Bulgaria’s Anti-Corruption Protests Turn Violent

By Bhavya Surapaneni

Castle Pines, Colorado

Arrests, attacks on journalists, and police brutality have regularly occurred at protests (Photo Credit: Euronews)

In Bulgaria, citizens are protesting against corruption in their government in events unknown and unacknowledged by the wider world.


According to Vice, protests began in July, provoked by the Bulgarian government protecting Ahmed Dogan, a wealthy oligarch, from prosecution over illegal privatization of a beach on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. On July 7, the State Agency for National Security prevented Hristo Ivanov, an anti-corruption politician and former Minister of Justice, from litigating the privatization.


This was not the first display of corruption in Bulgaria, and the citizens have come to be somewhat unfazed by corrupt acts, according to Vice. Corruption and transparency have been major issues in the Bulgarian realm, with the European nation ranking 74th out of 198 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index with a transparency score of 43/100.


Despite the normalization of corruption, the public reacted angrily to the privatization dispute and protests began in Sofia, the nation’s capital. According to Politico EU, by early September, there had been 120 arrests and many injuries as a result of violence between law enforcement and protestors. Roads had been blockaded by large quantities of people, and marches took over major streets in Sofia. The Ahmed Dogan controversy catalyzed many of the public displays and uprisings, and protestors called for the resignation of Boyko Borissov— current prime minister and head of government of Bulgaria—and reform of the government, with great emphasis on the judicial system.


Corruption in Bulgaria is fueled significantly by political power and impacts many aspects of the country, including media freedom, police violence, and clandestine appointments of government officials. Bulgaria is ranked 111th for media freedom in the world, and numerous attacks on journalists have occurred during the anti-corruption protests. Police brutality has also been a common occurrence during the protests—pepper spray has been used against demonstrators and there have been instances of beatings, according to first hand accounts in Politico EU. As for the leaders of the nation, secret appointments of officials have been Bulgaria’s norm for years; for example, the current public prosecutor was appointed without the knowledge of most citizens.


From the viewpoint of many, Borissov is to blame for the political chaos. In a poll by a Bulgarian social research company based in Sofia, cited by Reuters, data indicated that approval ratings of Borissov’s government had fallen from 21.7% in December 2019 to 14.5% in August 2020, a 7.2% drop. Undecided voter percentages also increased in this time period, going from 27.3% to 46%.


Prime Minister Borissov claimed that he was willing to step down in July to calm protests, but he would only do so if his majority would stay in office until elections in March. This statement didn’t have much impact on protests as they called for resignation of the entire cabinet, according to EuroNews.


In an interview with Reuters, political analyst Boriana Dimitrova stated, “People support the protests but are not sure what should come next. For the time being, there is no dominant political faction around which a clear majority can be consolidated.”


Protests and demonstrations continue today with no end in sight.


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