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In second month of nation-wide anti-government protests Bulgarian PM reaffirms he will not resign

PM Boyko Borissov hinted over the weekend he might resign only to reaffirm he won’t

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PM Boyko Borissov today, during one of his regular Facebook live streams from his car (image: BGNES)

Bulgaria is in its 34th day of nation-wide anti-government protests. The people are demanding the entire government to resign as well as Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev: both, the government in the face of Boyko Borissov and Geshev are seen as the foremost protectors of oligarch interests.

A key intersection in Sofia is closed 24/7 for an ongoing tent protest. The Eagle’s Bridge in Sofia is a symbolic space for protests and is always one of the main to become occupied. About a week into the tent protest, the police abolished it in the early morning of August 9, around 4:00. The following night, however, protesters came back and rebuilt the tents and barricaded the space with benches, trashcans and the like. The move by the police seemed to only reinforce the willingness of protesters to see the protest through. Meanwhile, protests are happening daily not only in all Bulgarian major cities, but in many smaller cities, as well. Bulgarians abroad have been organizing demonstrations in support across Europe and even in North America, too. Most days there are more than one antigovernment demonstration at once in a given city.

PM Boyko Borissov posted an image of him and his two grandchildren over the weekend along with a cryptic caption that the time has come for "serious decisions to be made". Many interpreted the post as a hint that the PM has decided to resign the government. Moreover, he and his Cabinet have been making what seem to be last-minute pre-election spending to please their electorate, most of which under the umbrella of coronavirus economic impact relief packages. Those include cash handouts to pensioners and healthcare professionals, holiday vouchers for the latter, 30% salary increases for a large portion of public sector workers, and more.

But on the Monday following the weekend cryptic post, the PM not only did not resign but said he would like for President Roumen Radev to resign instead.

Radev supports the protests and has an ongoing feud with the PM, which is mostly maintained by the latter: Borissov often points to the president as his rival. In this case, Radev has a larger role, however: when the protests started, the event, which triggered them was non-parliamentary opposition leader Hristo Ivanov trying to land on a beach at the foot of the mansion of Ahmed Dogan – one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes figures in Bulgarian politics and beyond. He has a long history in Bulgarian politics but today he formally does not hold any public office. Ivanov was greeted by what later were confirmed as National Service for Protection officers. The president later confirmed Dogan indeed had security provided by the National Protection Service but that was appointed by members of the executive branch. Radev personally was against, he announced. The next day the presidency building was raided by special forces under orders of Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev and two of Radev’s staff were arrested. This ignited the protest further.

On the Tuesday after Borissov made the post, which many interpreted as a preface to a resignation, he announced he had "prepared solutions", which he would reveal in the next days. He said these solutions "will calm the people down".

"These are hard decisions. Unlike them, who go around collecting CVs, we have COVID-19 to deal with, we have the hospitals, municipalities, we have relocation, and the most severe economic and financial crisis in the world. These are things, which take time to prepare," the PM said.

It has been this government main talking point since the protests began that a resignation "is the easiest thing", that it would be "irresponsible" to resign amid a crisis and that the government has too much work to do to be considering a resignation.

However, recent polls do not register these messages to be resonating with citizens at all. Borissov’s and the government’s support is plummeting, Ivan Geshev’s actions are seen predominantly as no more than PR. A most recent poll showed around half of Bulgarians across the country – from the capital, major cities, small cities and the rest of the country consistently want a government resignation and snap elections, not shuffles in the government (which Borissov already tried when changing four ministers about a month ago), or for a different PM to head this government.

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