TinaSchivatcheva

Bulgaria’s constitution includes a wide range of social rights. However, the ‘democratic, law-governed and social state’ has been characterized as ‘chronically incapable of coping with its social problems or improving its level of economic prosperity’. Moreover, the Bulgarian ‘minimal state’ often cannot provide its citizens even with basic necessities, such as food, electricity, central heating, or medical care. The post-socialist radical and extensive privatization and economic restructuring have led to systemic impoverishment, decimating entire sectors of the economy and society.

The state often has appeared to be merely a prize that players try to capture rather than a guarantor of law and the basic services necessary for civilized and decent life. The post-socialist reforms have resulted in acute inequalities and disenfranchisement. With public discontent seemingly on the rise, strong social movements of ‘democratic populism’ and ‘redemptive radicalism’ increasingly capture the public vote.

Ecce Homo

Charismatic personalities are at the heart of social movements. Thus, Bulgaria has been a country in search of its hero. Almost four years ago it seemed that he had appeared.

Boyko Borisov, once the top official in charge of the country’s police had a reputation for crime-fighting. With Borisov at the helm, the center-right formation Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, abbreviated in Bulgarian as GERB, won the 5th of July, 2009 parliamentary elections. Voters hoped for ‘European Bulgaria,’ with ‘European’ standards of living and no corruption; they hoped for a European Union (EU) with truly equal standing of states and people. Back in 2008, the top priority was tackling the rampant corruption and bringing to justice the powerful criminal groups. Borisov pledged to eradicate organized crime and grapple with Bulgaria‘s corruption.

The social reality

But what was the social reality? In 2010, 43.6% of the Bulgarian citizens lived in material deprivation [4].Although the EU poverty average was 16.9%, in Bulgaria it was 22.3%; or 1,673,000 people in a population of 7,364,570. This picture had worsened throughout early 2013, yet the social purpose of the government continued to be squeezed down to a single point: financial stability. Ongoing economic woes and failure to carry out the promised reforms steadily eroded Borisov’s popularity.

The Power of the ‘Bulgarian Spring’

January 2013; post-socialist, post-EU accession Bulgaria was hit by dauntingly high energy bills, considered by many to reflect unreasonably high domestic energy consumption. Numerous signals about incorrectly calculated and billed energy expenses led the public to believe that these were unjustifiably inflated in order to increase the Energy Distributing Holdings (EDH) revenues. More than 100,000 citizens daily voiced their anger. The economic crisis quickly escalated into a political one. Borisov’s vernacular appeal, which had initially swept voters off their feet, had now lost its magic. On the 20th of February, 2013 the premier submitted his cabinet’s resignation.

On the 1st of March, 2013, 10 days after the government resigned, the Bulgarian State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission used its powers to lower the price of electricity [3]. Both the Bulgarian government and the energy monopolies had just ‘re-discovered,’ that the formula for calculating the price of energy should take into account not only shareholder revenue, but also consider social trust, justice, and equity.

What lies ahead…

Twenty years after the fall of the Eastern European block, Bulgaria’s transition to social market democracy has been disappointing [4]. Impoverishment and the drastic overhaul of the social-insurance, pension, and health-care systems have sown enormous personal insecurity.The pervasive weakness of the state has led to the narrowing of the real consummation of the already recognised social rights. A real shift in power, which would address the patterns of exclusion and social injustice, is yet to occur. Until that time, the Bulgarian premier’s seat could be taken again by yet another ‘strong man.’

Originally published in the ‘Politics in Spires’ blog. To read the whole post, please follow the link:

http://politicsinspires.org/spring-in-sofia-bulgarias-struggle-for-social-rights/

Notes:

[1]. ‘National strategy for poverty reduction and encouragement of the social inclusion,’http://www.mlsp.government.bg/bg/docs/indexstr.htm(accessed 25/03/13).

[2]. Natural Monopoly is a condition on the cost-technology of an industry whereby it is most efficient (involving the lowest long-run average cost) for production to be concentrated in a single firm. Perloff, Jeffrey, Microeconomics, (Addison Wesley: Boston, 2012), p. 394.

[3]. ‘Somebody pushed SWERC, it lowered twice the price of electricity in one day,’ News.bg, (01.03.2013),http://news.ibox.bg/news/id_1674252272 (accessed 25/03/13).

[4]. According to Eurobarometer data, in 2010 the trust in the government and in the parliament had declined in comparison with 2009 as follows: (34%, -9, and 20%, -5). ‘Eurobarometer 74, Autumn, 2010,’http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb74/eb74_publ_en.pdf (accessed 25/03/13).

In the May 2012 survey, the last date which the Eurobarometer has data for, the trust in the national institutions has declined even further, reaching (28%, -10 and 17%, -8). The impression that things are going in the wrong direction, had increased sharply (46% replied “wrong direction”, +11). 78% (-7) of the Bulgarians have been predominantly dissatisfied with the ways in which national democracy works. ‘Standard Eurobarometer 77, Spring 2012,’ http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb77/eb77_publ_en.pdf (accessed 25/03/13).

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