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Framing the Bulgarian Year of Protest

This develops upon reflections in Suman’s earlier posting, “‘Financial’ or ‘Economic’ Crisis? Note on Protests in Bulgaria” (November 2014), on the “curious paradox” examined there -- but with a slightly different inflection.

In discussing the protests in Bulgaria throughout 2013, there is another dissociation shaping up along the lines of “which protest” is being “talked about” and/or “where the beginning of 2013 protests is”. In taking stock of the overall picture of “Bulgarian protests” Suman has put (rightly so, in my view) the “beginnings” in winter (January/February) 2013 and with a view to an implied continuum: GERB government, electricity bills, etc. followed by a resignation, interim government, elections, forming of a new government (in coalition between socialists and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms), subsequent controversial appointment, etc. Granted the “temperature” of social upheaval was not “the same” throughout the January-December period of 2013, just as the weather wasn’t, several things catch one’s attention with regard to how 2013 as a “year of protest” for Bulgaria is being discussed and framed and performed.

There seem to be several mutually supportive lines:

  • Focalizing the summer (June and onwards) of 2013 at the expense of the earlier winter (January/February) 2013: quantitatively, in terms of the former featuring more significantly than the latter in commentaries ever since (irrespective of specific context, whether media, academic, national, international, etc); and qualitatively, in that the former has “informed” art and the latter hasn’t, for example.
  • Inserting sharp discontinuity between them (in terms of who are active, against what they were directed, etc.), as if they are unrelated.
  • Decisively placing the protests, in the overall record of “a year of protest”, as really beginning with the appointment of Delyan Peeveski as President of National Security in June 2013, and not before that.

These lines of framing and performance were constructed within the year of protest, and have persisted since. Even the summer (June 2013) publicized quibble, also part of the public record, about “who (exactly) drew the line between February and June”, falls within this dynamic. To confirm this, one simply needs to revisit such news commentaries as: Gospodinov’s “The protesting man is beautiful”, Dnevnik, 18 June 2013; Karabashliev’s “The energy of protests may be the beginning of something way cooler”, Facebook status, reprinted in Dnevnik, 20 June 2013; Medarov and Vaisova’s “About the protest of the ugly ones”, Dnevnik, 19 June 2013; Gyulestin’s “The protest of a dirty Turkish woman”, Dnevnik, 19 June 2013; Dareva’s “The revolt of the well-fed”, Duma, 24 June 2013 -- among a number of others published at the time. All these are usefully and revealingly collected in a hard-cover volume presented as “the anthology of protest”: Daniel Smilov and Leah Vaisova eds. #The Protest: Analyses and Positions in the Bulgarian Press, Summer 2013. Sofia: Iztok/Zapad & HSSF, 2013. This effectively archives and sets the record of the media discourse of summer 2013. Note the dearth of publications from winter (January/February) 2013 in this set. This volume is a complex artifact, and I intend to analyze it further when the opportunity presents itself.

But back to the issue at hand: even at the sketchy level signposted above, it is evident that there’s an effort afoot to capitalize on summer 2013 as definitively The moment of impetus for protests in Bulgaria (as a whole). That effort involves asserting the virtuousness of civil society through some notable emphases and silences: by not talking about continuity or links, and by foregrounding differences, between earlier and later protests in 2013; by not recognizing faces (thus delegitimizing them?) in the protests of January/February 2013; by not talking of electricity bills but of “higher moral concerns”; by not remembering the names of those who committed public suicides; by (very simply) not taking pictures, posting them in the social media and (re)framing them as exhibitions afterwards, etc.

Milena Katsarska, March 2015