Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Symbols and Images of "Evil" in Student Protests in Sofia, 1997

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Symbols and Images of "Evil" in Student Protests in Sofia, 1997

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article analyzes Bulgarian student protests in 1990 and 1997 in their political, sociological, and cultural dimensions. Beginning with an overview of the Bulgarian political situation in the 1990s, the article goes on to consider student protests as cultural expressions of a semi-closed community. The focus is primarily on the cultural and ideological aspects of the protests, and seeks to illustrate the peculiar forms of cultural synthesis that such protests represent.

Political protests are more than interesting forms of contemporary culture, showing how new communities are created, how they express themselves in cultural forms, and what their real impact on the social reality might be. Bearing in mind the fact that these are syncretic forms, I present them in their social, ideological, political, and cultural dimensions. Furthermore, having participated in the protests, I present them from the viewpoint of the "insider."

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   The crisis marched in front, dressed in a gown reaching down to the
   ground, its hair loose, and side by side with it, stepping like a
   cat, in a light dance-like manner there moved the spectre of
   communism. (1)

Setting the Stage: Political Protests and Political Situation in Bulgaria in 1990 and 1997

Communism in Bulgaria collapsed in 1989. However, the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP), aspiring to stay in power, made some cosmetic changes to try and secure its political position. As part of these changes, the BCP changed its name and became the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), thereby asserting that they no longer were communists. They argued that the communist period of the party had lasted a very short 45 years, and had ended, while the whole history of the Socialist Party had lasted for more than 100 years. Renaming the party was an important move in an attempt to seek legitimacy within the new political context and, if possible, to retain power. Along with the new name, the leaders of the BSP also tried to make some changes in the party's ideological and economic platforms, but because of mass political protests organized against them, these could not be realized.

In 1990, because of these protests, a coalition of opposition parties called the UDF (Union of Democratic Forces) temporarily gained political control. Due to a deepening economic crisis, however, the BSP was able to regain control shortly thereafter, maintaining it until 1996. In the fall of 1996 the economic situation in the country became critical. Inflation increased by the hour, and there was a shortage of basic goods. The bank system collapsed in November as a result of the many unsecured credits that had been extended over the previous years, and at the same time the political crisis deepened. On December 21, 1996, the socialist government of Jan Videnow resigned, and on January 8, 1997, Nikolay Dobrev, the next socialist leader, was authorized by President Petar Stoyanov to form a government. New political protests sparked by President Stoyanov's unwelcome and unpopular authorization began in early January 1997, but they were transformed into a massive national strike after January 10, when the Bulgarian Parliament building was attacked. These protests lasted for 30 days, and the BSP was forced to hand over the government. On February 4, 1997, Dobrev returned the authorization of the socialist party to President Stoyanov, and new elections were scheduled ahead of term. Since then, the Bulgarian government has been formed by representatives of the UDF.

In short, the 1990 and 1997 protests were successful in terms of achieving their political goal of removing the former communists (now socialists) from the Bulgarian government. Students were key to the success of both protests. As a result, students now believe in themselves and know, for future purposes, that they can have a real impact on political decisions.

I was a participant in both protest movements as protester and observer. …

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