Jana: An anarchist and blogger from Bulgaria
Initially the mass media demonised the Greek anarchists and tried to present them as terrorists and so on. Once it was clear that the revolt went beyond anarchists the mass media attempted to understand what was happening. Most stories were absurd - referring to ancient Greece or the "hotness of the southern blood." There were some liberal understandings - the “economic crisis" argument and a struggle against corruption.
Many people here in Bulgaria were sympathetic to what they understood as a greater level of concern for social issues in Greek society. I do not think those people were sympathetic because of what had been shown in the media, which as I said was often contradictory, incomplete, and very simplistic. Neither was it for any reasons people developed themselves, separate from the media interpretations. I think there was much sympathy because people would project their own beliefs, ideas, and anger onto what was going on. People saw Greece as a rebellion against the injustices they perceived themselves. For example, the liberals saw it as a rebellion against corruption, the nationalists/patriots saw that the Greeks cared for the children. Many people in Bulgaria are also angry at the isolation, alienation, and ultra-individualism of this society; even though they would express it in different language, depending on their politics. I think people were happy that someone was rebelling and jealous and self-deprecating that it doesn’t happen here. This kind of self-hate is common here: "In foreign countries it is always better."
In order to organise solidarity we were translating and trying to spread information on the Internet. We translated everything from sites like the Voices from Occupied London blog (1). Many people we didn't know before were very interested and the website hits went up dramatically Some people even joined to help with translations.
As for any real solidarity; the leftist student group Priziv, whom we work with, organised a small event. There was a discussion in Sofia University and then a small solidarity protest. There were only thirty or forty people, but this is normal for here. It was peaceful and there weren’t many police. They didn’t bother us when we stuck our posters on the door of the Greek Embassy even though the protest was unpermitted, which is unusual.
The fascist reaction to the Greek rebellion was quite interesting. At first the fascists just demonised anarchists on their websites. They said, "You see what the anarchists are doing", saying that anarchists do not respect property, they are lazy they have a destructive ideology and that they do not respect police authority But once they understood that this was not going to stop after a few days they stopped writing shit on their websites. Probably most of them felt angry that they weren’t in revolt like the Greeks.
In December a student in his twenties was killed in a fight on the student campus in Sofia. He was attacked by a group of drunk guys who beat him to death. The students politicised his death. They were under the strong influence of the images coming from Greece. There is a high level of everyday violence in Bulgaria and it is not the first case of a similar murder, but usually people do not pay much attention. At least the attention is not manifested in the public sphere, but is limited to individualised complaints. Many young people felt, for nationalistic reasons, that the Bulgarian youth should care more about Bulgarian children, like the youth in Greece. Leftist students tried to show that this murder, as well as the very high levels of violence on the student campus, is linked to the heavy process of commercialisation that is going on there. The Sofia student campus has the most clubs and bars in the whole city. They are mostly owned and used by the mafia and people inspired by the gangster, macho lifestyle - one that praises brutal violence as a way to assert oneself into the patriarchal and strongly conservative social order - and is extremely widespread in post-socialist capitalism.
The family of the boy who was killed also saw structural reasons for the death. They called out for action against the conditions that allowed it to happen. Some of the leftist students met with them.
The murder was also politicised by one right-wing populist student group, SROKSOS. They were using some of the slogans that were coming out of Greece, which they had probably read in the texts that we translated, along with ultra-conservative slogans like “we are the oldest state in Europe."
In December a demo was organised by both the leftist and the populist group. This may sound stupid and maybe it was a mistake, but I support the leftists in their decision to cooperate with the populists at that time, because they managed to push more radical demands and to identify commercialisation (which is heavily linked with the mafia lifestyle) as the structural reason behind the high levels of destructive violence. Also at that moment it was not clear how conservative SROKSOS actually were. The demo was organised in cooperation with environmentalists as well. It went okay even though one of the fascist parties tried to infiltrate and lead the protest-but they couldn’t in the end, because people wouldn’t allow them to do so. Many people joined the demo, which I think would not have happened without what was going in Greece at the same time. Many people were saying, the conservatives as well, that they wanted Bulgarian society to be "like in Greece," as people were often putting it.
Another demo was announced for the 14th of January, again co-organised by the students and the environmentalists. Soon we understood that the conservative students unilaterally decided to cooperate with the fascists and the leftist student group left the organisation. The right-wing populist students decided to play the national vanguard calling out for "national" protests, completely void of meaning, just empty talk, to be interpreted at will. We, the anarchists, published a declaration that we were not involved, as well as a warning of what was going to happen on the 14th, and some of the press published our position, It was good that we made it, because there were already many stories in the press demonising anarchists and scaring people with some mythical Greek football hooligans that were coming to return the favour after some Bulgarian anarchists helped in the Greek riots. We also met with the environmentalists to warn them, but they were a bit naive and they didn’t take us seriously. They didn’t really think SROKSOS met with fascists, and obviously the fascists don’t define themselves as such. This time they were disguised as a "sports organisation" though SROKSOS clearly knew who they were cooperating with.
At the so-called national protest there were a lot of people, thanks to the empty, nationalistic language that was used in the mobilisation. On the 14th there were all kinds of contradictory groups and demands-neoliberal political elites, fascists, environmentalists, some fanatics who were demanding that old people should not have voting rights, students demanding nationalisation of the student campus and so on. It was absurd.
The fascists were separated into some kind of a nazi black bloc; they use this kind of style here, copying it from the German national-autonome. In the end there was a big nazi riot all over the centre of Sofia. Its images attracted a lot of media attention and often it was interpreted as a continuation of the Greek revolt. The images they would see probably confused them even more, as the Bulgarian nazis wear black outfits and try to imitate the anarchists. In the Guardian or somewhere there was that article saying this was the first credit crunch riot spreading from Greece to other countries. Some people have a very simplistic understanding of politics. They think some economic indexes change in percentage and afterwards riots automatically follow. I am not saying there are no structural reasons for people’s discontent, but discontent can go in many directions. Also there are many reasons for anger. It is not as the liberals, who mainly see corruption, nor as the traditional Left, who can only see economic crisis and degradation, would have it.
(1) Ed: This blog was perhaps the most important point of translation and diffusion for Greek texts in English, and also responsible for some of the translations in this book.