Protests Sweep Bulgaria As Government Collapses Amid Chaos

ByMartin Mateev

The Bulgarian government was officially dissolved on Wednesday with the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov as thousands took to the street to protest against high electricity bills and declining living standards. The country, which joined the EU in 2001, remains the poorest member of the union after a long and troubled transition to capitalism.

The first casualty of the on-going crisis became Bulgarian finance minister Simeon Djankov — a well-respected former World Bank official who undertook painful economic reforms and austerity measures. Djankov stepped down on Tuesday in the middle of escalating protests in the capital of Sofia where people with signs that read "Mafia" and "Bring Down the Monopolies" were rallying against lack of transparency and monopolistic practices in the energy sector.

As the nationwide protest steadily turned against "Everything and Everyone," violent clashes with the police errupted leaving at least 25 injured in Sofia which increased the pressure on Borisov's leadership three months before the official end of his term.

Borisov, known for his hard-line can-do style, has successfully carried out ambitious infrastructure projects and EU programs. However, rising unemployment and soaring living costs have put millions of Bulgarians on the brink of poverty in a country where the average monthly salary continues to be less than 400 euros a month.

In a surprise move on Wednesday Prime Minister Borisov officially announced his resignation, saying, "I am unable to witness the blood on the streets. The people put us in power and today we give it back to them."  His centrist GERB party will not participate in the formation of a new government which leaves many open questions about the political stability of the country.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev addressed the nation and announced his efforts to put together an interim government until the elections can be held this spring. 

Despite the cabinet resignation the violent clashes in Sofia have intensified late on Wednesday as protesters demand the exit of the entire political establishment. 

A 36-year-old man set himself on fire in the city of Varna where protests are demanding Mayor Kiril Yordanov's resignation. Yordanov is currently serving his fourth consecutive term and has held the post since 1999.

Lack of fresh ideas and alternatives have paralyzed the aging and complacent political class of Bulgaria. More than three million Bulgarians, which accounts for close to 40% of the total population, have left the country since the fall of communism in search of better education and job opportunities.

Those who have remained in the country have steadily seen their post-communism dreams disappear in corruption, political scandals and rising unemployment among young people. 

Similar protests have been sparked in Slovenia where the government is struggling to remain in power. One protester, Miha Borovovec, said, "This government is totalitarian, it is corrupt, it is taking our country down. That’s why I am here; this authority will destroy our country."

Yet, the current protests might actually provide hope for Bulgaria's future, as many young Bulgarians expect better from their government and have shown that they intend to do something about it. The dissolution of the new government could prove a crucial starting point of the next chapter in the country's history.