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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Bulgarie : le gouvernement démissionne sous la pression de la rue

by Humanité staff

Bulgaria: the government resigns under pressure from the streets

Translated Saturday 23 February 2013, by Richard Pond

On Thursday the Bulgarian Parliament accepted the resignation of Boyko Borisov’s very neo-liberal government after a series of demonstrations against electricity price rises and against poverty. The government’s decision opens the way to new elections.

"We apologise to the Bulgarians who haven’t had the policy they were hoping for, but we have done everything possible to safeguard financial stability," declared Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the deputy prime minister and interior minister. The government’s resignation was approved by all parties in Parliament. It opens the way to parliamentary elections expected to take place in the spring, whereas the end of the legislative term had originally been set for July. Over the next few days the parliamentary parties will need to confirm to the head of state their already stated refusal to form a new government. This will then allow President Rossen Plevneliev to form an interim government of technocrats charged with handling current business and organising National Assembly elections for the end of April or start of May.

The country "is close to economic collapse. Unemployment is massive [...], monopolies reign in every sector" [of the economy], said Sergei Stanishev, leader of the main opposition party, the Socialists. Over ten days, thousands of people from civic campaign groups demonstrated in Sofia and other cities, first against the increased electricity bills and then against poverty, unemployment and the government. The situation deteriorated at the start of the week, and thousands of protesters and police were injured in the course of violent clashes. The dismissal on Monday of the finance minister, Simeon Djankov, the embodiment of the austerity policy currently being put in place, did not calm protesters.

According to a Gallup poll published on Thursday, 92% of Bulgarians questioned support the demonstrations, even if 84% have not participated. The protesters demand, among other things, the "nationalisation" of the "monopolies" of the three energy distribution companies who have divided up the Bulgarian market: EVN (Austrian), CEZ (Czech) and Enero Pro. The European Commission has already taken Sofia to task for its delay in energy market liberalisation.

In another poll, published on Wednesday evening by Boriana Dimitrova, chair of the Alpha Research Institute, 89% of Bulgarians expressed discontent with "the prices imposed by the monopolies" in the energy sector and also with "their low income". But only 21% wanted the government to resign.

Bulgaria is the poorest country of the European Union, with an average monthly wage of 400 euros and an average pension of 150 euros. The country nevertheless retains macroeconomic stability thanks to a mechanism of austerity, its monetary policy which ties the national currency, the lev, to the euro. "With the new electricity and heating bills, more than 500,000 Bulgarians have found themselves pushed down the social ladder: they can no longer afford to use their cars, nor buy medicines for their parents, nor pay for English lessons for their children," emphasises Andrei Raychev, Gallup’s political analyst.

According to another analyst, Tsvetozar Tomov, who chairs the Scala sociological institute, "the main task of the next government will be to break the government’s links with the monopolies and with the ’grey’ market. Bulgaria must not be ruled by the oligarchs, otherwise this country can’t carry on within the EU." He is sure that "change is imminent" because "we’ve reached the bottom."

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