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