22 March, 2023
Maria Cernat and Vladimir Mitev (photo: Facebook)

A live interview with Vladimir Mitev about the escalation of the Bulgarian protests in the last week, about the competition of the two big currents in Bulgarian anti-corruption fight, the parallels with the Romanian fight against corruption, about the growing tensions in Bulgarian society and what could be the positive and the negative scenario of the developments in the autumn

Maria Cernat

This interview took place through live streaming in Facebook on 4 August 2020 at the Baricada Romania page. This transcription was originally published at the Romanian section of the Barricade on 5 August 2020. 

We speak today to Vladimir Mitev – a Bulgarian journalist with a long experience of reporting on the events in this country. He will speak with us again about the protests, which take place  in Sofa. We learned that there are tents, placed at the intersection of boulevards inSofia, so that greater attention to this protests is attracted. We have earlier spoken to him about the way, in which the protests have started and how they have evolved… It looks like there  is a conflict in Bulgaria about the two anti-corruption camps. Everyone wants to fight against corruption – both the president Radev and the prime minister Borissov, but everyone has his own understanding what an anti-corruption fight means. In a given moment for the prime minister Borissov and the chief prosecutor Geshev anti-corruption meant the perquisition in the two cabinets in the presidency so that investigation is made. This was the last drop of water in the cup that indignated Bulgarians to protest against what Borissov and Geshev consider anti-corruption. There have been interesting evolutions of those protests. They reached a kind of guerilla between the protesters and the authorities as tents were installed in the Bulgarian capital and the protests continued. Tell us, Vladimir, how did the events unfolded?

Hello to all our listeners! We are in August, which is the month of holidays. Those who organised the protests and the protesters wanted expansion of the protests in the last two weeks. An important element in this escalation is that some public spaces were occupied. In this case a few road intersections in Sofia and as of 3 August 2020 in Varna, which means additional pressure upon the government. I think that this escalation was necessary in the protesters’ view, because they feared that if protests didn’t expand, they would get weaker. 

You have touched upon a number of subject and the issue of anti-corruption could be interesting for more Romanians, because officially the protests were announced as a protest of honest citizens against the state mafia. But in parallel to these protests we have had news on law and justice that doesn’t get discussed on the street. The main characters in what I call “anti-corruption” competition in Bulgaria have asked the Constitutional Court to say his word on the rights and obligations of their opponents. A group of protesters from the initiative “Justice for All” has demands, which deal with limiting the rights of the chief prosecutor.

These issues are very complex and can’t be discussed in just one or two minutes.  I would like to direct the readers’ attention to an article of mine, which was published originally at the British site Open Democracy and was later republished at the Barricade. I think that this article could be a key to understanding what is going on in Bulgaria.

Just in short – Romania used to have its period of instigation andn emotions, related to anti-corruption. Now it looks like that there are two currents in the Bulgarian anti-corruption. Their activity must be followed, as each of them claims sincerely or hypocritically that it is inspired or does what the Romanian fight against corruption used to do before…

I have read your article. You says that something good, which took place with regard to the investigations of the Bulgarian chief prosecutor, is that unlike Romania where the main accused were politicians in Bulgaria the businessmen suffer from the fight against corruption. Indeed, there were no fallen heads of big politicians, but some big oligarchs have fallen in Bulgaria. This is different from Romania, where politicians entered in the prosecution’s zone of sight, isn’t it?

More needs to be explained, because so far we don’t have condemnations of oligarchs. We have business men who are accused, but the judicial process against them is not over and I think that without the court’s decision we can’t say clearly whether there is something punishable. There are interpretations and facts/evidence, communicated by the prosecution, but without condemnation it is difficult to say whether the suspicions were indeed proven. That is one thing to take into account. 

There were a lot of condemnations in the Romanian anti-corruption. It was effective. We had the case with the oligarch Bozhkov, who is still not condemned, but lost his big business “The National Lottery”. This is a real change, something changed in the economy in the economic base of society. But the type of anti-corruption, which is applied in Bulgaria is criticised for the supposed use of state institutions by oligarchs close to the power, who direct them against their adversaries, who have lost political support. 

I have heard the claim that Romanian anti-corruption didn’t quite attack corporations. Maybe your question makes sense in this context. Isn’t it good that the economic elites are hit? But if it is true that we have a fight between different oligarchs that takes place through anti-corruption, it is more difficult to define what is good and what is wrong.

I got it. You said on another occasion that polarization grew in Bulgaria. It is easier for some people to say who is good and who is bad now. There are already two camps. Do those who are pro or anti the protests suffer?

I have observed that the tolerance in social networks is at low levels. There is instigation taking place, because there is a fight for power. Some people want to take out of power a party, which has ruled with small pauses for the last 11 years. We also have dissatisfaction, related to the corona crisis, to social problems. There is this desire for a faster and thorough change in Bulgaria. 

There is an impression that as I have written in Open Democracy the social elevators don’t work for many people. A part of the dissatisfaction towards GERB is explained by the fact that this party has allowed its members to flourish, while one can’t have development in another way. There are a lot of contradictions, discussions about conspiracies, doubts in Facebook. And lines of division have appeared in the Bulgarian society. But we need to think also how we will evolve as a society, not only how we destroy ourselves reciprocally. 

I see. How do you think everything will evolve? You can’t know what will be, but which is the optimis scenario and the pessimist scenario with regard to the Bulgarian protests?

I always fear that our protests don’t manage to produce something new. Yesterday, we learned of an opinion poll, which showed that there is change with regard to the support for the political parties. But the parties, which would enter the parliament are not something new, with the exception of the party of a showman, who is however an old face in Bulgarian public space. If the protests are against all who have been stained in the process of transition, I would like it to produce new political faces, new programs and visions. I think that something is being attempted in this regard in the left-wing circles. The idea for people’s assemblies has reappeared. There are discussions being made literally on the square. It is probably something utopian, but I would be happy if people manage to overcome their suspicions towards the collective effort. I hope that we can protest not only as 100 000 individuals, but also as a community. And this community must have a clear idea what change means for it.

Your perspective is very different. I invite our readers to enter the Barricade and to read your analyses about the protests, because they are beyond the natural emotions, which every Bulgarian has at this moment. 

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

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