Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Bulgaria on Tuesday – the country’s Independence Day – calling on the prime minister and the chief prosecutor to step down over allegations they allowed an oligarchic mafia to seize control of the Balkan country.
The predominantly young protesters say they want real steps to limit corruption and are fed up with the ruling style of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who has been at the helm of three consecutive governments since 2009.
Protesters, who have the support of some two-thirds of the population according to latest opinion polls, want the date of parliamentary elections moved forward from the scheduled one in March.
“It seems in the last couple of days, the protests have started to lose some energy at least, but it doesn’t lose its energy within the society,” Hristo Panchugov, associate professor of political science at the New Bulgarian University, told Euronews.
“We still have above 60 per cent of the Bulgarian citizens supporting the demands of the protests and supporting the reasons why the protesters have been walking the streets of Sofia for the last 70-plus days.”
Police presence in the centre of the capital, Sofia, was beefed up after protest organisers said Tuesday’s gathering – which takes place on the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire – would turn into a new “great national uprising”.
Riot police cordoned off government buildings. Although all previous rallies in recent months have been mostly peaceful, there have been occasional clashes with police and some arrests.
In response to the protests, which first began on July 9, Borisov proposed reforms to the constitution which have been decried by protesters as a means of keeping his government in power until the next elections.
“With the continuation of this situation, the views are becoming more and more radicalised. The people are less and less likely simply to talk resolving differences,” added Panchugov.
“We will see more and more radicalisation of sentiment and more and more populism brought back to Bulgarian politics, which will be the negative spill-over effect, I think.”