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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.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bulgarian Hopes

I was ashamed to find myself responding cynically at the weekend to Bulgarian friends who had expressed surprise at my lack of recent comment on the continuing Bulgarian protests and standoff. They’ve lasted a year - and had the President suggesting last week making voting compulsory.  
“No protest movement ever achieves anything” I announced in worldly tones.
“Any momentary progress is immediately clawed back – or numerous distracting stratagems (like war) brought into play” I might have added.
Shame on me! To forget and thus to denigrate the power of the working class efforts of the 20th century - or those of present-day Chinese – or of the social movements of the last quarter of the 20th century in Latin America (against fascist murderers and corporate America) – let alone the mass protests in Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany which led to the breaching of the Wall; and the “hopes of spring” in North Africa in recent years.

Of course it always seems to be a question of one step forward – and three back. But since when did we expect life to be easy?
The Feudal class is always with us – rubbing our noses in it……..looking greedily for opportunities for exploitation. Here we are, 25 years after the Fall of the Wall – and any serious retrospective would have to make it a disastrous call. People’s lives have been seriously blighted – and moral corruption seeps through everyone’s veins. Little wonder that more than half of the population in all the countries of central and Eastern Europe regrets what was let go…..

Gene Sharp has been one of the most quoted champions of the change process (after, that is, people like Gandhi; Martin Luther King; and Saul Alinsky
The American Sharp has come late to stardom - see the latest version of his From Dictatorship to Democracy  His work has clearly been useful to the activists of the various Occupy movements globally.

But can we really separate process from content?  A lot of foreign cash has actually gone into supporting these “revolutions” and the hand of corporate power is clearly evident in the agenda of privatising public resources which is now being pushed by the European Commission as part of a wider and scandalous WTO effort
The Violence of Non-violence is an article which suggests that this is an inevitable consequence of Sharp-like emphasis on process. And this is certainly borne out by my own experience 20 years ago in Romania when I took part in several weekend schools for young politicians. The young Americans leading these courses put all the emphasis on developing electoral skills, on marketing – and absolutely none on policy issues.

The Bulgarian protests will be a year old next week. They started over anger at the hiking of electricity prices and led quickly to the collapse of the Government but were fuelled by disgust over the behaviour of the political class as a whole. In the past few months, students and academic staff seemed to take a more prominent role in these protests and I don’t know how much the thinking has changed in the past year. A year ago I wrote that -
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.
The idea of a Constituent Assembly smacked to me of the French Revolution but comes, Iunderstand, 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 have any trust in the outcome.
Ivan Daraktchiev is the brains behind the Zaedno website (it means "Together" in Bulgarian) which gives one angle on the issues from someone who is Bulgarian but has spent most of his recent life in Belgium. He has just uploaded a key paper - The Revolution within Democracy - onto the English part of the Zaedno website and a comprehensive statement of the requirements of a radically different type of constitutional settlement can be found on page 6. To many it will seem utopian - and I hope to do it justice in a future post.

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