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The Shifting Meaning of anti-Communism and the 2013 Protests in Bulgaria

by Georgi Medarov

Тhousands are marching in Sofia for weeks, demanding resignation of the recently elected government - a coalition between the social democrats (BSP), the far right (ATAKA) and a liberal minority-rights party(DPS). Discontent started over the appointment of a media mogul as a head of the state security agency. His “media empire” is an exaggeration, most corporate media are highly supportive of the previous government and of the current protests. Big business and liberal activists insist on the “qualitative difference” with the winter social protests, that brought down the right wing government of GERB.

GERB prided itself for exemplary fiscal stability, yet it collapsed in the midst of riots. Tens of thousands marched for weeks in every city against high utility prices: in an outcry of despair, 7 people burnt themselves to death in protest. Liberal activists, explicitly supported by big business, asserted cynically that the poor protested in February, while now the “middle classes”, marches not for welfare, but for “values” against “the oligarchy”, trying to revive 1990s reactionary anti-communism in the imaginary figure of the “unproductive communist oligarch”, pulling the strings from behind. A mainstream “liberal” think tank published a pseudo class “analysis”, claiming there is an alliance between the oligarchy and the poor. The “unproductive” oligarchy, they claim, provides welfare, and the poor - votes, and now the “productive bourgeoisie” (with such wording) is rising in resistance. This “interpretation” translated into international right-wing media. The Economist wrote: previous unrest “featured the poor protesting about utility bills or the minimum wage”, but now it is the “members of the young educated middle class who use Facebook”.

What liberals prefer to miss is anti-communism has new meaning. It marks the displacement of the disillusionment of liberal capitalism, giving an easy explanation why most people live in such a misery, instead of the promised EU prosperity. Anti-communism shifts discontent away from capitalism and projects it onto its supposed “corrupt” form, scapegoating minorities and an imagined shadow elite. Liberal activists try to find “deeper meaning”, not only in “red scum” (a slogan from the 1990s conservative revolution), but also in the blatant homophobia, misogyny and racism of the current protests, with “Turk”, “gay” and “whore” being common accusations. Interestingly, this is precisely the ideology GERB used to gain legitimacy between 2009 and 2013, reviving 1990s anti-communism, along with liberal anti-corruption rhetorics and anti-Turkish racism. They’ve also made some gestures to accommodate the widespread socialist nostalgia, but, once again, displacing nostalgia for loss of social rights with desire for the authoritarian racism of state socialism.

Asserting the “different class content” was used by BSP, who claimed this is “class struggle” against their “progressive” policies. Тhis is not the case, as BSP is as neoliberal as the liberal right. They introduced flat tax in 2007, along with various anti-labour reforms, and now they already cut the taxes further, and showed they have no intention in reintroducing progressive taxation.

Indeed there are key differences, there was no anti-communism and racism (there was a strong naive civic nationalism, but not racism) before. The protests were not only in Sofia and thousands of Roma joined too. Another difference is now corporate media and big business are trying to see the protests’ potential for constructing a party of the New Right. The mobilizations, however, are remarkably similar: much of same people protesting, sharing similar core demands. Despite different direct causes, both shifted to generalized discontent with political representation. Both proved unable to break out of the post-political ideology, imposed for over 15 years, and ended up in calling for more of the same: post-political technocracy against “corruption”, preventing realization of imagined European“normality”. The Economist wrote: “Bulgaria’s best hope is a technocratic government” to fight “corruption”, yet precisely technocracy lies at the roots of the crisis.

Between 1994 and 1997 BSP tried to engineer a transition to neoliberalism with a “human face”. It ended up in a dramatic failure: banking crisis, hyperinflation and riots. An anti-communist coalition that came to power in 1997 promised universal prosperity in exchange for “short term” austerity and mass privatization, that would “cleanse the communist remnants”, destroying welfare, causing mass unemployment and forcing hundreds of thousands of workers to flee to Greece, Italy and Spain. The anti-communist coalition collapsed in 2001, but since then all parties promised more “real” technocratic hope for “real” market economy, that never brought the promised prosperity, but only misery.

This hopelessness of calling for more of the same is characteristic of the current post-ideological situation: one can change politicians, but not politics. Dramatic lack of imagination is not the people’s fault, but the failure of the left to produce an alternative. Yet, it is only the (nonexistent) radical left that may heal the wound of postpolitics and break the downward spiral of mutually reinforcing conservatism and austerity.

* Georgi Medarov is a PhD student of Sociology at the University of Sofia, member of the political education group called New Left Perspectives. The article was written for the blogsite enthemata.wordpress.com

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