Demonstrations erupt after raid on the offices of president Rumen Radev
Bulgaria’s prime minister is under mounting pressure to step down as protesters take to the streets across the country in an outpouring of anger at his failure to control government corruption.
The demonstrations against Boyko Borisov began last week, prompted by a raid ordered by the chief prosecutor on the offices of president Rumen Radev, the popular head of state and an outspoken critic of the ruling party’s record on graft. Carried out by a heavily armed security team, the raid added to a simmering feud between Mr Borisov, serving his third term as prime minister of the EU’s poorest country, and the president, who was elected by popular vote in 2016. “Let’s throw the mafia out of the government and out of the prosecutor’s office,” Mr Radev said in a speech to protesters after the incident.
Mr Borisov, the dominant figure in Bulgarian politics — a former fireman and bodyguard who got his start in politics serving as chief of security to a centre-right prime minister — last month accused Mr Radev of using a drone to stalk him.
The rolling protests have brought together students, small business owners and opponents of Mr Borisov’s centre-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (Gerb) party — from nationalists to pro-European reformists.
Atanas Pekanov, a 29-year-old economist who had been working in Austria, has attended the protests every day since they began. “Bulgaria needs well-functioning and trustworthy institutions, adherence to the rule of law and more social justice but instead we see corruption and politicians that misuse the institutions for their own profit,” he said.
On Tuesday night several thousand people gathered outside a government building in the capital, Sofia, shouting anti-government slogans and demanding Mr Borisov’s resignation. Some threw red paint and bottles at the building, smashing a glass door.
A 2019 report by the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia on corruption in Bulgaria said that, according to local business people, at least 35 per cent of public procurement contracts involve corrupt practices.
Seventeen people were indicted following the collapse in 2014 of Corpbank, a private Bulgarian bank used by business groups and state-owned companies, following the misappropriation of €2bn of deposits. But the case has still not come to court.
Daniel Smilov, a director of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, said the protesters hold Mr Borisov responsible for failing to curb government corruption and allowing shady local business groups to control swaths of Bulgaria’s economy.
“It’s not that the prime minister simply tolerates corruption. The escalating protests are undermining the legitimacy of his government,” Mr Smilov said.
The prime minister defended his government’s record in a Facebook post but did not address the corruption issue, saying “Workers and trade unionists [taking part in protests] should swiftly reconsider what they want the country to become. We have done so much, put in so much effort . . . Gerb governments have built twice the number of highways that Todor Zhivkov did ”, a reference to the long-serving late Bulgarian communist leader.
A fresh spike of Covid-19 cases in Sofia and other cities after the government initially managed to control the spread of the virus has not deterred protesters, even though large gatherings are officially banned. Many of the students involved have returned to the Balkan state from foreign universities because of the outbreak of Covid-19.
The chief prosecutor, an ally of the prime minister, said he ordered the seizure of documents and the detention of two officials — the president’s secretary and an adviser — as part of a probe into allegations of influence peddling and other offences.