SOFIA – Bulgaria was hit on Thursday by protests that coincided with its inauguration to the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Throughout the morning, demonstrators gathered outside parliament to demand that the country ratify the Istanbul Convention on the fight against gender-based violence, which an ultra-nationalist party within the leading coalition was reticent to do.
Police and firefighters also took to the streets to demand wage increases and announced they would be placing signs along the street that European officials would be passing through from the airport.
Further protests were planned across the capital Sofia to denounce corruption and the building of new tourism installations in Pirin National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU, with an average monthly wage of around 500 euros ($600) and minimum pensions as low as 100 euros.
However, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said Thursday that the economy had been growing and the country would soon be able to enter the eurozone and use the same common currency as 19 other EU member states.
Authorities reacted to the wave of protests by acknowledging that people had the right to demonstrate in democratic societies but criticizing that they could dirty Bulgaria’s reputation and image.
The government manages to neutralize two other protests at the last minute by giving additional funds to Sofia University and the Bulgarian Academy of the Sciences, which had organized demonstrations to denounce lack of public funding.
Bulgaria is to take on the EU’s presidency for the next six months, taking the reins from Estonia.