Sofia doesn’t seem like a capital city it has the ambience of Worthing with wide roads, quiet shopping streets and low level buildings.
Unlike Worthing it also has huge slab like government offices, magnificent cathedrals and, since February 2013, daily anti-government protests that have brought down one administration and seen six people burn themselves alive.
At times as many as 20,000 have turned out with corresponding protests in cities throughout the nation
In December 2013 the protest has been reduced to about one hundred people they meet at 7pm outside the Presidential Palace armed with whistles and drums then march the mile or so to the National Assembly. They chant a few slogans, mingle and chat then go home.
I ask what the protest is about. Nicolas a student says: “Corruption. The government is corrupt they must resign.” Several of the other protesters agree, two English words they all understand are “corruption “and “resign”.
The February protests were against electricity prices, monopolies and poverty. The ruling GERB party led by the populist Boris Borisov had come to power in 2009 on an anti-corruption ticket. They implemented austerity measures in one of the poorest EU countries and the poor were hit the hardest.
High electricity bills triggered nationwide protests involving 100,000 people. Six people died from self-immolation and the Government resigned.
Fresh elections in May saw GERB win 30% of the vote but a strange coalition of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the DPS an ethnic Turk party and tactical support from the far right Ataka party formed the new administration.
Smaller protests continued after the election concerning issues that linked politicians, the mafia and big business.
Bulgarians don’t have a lot of trust in the honesty of their leaders. In 2008 a serving MP famously said: “Other countries have the mafia, in Bulgaria, the mafia has the country.”
The coalition elected media mogul Delyan Peevski, 32, – a man without any security experience and a dodgy past – as head of national security. Major protests erupted. Peevski withdrew but the protesters didn’t.
Angry at the formation of the coalition the opposition GERB party boycotted parliament. But their time in office is also subject to allegations of fraud, illegal wiretapping and the misuse of EU funds.
Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski may think that the dwindling protest numbers are a sign that the popular tide is turning but Nicolas outside the National Assembly said “It’s because it’s cold and we’re getting tired.”