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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bulgarian demonstrations move to constitutional revolution

“A plague on the political classes” – that’s what people have been shouting in the streets and squares all week in both Italy and Bulgaria. Here in Sofia a helicopter has been circling the skies for several hours as the demonstrations have moved into a new phase – putting pressure on the President to try to ensure that the outcomes of decisions he takes in this political vacuum offer the long-suffering Bulgarian people s bit more confidence.
The high electricity charges which sparked the events which led to the fall of the Bulgarian government last Tuesday are seen as a reflection of the payoffs politicians receive from businessmen who now control the privatised facilities. The demonstration leaders met with the President in the morning and he made supportive noises. An interesting article sketches what is going on
Demonstrators have been persistently rejecting attempts of opposition parties, including the BSP and the ultra-nationalists VMRO and "Ataka", to take advantage of the protests. There have been scuffles with those who tried to raise partisan politics during demonstrations, and people even chanted "No parties!"
The goal of these protests is not to topple one political party to have another take power and bring the country to another crisis, nor is it to demand just normal prices of electricity.
On the economic side, the demands are: scrapping of contracts with the electricity companies and nationalising them; putting those who signed them on trial; revision of electricity bills with citizen participation; declassification of the contracts for all privatisation deals in the last 24 years; revision of all concession contracts for the past 24 years; and ceasing privatisation processes.
 On the political side, demands have gone even further to seek an overhaul of the political system in Bulgaria. They have made clear that the system has to be changed in such a way that when the next party comes to power, it can no longer behave the way all governments in Bulgaria have for the past 24 years. There have to be checks on political power and mechanisms to prevent collusion between politicians, private economic interests and organised crime.
Protesters are currently calling for a Constituent Assembly to be formed to change the constitution and develop mechanisms of direct involvement of citizens in government matters. There have been proposals of specific measures to be taken such as: cutting the number of members of parliament to 240; stripping them of immunity; establishing procedures for early dismissal; establishing 50 percent citizens' controlling quota in state institutions.
In short, a new system has to be established in which elected officials do what they are elected to do, and citizens are close enough to them to make sure they do it.
This seems a much less partisan approach than that which we saw this time last year in the Romanian demonstrations. The idea of a Constituent Assembly smacked to me of the French Revolution (hence the cartoon) but comes, I understand, more from the Icelandic aftermath to its financial crash and utter loss of faith of the Icelandic people in its system of government. A Constitutional Council put a new constitution to a referendum at the end of the year - but it does not contain the radical proposals which Icelandic citizen groups suggested
The Bulgarian proposals seems to draw on the work of the Icelandic citizen associations but Bulgarians should be aware of the limitations of the Icelandic process - and of the basic fact that constitutional debate and new settlements cannot be rushed if the people are to trust the outcome.
On Friday the leaders of the 3 parliamentary parties indicated they would refuse to form an interim government - which would force the President to dissolve parliament in about 2 weeks  One scenario is that a non-politician like Andrey Slabakov (leader of a citizen association and son of a famous actor) forms a citizen party to contest the new elections - as has happened in Italy (see below). He apparently, however, has strong connections with the existing power structure and could well disappoint.

In Italy Much scorn has been levelled against the populist comedian, Beppe Grillo, who apparently looks set to capture almost 20% of the vote in the Italian elections now underway. This article looks more sympathetically at the sort of candidates who have been attracted to fight under his banner. One of the 200 or so discussants to the article posed three challenging questions -
I accept everything positive about the Grillo phenomenon: the need to scare the PD into action, the expression of positive anger. But I have three concerns, about which a Grillo supporter could perhaps reassure me:
1. new parties based on the charisma of an individual and with weak party structures are prone to infiltration. M5S (the Grillo party) has interesting policies and I am sure they are sincere. Leoluca Orlando's La Rete, 20 years ago, was a genuine grassroots anti-mafia party which, it is said, was later infiltrated by the mafia. How can M5S avoid this?
2. if you are angry with corruption and mafia, why trust Grillo more than Rivoluzione Civile, whose leadership has a real track record of fighting crime and the mafia?
3. are M5S supporters (and indeed Rivoluzione Civile or Monti supporters) genuinely indifferent between Berlusconi and Bersani (the PD leader)? If you think B and B are equally bad, then it makes sense to vote for neither. But the danger of Berlusconi winning 55% of the seats in Parliament with 30% vote, while PD+SEL get 29%, and maybe Grillo gets 25% fills me with fear. 25% would be a good result for M5S but would its supporters be really happy if this led to Berlusconi becoming President of the Republic and Alfano as Prime Minister?

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