Whilst the world focusses on the social catastrophe unfolding in Cyprus, the politics of austerity are having some tragic consequences in Bulgaria.
Mass demonstrations in February brought down the right-wing government that had been imposing a package of neo-liberal policies, including the privatisation of basic services and public spending cuts. This resulted in unemployment rising above 12% (its highest level since 2005), with more than 22% of the society living below the official poverty line (the average monthly salary in Bulgaria is €400.) The country is now being run by a technocratic government, with parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in May.
The fall in living standards has led to some Bulgarians resorting to desperate actions. In less than a month 6 people have protested by setting themselves alight. The death by self-immolation of the 36 year old Plamen Goranov has caused particular shock in society and he has become a symbol of those opposed to the government’s policies.
Jan Palach, who carried out a similar act in 1968 in protest against against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, remains an important symbol in the Czech Republic. Similarly, the recent events in Bulgaria stand as an awful reminder of the social and personal hardships caused by the economic policies sweeping through Europe.