Bulgaria: Dying for political change

A tribute in memory of Plamen Goranov at the spot where he set himself on fire on February 20
A tribute in memory of Plamen Goranov at the spot where he set himself on fire on February 20
6 March 2013 – Vesti.bg (Sofia)

A day of mourning has been called for March 6 in memory of Plamen Goranov, a young man who set himself on fire in Varna to demand the resignation of the city's mayor. Coming in the midst of a full-blown national political crisis, this gesture should lead to an awakening of consciousness, writes an influential political columnist.

Plamen Goranov died on March 3, 11 days after setting himself ablaze in front of the City Hall of Varna [in the east of Bulgaria]. He had called for "the resignation of Kiro [Kiril Yordanov, the city's mayor] and all the councillors before 5 pm, on February 20, 2013." This is what was written on the placard he had taken with him that morning, according to the prosecutor's office. A sign that had, moreover, a strange fate: after mysteriously disappearing from the scene of the tragedy, it later reappeared in the possession of an employee of the municipality. But never mind that.

No one has yet watched the surveillance camera tapes that will have surely captured the scene. One thing we know for certain is that Plamen, 36, is no more.

I see no sense in arguing today whether his destiny can be compared to that of Jan Palach, the young man who set himself on fire on January 16, 1969, in Prague and became the symbol of protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. The truth is simple: for many people, Plamen has already become Bulgaria's Jan Palach.

Unanswered questions

The Czech student had left a letter explaining why he was killing himself. And he was not alone, but part of a group: a month later another young man did the same thing in the same place in Prague [at Wenceslas Square]. Plamen Goranov left no letter; at least, as of today, we do not know of one. Jan Palach doused himself with petrol and set himself on fire in front of many passers-by. In Varna, though, nobody knows exactly what happened with Plamen. Were there witnesses? We don't know yet. All that we know is that two containers of flammable liquid were found at his side, and one was half empty.

The impossibility of knowing more shows all by itself the degree of rot that has set in – with our help – in Bulgaria. Because if it is not known whether he set himself on fire deliberately, or if someone "helped" him, if he really wanted to burn himself alive or to do something else... The real change, called for by each one of the thousands of demonstrators, can start with this demand: that the whole truth about the death of Plamen be made known.

He was a man with opinions, he regularly took part in demonstrations, and he never stopped criticising Kiril Yordanov's governing of the city. A video on the Internet has surfaced showing him seizing the microphone at a rally to call on the crowd to chant "Down with TIM!" [A powerful company with a scandal-ridden reputation, accused by protesters of influencing the weather in Varna]. And even if it's not known exactly what happened to Plamen, we do know exactly what he was railing against: the contemptuous and murky behaviour of City Hall, the looting of public resources, the crushing of dissidents, the dictatorship of a handful of elected officials intoxicated by power...

Continue the push for transparity

This was the case in Varna; it's the case in many other cities; it's the case throughout Bulgaria. Varna has just become the symbol of this reality, and it wasn't born yesterday. The resignation of the mayor [announced on March 6] means nothing by now. What matters is that the people continue to demand more transparency and the supremacy of the rule of law. The residents of Varna have understood that. And this is what makes their revolt very different from those in Sofia, where protesters brandish exotic and, sometimes, contradictory demands.

The rule of law for which the people of this struggling coastal town are struggling includes, however, a thorough and independent investigation into the death of Plamen Goranov. We owe him that much.

Factual or translation error? Tell us.