Protesting what they see as blatant corruption at the highest levels of government, Bulgarian students have occupied their national university, kicking out teachers and the media and locking the doors behind them.
In a series of protests that has now gone on for more than five months, the students at Sofia University and other universities across Bulgaria have decided to fight for their future in a nation where their outlook is growing increasingly grim: The highest rates of poverty in the European Union, a government that they claim is ruled by a “mafia” that controls the media and pillages national resources, and the wholesale flight of an entire generation of college graduates to other countries.
“As a citizen, I have to speak for myself to make a difference. That’s the reason I stayed in Bulgaria,” said law student Aleksandrina Ikosomova, 19. “I love my country and I love the people. I don’t want to run somewhere else because I’m not happy with our political situation.”
Since general protests ousted the center-right government in March of this year, students had pinned their hopes on the new socialist government led by Plamen Oresharski. When reports surfaced of the same corruption and graft that has impoverished the nation and put money and power in the hands of a few oligarchs, students reacted with outrage.
It didn’t matter who is in charge, because they are all serving the same people,” said history student Mina Hristova, 23. “We decided to occupy the university and focus on one question for the Bulgarian people to ask: Who? Who is behind the corruption? We don’t have to know the answers right now, but the answer is the most important question for our society.
Students occupied Sofia University on October 23, after the country’s constitutional court upheld the appointment of a media mogul as the head of the State Agency for National Security. When the chief lawyer of the court failed to arrive at a heavily protested lecture at the university he’d previously scheduled, students stayed in the lecture hall. Some of them brought chains. By the end of the night, everyone but students had been ejected from the school, with student-appointed sentries standing guard at the gates, blocking entrance for anyone without a student ID. Bulgarian media has been banned from the school because of widespread coverage that the students believe inaccurately reflected the protests. Almost all of the media in Bulgaria is owned by a handful of businessmen, all with deep ties to the ruling government.