By Dr. Boris Popivanov
"This is not a protest but a process". "We don't want replacements, we want change!" "The people don't negotiate". "No to the monopolies". "Europe, are you asleep?" "Unity!"
There were only a few of the selfmade slogans which the protesters throughout Bulgaria held aloft on the streets and squares of dozens of cities during the Bulgarian, "February Revolution". High winter electricity bills and discontent with the monopolies were the sparks which lit the power keg of growing mass public disagreement with the work of the politicians, the condition of the state, the economic crisis and disorientated value systems. Led by a variety of motives, the protests brought together tens of thousands of people who do not accept Bulgaria as they see it and in which they are living today.
What made a particularly strong impression and what made the 2013 processes different from all others up to now was the significant presence of young people. For many years, academics and analysts have discussed the growing distance of young people from public and political matters.
Disappointment with politics, unfulfilled promises, sordid and hypocritical actions, concealed dependencies and non-transparent interests - this is the most popular explanation. In fact there is a deeper explanation - the very logic
THE YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE
PROTESTS - "THIS IS NOT A
PROTEST, BUT A PROCESS"
of the Bulgarian transition from communism to democracy rejected any sort of collective, joint action. Liberal winds brought a misunderstood sort of individualism based on the old Bulgarian saying of "All for themselves, God for all". The huge majority of public organisations disappeared, but no new ones were established to replace them. Young people grew into a society where the main principle of the transition was: "Everyone makes do for themselves". And like everyone else in Bulgarian society, they withdrew from all the processes taking place around them (and related to them!) Paradoxically, in Europe the young people are standard bearers of what is new, of change, while in Bulgaria they are the standards bearers of indifference. In Europe the young people are radical, while in Bulgaria it is the older generation who are more radical. In Europe the left are more usually left-wing, in Bulgaria they are either right-wing or describe themselves as nothing at all. These discrepancies are indicative of the growing crisis of value systems. Bulgaria became a full-member of the European Union in 2007. During the same year a national survey showed that of all the values defended by the European Union the Bulgarian people place most value upon solidarity: 12%. Thus the mass participation of young people in the 2013 protests gave rise to hopes for a seachange, the return of the "new young" into the centre of events. Rehabilitation of recently neglected subjects in the public and media debates is the short cut to this. Two of them deserve to be mentioned. One of these is the national perspective on the future of the national in its
demographic, social and cultural aspects, outside the question of democracy and its value, which until recently had been the leading question. The other is social solidarity. The calls for "Unity!" which can be heard not only on "Eagles' Bridge" square, but throughout the country, are something new. Up to now they have always been calls for unity of the party electorate. Now, however, they express the need for social solidarity. Recently it had been associated with the socialist past and as such rejected along with communism itself. However, unity now has come to the forefront as a problem central to the apathy and self-isolation of recent years. A new form of sociality has appeared on the stage. It is not a legacy of socialism and is not historically connected with the past, but rather a path towards the future (?).
The majority of the leaders of the protest, those who made the most forthright demands, were young people between 25 and 35 years of age. We still have not had the chance to persuade ourselves of their potential or their leadership skills. The youth of Bulgaria are still at the crossroads. The protests could be either a beginning or a temporary episode. There is still another set of questions - from state youth policy and the encouragement of employment by means of educational development and training, as well as the day-to-day themes which concern the young people - which will show whether they have the initiative, self-confidence and whether they realise that a good future can be a common future. The process has not developed completely in Western Europe. Bulgaria for the moment has only taken the first step.