Bulgaria's Tomato Revolution
by Tony Barber
Ukraine had its Orange Revolution, Georgia had its Rose Revolution, and if a shaggy-haired poet who was a dissident under communism gets his way, Bulgaria will soon have its Tomato Revolution.
Nikolay Kolev, better known as 'Bosiya' (Barefoot), was arrested in Sofia on Tuesday after he threw a single tomato at the wall of Bulgaria's parliament. It was a protest, so he said, against rampant official corruption.
Now the Tomato Revolution is attracting thousands of supporters on Facebook. A 'tomato rally' is planned for Saturday afternoon outside parliament, and police are taking no chances. As I walked this morning past the stately building where the legislature meets, I could not fail to spot dozens of black-clad gendarmes milling nearby – fully equipped to deal with any prematurely thrown tomatoes. About 100 people briefly gathered, shouting 'Mafia! Mafia!'.
How many Bulgarians will join Saturday's protest? Georgi Kadiev, an independent-minded member of the opposition Socialist party, suspects that not many will turn up. Still, Kolev's anger and disillusionment with Bulgaria's political classes touch a chord with voters, he told me in a cafe near parliament. "People don't trust the state any more. Is Bulgaria less corrupt than four years ago? Definitely not."
It took 40 policemen to arrest Kolev, an exhibition of the state's power that must have reminded the poet of the bad old days under Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's communist dictator from 1954 to 1989. In a curious example of the threads that connect Bulgaria's past with its present, one man who served as a bodyguard to Zhivkov was Boyko Borisov, now Bulgaria's prime minister.
The structures and ideology of communism are, of course, long gone in Bulgaria. But mature public discussion of the communist era seems more absent in Bulgaria than in other central and eastern European countries blighted by this experience.
Still, traces of this period in Bulgarian history are not hard to find. Outside the offices of Vejdi Rashidov, culture minister, I cast my eye on Wednesday over a gallery of photographs of Bulgarian men and women who held the post before him. Among them was Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of Zhivkov.
A very unusual communist, she won popularity for celebrating Bulgaria's rich and centuries-old non-communist cultural traditions. Then she died abruptly in 1981 at the age of 39. Would she, I wonder, have supported the Tomato Revolution?