Weird events have once again transpired on the outskirts of Europe. In Gorna Oryahovitsa, a provincial Bulgarian town, people have been up in arms over a social housing project out of fear it would become… a home for the poor. And to make it even weirder – the Bulgarian Socialist Party is behind the protest!
Over 3,000 people signed a petition to stop the project right after it was announced. Rallies were organized and some protesters even threatened to storm the town hall on the day the project was supposed to be voted on in the local parliament.
It was financed with about 1 million Euro from the EU and was supposed to provide housing for 30 poor families. But rumours that these families would be of Roma descent or – the horror, the horror! – refugees quickly spread through the town and locals were having none of that.
The resistance was fierce and relentless. The conflict was so tense it even caught the attention of all the national TV networks. Encouraged by the cameras, the locals quickly seized the opportunity and gave their best performance for the advancement of their noble cause. “Housing for the marginalized – you know what that means, right?
It includes the jihadists, too!”,
complained one of the protesters, referring to imaginary refugees from the Middle East, of whom Gorna Oryahovitsa has seen little to actually none.
“We give them everything for free and now even houses”, fumed a middle-aged lady, without elaborating on the exact identity of “them”. Others were angry that the housing project would be populated by people who “have been rejected by society”. And that would mean “disturbing the peace, crime and violence”, one outraged citizen said. Some simply carried placards with the straightforward message, “We don’t want parasites”. Even though the mayor repeatedly reassured people that the criteria would be social, i.e. the project was designed to help poor people regardless of their ethnic background, in the end he gave in to pressure and the project was scrapped.
The sad irony here, so symbolic for the deepening Eastern European political and moral decay, is that most of these people are impoverished and marginalized themselves and don’t look much different from those “societal rejects” they fear so much. Many protesters for example insisted that fixing road infrastructure is more important than providing housing for the impoverished.
That would be understandable if it was the more affluent citizens that demanded it. After all, having secured their own existence well enough, the rich couldn’t care less about the well-being of others and would love to have the municipality make their surroundings all clean and shiny at its own expense. But when the cameras started rolling, they revealed many of the protesters to be pensioners, poor working class working in precarious conditions and perhaps even unemployed. Many participants in the gathering publicly acknowledged that there were members of their own community who could benefit from the project, but they decided to oppose it altogether, just in case.
Another truly ugly part in all this is that one of the protests was organized by none other than
the local branch of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which explicitly stated it was against social housing.
Having found itself on the losing end of local elections due to the lack of social policies that has plagued the party for years now, it has found it easier to cross over to the other end of the political spectrum and has now fully and proudly embraced the rhetoric of the far-right, stoking the fires of xenophobia, racism and hate.
The real losers are once again the poor and excluded, who now find themselves on both sides of the barricade in these real-life “Hunger Games”.
And they will continue to be pitted against each other for the amusement of the political elites, while in the end they will pay not only with their vote, but also with miserable and unhappy lives. It’s a sad reality, but, with very few exceptions, in towns like Gorna Oryahovitsa everyone is marginalized – be it Bulgarians or other ethnicities.
They say the revolution will not be televised. The skirmishes between the poor and the poorer, however, most certainly will be.
He is a Bulgarian journalist, activist and translator. Regularly contributes to The Barricade and the Bulgarian daily paper Duma. Interested in social phenomena and processes, international politics, trade and economic issues. Manages the anti-mainstream website Saprotiva (Resistance). Former national co-ordinator of the STOP TTIP European Citizens’ Initiative.