Daily demonstrations have been ongoing in Sofia and other major cities in Bulgaria since July 9. Protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, his government, and the Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, for what they perceive as high-level corruption. The size and intensity of the demonstrations will partly depend on Borisov’s response to the political crisis.
Political Tensions Escalate in Bulgaria
Political tensions in the country escalated after security forces raided President Rumen Radev’s offices, July 9, ostensibly as part of an investigation into influence-peddling and the disclosure of state secrets. Prior to the incident, Radev was investigating allegations of corruption among Bulgaria's political and business elite; activists claim that the raid was politically motivated and an attempt by Prime Minister Borisov and Chief Prosecutor Geshev to hinder these investigations. On July 21, Borisov and his government survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament by 124 to 102 MPs. The issue of corruption has become more prominent since the end of 2019. Demonstrations by frustrated youth activists previously occurred in November and December of 2019 to denounce Geshev’s appointment as chief prosecutor. Additional demonstrations were held in June over possible amendments to the country's Biodiversity Act, which activists believe could harm environmentally protected zones.
Major Demonstrations Held in Sofia
The largest protests have taken place in Sofia, particularly near the National Assembly and Presidential Office Building, where tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered. There were no incidents of significant violence reported at these protests; however, activists accused security forces of using excessive force during demonstrations between July 11-12, when several dozen demonstrators were arrested. Two protestors and four police officers were reportedly injured. Additional smaller demonstrations were held in Haskovo, Plovdiv, Ruse, and Varna, where no violence had been reported as of July 23.
Three Prominent Anti-government Activists Influence the Future of the Movement
Informal organizers of the demonstrations, including attorney Nikolay Hadjigenov, businessman Arman Babikyan, and artist Velislav Minekov, three prominent anti-government activists who have dubbed themselves the ‘’Poison Trio,’’ have called for a new phase in the movement. This is an attempt to mobilize nationwide civil unrest; the trio has called on demonstrators to block courtrooms, transportation hubs, and other institutions, as well as a nationwide general strike.
GDP Forecast Coupled with Increasing Coronavirus Disease Activity Could Heighten Public Dissatisfaction
Borisov asked for the resignations of the Ministers of Finance, Economy, and Internal Affairs July 23 to placate demonstrators; he is likely concerned about the potential for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to exacerbate the political crisis. Although Bulgaria has generally kept COVID-19 infections low, infection rates have been steadily rising since late June. In addition, the European Commission has forecasted a 7-percent decline in GDP for 2020, which, combined with increased case numbers, could increase dissatisfaction and give further momentum to the demonstrators. However, demonstrators have stated that they are not satisfied with a perceived symbolic government reshuffle, and will protest until Borisov himself resigns.
Disruptions to Business and Transportation Possible
Large-scale protests and possible related industrial action will likely cause moderate to severe business and transport disruptions, especially in central Sofia. Counterdemonstrations by Borisov’s supporters are possible, and clashes between opposing demonstrators, as well as between police officers and demonstrators, though unlikely at the moment, could break out with little warning. Although demonstrators do not display anti-foreign sentiments and are therefore unlikely to target any foreign nationals, any individual caught in the vicinity of violent unrest could face a physical threat. No general deterioration of the security posture in Bulgaria should be expected in the coming months.
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