Stu­dents turn to sit-in, de­mand end to gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY VE­SELIN TOSHKOV

SOFIA, BUL­GARIA | Ivaylo Dinev be­lieves the time has come to change his world. To do so, he has cho­sen a tac­tic straight from the 1960s — the sit-in.

The 24-year-old an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dent is the in­for­mal leader of a group that has oc­cu­pied Sofia Univer­sity’s main build­ing since the end of Oc­to­ber in hopes of forc­ing Bul­garia’s So­cial­is­tled gov­ern­ment to re­sign.

“We want mo­ral­ity in pol­i­tics. We want our politi­cians to work for the peo­ple and not for the Mafia,” Mr. Dinev said. “That is the main rea­son we want the gov­ern­ment to re­sign.”

Bul­garia has strug­gled for decades with cor­rup­tion. In the 28-na­tion Euro­pean Union, it lags only be­hind Greece on Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s cor­rup­tion per­cep­tion in­dex. Court mag­is­trates have ac­cepted bribes to end some cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and not a sin­gle high-pro­file per­son has been sent to jail.

The cen­tury- old oc­cu­pied build­ing is in the very center of Sofia, the cap­i­tal of Bul­garia, just 200 yards from par­lia­ment. Be­hind en­trances locked with iron chains and makeshift se­cu­rity check­points, a few hun­dred young men and women have bar­ri­caded them­selves in what they call the “free ter­ri­tory of the stu­dents.”

Un­der a huge sign “1968” — the year that Czech stu­dents chal­lenged their coun­try’s com­mu­nist regime — a ban­ner reads: “Now it is our time.”

“As a grow­ing par­al­lel power, we are send­ing from our free ter­ri­tory crit­i­cal mes­sages to all po­lit­i­cal par­ties about the fu­ture of the coun­try,” Mr. Dinev said.

The Sofia Univer­sity oc­cu­pa­tion has spawned other univer­sity sit-ins, en­er­giz­ing a 5-month-old move­ment against the gov­ern­ment over al­le­ga­tions that its lead­ers have ties to shady busi­ness­men. Pub­lic opin­ion polls show about twothirds of Bul­garia’s 7.3 mil­lion peo­ple sup­port the pro­test­ers.

Bul­garia is a mem­ber of the EU, but its peo­ple have the bloc’s low­est in­comes — an av­er­age monthly wage of just $537 and an av­er­age pen­sion of just $202. Youth un­em­ploy­ment is at 28.7 per­cent. Grow­ing eco­nomic pains and wide­spread poverty have cre­ated deep di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety.

The 50 stu­dents who first oc­cu­pied Sofia Univer­sity say they will stay un­til the gov­ern­ment steps down, Mr. Dinev said, adding that their num­bers have swelled to 500.

Last Tues­day, po­lice clashed with protest­ing stu­dents who tried to make a hu­man chain around par­lia­ment in an at­tempt to block­ade law­mak­ers in­side.

The So­cial­ist-backed gov­ern­ment took of­fice af­ter an early elec­tion in May, fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of the pre­vi­ous Cab­i­net amid anti-aus­ter­ity protests.

But it was the June 14 ap­point­ment of me­dia mogul Delyan Peevski as head of the na­tional se­cu­rity agency that sparked pub­lic anger and new street protests.

The ap­point­ment was im­me­di­ately re­voked, but to demon­stra­tors, it was a clear sign of cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism by busi­ness­men and politi­cians they be­lieve run the coun­try be­hind the gov­ern­ment.

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