16.11.2013, Sofia, Bulgaria
I woke up at 11 a.m. by the roaring sound of music. It took me a while to recognize the song – it was a techno beat version of „We are at every kilometer“, an everlasting communist party hymn from the 80s. Have I just woken up in the 80s? What’s going on?
„I should be dreaming“, my sleepy mind is trying to convince me, as the windows of my room are clattering from the noise, „It can’t be true“…
Then I remembered it.
Today is the meeting of the government parties – Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF). And I live on the street where the meeting will take place. Damn it.
I turned on the coffee pot and went in for a shower. It’s going to be wild today. It’s not only the meeting that will take place in the center of Sofia. A few hours later there is the football match between the two most popular Bulgarian teams – Levski and CSKA. You know what this means. A few days ago, when the date of the meeting was officially announced, the two fan clubs’ authorities made declarations, sharing the same opinion for the first time in their history: Don’t do this. Don’t provoke our fans. The match itself is enough, who knows what could happen when you put together angry football fans and thousands of people, most of whom coming from the countryside, gypsies and Turkish minorities. It’s like throwing a bomb in a tube of fuel, just to see what will happen.
But they did it. So, today the whole central part of Sofia is totally and impassably blocked. The police are popping up everywhere, the streets are closed, the sky is grey
I drank my coffee and went out. With no public transport and closed streets it will be a challenge to reach the Bus Station. But I have no choice, so I just head there walking.
The city is paralyzed in chaos. People buzzing around, cars trapped in the closed streets, tons of police, howling sirens, and on top of all – that surreal roaring sound from the meeting. Somebody is trying to excite the crowd, shouting „Victory“. You ARE the ruling parties, you idiots; you already HAVE your victory. And you govern so well, that today is the 156 day of the anti-government protests.
After 30 minutes walking I finally left the closed perimeter. But the chaos continues. A bus is going on the tram line trying to reach the closest stop on its typical route. Two cars are stopped in the middle of the boulevard; the drivers are outside, screaming at each other. A homeless man is digging for some treasures in a trash container.
And I felt so depressed by everything around me I almost started to cry. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to see this. I rushed to escape from the street, taking a cab, but reality is still following me – the cab driver is listening to the news and swearing out loud – the government, those „fucking criminals“ and the „stupid bastards on the meeting that are ready to sell their asses for 20 bucks“.
I’m angry, too. But I’m also sad, deeply and inevitably sad. Because these „stupid bastards“ are a huge part of the Bulgarian population. And the fact that there are so many poor and non-educated people here is not entirely their own fault. We all have the responsibility, each one of us – with our votes, or our refusal to vote; with our ignorance; with our conformism.
You know what? There is no such thing as Bulgarian state. Imagine a building made entirely of paper and plastic. It looks like a real one, but it’s fake. It has everything necessary – windows, doors, flowers on the balconies – but it’s a giant and horrible set. And everyone knows it, or at least suspects it. And do nothing about it.
Until the 14th of June, 156 days ago, the moment when the paper-plastic facade started to crack and crumble, revealing its terrifying inners – it was like seeing the cancer through the small mole on the skin. And finally realizing that eventually, it’s going to kill you.
The cab is crawling through the traffic, the driver still swearing, when I saw a few buses with countryside registration plates, parked in line. Then some more. And then some more – an endless line of buses stretched along the entire boulevard. Later on, I read that the government uses them to transport their „supporters“ from the country. There are also two trains serving the same purpose. For most of the people this meeting is their first time in the capital, a nice vacation with free transport, free lunch and 20 bucks cash.
I know why they are doing it. It’s a demonstration of power. The reason is the same as always, the one that provokes the events from the last days:
– the authorities started using special police forces for the protests, with helmets, masks, shields, and everything – that outnumbered the protesters way too much. And you know, the Special Forces are no gentlemen, they could be brutal.
– the leader of one of the nationalists party (yes, we have a few of them), Boyan Rasate, declares that his movement is going to make „special squads“ to ensure the order and peace in the city. Special squads made of skinheads. Yes, it’s 21 century in Bulgaria.
– when the students joined the protest and started occupying the biggest universities in Sofia, the Deacon of one of them – The University of National and World Economy, Stati Statev, threaten his students that he is going to leave them without electricity, water, and toilet. And kindly suggested: If you don’t like the situation in Bulgaria, emigrate.
– the police started to collect personal data from the protesters’ IDs, threaten them with arrest if they refuse to be included in the list. Human rights my ass.
– a few people were visited at their home or called in the police office to give explanations – and their only „crime“ was joining the peaceful protest. Tsvetelin Yovchev, the Minister of internal affairs, declares that this practice will continue.
What is common in all these cases? They all rely on the only weapon of this government – fear.
Fear. The same weapon they were using in the communist regime with repressions, propaganda, murders, and death camps.
It’s just not possible for them to manage the situation using wisdom, experience, compromise, skills, or trust. The only thing they know well and know how to use is fear.
Demonstrating power and spreading fear has one goal – to force people to close their eyes again and to sleep deeply into their everyday life. But it’s not possible to forget what you once saw – the terrifying monster of the mafia, hidden behind the facade of the state. It’s not forgettable and it’s not forgivable.
I finally reached the Bus Station and bought a ticket. In just a few hours I will be with my parents, in the place where I grew up, the place I still call „home“.
Maybe, some day I will be able to call Bulgaria my home, without feeling anger, sadness, or despair. Maybe, when the facade eventually collapses we will start to build again, and we will do it better. Maybe. I don’t know. And I have no fear. My only weapon is my hope.