Slogans Lift, Though Quickly Drift
“Ostavka” (resignation) and “cherveni boklutsi” (red trash) are terms often heard around Bulgaria these days, in the context of the ongoing anti-government protests. The latter, happens to be a chant brought out directly from the football stadiums and transposed onto a certain political denomination.
The country has witnessed nearly 5 months of protests and 2 weeks of university hall occupations. What is yet to come out of all this, is any sort of dialogue or debate between politicians and citizens.
One side has barricaded itself in the Parliament building, guarded by fences and police, while the other has locked itself in university lecture halls, stalling the academic process.
The danger with decades of demagogic governing and an unreformed educational system is that they create “slogan protesters”. Debates on the fundamental issues are virtually absent in both the Parliament and the university halls, or at least I am yet to see any evidence of such.
The other day, I heard Julian Popov, a former minister in the interim government and one of the founders of the New Bulgarian University, speak of how we are witnessing a revolutionary model, in which “citizens are taking over functions of the state”. And all this, in the context of a conference on democracy building, struck me as rather bizarre.
Citizens, in a democratic society, are there to act as a check and balance to the state, not to take over its duties. Forming a trend, where every slightly more massive outcry by the public can reverse executive or judiciary decisions, is a precedent to a dysfunctional state.
If the protest movement is to have any success, it must first ask itself the question, does it want to be reformist or revolutionary?
Revolutions can be carried out on the back of slogans and gun barrels alone, but reconstructing a political model after their initial euphoria, is a whole different matter.
Professor Alexander Kiossev, one of the vocal supporters of the Sofia University occupation, talked about the need to “restart the state and form new political entities”. This is in stark contrast to what is being said by the very protesters he backs, who have declared themselves “non-partisan”, and have no wish to associate under any new political formation.
What follows by this, is that if the current government steps down, and Bulgarians head to the polls, we are unlikely to see any new actors playing a major role. Such was the case after February’s protests toppled the cabinet of former PM Boyko Borisov. His center-right GERB party still managed to earn the most votes, despite not being able to form a coalition afterwards.
Recent polls suggest fresh elections would still see the two main parties, the Socialists and GERB share much of the votes, with only a slight drop in their percentages. The only new actor, which somewhat attempts to portray itself as the unifier of the protesters, the Reformist Bloc, is given no more than a 5% prediction.
The formation of new political entities responsible for restarting the state, which Kiossev talks about, is a process that must be well underway at the point of revolution, or transition (to use a more 21st century term). It needs to have concrete demands and a strategy for leadership. Such was the case with Poland’s Solidarity movement, fortified over several cycles of protests and strikes in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. By the time the country headed for its first free elections, they had become a synonym for change, ready to enter the political arena.
The typical Bulgarian trait of stubbornness, can serve as both the fuel that makes or breaks these protests. When mixed with a set of practical measures that can be embodied into a political program, the recipe for lasting change may become available.
To reach that stage, the protesters must move beyond slogans, hashtags, and flash mobs.
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