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Protests erupt over Bulgaria’s pro-Russia stance

Protests erupt over Bulgaria's pro-Russia stance

On Tuesday evening, pro-EU protesters will rally near the presidency and the Ministerial Council in Sofia, accusing President Rumen Radev of undermining the parliamentary system and hampering efforts to form a government after a two years of repeated elections.

“The president has long shown that he does not work for the benefit of Bulgarian society and for Bulgarian interests, but for Russian ones,” said a statement by protest organisers Vera Staevska and Katerina Bogdanova.

“We won’t allow Bulgaria to become Belarus,” they added.

After opposing political forces We Continue the Change and GERB agreed on a cabinet last week, negotiations on forming an administration after Bulgaria’s most recent inconclusive election stalled, and some saw the shadow of President Radev in the logjam.

They believe it is in Radev’s interest to prolong Bulgaria’s political turmoil, which would allow him to govern the country through a series of interim cabinets, just as he has in the last two years.

On Monday, Radev handed the government-forming mandate to We Continue the Change, which agreed on an experimental 18-month cabinet with its biggest opponents, GERB.

The plan would see the parties nominating individual prime ministers to govern in rotation: the first nine months would be under the flag of We Continue the Change’s Nickolay Denkov, while the second would be under the control of GERB’s Mariya Gabriel.

However, talks stalled after We Continue the Change member Radostin Vassilev leaked a four-hour audio recording, alleging party leaders Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev are making arrangements for national security service reform in accordance with the EU and the US, which he said he sees as treachery.

The National Security Agency then began a treason investigation into Petkov, Vassilev and adviser Vessela Cherneva on Tuesday.

Petkov, a former prime minister, said he believed there was coordination between Vassilev and Radev, and on Monday he wrote that “the disinformation and the Kremlin’s meddling in the internal affairs of the Eastern European countries is a huge problem for Europe as a whole”.

“Attempts at destabilisation are made by activating local politicians and strengthening autocracy at the expense of democracy,” he said.

While handing over the mandate to form a government to We Continue the Change, President Radev described its attempt to muster an administration as already “compromised” and said that the party should “preserve its dignity” by rethinking its plans.

A previous wave of protests erupted in August 2022 after Radev and interim premier Galab Donev tried to reverse deals made by the Petkov coalition and reinstate gas deliveries from Russia’s Gazprom. Concerns around Bulgaria’s geopolitical future also caused protests against the ousting of the Petkov cabinet last June.

Radev initially allied with the opposition to GERB leader Boyko Borissov, only to turn against reformist parties We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria after the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He also opposed their plans for healthier relations with neighbouring North Macedonia.

Source: Balkan Insight