Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov takes advantage of his country’s Presidency of the Council of the EU to silence opponents. But the fact is that two thirds of the Bulgarians don’t trust the government, writes Svetoslav Terziev.
Svetoslav Terziev is a commentator for Sega daily, a professor in journalism and a senior contributor to Bulgarianpresidency.eu. An earlier version of this article was published today (2 January) by Sega daily.
All those who understand how Bulgaria works got what they wanted. There is no better time to ask Borissov to deliver, because he wants no trouble in the next six months.
First, it was the Academy of Science who threatened they will put on black flags on their windows (the Academy building is just next to the Parliament) and that scientists would let their anger out from 12 January, when Sofia will receive the EU high guests. The reason was that the 98 million leva they expected from the national budget were cut down to 83 million [two leva are roughly one euro].
Borissov took to time to defuse the scandal, digging out the outstanding 15 million from the budget. And the scientists backed down.
Then, it was the policemen, who had threatened to stage street protests from the first to the last day of the Presidency, who got an additional 55 million leva and an extra salary for Christmas. So they also backed down.
Further, an attempt to raise the price of water in 14 out of the 28 districts was cancelled, as the state regulator suddenly found a mistake in its own calculations. Then, a scandal over the supply of medicines for cancer patients was also defused, as Borissov suddenly realised that 25 million are not a sum for which he should put to the test his peace of mind during the Presidency.
I all cases Parliament swallowed his pride, having bravely fought for budget cuts, and then easily accepting the higher numbers.
Anyway, the parliamentary opposition is readying a no-confidence vote on 17 January. Moreover, the motive is corruption. If there is one single thing for which Bulgaria is finger-pointed, it is precisely for being the most corrupt EU country. To save his friend from trouble, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker moved forward the regular Cooperation and Verification Report, which was published in November rather in January, during the Bulgarian EU stint.
Some may assume that protests would be better heard from Brussels during the Presidency. But they are wrong. Much to their disappointment, Brussels gave a clear indication it doesn’t want any noise in the system.
At the last EU summit, Borissov accused the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) for attempting to putting down his cabinet. In the meantime, the historic leader of MRF Ahmed Dogan promised not to put down Borissov.
How would he, since Dogan holds Bulgaria’s media empire, through his MP Delyan Peevski, the lord of the fourth power, in charge of keeping in place the other three?
In this context, the message of Borissov is clear: Make no move in the next six months. But as a Bulgarian prover says: If the rabbit passes the height, it’s no use shooting at him.
But if Borissov is so afraid of protests coinciding with the Presidency, it means that the time has come for them. Power never makes concessions. It’s people who win concession from the power. And Borissov is panicking: at a time when his resource of making concessions is limited, he might be pressed to make serial concessions. And every success of one sector to win concessions will encourage another one to fight for such.
It is very likely that the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency became the stormier time for Borissov in all his three mandates. According to public opinion, 67% of the Bulgarians don’t trust the government, 80,7% don’t trust the judiciary and 77,7% don’t trust parliament.
Not all Bulgarians are ready to protest, but they represent a powerful charge of anger that can explode on any occasion. Those in power will have to walk on very thin ice to make sure they get rid of the Presidency more or less smoothly at the end of June. Any sudden movement can mean not only losing balance but also falling into the deep. That’s why Borissov’s is so afraid. And if he’s so afraid, it makes sense for the people to get organised.