Bulgaria Marks 20 Years since Violent Anti-Govt Riots, Civil Unrest
Twenty years have passed since the events of 1997, when on January 10 anti-government demonstrations in Bulgaria grew into a raid of the Parliament headquarters, pushing the socialist cabinet to step down.
Discontent escalated after days of rallies, with Zhan Videnov's government plunging Bulgaria into a deep political, economic and financial crisis and hyperinflation of 400%, with prices changing several times over the courses of a single day.
Bulgaria's national currency, the lev (BGN), crashed down to reach the exchange rate of BGN 1 for USD 3000 (more than 1.50 times the current rate, if the subsequent denomination conducted as part of the currency board is considered, with BGN 1 now costing BGN 1000 back then). Basic staples, even bread and milk, disappeared from stores, evoking memories of the years of hunger in the early 1990s.
A dozen banks collapsed, causing turmoil in the financial sector.
The economic system was sliding back to the centrally planned regime in force during the Soviet era that had been officially abandoned after the Communist regime of Bulgaria was toppled down in the 1990s.
In these circumstances, the cabinet of Videnov resigned at the end of 1996, but the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) decided to appoint a new government, to be led by then Interior Minister, Nikolay Dobrev, which triggered the wave of discontent on January 10, 1997.
On this day, the demonstrators surrounded the building of the Parliament with demands for snap elections.
In the evening, they attempted to enter inside the building, but were dispersed by the police and beaten by policemen later during the night, with some sustaining serious injuries.
The police brutality led to escalation of protests. Then President-elect, Petar Stoyanov, long-associated with the right-wing, supported the demonstrators and refused to accept the folder, containing the list of names of the new ministers.
So did the sitting President, late Zhelyu Zhelev, who on January 10, 11 days before his term expired, refused to hand out a new mandate to the BSP's nominee, Nikolay Dobrev, to form a new cabinet. Zhelev decided to ignore a constitutional requirement under which the biggest parliamentary force was to receive the mandate in the event of a government resignation. That triggered the wave of discontent, with the opposition calling a national political strike.
After being inaugurated, Stoyanov did give the BSP a mandate to form a government.
Dobrev, however, returned it a week later, at Dobrev's initiative, with parliamentary parties agreeing elections should take place.
He then appointed a new caretaker government which tamed inflation and set Bulgaria on its way to EU and NATO, of which it became a member in 2007 and 2004, respectively.
Elections were held in April 1997, with a right-wing coalition, led by Ivan Kostov as Prime Minister, emerging after the vote.
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