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Social Media is Driving Massive Anti-Government Protests in Bulgaria

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, July 24 2013

June's peaceful protests in Bulgaria (Flickr/Bmw Spirit)

After 40 days of peaceful anti-corruption protests, violence erupted late Tuesday night outside the Bulgarian parliament after demonstrators built blockades and trapped more than 100 people inside the building. Riot police forced their way past the protesters and the blockade on Wednesday to free the politicians and journalists who had been trapped inside the parliament building for more than eight hours. Some Bulgarian journalists credit the Internet and social media for inspiring and spreading the #DANSwithme protests, as they are known on Twitter.

The DANS in #DANSwithme is an acronym for Bulgaria's security services, and a play on words that hints at the lighter side of the demonstrations, at least at first. The violence is a drastic change from the early days of the protests, widely documented on social media as events attended by all ages and species (canines welcome).

One Bulgarian blogger posted on her Tumblr side-by-side photos of the protests on day four and on day 40, asking, “How did that happen? The protests in Bulgaria were peaceful for a long time, but the government doesn’t pay attention to anything the people say. And on the 40th day of the protests, the police covered the democracy in blood!”

Bloggers in general are perceived to be leading the charge. Citizen journalist Yvo Bojkov tweeted a photograph on Tuesday captioned “Bloggers on the front line of the blocked bulgarian parliament #DANSwithme 40.”

In an article titled “Who are the Bulgarian protesters?”, Bulgarian journalist Maria Spirova observes that the protesters “belong to the generation which, for the first time in Bulgarian modern history, could read world news, travel widely and compare.” This access to knowledge, through the Internet, led to the “devastating” realization that their country is floundering behind the rest of Europe. (Bulgaria is the poorest member of the European Union and has the lowest average per-capita income in the EU.)

Maxim Behar, the author of a recent book about Bulgarian youths called “Generation F,” explained to the Financial Times that it is Generation F's connectedness, the result of extensive high-speed broadband networks in Bulgaria, that led to the protests.

“It is now on the Sofia streets, it is online almost 24 hours a day and for sure it is the driving force of the protests in Bulgaria,” Behar told the Financial Times.

The FT reported that #DANSwithme started on Twitter but then spread to Facebook, which 2.5 million Bulgarians use every day.The population of Bulgaria is about 7.4 million.

The editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian weekly Kultura, Toni Nikolov, ties the events in Bulgaria to the global scene, giving social media an enormous amount of credit:

Looking closely, one sees that Prime Minister Plamen Orecharski [close to the Socialist Party, in power since May 29, 2013] conducts himself like a monarch, wanting to address the nation as a sovereign leader, convinced that society will accept in silence all manner of manipulations and actions. What neither the Socialist Party nor its allies can understand is that, with globalisation [sic] and the birth of the information society, the political scene has changed.

This is not the case only in Bulgaria, but in the entire world, even in Turkey and Egypt. Today, ministers and MPs are not so much figures of authority, but are rather mass consumer goods: society expects them to provide constant explanations, otherwise they are swept from the political scene.

This absurdity occurs while power faces a new type of test, that of online social media, where a new type of democratic transparency is developing. People around the world are no longer content to simply vote every four years and let someone else decide their fate between ballots. A new kind of citizenship is appearing. It has the power to sweep away the harmful relapses of any government.

Social media has been given a lot of credit for its role in other revolutions, including the Arab Spring and the recent protests in Brazil, but often that credit has been awarded by outside observers. In the case of the Egyptian revolution, for example, Egyptian activists denied that social media spurred the revolution, instead crediting on the ground organizing.

In some countries, perhaps, social media has been getting more attention than it's due for its disruptive power, but everyone in Bulgaria seems to agree it's playing a significant part, and so far they're absolutely thrilled.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.