This would be the first Europe-wide EP elections that Bulgaria will participate in. One would think that we as a new member would be eager to influence the European politics. Think again. Julien Frisch quotes statistics that nearly 50% of the Bulgarians have decided not to vote. Is the glass half full or half empty?
Lets see the first time turnouts in the last EU elections, which as we know saw 10 new members. In 2004 their average turnout was about 40%. Malta had 83.37% on one end of the scale, but Slovakia had 16.96% on the other. In that perspective the 30% of Bulgarians that have confirmed their dedication to vote is rather good. However, this is just statistics. What’s behind it?
In Bulgaria people don’t have faith in the system. Most people don’t see an alternative in the opposition either. This causes a sort of a mass political depression in our people - we don’t see a point in doing anything. We either don’t vote or cast a negative vote against whoever is in charge at the moment. In this way several new parties have managed to climb on top of the public disapproval and received a big support in the last few elections.
When we joined the EU, we decided that the better organization and rules in it would help us fix our current problems. In this line of thoughts, one would still expect that people would storm the voting booths in hope that their vote will weight more that it does back home and have a real impact. Or maybe not.
When you ask Bulgarians about what they think of the EU, many would answer that it is a union that offers many benefits to our country. When they are asked however, what is their personal role in that union, most of them are confused. We don’t perceive the EU as a union, but as the thing that will fix the stuff that is wrong in our country. This by the way is the exact set of words we use - fix the stuff. There is a strange notion that someone is going to come from somewhere and undo all the wrongful things that have been done by politicians in the past 20 years. This notion is being built upon by the constant excuses of the government after each damning EU report. They constantly repeat that we are either being discriminated by OLAF or that the negative statements in those reports are just opinions of some simple clerks. The bad news is that many believe them.
So what’s the good news? There is usually one and in our case, as one would expect, it comes from the people. In the past 2 years many independent movements and NGOs have managed to influence the decision making in one or another way. In the last few months a new wave started to materialize - that of the Internet society. Now most protests are organized through forums and blogs by random people and not by parties and unions as before. Although the medium of communication is not that notable and novel, it is important to understand the change in the way we communicate with the government and the mainstream media. Suddenly blogs were recognized as “the voice of the people”. The analysis and personal thoughts we put out started to get attention. In the past 3 weeks I’ve had half a dozen interviews, despite the fact that I am 2500 km. away. My blogger friends back in Bulgaria are in morning shows and radio stations almost every day. There is an online TV station that works exclusively with bloggers. We even have a special blogger mailinglist to share the invitations.
This shows an important sign of awakening. It has not however changed our notion of the EU. Still most Bulgarians don’t know that they can influence the European Parliament and that threatens to ruin these EU elections. There are even talks of combining those with our Parliament elections in order to save money and up the turnout. Considering how little we know about the EU issues, this move will ensure that our EU vote will be based solely on our internal politics, which as we know is not such a good idea.
There are some bloggers and alternative media, who have decided to start several parallel campaigns to make those issues more popular. Some are financed by the EU, others are done out of good will. If they don’t succeed however, I assure you that the turnout at the elections will not matter at all, because people will not be voting for the EU, but against the current ruling coalition and in favor of any politician with a laud enough voice.