The demonstrations have been going on for more than 6 months in Bulgaria now. Every day the crowd of anger gathers in front of the parliament building, calling for the Government to resign on grounds of favoring domestic oligarchs, and its incompetence and greed. Bulgaria is a EU member state since 2007, yet a large portion of society feels the country has no future. The well educated and motivated have already left or are thinking of leaving the country. Few of them will return.
A similar sentiment is currently felt on the streets of Kiev. Ukraine, a country severely split in its aspiration for EU membership. Unable to break free and improve the socio-economic situation at home, closer relations with the EU (i.e. visa-free travel) will act as an escape rout to normality for millions of young Ukrainians.
But as the political collapse in Bulgaria clearly illustrates, membership in the EU is no fix-all pill of medicine, and no guarantee for upholding even the most sacred principles of democracy. EU membership does not automatically mean that transparency in public procurement will be upheld, that the most qualified candidate will get the job in public administration, that official racketeering and corruptive practices will decline. EU membership does not guarantee economic growth and prosperity, social equality and social inclusion for the population.
Rather, EU membership offers opportunities to achieve all of the above, but its up to the local political elite and the population to implement and enforce it all. This is just not happening, and that’s one reason why people in Bulgaria are back in the streets demonstrating. On a more personal level, the young and old are on the streets voicing their despair, because of a million personal reasons, because they are tired of:
- Political parties being driven by corrupt practices and rent-seeking, rather than policies (who is to the left, who is to the right? – nobody knows, we are in it for the power, and to get rich!);
- Bad (some even criminal) people paying to political parties for a seat in parliament;
- Paying to get operated, to get promoted, to get a job, to get the necessary documents through an inflated public administration and even paying the football coach to get your kid to play…the list goes on and on…
In the Balkans, and in many other regions of the world with Banana-Republic tendencies and characteristics, the existing political elite is the eternal enemy of the middle-class, and vice versa. It’s a fight with long historical roots, and one that is still at hand for this generation to win. But it’s a zero-sum game, and the odds are against the middle-class to win.
As the backbone of all prosperous states we find a healthy and content middle-class made up averages and free of extremes. The middle-class stands for and seeks transparency, democracy, equal opportunities and equality under the law, where rules apply to everybody no matter wealth and political clout. The middle-class represents normality and sense of predictability for the future. This is what the people in Sofia and Kiev is striving for these days. They don’t expect a revolution, just a peace of mind and a chance to lead a better life.
But, this is not what most political elites want. They may say they do, but their actions speak differently. They prefer secret back-room dealings and decision-making that profit the few. For them the democratic process is a nuisance and undesired risk moment. They promote control and obedience, not competition and freethinking. The role of the media is propaganda, not to discuss policy and God forbid to apply investigative journalism. The political elite supports a society based on favoritism, where the state is seen as a cow for them to milk at will. The rights of the citizens and the hope for future generations are constantly offended. No wonder the frustration is running high among ordinary people.
There are four kind of people left behind in these ‘failing societies’. Those too old to leave the country, those to ignorant to care, those thinking of leaving and the few that reap the benefits of a state not delivering on its obligations to its citizens.
But as the representatives of the middle-class, a class that has never existed, and on this path will never exist in these countries, when they all leave, then the small political elite has won! Leaving behind the old, poor and ignorant, we have capitulated as it was done so many times before in history, and we have given the political elite the ideal group of easily manipulated voters to convince come the next election!