Bulgarian cultural expert Alexander Kiossev took part in the demonstrations in Sofia. Talking to DW, he explains what it is that joins the protesters together and what the violent escalation will mean for the country.
Deutsche Welle: The demonstrators in Bulgaria have for weeks stressed that their protests would be non-violent. Now for the first time, there were violent clashes between protesters and police – at least 18 people got injured. What's behind this escalation?
Alexander Kiossev: People's patience has run out. They really have reached their limits and simply can no longer stand the situation. Generally speaking, these protests are linked to what I would call "moral patience." This patience has several times been overstretched by this government and previous ones.
What's the background to the current protests in Bulgaria?
Already in Febuary there was a first wave of protests, triggered by the increased electricity prices. At that point, particularly poor people took to the streets – not only in the capital Sofia, but also in the provinces. This lead to the fall of the then government under conservative Bojko Borissov of the GERB party. In May, there were early elections, but the outcome was unfortunate because no single party had an outright lead. The government [made up of the BSP, the Socialist party and the Bulgarian-Turkish DPS party] has already lost credibility in its first decisions regarding the formation of the cabinet. One particular example, their naming of the media mogul Deljan Peewski - who essentially has monopolized the free press in the country - as the new head of security, had people up in protest. They took to the streets not just to force Peewski to step down, but to topple the entire government. But the government acted as if nothing happened, hoping the protests would fizzle out. That's what got people even more angry and they blocked Parliament and prevented people from leaving the building. After several hours, the Police stepped in and that's how it escalated into violence.
You yourself took part in the protests – what was your motivation?
I couldn't stand the brazenness of politicians anymore. The governing socialist party - the party of the former communists -is very much linked to organized crime in Bulgaria and is dependant on a few oligarchs. That's why, basically, it can't make any independent policies and is doing whatever someone dictates to them from behind. They completely lost their connection to the voters.
How did you experience the protests?
I was there at the beginning of the protest and I even brought my eight-year old son. At the beginning it was like a performance. There was a lot of creative energy, people came up with all kinds of new ideas. It was like a festival and everybody was happy that they were out together and experiencing this moral solidarity. In the meantime, there were some people that joined just to provoke and some groups and factions have sought to get the protests under their control. But that didn't work. The protesters are the young and educated citizens of Bulgaria. If their protests are not successful, I believe that at least 50 percent of these people will emigrate -because from a moral standpoint they won't be able to stand the situation anymore.
What is it that connects the protesters?
What ties them together is the desire to live in truth. To use the words of Vaclav Havel [in reference to life under communism during the Cold War] "they can no longer stand to live a lie, in a criminal system, in shadows." This of course brings further practical, political and economic problems and everybody asks what's going to come next? What will happen if the government gets toppled? But that's not that important right now. The main thing is that there is this moral solidarity.
Do you see parallels with the protests in Turkey?
Yes, there are parallels: members of different levels of society have joined together and reacted as one political subject. And the political subject says: "This can't go on."
How do you think this conflict between government and demonstrators will continue?
That's difficult to tell, but the violence has changed the protests and now the conflict will escalate further. I hope the government will be sensible and will step down. But its members have a lot to lose and they know that their position of power will never be the same again once they resign.
The number of Syrians coming to the EU from Turkey has decreased considerably in January, according to a German newspaper. More Iraqis and Afghans are fleeing to the bloc, but have slim chances of receiving asylum.
Wroclaw was set to become the second Polish venue of PEGIDA's Europe-wide day of action, but the demonstration was canceled because PEGIDA is apparently too German for Polish nationalists.
Germany has 770,000 unprocessed asylum applications. How can the stack be reduced? The responsible authorities have devised an ambitious plan to ensure that everything goes faster, DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz writes.
Picasso was a man of many talents, who always returned to the same place whenever his life took a new direction: the window. A new exhibition in Hamburg examines the artist's intimate relationship with this theme.