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Conference: “The Protests in Bulgaria and on the Balkans in 2013: the state of democratic institutions"
On 22 November 2013, the Center for the Study of Democracy, in cooperation with the Centre for East European Language Based Areas Studies (CEELBAS), organised a seminar on “The Protests in Bulgaria and the Balkans in 2013: the state of democratic institutions". The event was attended by researchers from Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, representatives of non-governmental organisation (NGO’s), journalists and protesters. The discussion focused on three main themes:

  • the similarities and differences between the protests in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece;

  • the main features of the protests in Bulgaria;

  • the role of democratic institutions, including the media and NGO’s, in the development of the protests.

  • Over the last two years there has been growing public discontent in countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The protests in Turkey started as a result of the government’s plans to build a shopping centre in “Gezi” park in Istanbul. The police’s aggressive reaction brought together many different groups (young people, women, religious minorities, opposition parties), which joined the protests to show their discontent with what they believe are increasingly authoritarian government policies. Despite the coming together of the opposition parties, the unprecedented scale of the demonstrations and the mass use of social media, the protests eventually wound down. The Turkish government organised alternative protests in various cities to demonstrate the support for its policies. In Greece, the protests were the result of the economic crisis and the austerity measures that followed, which were met with widespread discontent among the population. Similarly to the protests in Turkey, the demonstrations in Greece were characterised by widespread use of social media for organising people and guaranteeing mass participation, but there was no use of violence by the police forces. Despite having a significant political effect, such as the emergence of far-right political parties, the protests were aimed at the political leadership, but also at the economic policies imposed on Greece by the EU and international financial institutions.

    The common denominator between all protests in the Balkans is the key role of social media. Unlike Greek and Turkish citizens, Bulgarians demand more transparency and the upholding of moral values in the entire political realm, which means that no party is benefitting from the protests. Similarly to the events in Turkey, the Bulgarian political parties represented in parliament also organised protests in support of the government. Furthermore, counter-protests were organised too. The protests in Bulgaria are characterized by remarkable endurance over time and the use of social media not only as a means for protesters to organise themselves, but also as a primary source of clear information regarding government policies. This is the result of the lack of transparency with regards to the ownership of electronic and printed media and the reasonable doubt that they are also dependant on the same economic interests which control the government.

    The spontaneous nature of the protests has led to the formation of horizontal networks with no leaders in all three countries. The lack of leadership among the protesters is unduly used by politicians as an excuse to avoid direct communication with them, which further deteriorates people’s trust in public institutions. Unlike in Greece, a way of including protests in the governance structure of democratic institutions has not yet been identified in Bulgaria and Turkey, which continues to put in question their legitimacy and maturity, as well as their ability to address the contradictions which have emerged in Bulgaria’s society. One of the possible ways to overcome the socio-political crisis is increasing the transparency of all public institutions, alongside real, rather than formal, consultations with civil society during the decision-making process.

    Agenda (Adobe PDF, 153 KB, in Bulgarian only)
    Presentation of Vera Tika, PhD student, Panteon University, Athens (Adobe PDF, 597 KB)
    Presentation of Maria Doichinova, Center for the Study of Democracy (Adobe PDF, 2.06 MB, in Bulgarian only)
    Event coverage by CEELBAS
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