a brighter future was ahead; we had free movement, prosperity in the tourism sector and the potential for economic growth. Jump forward to now, friends, relatives, people across social media and myself, have expressed their scepticism and distrust in the EU and its values.
The reality is, the mafia is alive and thriving in our system and nothing is being done about it
Europe cannot be a passive bystander to a disintegrating democracy. Although the government of Bulgaria must be held accountable, our people do need the help of other countries to raise awareness and accomplish their goals.
To this day, no politician in Bulgaria has ever been prosecuted or jailed. The reality is, the mafia is alive and thriving in our system and nothing is being done about it.
If the silence is not broken, the cycle will continue.
With the upcoming election in Spring 2021, the political situation may become even more unstable. If the EU wants to maintain its reputation and credibility in eastern Europe, it should pay attention when the people are trying to get their message across. Change starts where cooperation begins.
While for many, being proud of our culture means colourful dresses, dancing and beautiful roses, for me, it also means challenging and standing up to those that degrade our identity and country.