It has already been 25 years since Bulgaria started its unsteady transition to a market economy after a long period of Communist rule. However, our society is yet to experience the true benefits of liberal democracy, as well as arguably – capitalism itself. Widespread corruption and halfhearted reforms in key sectors have been the rule, rather than the exception, in the work of many of our democratic governments to date.
Last year (2013) was one of protest. Everything started with a social upheaval against rising electricity prices, which lead to the fall of the CEDB government in the beginning of the year. The preliminary elections resulted in more even instability, ensued by the socialist-led government of Plamen Oresharski. Controversial appointments, widespread rent seeking practices and corruption schemes led to a new wave of mass protests, that included the occupation of the Sofia University by its own students – a form of protest not seen since the early 90s. Shortly afterwards, the results of the MEP election in the summer of 2014 saw ruling coalition fall apart.
The political instability in the last 2 years has shown that the Bulgarian civil society has finally started to take note of the negative role that the current political establishment has had during the transition period. However, at the end of the day the fight between political parties at the October 5th parliamentary elections will still leave some people hopeless and without any decent alternative to choose from.
Currently there are many people in Bulgaria who are dissatisfied with the political agenda or just have not found any political party which shares their views. Among those people there are some who started taking tangible action with the aim of changing Bulgaria into a freer and more prosperous country. In May 2012 this lead to the beginning of a country-wide student liberty movement.
As is often the case with such movements, the entire process was initiated by the efforts of a small group of young dedicated students, most of which had received their first real working experience at the Institute for Market Economics (IME) in Bulgaria. The first step was taken when European Students for Liberty (ESFL) executive board member Stoyan Panchev together with several university students started a club in the University of National and World Economy (UNWE Libertarian Student Club) in Sofia. Their first public event barely got any attention from the rest of the UNWE students. Two years later there are student clubs all over Bulgaria – in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Blagoevgrad, Gabrovo and soon – Ruse. The number of their members grows constantly to the point where some Sofia-based events have managed to attract more than 100 attendants from all over the country.
The main activity of the clubs is to introduce students to the ideas of liberty and to clarify how the free market economy should work, as well as to provide information about student seminars, internship and training opportunities for young people. The clubs’ overall goal is to help students with anything they need to accomplish the ideas they have.
Since April 2014 there is also an opportunity for obtaining membership of the Bulgarian Libertarian Society (BLS), a new organization that de-facto unifies all the students clubs. Membership is available not only for students but for anyone who wants to support the organization and devote personal time and resources to the proliferation of liberty. BLS is a voluntary organization defending the principles of free market economy and the human right of free choice. This year the first executive board of BLS was formed.
BLS organizes conferences, debates and lectures in and outside universities, as well as informal meetings. These are usually carried out in cooperation with ESFL, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) and the IME. When students come up with an idea about an event or a campaign, the BLS tries to help them with all its resources and established connections. The organization also supports different campaigns focusing on particular topics. For instance, the campaign Liberty420 promotes the widely discussed drug legalization. Another BLS-supported campaign targets the long overdue liberalization of the Bulgarian educational system. Through the problems adverted by each campaign people are introduced also to the other aspects of classical liberal philosophy. In October 2014 the BLS will be the host of the second annual ESFL Regional Conference in Sofia.
*Intern in IME