While many analysts believe the worse of the EU’s financial crisis is over, however as protests rock have rocked Bulgaria and forced the government to resign one might wonder if the worst road lies ahead. Bulgaria is generally considered the poorest member of the European Union and while the country demonstrated wiser financial sense that its Southern European counterparts its finances have been in poor shape since the 2009 financial crisis.
Following the return of the exiled Tsar Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who as a child was exiled from Bulgaria in the 1940′s, Bulgaria has followed a strong Western market economy model and has enjoyed economic success and political stability in recent years. In 2009 the center-right party, GERB, came into power promising to help position the nation against the spreading financial crisis. For better or worse, a major part of GERB’s response was to install heavy austerity packages that have cut deeply into social support programs and government spending in general.
With approximately 20 percent of the population living in poverty and unemployment at nearly 10 percent many people have come to depend on social support. As programs were cut tensions began to rise and starting two weeks ago protesters started to take to the streets demanding reform. In response police took to the streets and reportedly began to violently clash with the protesters. Facing wide spread protests the GERB party has decided to step down and call for elections rather then risking more blood and turmoil.
Does the collapse of the Bulgarian government point to an isolated incident or could it be signs of things to come? So far most European governments have been able to weather the protesters and push back created by austerity measures. Portugal and Greece have both been slammed by massive protests often being called and directed by powerful and well-organized unions. Still, while many people have been dissatisfied with the government most people in Europe seem to still support both the European Union and the Eurozone.
With the success of protesters in Bulgaria, however, protesters may seen a renewed opportunity to show their force and push for change. While previous protests may have been conducted more as a show of dissatisfaction and a feeling of hopelessness, future protesters may see the possibility of concrete change.
For example, the Arab Spring quickly engulfed much of the Middle East following the success of protesters in Tunisia. Seeing the success of protesters in one country made people across numerous other countries realize and believe that with enough political will power they could force change. The protests in Tunisia were not the first protests to ever be conducted in the Middle East, but they were among the most successful and this created a sense of belief and hope for protesters across the region.
Egypt would quickly fall to largely peaceful protesters and Democracy would be restored to the nation (even if the results were not what Western observers were hoping for). Protests movements in Libya and Syria would quickly develop into full scale civil wars and across numerous other countries protesters took to the streets demanding and often receiving concessions.
Now protesters in Europe may come to a similar conclusion. While many European leaders and analysts have been optimistic that the worse has passed in the European Union they fail to take into account that the most stringent austerity measures have yet to be fully implemented. Italy, Greece, and other nations have been searching desperately for ways to skirt requirements, which public spending remains high in France, Spain, and other countries.
As austerity measures are implemented tensions will rise and while in the past protesters may have questioned whether or not they could actually achieve toppling a European government or forcing concessions, Bulgaria now offers proof that not even European governments are immune to protests. If the European economy does not stage a turn around soon the risk of protests growing more forceful will only increase.