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After failed attempts to form a government, new elections will take place on July 11. Young Bulgarians intend to cast their ballots for a new generation of politicians who promise to fight corruption and pollution.
"We urgently need more digitalization, legal reforms and a pension increase," explains Daniel Yanev, a 26-year-old Bulgarian living in Berlin. In the summer of 2020, he actively took part in protests against the then-government in his homeland. " I simply find it impossible to accept that Bulgaria cannot fulfil its economic potential and that, as a result, people's standard of living is still way below the EU average. And all that is down to the ubiquitous corruption and the way in which public money is wasted in Bulgaria," Yanev tells DW.
On July 11, Bulgarians will be called to the ballot box for the second time this year, after attempts to form a government after the April 4 election failed. Young people who took to the streets last year are once more determined to cast their votes in order to finally precipitate change in the corruption-ridden Balkan country — even if that means they will have to interrupt their summer holidays to do so.
Together with friends, Daniel Yanev set up a fact-checking platform where its name translates to "Are you lying?" During the election campaign, the founders research whether politicians spread falsehoods or manipulative statements and publish their findings online. "We give special attention to checking statements relating to areas of economy and health," Daniel says. "Incorrect information on issues such as these are particularly dangerous."
Although Daniel has already decided which party will receive his support on election day, he is at a loss — because, even members of "his" party do not tell the truth sometimes. "Working on the 'Are you lying' platform has taught me to think critically."
"Corruption is the main scourge in our country," agrees Boris Bonev. In 2015, he joined other young activists in founding "Save Sofia," a NGO watchdog which monitors and criticizes the policies of the Bulgarian capital's mayor, Yordanka Fandakova, and the city's administration.
Bonev, who studied business as well as innovation and technology management in Paris, and the "Save Sofia" platform constantly submit proposals as to how Sofia can become a more modern, more innovative and "greener" city. In 2019, the now 33-year-old ran for mayor on an independent ticket and received more than 10% of the vote.
According to Bonev, the opposition's victories in the Hungarian capital Budapest and the Turkish megacity Istanbul show that dismantling a corrupt system of the kind that was established in the last couple of years in Bulgaria by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, has to start in the big cities. "The struggle for Bulgaria begins in Sofia," Bonev says with conviction.
According to Transparency International's most recent corruption index, 90% of Bulgarians think that corruption at a government level is problematic. "People are tired of living in Europe's most squalid and most chaotic cities, under a government guided by corruption, instead of level-headed decisions," Bonev says.
Bonev's "Save Sofia" NGO has declared its support for nine of the candidates fielded by the "Democratic Bulgaria" (DB) alliance. DB is an amalgamation of parties which also includes the "Green Movement." DB gaining seats in parliament in the wake of the April 2020 elections meant that Bulgaria had Green MPs for the first time since the 1990s. Of the nine DB candidates endorsed by "Save Sofia," five are representatives of the Bulgarian Greens.
"Our organization is part of the so-called green wave in Europe," Bonev says. He is convinced that Bulgaria and the capital, Sofia, in particular urgently need green solutions. "The fight against air pollution, which each year claims hundreds of lives in Sofia, is one of our main priorities. The other important goal is reducing car traffic. This can only work if alternatives are provided."
Twenty-six-year-old activist Daniel Yanev is looking for alternatives as well. He believes that Bulgaria needs a new generation of politicians — modern, young and independent: "At the election on July 11, I will support candidates who are experts and who do not have a dubious past." According to Yanev, such people are not just needed for Bulgarian politics, but also for the economy of the EU member state.