The Protests of Summer 2020 and What Comes Afterwards

The Protests of Summer 2020 and What Comes Afterwards

July 27th 2020

The protests

The Bulgarian Community for Liberal Democracy (BOLD) is guided by the shared vision of its members for a society with democratic governance and a pluralistic political system in which fundamental human rights and freedoms are protected and laws, policies and practices are aimed at environmental and socio-economic justice.

BOLD welcomes and supports the right of citizens to peaceful protests that are among the basic forms of civic participation in a democratic society. Through the protests that began on July 9, 2020, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Borisov and Chief Prosecutor Geshev, tens of thousands of our fellow citizens have shown political maturity and civic solidarity by spending time and energy for realising their rights of expression, peaceful assembly and participation in public life. For BOLD, the ongoing mass peaceful protests are a source of hope that Bulgaria has a future as a European democracy.

BOLD understands and respects the call of many of the protesters, supported by a number of commentators, to refrain from putting on the agenda any issues related to future social change before the main goal of the protests is achieved – the resignations of Borisov and Geshev. At the same time, while protesters withhold any demands beyond these resignations, certain other political actors guided by their own views and programmes have taken to shaping up the discourse about the future. One can hear on the media radical anti-systemic slogans, such as for a complete “dismantling” of the “system”, an immediate and total “replacement of the system”, a Grand National Assembly for an entirely new constitution, or a thorough restart of all social relations. There are also suggestions that the whole transition from communism to democracy since 1989 has been a mistake that should be corrected. These sentiments fail to acknowledge that notwithstanding the serious problems in the functioning of Bulgarian democracy, it is in the period following 1989 that we built the foundations of a liberal-democratic order. BOLD believes that what needs to be dismantled comprehensively and completely is not the “system” as such, i.e. not the institutions of liberal democracy, but the oligarchic, mafialike capture of the state and its institutions.

What Comes Afterwards

As a community that upholds the values ​​of liberal democracy, BOLD has a vision and a number of demands which, while specific in content, are overarchingly democratic and therefore irrespective of who will govern Bulgaria in the coming years, as long as they play by the rules of democratic competition. Whatever happens after the Borisov 3 cabinet, we want the following:

1. Firmly and consistently uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and preserve Bulgaria’s European orientation. Let us not allow our still unconsolidated Bulgarian democracy to be degraded and pushed down a path of authoritarian anti-democratic rule! We want, through targeted policies, to eliminate the conditions feeding the oligarchization of political and economic life from circles of permanent players (political parties, individual party functionaries, official and shadow business people, etc.). In an environment of defective market mechanisms and unchallenged corruption in central and local government, such players successfully accumulate power, wealth, privileges and influence inaccessible to citizens and at their expense. Let’s dismantle the oligarchic mafialike model before it has destroyed democracy in Bulgaria!

2. Amendment to Chapter 6 of the Constitution adopted by an ordinary National Assembly, to solve the problem of the lack of accountability and the impunity of the prosecution and especially of the Chief Prosecutor. Unfortunately, the current legal framework makes it possible for the Chief Prosecutor General to usurp key functions of justice, to initiate arbitrary prosecutions and to violate the right to a fair trial, all to the benefit of oligarchic ruling circles. Amending the constitutional norms in respect to the prosecution is a prerequisite for fighting corruption. There are several legal options for achieving such a change, but the criteria for its success include removing the dependence of Supreme Judicial Council members on the Chief Prosecutor, reducing significantly the term of service of the Chief Prosecutor, and introducing an effective mechanism for ensuring the liability and for removing the Chief Prosecutor. The reform may include the establishment of a special procedure and a special institution, not subordinate to the Chief Prosecutor, empowered to prosecute senior magistrates.

3. A civic assembly against corruption that would apply tools (including digital) to enable modern forms of democratic citizens’ participation in the spirit of deliberative democracy bridging direct and representative democracy. The assembly should be empowered to: a) carry out an independent study of corrupt practices in recent decades, identifying all laws and regulations that make them possible; b) develop a binding concept for a set of anti-corruption legislative measures. This demand is based on our fear that, regardless of their composition, the future parliament and government will not be completely independent of the results of anti-corruption reform, and that only citizens’ control can limit this risk. Corruption is too important an issue to be left in the hands of institutions alone! Corruption is practiced primarily by public authorities and institutions and therefore citizens’ participation is required to hold it in check.

4. Urgent measures to ensure remote voting as a means against electoral manipulation. We insist on legislative changes aimed at introducing online voting and guaranteeing the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections to all adult Bulgarian citizens regardless of their social or legal status or their permanent or temporary residence or location, as well as the right to vote in local elections to all permanent residents on the territory of Bulgaria, including those who are not Bulgarian citizens.

5. Better guarantees of media independence. Bulgaria is among the worst performing countries in the world in terms of media freedom. A reform is required of the way in which the national radio and television are governed and measures must be taken to limit the involvement of key media outlets with those in power. Public media governing bodies should be formed on a pluralistic basis with enhanced civic participation, to ensure that their decisions do not favour any political actor. There must be legal guarantees for the transparency of media ownership and the origin of owners’ funds, as well as a mechanism to prevent the concentration of the media market. There must be support for the self-regulation of the media and measures to prevent a monopoly in the distribution of print media.

6. Policies to counter national populism at all institutional levels. We must not allow our civic patriotism to degenerate into intolerance of difference and to manifest itself as rights abuse of people from ethnic and religious minorities, refugees and foreigners. Regrettably, Bulgaria is still one of the most intolerant countries in the European Union. We owe to ourselves and to our children a more decisive movement towards a society free from ethno-national prejudice. For a democracy without racism and discrimination!

7. The government must comply with our commitments related to the environment and pursue socio-economic justice, including through concrete plans to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the European Pillar of Social Rights and the European Green Deal. This is particularly important for overcoming the effects of the Kovid-19 pandemic and the socio-economic crisis it has triggered. Let us not allow the government to use the pandemic as a pretext for inaction, or as an excuse for actions that would deteriorate the environment or aggravate socio-economic injustice!